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Archive for the ‘John's Letters’ Category

Imitate What is Good

3 John

 

There are a lot of things working on us to keep us from being faithful, or if nothing else, to steal our joy when we are.  At night in my leisure, I might have a thought of reading a certain book.  As soon as I have the thought, I think of other books I have that I could read.  Then I think instead of reading I could be writing.  Sometimes I get bogged down trying to decide and end up doing nothing.

 

In light of all the competing voices we hear, I like the voice of John here.  He cuts through it all and simply says, “do not imitate what is evil, but what is good”.  Gaius had found a way to be helpful and was faithful at it.  Diotrephes had found a way to hinder and was faithful at it.  The bottom line here is that we imitate what is good.  If we’re doing that, we should leave ourselves alone – pat ourselves on the back a little.

 

In case that last line caused you to stiffen up a little, consider that this entire letter was not too much more than John’s attempt to pat Gaius on the back.  We all need encouragement.  It helps us fight through all the competing and discouraging thoughts that are working against us.  I think we could learn from John here the importance of encouraging others when we have the opportunity.  And until we receive such encouragement, as long as we are imitating what is good, a little pat on our own backs is better than beating ourselves up.

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Watch Out

2 John

 

From the one who urges us over and over to ‘love one another’, John does not bat an eye at warning us of the ‘many deceivers’ that ‘have gone out into the world’.  In one breath he urges us to ‘love’ some while in the next he says, ‘watch out’ for others.   

John doesn’t have as much trouble drawing the line as we do today. 

 

Here’s what John actually said, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.  Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for.”  And then, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”

 

We have got to become more aware that the ‘many deceivers’ are not just preachers and teachers that teach that Christ did not come in the flesh.  A TV show, song or book that portrays and promotes a life style that is opposed to what Jesus came in the flesh to proclaim, is deceptive.  A steady diet of it desensitizes us to His truth.  John urges us in his warning to not welcome him/it into our houses.  He knows the effect it will have. 

 

I am not saying that we should throw out our TV’s, music and reading material (though John might if he were here) but I am saying we need to fill our minds through the week with His truth to sharpen our senses.  The effect would likely be that we would become more careful with what we let in.  I urge you as John did, “watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for.”

 

 

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Dimmers

1 John 5

 

According to my wife, you can’t have too many dimmers both in and outside a home.  Whether for your own enjoyment, entertaining, or trying to display a home for sale, the right lighting makes a big difference.  There was a time, early in the life of electricity, when people went from lighting lanterns to simply flipping a switch.  Back then, the simple on-off switch was enough.  But much like the rest of our lives, over time, simple is tweaked and added to until we have more options than we know what to do with. 

 

I’ve noticed in John’s first letter, the simple on-off perspective from which he writes.  He is writing to a group of people ‘who believe that Jesus is the Christ’ (on) to warn them of a group ‘who denies that Jesus is the Christ’ (off).  Those who believe, as John points out, are ‘born of God’; they have ‘overcome the world’; they are on; there is no in between.  5:12 is a good example of his simple perspective.  “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

 

There was a time, early in the life of Christianity, and at least with this group of people to whom John is writing that when people went from not having Christ to having Him, it was enough.  But over time the simple has been tweaked and added to until, again, we have more options than we know what to do with.  We still believe that Jesus is the Christ, but we believe a lot of things.  Instead of one belief being all the way on, we put all beliefs on dimmers so they can all be on a little. 

 

Yet, I believe John would still say to us today, “He who has the Son has life”.  Though your belief may be on a dimmer, you still have life.  Though it may not be as full as it could be, you have life.  And in light of all that was working against those who believed in his day, and as we too have things working against us, he would still say to us what he said to them in 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life”.

 

Aware of so many forces that try to convince us that we do not have this life, John does all he can to assure us that we do.  The fact is we’re all on dimmers.  Whether we are dialed up and our lite is bright or dialed back until there is just a flicker, there is still lite.  And while there is still lite, John encourages us to turn our dimmers up.

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1 John 4:7-21

 

“Dear friends, let us love one another.”

 

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

 

“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

 

If we had to single out one aspect of John’s writings it would almost have to be about ‘love’.  Being convinced of the love God had for him –referring to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ – in his writings, he does his best to convince us that God loves us.  He was struck by the fact that love was “not that we loved God, but that he loved us”. 

 

Beginning with John 3:16, he penned the most familiar words in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world”.  Similarly and ironically in 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is”.  And then he turns to us.  In 1 John 4:11, “Since God so loved us” – from his perspective of how this love has impacted his life – he now appeals to us; “We also ought to love one another”.

 

What do we crave more than anything?  I referred to this in ‘Better Now in the Turns’.  More than anything, at least it is true of myself, we crave affirmation or love.  When that is what we are most focused on, there is fear that we will not get it.  In a sense it is like punishment when we don’t receive it. 

 

But turn it around.  When we are more focused on loving – giving the affirmation and love – meeting the need for others that we have for ourselves – fear is driven out.  It changes everything.  Do you want God to love you?  Try loving God.  Do you want people to love you?  Try loving people.  When we get our focus off ourselves and on others, somehow then we will be ‘made perfect in love’.

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Test the Spirits

1 John 4:1-6

 

As many times as I have read this passage over the years, I never had the thought in regard to it that I had recently.  I had always thought of it strictly in the context of presenters of the Gospel (preachers, teachers, writers, singers).  But a few days ago I saw something more. 

 

Specifically it says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God . . .”, and then, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God.  Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist . . .”

 

For some reason this time when I read it, television shows came to mind.  Is there not a spirit about them?  This passage tells us that we should ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God’.  It’s almost like if there is not a disclaimer before each show, book or song, like, ‘We acknowledge that Jesus is from God’, or ‘We do not acknowledge that Jesus is from God’, then we assume we are clear to watch, read, or listen to it.

 

My wife and I were in the mood for a no-brainer movie one night and thought Bride Wars might be decent.  About half way through the movie, something struck me.  As if perfectly normal, the movie casts these two ‘to-be-brides’ in live-in situations with their boyfriends.  If you think a little outside the box, can you not see the spirit without the disclaimer?

 

John’s words, written 2000 years ago are as good for today as they were then.  We must ‘test the spirits’.  His words and others were written for our benefit; but before they can be of benefit to us, we must first be familiar with them.  Before we can recognize the spirit that is anti Christ, we must first become familiar with the Spirit that is Christ.

 

I used a Garmin for the first time on a trip recently.  Never having used one, I could not understand how they could actually be helpful.  I could not get over how accurate it was.  It is the same way with our Bibles.  It is amazingly accurate.  I challenge you to give it a try so you can be better equipped to ‘test the spirits’.

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Better Now In the Turns

1 John 3:11-24

 

In the sport of Nascar, small adjustments can create big changes in a car’s ability to handle turns; and in Nascar, there are a lot of turns.  By tweaking the air pressure of just one tire by as little as ½ pound, it can be worth a whole pound of cure. 

 

Similarly in our walk with God, He is always making, or trying to make, small adjustments to improve our ability to handle turns.  Our turns, whether opportunities or obstacles, are turns in life, and in life there are a lot of turns.  To help me in mine, the Lord just made a slight adjustment in me.    

 

I recently shared an idea with a friend that seemed to fall flat.  All day long I felt like I didn’t fit – like I had nothing to contribute.  The next morning I received an affirming email from him, and conversely my mind was reeling with thoughts that fit and contributed perfectly. 

 

The Lord used that to help me see something; the value – the power – of affirming others.  It is so easy to get so wrapped up in wanting to be the recipient of affirmation that we miss opportunities of being the giver of it.   

 

1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”.  If we focus on just the physical act of dying, we can miss the dying He did along the way, while He was still alive.  What an incredible opportunity we have if we can learn to lay down, in our lives, the cravings of our lives that we might truly help and encourage our brothers.   

 

Like in the Nascar illustration; it wasn’t that the car was bad, it just wasn’t as good as it could be.  I hadn’t altogether missed this point, I just wasn’t as good at it as I could be.  His tweaking has helped my focus.  As a result, I am just a little better now in the turns.

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1 John 3

 

1 John 3:6 “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him”. 

1 John 3:9 “No one who is born of God will continue to sin”.

 

Those are pretty strong words.  I have struggled over their meanings many times.  But this time I noticed something I had never picked up on before.

 

John is writing to believers (5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life”).  He is writing, partly, about deceivers (4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God”). 

 

In light of that, it makes more sense that though he is writing 3:6 and 3:9 to those who believe, I think he is writing about those who are trying to deceive.

 

John addresses both ends.  He addresses the deceivers who have not seen God, known God, or been born of God, and as a result continue in sin.  He also addresses the believers who have seen God, known God, and been born of God, and as a result do not continue in sin. 

 

As he exposes the disqualified and encourages the qualified, he has an overall tone of warning – “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (3:7). To both ends and to all in between; to believers who have to some degree been deceived, there is warning. 

 

Maybe it is just enough to keep them from knowing God to the extent that He is able to be known.  Maybe it is to the point that God is now seldom in their thoughts.  Maybe it is to the point of being dead in the middle where they have just the right amount of God and just the right amount of sin to satisfy both sides?

 

John’s letter provides an opportunity for all of us to evaluate where we are.  He gives us truth to counter all that is false.  What have we come to believe?  How does it measure up?  To what extent do we continue in sin?  To what extent have we seen God – known God?

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1 John 2:7-29

 

John has just made this statement in 2:6, “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did”.  In the next few verses he gives us two examples of how He walked.  As I stated in ‘A New Set of Cravings’, these examples are not intended to be our focus – they’re not items we can add to a list of things we must do or not do – instead they are more like the revealing test of litmus which turns blue in alkaline and red in acid.

 

That being said, in 2:9 John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness”.  In 2:15 he says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. 

 

Hard stuff if our focus is on the examples – if we’ve added them to our list of things we have to do and not do.  But again, when we focus on doing the things Jesus did in private, then and only then will we do the things He did in public – consistently.  John doesn’t write to condemn us, but simply to reveal where we are – to warn us.

 

In 2:22 he acknowledges the influence of the antichrist – “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ”.  I couldn’t help but to think of all the sources of media that may not come right out and say they deny that ‘Jesus is the Christ’, but the values they portray sat it, and yet many fill their minds with it.  When we allow our minds to be filled with so many things that are in opposition to His values, it is inevitable that we will then not ‘walk as He did’.

 

In 2:26 John says, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray”.  In case we are not passing the litmus test, he warns of the forces that are working against us that may be keeping us from it.  Better to be reminded now while there is still time to correct “so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming”.

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1 John 1:5 – 2:6

 

For years I struggled with cravings that were contrary to the new nature I was supposed to have.  Like Paul, I had the desire to do what was good, but I could not carry it out – at least on a consistent basis.  As a result, when I would read the passage shown above, I focused on 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins. . .”

 

But something has happened in me over that last few years.  It is as if my new nature has finally kicked in.  It is not a new ability to manage the old cravings as much as it is a new set of cravings.  And now, when I read this passage, I read it from a different perspective.

 

The perspective from which John writes and from which I now read, puts 1:9 as more the exception than the rule.  He follows it with this, “I write this to you so that we will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense”.

 

I hate to think of how many times the Lord has had to speak to the Father ‘in my defense’.  But His patience paid off.  2:6 says that we ‘must walk as he did’.  The problem is that we focus on the things He did in public.  But the secret is to focus on the things He did in private.  When we begin to do more of the things Jesus did in private, then we will begin to do more of the things He did in public.  We will receive a new set of cravings.

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1 John 1:3

 

In the movie, Secondhand Lions, a teenage boy named Walter is dropped off against his will on the farm of two old has-been uncles, while his single mom ventures off to who knows where.  Supposedly the uncles have a fortune and Walters’s mom hopes they will grow to like him and leave their fortune to him/her. 

 

As you might expect, the relationship gets off to a pretty slow start, but over time the uncles begin to warm up to Walter.  They tell him about the glory years of their past; one of which was about a princess named Jasmine, who, though set to marry a prince, supposedly married one of the uncles instead. 

 

In light of the present age and condition of Walter’s uncles and the conflicting stories he is hearing from some of his uncles’ acquaintances, Walter is having a hard time knowing what to believe.

 

One night, he becomes determined to find out the truth.  He approached the uncle who had supposedly married Jasmine and asked simply, ‘What happened?  I have to know.  These stories, are they true?  Around mom, all I hear is lies; I don’t know what to believe.’ 

 

I wonder how many Christians are like Walter.  They have heard the real stories, but because of the present condition of the church and the conflicting stories from so many of the church’s acquaintances, they too are finding it hard to know what to believe.   

 

We all come to points in our lives where we ‘want’ to know if the stories are true, but to know for sure, we must, like Walter, come to the point where we are ‘determined’ to know if they are true.  We must come to the point where we have to know; to the point where we are tired of the lies that have kept us from knowing.

 

John said, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us”.  Walter’s uncles proclaimed what they had seen and heard. When Walter finally believed them, he entered into a fellowship with them. 

 

Years later, when his uncles finally died, Walter did inherit their fortune.  He also met another member of the fellowship—an Arabian prince.  This prince was the son of the prince that Jasmine was supposed to marry.  This prince, having heard all his life of the uncles’ unequaled courage, came to pay his respects.  It was one sweet meeting.

 

Though Walter believed his uncles stories, and enjoyed fellowship with them, meeting the prince sealed the deal.  It was proof of what Walter had chosen to believe years ago.  The day will come for us when our deal will be sealed.  Though we now enjoy fellowship, one day we will physically meet our Prince.  On that day we will see proof of what we have chosen to believe.  It will be one sweet meeting.

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