Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jude 1-2

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.

When we begin reading the short epistle of Jude, we find two descriptors that tell us who Jude was- the servant of Jesus, and the brother of James. Based upon church history, there is one major descriptor that Jude left out – the brother of Jesus.
Matthew 13:55-56 tells us of the siblings of Jesus (the children of Mary and Joseph after Jesus had been born). The text there gives the names of at least four younger brothers, and makes mention of some sisters (meaning at least two of them since it is plural). In John 7, the brothers confronted Jesus, and Scripture says that none of his brethren did “believe in him.” So, apparently it was some time after his ministry that His brothers (at least James and Jude) are converted and become instrumental in the growth of the church.
But why did he not mention that he was Jesus’s brother when he wrote this book? Wouldn’t that have given him more clout and prestige?
This is the point of the gospel. Clout and prestige get checked at the door.  Not even blood relation to Jesus can save you. Nothing but faith in the accomplishment of Jesus will save you. It is by faith alone, not by family that we become heirs of God’s grace.
Jude shows another level of humility when he calls himself simply a servant of Jesus. Not only did he not mention his familial relation, but rather he emphasizes the Lordship of Jesus in his life. In Jude’s mind, the most important thing is that Jesus is the Lord of his life. Jesus the One Who saved Jude now becomes the One that Jude humbly serves.
And this is what the gospel will do to someone. In Galatians 6, Paul says it this way, “God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross of Jesus,” and Jude affirms that this is what matters. If anyone had the fast-track possibility it was Jude, the very brother of Jesus, but with a biblical understanding even he submitted to the truth of the gospel.

Food for Thought: Who was Jude? What distinction does he make in regards to his relationship with Jesus?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

3 John 12-14

Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.

3 John closes with a character sketch of a man named Demetrius. Demetrius stands as the direct opposite of what Diotrephes was. For all the arrogance and lack of true biblical character that Diotrephes had, Demetrius shows up as the prime example of what truth is. There are three affirmations to the testimony of Demetrius that I want to point out from verse 12.
1) Demetrius had a good reputation with all men.
How often do you meet someone who you can say that about? Most often, when you meet someone who is a nice guy, there is a faction that just abhors them. If they are doing right, those that are doing evil just despise him. But in this case, ALL would say that he has a good reputation. They are not angry at him. They would not call him self-serving or self-righteous. He is a true standard of Christian character and testimony. I know a few men like this, and they are certainly the exception and not the rule.
2) According to biblical truth, he is without any error.
Often, those who would be accepted by all, think that they must water down what they believe. They feel that they must embrace the false beliefs or agree to half-truths, but not Demetrius. According to 3 John 12, “The truth itself” bears witness to his testimony. He is as solid as they come and nothing can shake that. While those who are accepted by all and are confirmed to have a good reputation by all are rare, those who do it uncompromisingly are almost unheard of. Yet, Demetrius stands as the prime example.
3) John was willing to vouch for him.
Something could be said of a persons character when you are willing to stake your own reputation on them. I often hesitate when asked for a reference or a letter of recommendation, because I fear that my reference or recommendation may not be able to be fully supported by the person being referred. But John puts it all on the line. “Demetrius is as good as they get, and I sign my name to that.”
What character! Oh that we could have young men and young women who unwaveringly would not settle for less than an impeccable, truth-filled, God-glorifying testimony.

Food For Thought: What three things established the character of Demetrius?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

3 John 10-11

Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
Men are, by nature, kingdom makers. In the modern world, every man works to grow and develop his own kingdom. For some it is a technological kingdom, fully equipped with a large flat screen tv, the latest in tablet and smartphone technology, a state-of-the-art gaming system, and a computer that could land a space shuttle. For others it is a kingdom of things that go “Vroom” or “Boom,” marking success by make and model, engine or barrel size, horsepower or scope strength, color or stock type. These little kingdoms have a work car, a play car, a truck, a motorcycle, a dirt bike, a four-wheeler, a boat, a jet-ski, a pontoon, an RV, and anything else we can get that will make our kingdom just a little bit nicer. Then there are people who build kingdoms out the intangibles, like the affirmation and respect of others, the constant wrangling of attention and a desire to be in the limelight all the time.
We build kingdoms to ourselves, and this is the problem with Diotrephes in 3 John. He was trying to establish his own little kingdom, and he was not going to let John or any of the other apostles try to invade his little kingdom. He was thriving on the respect of the believers who mistakenly looked up to him. He was the king and they were his subjects who were to simply do his bidding. He had been side-tracked into believing that a kingdom here was the thing that he should strive for. He had missed the teaching of Jesus that would have liberated him from the enslaving drive to have others affirm him.
Jesus said in Matthew 6, “seek ye first the kingdom of God.” The goal of this life is not to be little kingdom builders, but rather to be part of the building of the massive kingdom of God. Unfortunately, people are distracted from ultimate goal of building God’s kingdom, so they end up frustrated and devastated when their little kingdom crumbles. Diotrephes missed this, and we can miss it too if we are not careful. So, seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Food For Thought: What are some things that are in your life that would fit in the category of building your own little kingdom?

Monday, February 25, 2013

3 John 9

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

At times, the most loving thing that anyone can do is to tell the painful truth. John was probably one of the most loving of all of the followers of Jesus. His ministry and his writing were centered on the theme of love. He knew how to lovingly engage those he disagreed with. He knew how to care for those in need. He knew best how to love those who were trapped in sin. But when we get to 3 John 9, John hops in the driver seat of the truth bus and rolls over a man named Diotrephes.
Who was Diotrephes? What had he done? Why was John so deliberate in his throwing Diotrephes under the bus?
John knew the truth and loved others. It was his desire that all the followers of Christ learn to live in the theology of Jesus. Although the world lies, and the very heart of man is deceitful, Christ’s followers are to find truth and allow that truth to transform their lives. When persecuted and reviled, vengeance was not to be their reaction, rather, in love, they were to engage their enemies and communicate hope and truth. Beyond that, as Christians we are called in love to be humble. Paul would say it, “Let each esteem other better than themselves.” Jesus was the epitome of these things: love, truth, and humility.
In self-righteous arrogance, Diotrephes exalted himself as the leader of the church. In his mind, he had learned enough and knew enough that he did not need to have any of the apostles tell him what to do. In his holding of the truth, he had missed the most basic thing right in front of him – humility.
John knew that Diotrephes, and those like him would be a destructive force to the kingdom of God. The arrogant self-righteousness for which Christ had berated the Judaistic Pharisees, now was being practiced by those in the Christian faith. John could not let Diotrephes prey on the young growing Christians. He did not want the cancer of vanity and self-righteousness to malign those who were true believers. In defense of truth, John expressed some of the most caustic words of his Christian ministry. Deception is too destructive to ignore, and John had to reveal the damaging lies before others were hurt or ruined.

Food For Thought: What was the main thing that Diotrephes was missing in his life?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

3 John 8

We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth.

Everybody influences. No matter who they are, everyone has influence on those around them. If they are the golden example of good character and right living, they will influence those around them for the good. If they are the epitome of wickedness and vile thinking, no doubt, those who are their closest associates will in time be influenced by their wayward life.
Influence happens, and at times, influence can be a tricky thing. Many times, we think that we are influencing the people with which we associate, and we fail to realize that, in fact, they are also influencing us. Paul warns of the negative power of influence in 1 Corinthians 15 when he said, “Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners.” Who you associate with can negatively influence who you become.
Reciprocally, if influence can be a negative thing, it can also be a positive thing. As powerful as negative influence is, positive influence can encourage and transform those with which it comes in contact. In 3 John 8, John mentions the influence of his own students. Their godly living and right thinking had caused a change in those around them. The godliness was infectious. Their indiscriminate loving had been transmitted to the other believers. Their thirst and hunger for truth had been epidemically spread across the community of faith. They had influence.
Furthermore, their influence reached its highest level when their own teacher was influenced by their love of God. John says, “we should be fellow-helpers of truth.” In essence, let’s join them in doing what God desires. Let us be like them.
The student had become the teacher. The seasoned instructor looked to the lesson of the pupil and influence did its great work. You can be the same way. Your life will be marked by the ones you influence and the ones who influence you. Why not be deliberate in your influence? Why not intentionally love well and gather to yourself the liberating truth of God so that you can be the catalyst for change in the hearts and lives of others?

Food For Thought: Write three names of people who you regularly influence. Write three names of people who regularly influence you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

3 John 5-7

Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

In 3 John 5-7, when John tells of his excitement about his spiritual children (those he personally trained in the faith), he explains what it is that actually thrills him. It is not good enough to say he is excited about the general spirituality of his pupils. Rather, he tells what it was that absolutely excited him.
John had taught his students the theology that Jesus had taught him. He had instructed them on the deeper things of the faith, but no doubt the greatest things that he had taught them were the same things he spent an exorbitant amount of time describing in 1 John, that they be people who, like Jesus, walked in truth and actively loved and cared for others.  John mentioned in verses 1-4 that he was completely elated that they were following the truth that he had taught them. Like Christ, they were living in the truth. In verses 5-7, John points out the next step of their obedience, that they love others. This love must be indiscriminate. It must be constant. It must be genuine. If it is these things, then others will notice and will be helped by it.
John wrote in verses 5 and 6 that there were brethren who had travelled through his town and told him of the truth and love that his pupils were showing to those who they came in contact with. Furthermore, they told John that his students were doing a great job of loving those who were not believers. The evidence of their growth and understanding was the relentless outpouring of love on any and all they came in contact with. It must have thrilled John’s heart to see his students obey God’s commands so well.
So how are we doing? Do we love others (Christians and non-Christians alike)? Would your life be categorized as living in the truth of God’s word? Like the believers in 3 John, do you strive to have God’s name made much of in your relationships? Would a bystander take account of your living and categorize it as loving or truth-based?

Food For Thought: What were the two things that John was excited about?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

3 John 1-4

The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

Have you ever been to a pro-sports game and seen “that guy”?  You know the one I am talking about, the one who looks like he lives on the premises and comes out from under the stadium seats when the game starts. If he is wearing a shirt, it is the home team’s jersey from 20 seasons ago and its faded glory is encrusted with the remnants of all the hotdogs he’s eaten since then. He has the foam finger, the sunglasses, the hat with more home team logo pins on it than you can safely count, a giant megaphone, and a neck draped with beads of the same color as the home team. Every time loudspeakers play the get-hyped-up music, he gets hyped up, a little too hyped up. You went to just watch a game, but he exists for the game.
What absolutely thrills him, is what he surrounds himself with. Sadly, he gets excited about something that doesn’t matter. Everyone who sees him, almost feels a bit of sympathy because they know that his whole world is focused on something that he isn’t even a part of. Dancing in the stands to 90s rock music is not the same as donning a jersey (from this season) and heading out to play. He watches the team and is excited for them, but he is not part of the team.
When John starts the epistle of 3 John, he begins by telling his friends that he is ecstatic about the amount of growth that has taken place in their lives. He seems like a number one fan for them in these first four verses, but if you understand what is going on, you will see that he is more than a fan. You see, John isn’t cheering about stats or about scores. He is thrilled by something far greater, by something that actually matters. His joy is fixed in this- that the ones he trained are walking in the truth. To John there is nothing more thrilling than the fact that the believers he had seen converted and had personally trained were continuing in the faith. John isn’t just a fan; he has served as training coach and now as teammate. His joy runs deep as his friends and fellow Christians continue to grow in the truth of Christ.  
We should have the same excitement for those around us. Instead of being distracted by lesser things, we should be absolutely thrilled that our brothers and sisters are growing in truth.

Food For Thought: What do you get excited about? Name the last time that you were thrilled by the spiritual growth and maturity of those around you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2 John 9-11

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

Covered in dust, and wrapped in little more than a bed sheet, the woman lay in the midst of the angry mob. She had been caught in the vile act of extra-marital relations, a capital crime according to the law. The self-righteous had abusively jeered and dragged this sinner before the Rabbi, Jesus. They sneered, “You know what Moses says we should do to her, what do you say?” Scripture says he ignored them. Their heart posture was more vile than the act that she had committed. The hateful vitriol that poured from their sweaty, bearded mouths was as disgusting to Him as the wicked indiscretion this woman had been caught in moments before. Jesus paused, then spoke, “Whoever’s sinless, stone her.” After the self-righteous were revealed in their own sinfulness, Jesus and the woman were left alone. Finally He closed with, “Go, and stop sinning.”
There is a difference between love and acceptance. This is especially true when dealing with non-believers. Many non-believing people live in ways that are against God’s designs. Their flagrant “sin” is all too visible, whether it is their relational choices, their health choices, or their lack of self-control. At times, many of the life choices that are visible can be personally revolting or even socially awkward. This creates a very difficult scenario for those that would love as Christ loved.
This is where the distinction between love and acceptance must come in. The things that are revolting or awkward do not necessarily require our acceptance. We don’t have to agree that substance abuse is ok. We can also disagree with those who would say their relationship choices are right, especially when those choices stand in opposition to God’s revealed desires. We must however, guard from the stone-carrying and jeering that the Pharisees took part in. We are not some special class of person. We have been redeemed, but we are still sinners. It is important that we realize that the only one who could condemn offered mercy and tells us to do the same. We don’t have to approve of the sin, but we must love.

Food For Thought: What are some lifestyles that would be personally revolting or even socially awkward? How can you love them?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

2 John 12-13

Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of they elect sister greet thee. Amen.

From his heart of love, John deeply desired to help those he had come in contact with.  This indiscriminate love is a marking characteristic of those who genuinely obey the command to love.
The truly loving do not make their love contingent on their own convenience. With no presumption or expectation, the command-fulfilling lovers do not look for anything in return. Those who love from the deep well of God’s love find that loving is not as much a chore as it is a choice. And this is a choice that John’s testimony in his epistles (letters) portrays. When he is writing the “Sincerely, John” part of his letter, he opens his heart to reveal the deep desire to be with those he loves. He knows that the Mediterranean separates them for now, and perhaps his health does not permit immediately, but the love is still in his heart for them.
You see, in the face of adversity, when all things were stacked against John, he still loved. It was not good enough to say, “I am hundreds of miles away,” or “I am too sick to carry on.” Rather, with a body full of pain, and a distance to far to cross, John pours out his heart in verse 12 with “I wish we could be together right now, that we both could rejoice together.”
This is not the cheap Greco-Romantic love of here today and gone tomorrow. It is not the selfish love that flees the moment it must spend any of itself. No, this is true, God-obeying love, selfless love that thinks more about others than about self, love that chooses to love, even when it is nearly impossible to. John knew that the recipients of this letter needed more training in truth. He knew that they must be helped, and from a heart of love, he had penned what he could to be able help them.
How do you love? Do you make sure that there is something in it for you? Do you think of others who may be healthier than you, or hundreds of miles away, or in your own house that need love? Do you love?

Food For Thought: In two sentences, describe biblical love. In two sentences, describe love according to culture.

Monday, February 18, 2013

2 John 8

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. 

The building shut down. The lights were turned off, and the doors were locked. Huddled in the darkness of a broom closet, the recently employed Vincenzo Perugia anxiously awaited his opportunity. When the coast seemed clear, he crept from his closet undetected by the security guards. The young Italian patriot sneaked across the hall and down the corridor that held the highly acclaimed Da Vinci masterpiece, Mona Lisa. In an instant, the painting was tucked beneath his coat and he was gone. The theft of the most high profile painting in the world had occurred from one of the most secure museums in the world.
It was two years later that Perugia was caught and the Italian painting was returned to its French home. How could something this valuable be lost? Didn’t the Louvre Museum know that it would be the target of crafty thieves like Perugia? Why didn’t they take counter-measures to ensure that it would never be stolen? Learning from the mistakes of the past, the Louvre now has a $7.5 million state-of-the-art security room that the Mona Lisa stays in.  The museum knows that something this valuable is worth keeping.
Similarly, 2 John 8 tells us that there are some things worth keeping. The truth as revealed from God is worth keeping. A love for others is worth keeping. A discernment against those that would deceive is worth keeping. We must guard our hearts and minds at all cost. The truth we hold is more valuable than any 20” painting could ever be. We must guard from any thief who would craftily steal the truth away from our hearts through deceit or lies. We must watch for the deceit from within, like a burglar huddled in the broom closet waiting for the opportunity to capitalize on a lack of guard. Deception does not knock at the door and introduce itself, it stealthy creeps in and topples all that is valuable.
We must guard our hearts from those that would delude us. We must hold the truth tightly. It is of eternal value. 

Food For Thought: Since we have the truth, what does John tell us to do with it?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

2 John 7

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

Jesus is the saving truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
Adam sinned in Genesis 3 and plunged all of mankind into a hopeless, death-dominated, separating from God, sin spiral. All who come after Adam are brought in enmity against God. From birth, we are God-forgetters by nature. Disobedience comes as natural to us as breathing. The fellowship that was complete and full in Eden has been cataclysmically devastated.  The sin-ravished and sin-controlled have no hope of a relationship with God. Fellowship cannot take place between an only holy God and an only sinful man.
Because sin exists in our lives, communion is impossible. Because fellowship cannot be had, forgiveness cannot take place. Because unrighteousness defines our souls, condemnation swings like a pendulum, ticking the seconds of time away as we inch towards death and the ultimate consummation of God’s wrath against our ungodliness. And like this, we are hopeless, in a helpless state, unable to do anything.
Then came Jesus. Living an undefiled life, He became the conqueror of sin for us. Dying a propitiating death on the cross, He bore the just wrath of God due us. Raising from the dead, He overcame the death that threatened all of us. In Jesus, God accomplished the restorative, redemptive, forgiveness-packed, love-dripping work for us that we could not accomplish for ourselves.
Jesus is the only hope. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven whereby we must be saved.” (Peter, Acts 4) It is only by Him and through Him that we find hope. We must rest in His accomplishments not ours. He alone saves. It is by God’s grace through our faith in Him that God saves us, nothing else.
John makes the theology of Jesus a major issue in 2 John verse 7. If people are trying to say anything other than that Jesus is the way to God, they are absolutely wrong. If they deny the work of God in Jesus, the real flesh bound Saviour of the world, then they are absolutely wrong. Worse, if they are trying to deceive those that believe in Jesus to turn to something else (like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses) they are evil and should not be associated with. Deceit is destructive, only Truth brings life.

Food For Thought: Put the gospel in your own words.

Friday, February 15, 2013

2 John 4-6

I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.

Truth is essential. However, at times the mandate to hold the truth and proclaim the truth comes at the expense of another command of Christ: love. The tango between truth and love is a delicate dance. When the movement between the two is done poorly, toes are stepped on and people are left feeling awkward and ashamed; but when done well, the beauty of interaction leaves all involved enthralled by the security of truth and the comfort of love.
John wrote his second epistle to establish a basic truth in the hearts of those he loved. They must hold to the truth. They must defend it at all cost. They must use it as a lens by which the facts of life could be properly perceived. They must not hurry to accept all things as truth, rather, judgingly and discerningly they must weigh things against truth to determine if they would be influenced by them.
But becoming expert discerners does not mean that genuine care and compassion for others would not be allowed. Rather, John encourages that the discerning, truth-holding followers of Jesus hold the truth in love. Not as “little bastions of truth” to themselves, but as ambassadors of truth sacrificing their time and needs lovingly for those around them so that the gospel could be proclaimed and God could be glorified. Instead of being a makeshift Inquisition who questioningly destroys all opportunity of relationship and friendship with the unbelieving, the true follower of Jesus lovingly engages those who are different with the truth and with a heart of desire to see those they engage liberated by that truth.
Truth does not discourage love. Love does not discourage truth. Rather in a fluid, complementing sense, love will only tell the truth, and sharing truth is the best way to love. As they glide across the ballroom floor of our lives, intertwined and swaying through every relationship and interaction, truth and love play out the perfect portrait of Jesus. We become more like Him when our lives are dominated by both of these. Both are fundamental to healthy Christian obedience. While in solitude they endanger the believer, together, the kingdom of Christ will advance, and God will be magnified. Now, share the truth, in love.

Food For Thought: What are the two things that are essential to healthy Christian growth and gospel witness?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

2 John 1-3

The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

We need truth. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are being persuaded daily into thinking and feeling certain ways. From the conversations we have with family and friends (who themselves are being convinced into believing a set of details) to the engaging age of advertisement that grippingly holds our gaze and with it our minds, we are being coerced into believing certain things are “true.” The sad fact is that many of the details that are peddled to us are not biblical, and hence are just not true.
Through television commercials and friendly persuasions, we are convinced that the best way to describe human beauty is in terms of hair color, face shape, body size, and skin shade. Young men and women are being force-fed half-truths about beauty, and their desperation and frustration pours out through their tears. Social media instead of serving the healthy purposes of magnifying the God that we serve or even the amoral purpose of keeping friends in contact, instead becomes a platform for “one-up-man-ship.” Day in and day out, the tragedies and glories of a day must be chronicled and the mundane must be proclaimed in such a way that people will “like” it. At some level, culture has convinced us that our affirmation must come from those around us, and many live in this social media captivity. Clothes are no longer designed for covering the body, and food is no longer sold for filling the belly and giving strength and health.  The shackles of appetite and desire are fastened securely through all the facets of culture, and sadly, many willingly extend their own wrists and ankles to accept the bondage.
So, we need truth. The lies of culture, the deceit of our own hearts, the confusion of well-meaning uninformed friends have all snowballed into the lives of God’s people. When you drink from a poisoned well, you will get sick, but if you can find a pure fountain of Truth, life and liberty can be had. Truth is the focus of 2 John. John desires that all Christians know truth and live in it. He desires that deceit and lies not be allowed to creep into the minds of God’s children. We must learn to question the enslaving lies that we hear too often. We must become a discerning people who, with a love for God’s truth, can see through the enchanting deceit of desire and appetite to the gluttonous end of destruction. God offers truth. God alone is Truth. All that is true comes from Him. Now, we must run to Him if we would live.

Food For Thought: Give two lies that culture tells us. What is God’s truth in these matters?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

1 John 5:18-21

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

The reformer John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion said it best when he said “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.” C.S. Lewis in his book, Weight of Glory put it this way, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Almost instinctively from birth, the human heart finds things that enthrall and that capture the affections. Often these are culturally inclined- a dad teaches his sons to love guns, cars, and sports; a mom teaches her daughter to love purses, shoes, and shopping. From the early formative years, parents train their kids to worship certain items. For a young man, it is a make and model of car. For a young woman, it is a brand name on a handbag. And sadly, while the command of God is “keep yourselves from idols,” fathers and mothers daily chisel idols into the hearts of their children. Sadly, when you add social pressures of idolatry to the cultural pressures of the home, it should be no surprise that covetousness and greed dominate our world.
This parental influence towards idolatry is displayed clearly in Genesis 31. Jacob and his wives, Leah and Rachel, depart from the country of Laban, and head back to Canaan to see Isaac, Jacob’s father. The idolatry of the parent became the covetous tendencies of the child, when Rachel went back into her father’s house and stole his idols. His worship of those idols in front of his daughter had firmly ensconced in her heart their value, and when the opportunity presented it, the garden of greed that Laban had cultivated in her life produced the sister fruits of idolatry and thievery.
May this stand as a parable to all those who would worship something besides God. Beyond the blatant foolishness of worshipping something that is fashioned by the hands of man, there is an inherent disregard for God and for holy living.
Know that just like Laban, your worship will influence those who look up to you. Will you worship the one worthy of praise? Or will you find lesser things to worship and with your influence, chisel an idol on the hearts of those who follow you?
Food for Thought: You worship affects those around you. How can you worship God in such a way that those around you would desire to worship Him too?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1 John 5:14-17

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

Imagine a man walking into a store notices a homeless vagrant squatting on the ground in front of the store. As the man passes by, the beggar, with a mostly toothless mouth, a shaggy beard, and dirty old clothes, hollering inquires of the man, “HEY MISTER, You’ve Got Some Change?!?” The man pauses for a moment to take in the situation. Obviously the man sitting on the ground has a need, but what would be the best way to help him? As the man steps closer, he notices some drug paraphernalia hanging out of the man’s stained, corduroy, sports coat pocket. When he goes to speak to the man, the beggar shuffles and a mostly empty bottle of liquor slides from under his arm and comes to rest on the ground.  The natural inclination of most is to just walk away, but this man is overwhelmed with compassion, and so he offers to take the beggar into the store to buy some new clothes and get some fresh food. Determined to not be assuaged from his true intentions, the man grunts, “I don’t need any of that stuff, just give me some money.” The kind man, convinced that the money would only be used for substances that would harm the homeless beggar, passes on into the store having never helped him.
Now imagine that this same man is walking into a store and notices his own son squatting on the ground in front of the store. As the man passes by, the boy calls out to his father, “DAD! DAD! Help!” The father pauses for a moment to assess the situation. He notices that his son looks a bit gaunt, and that his clothes are a bit tattered. He sees a bit of mud on his sons face, and smells the week old stench that emanates from his son. Without any further hesitation, the father lovingly embraces his son. Within an instant, the father has his arm around his sons shoulder and is escorting him into the store to get some food and some new clothes.
These are the actions of our loving God. As sons not beggars, we can approach with our petitions. We need not grovel at His feet to get an answer, we must simply ask. He is a good Father. Jesus solidified this point in Matthew 7:11, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Like 1 John 5: 14 says, we can come with confidence to God, knowing that as a loving Father He is ready and willing to hear and help.  

Food For Thought: Read Luke 11:11-13. What three examples does Jesus give that point toward the common goodness of earthly fathers?

Monday, February 11, 2013

1 John 5:13

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

We live in a world of insurance. I was first formally introduced to the idea of insurance when I acquired my driver’s license from the state of Kentucky. As one of the requirements to drive a car in Kentucky, the driver must be insured. This means that every month, you send money to some company (GEICO, AllState, Progressive, or in my case USAA) and in return for the hundreds of dollars you send them, they send you back a little card that is of great importance.
Insurance exists because assurance does not. I have insurance on my car, because I don’t have the assurance that I will not wreck my car. Because of this uncertainty, I am forced to pay monthly premiums to guarantee that in the event of an accident everyone involved in the accident will be reimbursed. I just don’t know, and I can’t know what the future holds in regards to my car.
However, when we get to 1 John 5, John offers assurance to us. There are many things in this life that are uncertain. There are many things that we just don’t know and therefore we are forced to abide by the insurance lifestyle. But John writes in verse 13, there is one thing that you can know. He says, “these things have I written unto you…that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” There may not be assurance in many things now, but this one thing you could find assurance of – your eternal situation. Furthermore, he says that the ones who have the assurance, are the ones who “believe on the name of the Son of God.” Your assurance of your eternal situation starts with your faith in Jesus. It comes through what He accomplished for you on the cross, and how God’s grace extends because of Jesus through your faith. Beyond saving faith, John points back to his explanation of the characteristics of the truly converted- faith, love, and obedience. While many things in the future are uncertain, John writes that this one thing need not be. We can rest, assured that Jesus has accomplished for us what we could not. In a fluctuating, out-of-our-control, anything-can-happen, insurance world, it is nice to have something that we can count on.
Food for Thought: What does John say that we can “know”? What does this mean?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

1 John 5:11-12

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

“He who has the Son has life.” Jesus left heaven and experienced all of life just as you and I have. However, He lived a perfect life. While everyone else has disobeyed God and broken His perfect designs, Jesus never transgressed. There was no wrong that He ever committed. Ironically, His true righteousness enraged the self-righteous religious crowd of the day, and they sought to destroy Him by getting Him to contradict God in His teaching. But it never worked. More often than not, the religious guild acting as attempted-frustrators became indignantly frustrated as He expertly handled Scripture to lay open the idolatry of their hearts.
Finally they gave up on out-maneuvering Him theologically, and instead they sought to destroy Him physically. They devised a master plan whereby they could kidnap, try and execute Him. Little did they know that in their wickedness, they were just further accomplishing the purpose for which He had come from heaven.
You see, all of mankind had sinned. And that sin had been ushered in by one man’s disobedience- Adam. Jesus lived sinless, so that by His own life, sin could be destroyed. Just as life wrought with sin brought death, when sin was consumed by the death of Jesus, life was brought to all those who would believe on Him.
Now all those who trust in the saving work of Jesus have hope.
“He who doesn’t have the Son, doesn’t have life.”
Jesus told a Pharisee named Nicodemus that any who doesn’t believe that Jesus came to save all of mankind, is “condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The life that was purchased for all mankind by the death of Jesus, will only be received by those who put their faith in His accomplishment, all others will remain in their condemned state.
The gospel is designed to liberate, and all those who arrogantly ignore it will perish, and have everlasting death.

Food For Thought: Read John 3, what does John say about why Jesus came into the world ?

Friday, February 8, 2013

1 John 5:6-10

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

In Scripture God placed a high demand for veritable witness. In Deuteronomy 17, according to the Law, if someone was going to accuse another person of something, they must be able to prove it with “two or three witnesses.” God took the witness of men very seriously. Again in Matthew 18, Christ says that in matters of church restoration, there should be “two or three witnesses.” The job of a witness, in both Old and New Testament, was to provide a reliable account of the facts which he or she knew. The listener was given the choice based upon the character of the witness to determine if the facts given were true or not.
In 1 John 5, John talks about a time when God Himself became a witness. In Matthew 3, when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Again in Matthew 17, on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured in front of John the Apostle, God spoke again and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”
John says in 1 John 5, “if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.”  Basically, John was saying, “you listen to the testimony of men, how much better is the witness of the omniscient God?” God has testified. No number of earthly witnesses can amount to the veracity of Holy God. And what did God say? “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” So what did Jesus, His Son, have to say that we must hear? John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Therefore, if the Bible is true, and God is honest, then Jesus is the only way for any man to gain access to God. Our confidence need not rest in the witness of men, although there is plenty of veritable witness. No, rather, let our confidence be found in this – God has spoken, and He said to trust Jesus.

Food For Thought: How was God a witness about Jesus?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

1 John 5:1-5

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

As John nears the end of his epistle, he reiterates the purpose of 1 John in 5:13- “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” He has taken a painstaking effort to help the believer find the evidences in themselves of their conversion. He has given the three following key evidences of the conversion of a believer: faith in the accomplished work of Jesus, love for God and all of God’s children, obedience to the commands of God.
John has made it expressly clear that without these, there is no fellowship with God. John also carefully places them in an order that is essential to healthy spiritual growth.
First, one must have faith. Faith is the well-spring from which all other Christian virtues flow. It is a trust that nothing in ourselves earns us favor with God. It is resting safely in the truth that because Jesus died, we won’t be judged. This faith leans on a loving, forgiving, merciful, redeeming God Who extends His justifying grace.
Second, having been filled with a secure trust in the saving work of God through Jesus, we love. We love Him, because He first loved us. Then, we love all of those that He loves. The ones that are closest to Him are closest to us and we love them with a familial, brotherly love. This is the first command He gives, but from a heart of gratitude, it is no command for us, because it is part of our new inherited nature. It is just natural for us to radiate with this radical, selfless, sacrificing love for God and for others.
Third, when we love Him, we keep His commandments. And those commandments are not grievous; they do not weigh us down. Rather, in a life of obedience to those commandments, we find liberty from the darkness and bondage brought through the deceit and destruction of sin. The real way of life is found in being submissively, repentantly obedient to His desires, because He only desires what is good.
Faith, Love, and Obedience- and when we search ourselves, do we find these things? When we examine our hearts, do we find at the root of our actions these noble motives?
Food For Thought: What are the three evidences of conversion according to 1 John? Is the order in which they appear important?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

1 John 4:18-21

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath sent, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Growing up, my family had some real doozies (this is an old-timey term that means “not that good”) for vehicles. I couldn’t necessarily call them clunkers, because they were in impeccable shape on the inside. The age, and the style of vehicle left a bit to be desired, but the inside was like a sterile surgical room. The reason for the strange disconnect between the hokey looking outside and the immaculate inside, was the reasoning that my dad used. According to him, it was good practice to take care of your junky car. You see, the day would come when you would be able to get a “nice car,” and if you had practiced taking care of the junky one, then it would be natural for you to care for the nice one. Conversely, if you had treated the car like a trash heap, then when you got the newer one you would probably struggle to break the bad habit of trashing your car. It seemed like a pretty good rule of thumb, so we always took time to clean out the car and vacuum it, and get it back to its shining 1980’s beauty, knowing that somehow we were just practicing for the day we owned a Lamborghini. I mean who throws their McDonald’s trash on the floor of their Lambo? In essence, my dad was teaching us (my brothers and I) that your habits now will most likely indicate your disposition later.
This is a  similar argument as the one John uses in 1 John 4:20. He says that no one can say “I love God,” yet currently live in hatred for his own brother. Christians who realize that Jesus loved them and died for them, and that Jesus loved their brother and died for him too, cannot in good conscience hate the brother that Jesus died for. Furthermore, for them to say that they love the God Who saved him, but not the other people He was willing to die for is inconsistent. Their habits reveal their heart. He finishes with the logic, “if you can’t love the ones God has sent into your life to be with you whom you see every day, how do you think that you truly love a God Whom you don’t see everyday?” He then gives a command. Love your brother. Basically, love those around you (especially your Christian brothers and sisters) with a habitual, self-sacrificing serving love.  Then you can have confidence that you will truly be loving God too.
Food For Thought: What does it mean that “love your brother” is a command?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

1 John 4:11-17

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be th Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

At times, loving takes work. Jesus makes this very clear in Matthew 5. He presented a common misconception of many of the religious crowd of the day, and even a misconception that pervades the minds of many Christians today. People read the command of Leviticus 19:18 where the text says “love your neighbor,” and they would conclude that their neighbor was the guy who was their close friend or family member. They went even further and read it, “Love only your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” Their affirmative misunderstanding of the Law of God created a negative anti-biblical reasoning. Jesus came and taught that all men are your neighbor…especially those you don’t like. He says in Matthew 5:44, “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you:” That is tough.
I have heard many take this text and joke, “you have to love ‘em, but you don’t have to like ‘em.” This just isn’t sound biblically. Scripture proves that this is diametrically opposed to the love which God has shown to His enemies. When you read John 3, you will see a God who “loved the world.” The inhabitants of this world according to  Romans 5 and Colossians 1 were His enemies. Christ came to the enemies of the Father and sacrificed Himself so that all of the enemies could be reconciled to God. This doesn’t come across as the shallow “love ‘em but don’t like ‘em” rhetoric. This was a life-giving love for those who hated Him.  May the love of God astound us and challenge us to step away from our towers of self-righteousness and reach out to those we disagree with.  May we find common ground whereupon to offer love. May we engage in a battle against our own self-preference and self-preoccupation, and may we become bastions of true, God-honoring love for others. So how do we love? Look for opportunities to love. What do they look like? Anything different than you. In every instance you find someone who is different, you find an opportunity for the love of God to gush from you onto them. 
Food For Thought: List some people or types of people that you could love according to the love of God. Now, go love them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

1 John 4:7-10

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Imagine that I set up a special lunch for you, where you got to spend three hours with a brain surgeon. The purpose for the lunch was explicitly clear, I would want him to take three hours to clearly explain for you how to do brain surgery. He could define all of the special medical terms and with his butter-knife in hand demonstrate the proper way to hold a scalpel and to make the incisions and how to perform an operation. After lunch, I swing by and pick you up and take you to the surgical unit at the University Hospital. A team is already prepped and waiting for you to get scrubbed up and to go in and perform brain surgery on some poor soul. You have been told all about brain surgery, as a matter of fact, you even spent time with a brain surgeon…but how do you think that thing is going to go? Now, imagine for a moment that I can steal seven years of your life. I will have you study for the first year all of the technical side of surgery and operation. The second and third year, I will have you practice techniques on cadavers (that’s dead people…the mistakes on these ones are less costly). For your fourth, fifth and sixth years, you will stand on the opposite side of the table of a tenured brain surgeon watching his every move.
During your seventh year you perform a hundred brain surgeries, all while under the close supervision of the aforementioned brain surgeon. Then after those seven years, I swing by and pick you up and take you to the surgical unit at the University Hospital. A team is already prepped and waiting for you to get scrubbed up and to go in and perform brain surgery on some poor soul. You have spent years practicing this…how do you think that thing is going to go?
There is a stark difference between telling and showing. God desires for us to manifest Him to others. In 1 John 4:7-8 He makes it explicitly clear how we can accomplish this: love. There is none more loving than God, and if we would desire to explain this to others, we would do best to show them that love. When we show our love to others, they can be introduced to the One from whom love originates.
Food For Thought: People must hear the gospel in order to be saved, but often our actions or reactions get in the way of our message.  How can we love others well?