His Commandments

I’ve come to the last chapter of 1 John in my lectio divina study, and here’s what stands out for me:

“…his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3b

Many worldly people believe that to become a Christian, to submit to God’s will, would impact their life in a negative way. How boring to spend free time reading the Bible, praying, and going to worship services! How dull to be barred from behaviors that our society considers acceptable! Life would not be fun at all!

When our children were young, we tried to stress the truth that following God’s rules was not meant to be a punishment, but would make our lives easier. We might miss out on some momentary “fun” but the rewards were far more important. We would have better relationships, a support group in our church family, peace during difficult circumstances, and more. Better yet, at the end of our lives, we would not have too many regrets.

In the book of Matthew Christ tells us:

 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

That yoke is really simple, in fact it boils down to one word: love. Love God and love one another. The more you practice love, the easier it will be. And the rewards are great.

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD.” Romans 6:23

For more about obedience see these posts:

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

Walking in Obedience

Obedience?

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Perfect Love

As I continue my lectio divina study of 1 John, in chapter 4 what strikes me is this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

I have to admit that I am a fearful person. I’m always good at catastrophizing — thinking that the worst possible outcome to any situation is what I’ll have to face. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sin — not just my own individual sins, but the sins of our society, and the sins of our ancestors. The older I get, the more I realize how bad we all are. Prejudice, genocide, slavery, war… all these things have happened in the past and are still going on. I’ve realized that at some point, we’ll all be judged by God, and it won’t be pleasant. We won’t be able to excuse ourselves by saying we didn’t know, didn’t personally participate, couldn’t help ourselves. This is a fearful thing.

However, a pastor friend told me to remember that although we will be judged, we won’t be condemned. Why? God’s perfect love has already provided the propitiation for every sin I can imagine. He sent His Son to take our punishment. This passage is not telling me that I must love perfectly (I can’t) but that when I understand God’s perfect love, I can stop being afraid. He has already covered all our sins, past, present and future. He has redeemed us.

That doesn’t mean we have a free pass, the right to ignore all sin and sin some more. In gratitude and repentance, we should say:

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” 1 John 4:11

Loving one another means speaking up when we see a wrong, trying to help, getting involved. “No one has ever seen God”1 John 4:12a — but they can see His love in us. Let people see God in your love. He loved you first.

For more about loving one another see these posts:

Little Children, Love One Another

Love One Another

By Our Love

1 John Chapter 3– What Stands Out

As I continue my meditative reading of the letters of John, this is what stands out for me in Chapter 3:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

How often do you and I do this very thing every day? We pass by the homeless man on the corner without a thought; we ignore the fact that our consumer goods are often produced by people who are enslaved or exploited; maybe we even excuse ourselves from helping the person next door who lost his job, or the fellow church member with big medical bills. We can’t give to everyone and everything, right?

It’s true. It can be overwhelming. However, it’s a clear command, and the Bible has a lot to say about helping others. Here are just a few verses:

  • Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.
  • Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to act. 
  • Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Matthew 25:44-45 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
  • Luke 3:10-11  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ 
  • Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 
  • James 2:14-17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

So, what should we do? Well, pray; pay attention; when you see a need you can meet, don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about helping someone who is “undeserving” — we usually don’t have enough information to judge that correctly. Educate yourself–find out about what’s going on in the larger community and the world–remember everyone is our neighbor. Discover your our unique spiritual gifts and then use them in a way that benefits those around you. You may not be called to serve meals at a mission, but maybe you can help in a support position. Maybe you don’t have much excess income, but you do have time. Speak up when you know someone is struggling–maybe you can’t meet all the needs yourself, but together a group you are part of can.

I hope this gives you a few ideas. Remember the parable of the talents. Nobody who used their talents to make more was condemned. We can’t do everything but we can each do something.

For more posts about generosity see:

Spend Yourself

Walking With Jesus–Devotion #10

Being a Biblical Christian, part 2

Back in the Box

I’ve been reading through the letters of John, asking God to show me a phrase or verse from each chapter that’s particularly meaningful to my life right now (this is called lectio divina). What popped out in chapter 2 of 1 John is this:

“… the world is passing away along with its desires …” 1 John 2:17a

Years ago I heard a story told by James Dobson. He talked about playing monopoly with his family — he was winning, and he got really excited as he accumulated more and more money and property. At the end of the game, everybody else got up to go to bed and he was left to clean up. All that cash, all those buildings, all those “things of the world” that he was so pumped up about …. they all just went back in the box. The “rush” he experienced from acquiring them didn’t last very long.

Since my husband retired, I’ve been putting a lot of things back in the box (in my case, the box is the trash!). We’re cleaning out a storage locker, sorting through files and pictures, and in many cases wondering, why did I keep this? Why do I have hundreds of pictures of places I’ve visited? Often I don’t remember where they were taken! Why do I have file folders of notes and papers I wrote in college? Will my children care about these? Why am I holding onto books I read 20 years ago, even if they were really meaningful to me at the time? Wouldn’t it be better to pass them on?

The things of the world are temporary, and that doesn’t just apply to money and buildings. Even the things we read, the knowledge we accumulate, the things we create — none of this will survive for very long once we’re gone. So …

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions–is not from the Father but if from the world.” 1 John 2:`5-16

Love what lasts — God and His Word.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

For more about Lectio Divina see:

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

And He Said This Plainly

Learning to Pray by James Martin, SJ–Book Review

Crucify Him!

In chapter 15 of Mark, the crowd has a choice to make. Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. Pilate finds no harm in this obscure rabbi, and offers the people a chance to save Him. Amazingly, they choose to save Barabbas, a notorious criminal! How could this be? I would never do that, would you?

Unfortunately, if I’m honest, I do it every day, and so do you. When we use His name carelessly, or hear others do so without objecting, haven’t we denied who He is? When we choose the practical, worldly solution to a problem instead of trusting the Word of God, haven’t we chosen Barabbas? When we ignore that homeless person on the street, walking by him without a thought for his condition, haven’t we failed to show compassion for Christ? When we chose to follow religious leaders who are not godly, aren’t we part of that crowd that condemned Him? When peer pressure leads us to run after more and more material goods when we could be contributing to the church, aren’t we as bad as those who yelled, “Crucify Him?”

I would say that we are. We all sin and it is our sin that made it necessary for Jesus to die.

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 John 3:4-5

For more on the book of Mark see these posts:

,You Are Not Swayed by Appearances

No One is Good Except God Alone

Stay Awake!

Overcomer–Movie Review

My husband and I watched this film together last night.  As the credits rolled, I turned to him and said, “What do you think?” His response was “a cross between a Hallmark movie and an after-school special.”

I have to agree.  The plot was formulaic and predictable.  The happy ending (although it does involve a death) tied everything up neatly.  People are reconciled, the underdog triumphs, conflicts are resolved, wrongs are made right.  This seldom happens in real life.  There is also some questionable theology for Lutherans, who do not believe a person can “decide” to follow Jesus.  God chooses us, we do not choose Him.

That being said, the film was uplifting and will raise your spirits.  Sometimes we all just need to be inspired and entertained.  It’s a movie you won’t be embarrassed to watch with your children or your Sunday School class.  No questionable language or nudity — hooray!  It raises plenty of issues to discuss with young people — things like forgiveness, prayer and Bible study.

The basis for the film is this Bible verse:

1 John 5:5 New International Version (NIV)

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Overall Verdict?  I give it three stars

For a related post see:

What’s So Wonderful About Webster? by Stephen and Alex Kendrick–Book Review

The Light of His Countenance

 

The Bible tells us that God is light.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 3:5

It also speaks of the light of His countenance, or face.

“Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’ Let the light of your face shine on us.” Psalm 4:6

When we want to experience God’s light, we only need to turn to Him.  I’m reminded of a hymn written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922.   It was inspired by a pamphlet entitled Focused, written by the missionary Isabella Lilias Trotter and composed for use at Billy Sunday’s evangelistic meetings.  Today it is a standard found in many hymnals.

 

 

Loving Near and Far

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar;  for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him;  whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  1 John 4:20

The quote below by Elizabeth Charles was included in my devotional reading. Elizabeth was an Anglican author. Her works include The Voice of Christian Life in Song; or, Hymns and Hymn-writers of Many Lands and Ages (1859), The Three Wakings, and Other Poems (1859), Wanderings over Bible Lands and Seas (1862), The Early Dawn (1864), Winifred Bertram and the World She Lived In (1866), Poems (1867), The Draytons and the Davenants (1867), Songs Old and New (1882), and Conquering and to Conquer/The Diary of Brother Bartholomew. Our Seven Homes (1896) is autobiographical. A number of her hymns appeared in The Family Treasury, edited by William Argnot(1808–1875).

“It requires far more of the constraining love of Christ to love our cousins and neighbors as members of the heavenly family, than to feel the heart warm for our suffering brethren in Tuscany or Madeira.  To love the whole church is one thing;  to love–that is, to delight in the graces and veil the defects–of the person who misunderstood me and opposed my plans yesterday, whose peculiar infirmities grate on my most sensitive feelings, or whose natural faults are precisely those from which my natural character most revolts, is quite another.”

Can you love all Christian brothers and sisters, near and far?

All the Loves

“He who does not love does not know God;  for God is love.”  1 John 4:8

The other night I asked my husband, a pastor, which of the Greek words for love best describes God’s love for us?  Of course, we first thought of agape love.  God loves everyone, regardless of our looks, ethnic background, temperament, intelligence, or worthiness.

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

However, we realized that God’s love is also eros.  In a number of places in the Bible, Israel, and later the church (the new Israel), are referred to as God’s wife or bride.

“Return faithless people”, declares the Lord, for I am your husband.” I will choose you–one from a town and two from a clan–and bring you to Zion.” Jeremiah 3:14

The fact that God is our father, and Jesus our brother,  exemplifies storge, or family love.  Jesus teaches us:

“And call no man your father on earth, for you have a Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 23:9

“Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy, are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”  Hebrews 2:11

Of course, philia is part of God’s love nature as well, because through the incarnation, Jesus became our friend.

“I no longer call you servants. because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father, I have made known to you.”  John 15:15

So, God no only is love, His is all the loves, and we find every love and everything there is to know about love in Him.  What a wonderful gift!  Remember, He loves you and so do I!