The Word Became Flesh – Take Two

The Word Made Flesh
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18)

The Incarnation…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How could God reveal His glory to mankind? Only by taking upon Himself our humanity, becoming “God with us“, as was foretold by Isaiah and revealed to Joseph by the angel.

Try wrapping your mind around that incredible event…

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 7:14)

Up to this point, we know that the Word was with God and that the Word was God; the “Word-God.” We have also seen John refer to this Word-God as “He”. Now, for the first time, John identifies “Him” as the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Yes, for it was none other than Jesus who became flesh and made His dwelling among us at the incarnation, it is of Jesus that the Hebrews author asserts, “and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2) which is parallel to John 1:3; there can be no doubt about whom it is that John is referring to here. It is Jesus who is the Son, having come to us from the Father.

Dwelt among us…
Throughout the history of the children of Israel, God’s “Presence“, His Glory, dwelt periodically in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it was not a “touchable“, physical presence, and only the High Priest could enter that sacred space, only once a year, and only with the blood of a sacrifice. When Moses asked God “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), God hid Moses in a cleft in the rock so that Moses could only see His back. No man could see God and live (Exodus 33:20). A huge change in God’s “Presence” occurred when the Word became flesh, because God became visible and touchable. It also wasn’t just an “appearance“, because God, in the person of Jesus Christ, walked this earth for over thirty-three years. The Infinite became touchable and the Almighty became breakable when the Promise of Genesis 3:15 became reality. (Galations 4:4-5)

And we saw His glory…
Jesus revealed God’s glory when He raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Revealing God’s glory is the reason Jesus gave in John 11:4 for not returning to Bethany immediately.

John, along with Peter and James, were the disciples Jesus chose to witness His transfiguration, so when Johns speaks of seeing His glory, it was in a very real sense. They saw His glory with their own two eyes. We will get more into that event when we inject the account of that event from Matthew 17 at the appropriate place in His ministry.

Glory as of the only begotten from the Father…
This phrase should impress upon us the absolute-uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Unlike children who adopted into a family, as we are into God’s family, “natural-born” children bear their parent’s genetic-imprint, while the adopted children do not. That is the best way I can explain that phrase.

Full of grace and truth…
Now that we are certain of just who John has been talking about, we can look at the attributes John mentions about Him, He was full of “grace and truth.” Notice the balance between those two; how many of us maintain that kind of balance between grace and truth when we are interacting with others? Some of us have a great deal of grace, so much so in fact, that we can overlook almost anything; we might even make the truth hard to find. Others are so strong on truth that we find ourselves pointing fingers at those around us, seldom displaying love, compassion or understanding (grace).

I used to give my students a little chart containing two axes, the north-south axis was labeled “justice” at the top and “mercy” at the bottom, and the east-west was labeled “truth” on the west and “grace” on the east. Then I would ask them to rate themselves by making a little “X” where they think they fall on the chart as I asked them four or five simple questions. After that, I would ask the questions again and have them rate me…

Almost without exception, the students rated themselves right in the middle of the chart, and almost without exception they rated me in the upper left hand quadrant: they were all full of grace and truth, while I was cold, aloof and correct.

I always got a kick out of that and joked that they should just remember who was the one who was correct in the room. Then, springing the trap, I would congratulate them, for they had each placed themselves on a par with none other than Jesus Christ Himself, a position much loftier than anything the Apostle Paul would ever dare to claim!

The preacher who pounds his pulpit while heaping condemnation on the sinners around the room thinks he’s being just like Jesus, but where is the grace? The preacher who is willing to tolerate virtually any behavior also thinks he’s being just like Jesus, but where’s the truth? Oh yes, beloved, it is so very hard for us to see ourselves the way that others do, and even harder to see ourselves as God sees us, but since being like Christ is our goal, we need to try.

It might just be that you, me and everyone else should seek His guidance in this through fervent and regular prayer that He, through His Spirit would guide our every action, that all around us would see His love at work in each of us. (DM)

Would You Like to Know God?
John’s text continues as he mentions that John the Baptist testified concerning Jesus in verse 15, and then in 16-18 gives his own testimony about Him.

16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:16-18)

John’s first statement is about the abundance of grace that we have received through relationship with Christ. Then, John expands on his statement, pointing out that while the Law was “given”, grace and truthcame” through a person – Jesus Christ. I think that’s worthy of a little thought, for as John has structured this, the Law is a rather top-down thing. The Law was handed down by God to Moses, and then from Moses to the people; the people could take it or leave it. They took it, and then for the most part, they left it; there was no relationship with Law, for Law just is. The result was that that very Law became their condemnation, not their salvation.

And then, grace and truth came to them…

Grace and truth came to them in a person; they could talk and laugh and cry and walk together; there is relationship with grace and truth, for grace and truth become a part of who we are as human beings; there is no fear in grace and truth.

In the remainder of this text, John reveals to us that through Jesus, God can be known to Man, for Jesus is Himself God. Through Jesus, therefore, we can have relationship with God, the Creator of everything: Grace and Truth.

Would you like to know God?

Get to know Jesus.

Would you like to know Jesus?

Get to know the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

Beloved, this is really too simple for us to miss! Out of all of the knowledge that has come to humanity over the ages, this is all we need to know to receive forgiveness and eternal life; grab onto it and hold on tight, never let it go…

We wish to see Jesus…
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

Have you “seen” Jesus?
While it is not possible for us to “see” Jesus physically, we CANsee” Jesus, and the Father, through His word. That is one of the purposes for studying the Bible, to “see” God as He has revealed Himself through the Bible.

Many people today think that it would be easier to believe in Jesus if they could see Him with their own eyes, hear Him with their own ears, witness His miracles, and even eat the food that He provided, but thousands of people were able to do all of those things, and STILL didn’t believe in Him. Are we really any different than they were? We have the advantage of having ALL of the Scripture, the Old Testament before He came, and the New Testament which all testifies of Him. We have a much fuller “picture” of our Savior than they did, and yet, many people STILL don’t believe.

The Incarnation has enabled us unprecedented-access to what the Jews had only dreamed about, God. I believe that the Incarnation is the hinge-pin of redemption-history, and since we are coming into the Advent season, I think that it is appropriate to pause our forward-march through John’s Gospel and spend some time contemplating the Incarnation and all it means to us.

The Promise…
God could have “rebooted” His “human-project” after Adam and Eve sinned by simply annihilating them and starting over, but He didn’t. Instead, in His grace and mercy, He promised them a Redeemer.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Contrary to what some people believe, God’s promise of a Redeemer was NOT some “Plan-B“. God didn’t simply “react” to what Adam and Eve did, because, in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, He knew exactly what would happen on the fateful day before He breathed life into them. When He asked Adam “Where are you?“, that question was for Adam and Eve’s benefit, not His. God wanted Adam and Eve to realize that they still mattered to Him, and that even though they had broken their intimate relationship with Him, He would do what it would take to restore that relationship.

The Prophesies…
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God gave periodic word through His prophets about the coming Redeemer. All of those prophesies looked forward to the day when they would be fulfilled and the Redeemer would come to make things right again.

The Fulfillment…
4  But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5  so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, we will look at some of the Messianic prophesies which were fulfilled when “The Word became flesh…”, and right before Christmas, we will read about the birth of Christ from the Gospels.

In Christ,
Steve

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Preparing The Way – Take Two

In the beginning…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

The Witness of John
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-13)

The Deity of Jesus Christ
The author starts by affirming both the deity of Jesus Christ and His role in creation. As we saw in “In The Beginning“, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was the principal agent of creation, and as such, defines who “God” is in: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1.) The Word was eternally-pre-existant with God and part of the Godhead.

Life and Light
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

We see in verse 4, that Jesus Christ, the Word, was both Life and Light. We often think of Light as a person’s presence, and may say “The lights are on but nobody is at home” when a person seems to be alive but is totally-unresponsive. When a person dies, we think of their “light” having gone out.

Light” is also about spiritual-illumination. As fallen humans, we are in spiritual-darkness because there is no “Light” in us. The Word, Jesus Christ, came to shine His Light into our spiritual-darkness.

Verse 5 begins the next little section of John’s text, a section that continues through verse 13. The theme is that of the manifestation of the Word in this dark world, and in this it is interesting to note the transition from the Word, to God and then of Word-God into “light’. We can easily see through this device that the three terms, Word, God and light are being used interchangeably to describe attributes of God, thus they are One in their reference to Christ, who is as yet unnamed in the text.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehend it. (John 1:5)

Once again, John has put into one simple statement a fact that theologians have struggled with for centuries; the world around us just doesn’t “get it”. OK, those poor souls who live in the darkness of this world don’t understand the light; why does this surprise us? At the same time as we are surprised that this world struggles with the message of Christ, some of us are surprised that we should be called to reach out to the world around us to deliver the message of light to them and help them to see it for what it is; grace and truth. Why should we be surprised to be called to help others understand it? Why should we resist this calling?

Sent by God
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John came as a forerunner of Jesus Christ to bear witness of His coming. He announced the coming of Jesus Christ much as a herald would announce the imminent arrival of a king. He was foretold by Isaiah and Malachi.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

There was a guy who did not resist the calling, and his name was John. This John is not the same guy who wrote the gospel, yet both of them were only too happy to share the light with a dark world. Verses 5-9 set up what follows by pointing out that this John (the Baptist) was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah who was about to burst upon the scene in the person of Jesus. John was not the light, just as you and I are not the light, yet he was sent to prepare the people to hear the message that would come in Christ.

Witness to the Light
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

John was NOT that Light, but he came to bear witness to that Light, and to begin shining Light into dark hearts and souls. He was not pointing to himself as a a source of Light, but to the coming Messiah, as the one true Light. Once Jesus Christ came upon the scene, John always pointed people to Him.

The True Light
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was to come, would be the true source of Light. When we see the Moon, it appears to be a source of light, however it is only reflecting light from the real source, the Sun. In much the same way, John reflected God’s Light to those around him until the real source of Light, Jesus Christ came and began His ministry. As the Sun gives light to all of us on Earth, Jesus Christ brought Light into our darkened world.

In our time, the light has already come, and we have received it and received grace as a result. We are sent to share that light, and to help those around us to comprehend it that some should receive it also and share in its blessing. When you think about it, this is an awesome calling.

How did they miss Him???
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

The Jews had been set-apart by God as His chosen-people, and when Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, they should have worshiped and adored Him as their Creator and Lord, but the majority of people rejected Him. His own testimony, supported by His many miracles, should have been all they needed to follow Him wholesale, but most who followed Him did so only to see His miracles.

After all, there were dozens of promises and prophesies of the coming Redeemer, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:15. They were told that He would be the Son of David, that He would be born of a virgin, even that He would be born in Bethlehem. How did they miss all those clues? We will be studying these promises and prophesies more in detail as we approach the Christmas season.

How could they be SO blind? In truth, as we will see later on, they were looking for a different “kind” of Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in riding a white horse and leading a mighty army. The “Messiah” they envisioned, would drive the Romans out of Israel, set-up an earthly-kingdom and restore the “glory” to Israel. They were also looking in all the wrong places, not really understanding the entirety of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies. That He would be the “Suffering-Servant” (Isaiah 53) wasn’t on their “radar“.

One of the most important “His own” groups of His day was the religious-leadership, the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, and they rejected Him because they couldn’t control Him. As we will see later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ had many run-ins with them.

Children of God
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:10-13)

Yet again, simple John took a major theological concept and boiled it down to a few simple sentences that anyone should be able to understand; it is clear and simple. This “light” who is also the WordGod, came into this world of darkness, and even though He made the world, the world simply didn’t recognize Him for who He really was. He even came and lived among his own covenant people, the ones who had received the message of the prophets concerning Him and His coming, yet they for the most part, didn’t recognize Him any more than they recognized the prophets when they came. Many of them thought, as we will see later, that their ethnic-heritage, as “children of Abraham“, meant that they had it made. Yet, for those who did see Him for who He was, He made it possible for them to be reborn as children of God.

Wow! What could be simpler?

Salvation is of God
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

As hard as people try to make themselves right before God, it is impossible. We can’t DO enough good things to merit His favor, nor can we NOT DO enough wrong things to avoid His wrath. That was what the religious leaders were trying to do, and as “good” as they thought they were, their “good” was never GOOD ENOUGH.

The ONLY way we can gain salvation is to accept that we CAN’T do it on our own and accept and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Only then will God make us His children, with all the rights and responsibilities which go with that high-status.

In Christ,
Steve

 

In The Beginning…Take Two

The Gospel of John

The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

Beginnings…
We all had beginnings, first, in the mind of God, then physically, at our conception. God had NO beginning, and will have no end. He has existed as God from eternity-past to eternity-future. He is the “Great I AM!”. “In the beginning” is as if God placed His finger on what would become the timeline of history and proclaimed “the beginning“. As finite human beings, we can’t grasp the infinite, but God IS infinite.

The phrase, “I am“, seems to be incomplete, as if it doesn’t give us enough information, but in reality, it stands nicely on its own. It is a statement of being, of existence, and of person-hood. “I” is personal, and it can only refer to the person who says it. “Am” signifies existence and being, and unless it is modified by some descriptor, “I am” simply means that I exist. While we aren’t comfortable with the profound simplicity of “I am“, and feel that we need to modify it to give more information, God doesn’t have our problem.

I Am” is also the first personal name God gave to His chosen people, and when He gave it as His name, it signified His eternal presence. As we go along, we will look at the times Jesus used “I am” to assert His divinity, and examine the seven great “I am’s” He gave us in the Gospels.

In the beginning…
There are two “In the beginning…” passages in the Bible, Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-5. The second “In the beginning…” explains and magnifies the first.

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

Explaining “God”…
When Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, started compiling and writing what had been only oral-history before then (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), while we get hints in Genesis 1:2; “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep.“, and Genesis 1:26; “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness…” of the plurality of persons within the Godhead, God had only explicitly revealed Himself as a singular-entity, so trying to explain “God” in more detail would have been an impossible task. Nowhere else in Scripture is this doctrine of “one God” taught more explicitly than in Deuteronomy 6:4, often called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!“. Faithful Jews recited that great confession morning and evening, cementing it firmly in their theology. Thus, they had no place in their theology for a Trinitarian doctrine of God. That was one of the reasons the Jews rejected Jesus, because He claimed to be God. John,the writer of this Gospel, because he had spent over three years as a close follower of Jesus , didn’t have that problem.

Why was it necessary for God to reveal Himself as “One”? If we look back into the ancestry of the children of Israel, we note that their first patriarch, Abraham, we get no indication that Abram was a “God-follower” prior to God’s calling him in Genesis 12:1-3. He lived in a polytheistic culture, so it is quite likely that he worshiped many “gods” (idols) too. We are told that Abraham followed God faithfully from that point on, with a few exceptions. 1) He tried to shortcut God’s promise of a son by taking Hagar as his concubine and having Ishmael by her (Genesis 16). 2) When it was time to find a wife for Isaac, he sent his servant back to his heathen extended-family (Genesis 24). After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and birthright (Genesis 27), his mother, Rebekah, sent him where? Back to her heathen brother, Laban, in Haran, to find a heathen wife (Genesis 27:42-45). After staying in Haran for several years, marrying two wives, having a bunch of kids and acquiring a LOT of livestock, Jacob hightailed it back home (Genesis 31), after Rachel stole the household idols from her father (Genesis 31:26-35). Jacob finally turned back to God after he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32). After being sold into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:12-36), Joseph called his family to join him in Egypt because of a famine (Genesis 45). Egypt was another polytheistic culture, so even though we are told that there were families that were still faithful to God, they still absorbed some of that heathen culture. The story of their liberation from Egypt begins in Exodus 2 with the birth of Moses. God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Genesis 3). After their liberation from Egypt (Exodus 12:31-42), where they had spent 430 years, the children of Israel again embraced idolatry while Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the Law from God (Exodus 20 ff), by making and worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32). Thus, is it an wonder that God would reveal Himself as “One”? Not if we carefully consider their history…

The fact that the Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus, was the principal agent of creation has great importance to us, because it not only means that He created the first two “prototypes” of the body He would one day take on for Himself, it also means that He personally gave the promise to Adam and Eve that one day He would return as their Savior. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

In the Beginning…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
(John 1:1-4)

John begins his account with the words, “in the beginning” with a very different beginning in mind than we find in Genesis 1:1, for while Genesis begins with the creation, John begins with God alone. The “God” that John refers to here is first called the Word (logos) God, the uncreated Creator, before the creation of anything… The Word. That “Word” was there first of all… with God; in fact the Word was and is God.

We throw those terms around in our day, don’t we? “The Word” referring to the Scriptures, and we seem to like to use it to prove our various points in arguments with each other as though the “Word” is our own very precious tool for debating. Yet John, the Apostle of Jesus Christ uses it as a name for Almighty God.

Notice how the Word becomes God, and then in the next verse God becomes “He.” He was with God in the beginning. The Word was with God in the beginning: “The Word” “God” and “He” were all together in the beginning, before anything had been created.

They are One.

Jesus is God’s messenger to mankind, as well as being the embodiment of God’s message (Heb. 1:1-4) It was by His Word that the universe came into being, and it is by His blood that we may enter into relationship with Him, as told in His Word. Thus, we may say that the Word is not only God’s person, essence and power, but that it is one and inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ, who is entirely one with God. Verse 2 is set up as transition in the sense that it begins the move from “what” to “whom”; from “the Word” to “He”: Jesus was there.

Now it becomes clear and unambiguous that this “He” is the one through who all things have been made. This is stated positively “all things” and negatively “without him nothing…” Within him was life which reminds us of God breathing life into Adam. (Gen. 2:7) “He” contained life, was its very source, and this essence will be the light of the world. Life and light are two themes that carry throughout the entire gospel of John, and will become more and more clear as we go on. For now, suffice it to say that His very essence is “Truth” and that will illuminate a dark world that carries on without either Truth or God’s presence, since fellowship with God had ceased after the entry of rebellion into the world.

I hope that you have noticed how much theological truth that John has expressed in four simple, clear and easy to understand little verses; scholars write volumes and can’t say so much. This is precisely why I always tell my students that John’s gospel is very much a “Big Boy” book.

Studying the Bible…
This study will immerse us in both this Gospel and in the Old Testament prophesies and historical-context of the time of Jesus and John, because I don’t believe that we can adequately understand the New Testament without having at least a working-knowledge of the Old Testament. I pray that you are enlightened and enrichened, and that your faith in Christ is deepened by this study.

In Christ,
Steve

Suicide – Twenty Years Later

It has been twenty years since Connie put SUICIDE on my “radar” – October 22, 1997 – by taking her own life on that fateful day, and in some ways, it hasn’t gotten easier. I was reminded – again, of the devastation that is left behind when someone commits suicide. I lost a young friend (29) and brother to suicide, October 12, 2017. Connie left behind our family which will never be “whole” again, and he left his young, pregnant wife and three young children behind.

His wife told me that she felt like she had lost a piece of herself, and she did. I lost a piece of myself when Connie took the “easy-way-out“. We will never regain that lost piece, and nobody can ever “replace” that lost spouse. Why do we lose a piece of ourselves when we lose our spouse? We find that answer in the latter part of Genesis 2:24: “…the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage, as designed by God, is intended to be our deepest, most intimate human relationship. In becoming husband and wife, “one flesh“, we mirror the deep, intimate relationship within the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see “unity in diversity“.

Sadly, suicide has become an epidemic in America. Another person takes their own life every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. He was a Veteran, a two-tour combat Veteran. He had uncontrolled and inadequately-treated PTSD. Not even his wife knew how badly he was doing and hurting.

Suicide always demands more questions than there are available answers, not the least of which is “WHY?”. In spite of having more answers than I had a few months ago, thanks to some things I found in my mom’s files, even they asked more questions than they gave answers. I now know that I was kept in the dark about some things, which my mom knew about, for over five years before Connie took her own life. Why wasn’t I told?

Why does suicide seem to “require” a scapegoat, someone to blame? Aren’t there enough questions already, besides wondering what “someone did wrong“? That seems particularly prevalent when that person was married, and so the most common scapegoat is their spouse. Why do families have to play the “blame-game“. Any time a person takes their own life, it is easy to believe that “someone” is to blame. WHY??? Did that “someone” “drop the ball“, “fail to read the signs“, or otherwise “not live up to expectations“? Were they “not as good a spouse as they should have been“? There are people who are still blaming me for Connie’s death twenty years later.

As if it isn’t bad enough that others want to blame us, the survivors, for our spouse’s suicide, we have the tendency to blame ourselves for their suicide. Weren’t we “good enough“? Did we “do something wrong“? Worse yet, “could we have done something to prevent their suicide?“, or, “how did we miss the signs?“… The problem with those lines of thinking is that WE ARE NOT MINDREADERS, and not every person who commits suicide “telegraphs” their intentions beforehand.

As a suicide survivor, and knowing other suicide survivors, I am appalled by how many people take their own lives every year. One of the problems is suicide is that it doesn’t just affect the person who took their own life, but it also affects their family and friends. With that in mind, let’s look at the statistics from the AFSP (https://afsp.org/):

* Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

* Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide. To expand on that, a person dies by suicide every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

* It is estimated that twenty-five people attempt suicide for every people who actually takes their own life.

* On average, there are 121 suicides a day, of which 22 are Veterans, which means that we not only lose five people to suicide every hour, but almost one out of five is a Veteran.

* That means that 121 families and extended-families are bereft of their loved-one every day. How many people does that affect? Thousands per day? Millions per year?

* Firearms account for almost 50% of the suicides each year. The next most common methods were suffocation (including hangings) at 26.8% and poisoning at 15.4%.

* Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.

* White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.

* The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular. “Mid-life crisis”?

* In 2015, the highest suicide rate (19.6%) was among adults between 45 and 64 years of age. The second highest rate (19.4%) occurred in those 85 years or older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2015, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 12.5%.

* In 2015, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15.1%) was among Whites and the second highest rate (12.6%) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (6.4%), and Blacks (5.6%).

These are real people, not just numbers. In more tangible terms:

* We lose a community every day. I live in a community which probably doesn’t even have 121 people in it, so it would be wiped out, and then some.

* We lose a small town every week. There are many small towns that don’t even have 850 residents. They would be a total-loss.

* We lose 3,400 people to suicide every week, which is the equivalent of a modest-size town.

* Our annual losses to suicide would populate a small city.

When we think about those affected by suicide, we immediately think of their immediate-family; spouse, children, siblings, parents, etc., but we often forget that suicide affects far more people than that; church, extended-family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Nobody takes their own life in a vacuum. When my wife took her own life, it affected nearly the entire community because she was a hometown-girl who was related to at least half of the town through marriage. It was no wonder the church was standing-room-only during her funeral.

We must not forget that suicide doesn’t just strike “secular-people“, “unbelievers“, it strikes Christians as well. My wife was a strong Christian and active in our church. My friend who committed suicide recently was a Christian, as was the pastor’s wife I mentioned in “The Faces Of Suicide“. Just because Christians should always have hope, doesn’t mean that they always HAVE hope. Nobody is immune to staring down that black-hole of hopelessness. Nobody…

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person’s life. While Veteran’s PTSD is the most recognized, we can’t leave out the PTSD our First Responders, Firefighters, Police, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel face. Nobody who deals with trauma and death is immune to PTSD, but frequent debriefings do help lessen the effects of PTSD. I was in Search and Rescue for a dozen years, and I have been places, seen and done things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Why? Because even if we were not able to “rescue” anyone, helping bring “closure” to their families DID matter. PTSD not only affects the person with PTSD, it affects all of their close relationships, particularly their spouse.

FInal thoughts…
Is there more to say? Unfortunately there will always be more to say, because the problem of suicide is only getting worse, not better. I doubt that this is my final word on suicide, because as I learn more, I will pass on what I have learned in hopes of helping prevent even ONE suicide.

Are YOU available to help someone who is contemplating suicide? I am…

Blessings,
Steve

Life Is Short – Love Well

You may be thinking that I should say “Life Is Short – Live Well“, but my friends, the key to living well is to love well. How many of us truly “love our neighbor as ourselves“? How many of us truly love our spouse and other family as ourselves? Do we REALLY place their needs and interests ahead of our own desires?

As someone who hasn’t always loved those dearest to me as myself, that is one of my deepest regrets in life. Unfortunately, I more often put my desires ahead of my family’s needs far too many times but I can’t live that way any longer. There is way too much at stake, and just because I lived that way for many years doesn’t mean that I am doomed to live that way for the rest of my life. I have the opportunity to love well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity.

I am no stranger to death and dying. When I was five or six years old, the teenage son of my dad’s work partner was badly injured (burned) in an on-the-job accidents. The father was badly burned and had a very long recovery, but the son died of his injuries a few days later. My grandfather McFarland died on my eleventh birthday. We lost a dear family-friend in 1973 as they were prepping him for a surgery that would have given him a new lease on life and returned him to the tennis court. Since then, I lost a brother to cancer in 2011, my dad in 2013, and my mom this year.

I was a bagpiper for several years, and during that time, I played services for everyone from a 15-month-old baby, all the way up to people who were in their 80’s. Regardless of who I helped bury, I was affected by each one, not as a disconnected-observer, but as someone who identified with their grief. Death leaves an indelible-mark on our hearts, one that will never go away.

Yes, life IS short, even if a person lived along full life, because God didn’t design death into His original blueprint for mankind. We were meant to live, not die, but the Fall brought death into the human-experience.

Make no mistake about it, “loving-well” is NOT the “easy-path“. It is tough, it is costly, but it is supremely worth it in the end. Our supreme example, Jesus Christ knew from eternity-past what it would cost Him to show God’s love in this way. He knew, before He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, that a “cross-shaped-shadow” would follow Him from the moment He was conceived until He died on the Cross. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him“(Hebrews 12:2), He did it all, for me, and for you. What was the “joy that was set before Him“? That “He would bring many sons (and daughters) to glory”(Hebrews 2:10). He could bear suffering as our sin-bearer more than He could bear eternity without His chosen-ones – us. How would YOU like to know your destiny before you were even born. Jesus did, and He carried out God’s plan anyway.

How did Jesus command us to love each other? 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35). “As I have loved you”… How did Jesus love His disciples (and us)? He gave His life for us. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13) “Lay down our life for our friends”? Yes, that is what true love means, putting their needs ahead of our own, and even being willing to lay down our lives for them.

How can you “love well“? Start by holding your money and possessions loosely. He who dies with the most toys does NOT win, he just dies, and leaves those toys to others. Live modestly and within your means. You do NOT have to go into debt for the latest goo-gaw or play-pretty, and trying to “keep up with the Jones” will only result in more headaches and grief. Use your “spare” money to help someone less fortunate than you, and do so gladly. The Jones don’t care, but God does. Do what you do out of love, not because you “have-to“.

Perhaps the hardest part of “loving-well” is “being-there“, and I mean really “BEING-THERE” for those you love. Being “present“, “in the moment“, is very difficult when what they need most is a “listening-ear“, someone who will truly LISTEN to them with understanding AND without judgement. What we think or what we believe is NOT their “reality“, so unless you are asked for your opinion, don’t offer it. Keeping our mouths shut is one of the hardest things in the world, but we have been given TWO ears to listen, but only one mouth, and it MUST be connected to our brain. Don’t speak before you think – a LOT about what you are going to say.

That is what it means to “love-well“.

In Christ,
Steve

Baggage…

I have it, you have it, we ALL have it, but what is it? Our “baggage” is those things in our lives that we would rather forget, but can’t, those things we are NOT proud of. Lest you think that you don’t have any “baggage“, don’t forget that even Jesus had “baggage“. So did Matthew…

Jesus…
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:1-6)

Matthew opened his gospel by retelling Jesus’ genealogy, but why did he include some of the more “sordid” details? For him to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was unheard of in Jewish genealogies, but for him to include GENTILE women? Was he airing Jesus’ “dirty-laundry“? Or…

What was it about these women? Tamar was a Canaanite woman, and Judah’s daughter-in-law. Rahab was a harlot (prostitute) from Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite. David “stole” Bathsheba from Uriah and had him murdered.

Reading on in Matthew, we are told that Joseph found out that his fiance, Mary, was pregnant – out of wedlock, but it was “okay“, because she hadn’t “really” been unfaithful. This was to be a “miracle-baby“, and Joseph was going to have to raise him as his own. Let’s see: “miracle-baby“, unwed-mother, in a very “shame-and-honor” culture… It wasn’t going to be easy for them and it only gets “better“…

Jesus was born in a stable, in a barnyard. No baby-bed, just a manger. No baby-clothes, just “swaddling-clothes“. Their first visitors – bewildered shepherds. The “baby-shower” didn’t happen until a couple of years later, and forced them to run for their lives. Some “baby-shower“… Jesus then grew up in the hick-town of Nazareth, in Galilee, of all places. He was the son of a carpenter before He became an iterate-preacher. He was so “ordinary“… Is it any wonder that He drew the down-trodden, the sick and “sinners” like a magnet? Yes, Jesus had “baggage“…

Man who was demon-possessed…
After rescuing a man from wicked, violent, and destructive demonic oppression, Jesus says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

“Go tell your friends...” doesn’t sound like Jesus wanted him to “hide” his past, rather, the man was commanded to showcase God’s love, grace and mercy on him. He was a changed-man because Jesus had changed him, and liberated him from the bondage of demonic oppression.

Matthew…
Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most despised occupations in 1st century Israel. He had “sold his soul” to the Roman government in exchange for a “piece of the action“. Even though he was a Jew, he was a TRAITOR. One would think that, if ANYONE would have wanted to bury his story, Matthew would, but he didn’t. When Matthew walked away from his past, he didn’t leave his friends behind, he threw a PARTY:

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13″

The Pharisees were always concerned about “appearances“, but Jesus wasn’t. Jesus came to call those who knew they had a problem, a problem that only He could fix, and until we realize that we are broken beyond repair, we won’t see that Jesus is our ONLY solution, the only One who can heal our brokenness.

Matthew, as if to remind us of his brokenness and the healing he had received, when he listed the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4, he listed himself as “Matthew the tax collector“. Like Paul, Matthew’s brokenness is canonized in Scripture for us to see, for us to realize that NOBODY is “too broken” to be beyond God’s love, grace and mercy.

Your”baggage”…
What is YOUR attitude towards YOURbaggage“? Do YOU use it to showcase God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy in your life, making you more “relatable“, or do you want to bury it, causing people to think that you may be “too good to be true“, that you “have it all together“? Does it matter? Jesus and Matthew believe that your story “matters“…

During our CNA Spring Conference at Lake Como this last February, I told my “story” on Saturday evening, and then when I spoke Sunday morning, I used my “story” to help others build their “ministry-resume“, because I believe that our “stories“, our “baggage” really DO matter. There are parts of my story that are known only to God, and it will stay that way. We don’t see Matthew publishing a list of everyone he had defrauded, because some of those “details” don’t need to be disclosed, but both Matthew and I have told enough of our story for others to realize that he was, and I am, still a very broken man.

We are redeemed only because Jesus Christ has redeemed us. We couldn’t do it ourselves.

Please don’t hold a “funeral” for your “story“, for your “baggage“. Don’t be chained to your past, but don’t forget it either, because your story, my story, are all part of God’s grander story of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sins were nailed to the cross, but our stories still matter.

In Christ,
Steve

What Is Our Only Hope? – Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters…

What is our only hope?

We are faced with a crisis of hope in America today. Fewer people have true hope than at any time in the past. Two or three people have committed suicide since this service began, and before it ends, several more will have committed suicide. Someone commits suicide every fifteen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. Suicide is the ultimate expression of hopelessness. Why are so many people living without hope?

We see hopelessness in divorce courts. Over fifty percent of the people who say “I do” will say “I don’t” sometime in the future. Those marriages may last for many years before they dissolve or just a few days as my most recent one did. Why do people say “I do” and then say “I don’t”? Why was there so much hope when they said “I do” and yet they are hopelessly broken when they say “I don’t“. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Why this epidemic of hopelessness? What has caused all this hopelessness?

Could it be that throwing God out of America has real consequences?

Could it be that when people say “I don’t want anything to do with God“, He gives them their wish and turns them over to the worst to torture themselves for all eternity.

The Bible will provide the answers people need, but only if they are willing to get acquainted with its Author. Are you living without hope? If so, I hope that you will stay tuned as we look at “What is our only hope? Why Jesus’ humanity matters“.

We are broken people, living in a broken world, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is far more brokenness in us than we would like to admit, which is why we act like we are “okay” even when we aren’t. We have learned to put on a “happy-face” even when we are crying inside because we don’t want those around us to know how broken we are. Only God can heal our brokenness and make us whole again, but we have to trust Him to do what we can’t do for ourselves. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a man so that He could bring us back into a right-relationship with God and with one another. He IS our ONLY hope.

We often ask “Where was God when…?“, and we can list a thousand-and-one events when God was seemingly-absent, but was He? If we don’t really know who Jesus is, we would be tempted to think of God merely as a detached observer, but we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Four major traumatic events are etched deeply into my memory, and beg the question Where was God when…?

Where was God when the Space Shuttle Challenger became a ball of fire?

Where was God when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed?

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell?

Where was God during the Pulse Nightclub massacre?

While I was somewhat “detached” from those events, every one of them left grieving family and friends behind, and I was deeply-shocked by them. The Pulse Nightclub massacre struck way too close to home, since I live fairly close to Orlando. Where was God when those events took place?

Getting more personal…

Where was God when my wife committed suicide?

Where was God when my brother Darrell died of cancer?

Where was God when my mom died?

Whether it is a major-event or a personal-tragedy, our deepest desire is to know that God cares, that He understands our pain and suffering. While we might think that God was “detached” from those events, as we will see from John 11, God was very-much present during and after those events. This should give us hope, both for the present, AND for the future.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In our era of instant-communications, we barely remember when all news from friends and loved-ones came by “snail-mail“, so it is hard for us to fathom that it could have taken several days for Jesus and His disciples to have found out about Lazarus’ sickness, but it did. At the end of John 10, Jesus had escaped Jerusalem with a price on His head and headed East to beyond the Jordan River where it was a bit “safer“. Jesus and His disciples were there when they heard the news that Lazarus was sick. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus was deeply-relational. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t merely “friends“; they were virtually “family“. Jesus’ love for them transcended “friendship“; it was a deep, intimate love, which was reserved for those who were closest to Him, such as John.

I have no biological siblings, but I have a few dear friends who have become “family” to me. We care about each other on a far-deeper level than mere “friendship“. Maybe you have some of those too.

Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, but He didn’t respond immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days. Oh, He could have spoken the word and Lazarus would have been healed immediately, but He didn’t. He waited until after the funeral. Jesus tells us why He waited in verse 4, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. Jesus wanted her, and us, to realize that God doesn’t operate on our time-schedule. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. However, she still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family. It seemed that death had still gotten the last word…

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” This is the reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she was willing to risk believing His claims and lay skepticism aside. She knew that, standing before her, was the ONLY person who could alter the course of history, who could make their family whole again. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Why? Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could He confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

When we look at Martha, she is almost angry at Jesus because He allowed Lazarus to die. Had He gotten there sooner, He could have healed Lazarus, rather than allowing him to die. Mary approached Jesus with pleading-humility, falling at His feet. Why did Jesus answer Martha rather harshly, while He entered Mary’s grief and broke out in tears?
Jesus demonstrated both “sides” of His personhood, that He is fully-God, and at the same time, fully-human. His deity allows Him to claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” , while His humanity allows Him to enter into our pain and grief.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but that may have been in deference to His friends.

35 Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it should cause us to pause and rethink our doctrine of Christ. He was God, enshrouded in human-flesh.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

When Jesus walked up to the tomb, He didn’t have a look of glee on His face. No, He had tears in His eyes, and righteous-indignation in His heart, because Sin, the Fall, and the Curse had robbed Him of one of His dearest friends. As Creator-God, He never intended for Lazarus’ story, or anyone else’s story to end this way, in death. We are created to live, not to die.

Was He already starting to feel the icy-jaws of death close around Him? He knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, He would have to die for the sins of His people. In order to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral, He would have to be buried too, and only by His own glorious resurrection would He be able to secure Lazarus’ resurrection. He was only a few days away from the cross…

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and see His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. I lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there. My dad died in 2013. My friend Liz lost her mother in 2015 and her father this year as well as her best friend. I lost my mother in April.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus was, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummy-style“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

We can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:1-45)

Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? Only by becoming human, one of us, was He able to live the life we cannot live, die the death that we deserve in our place, and be resurrected that we may be resurrected. God had to become a man, so that man could be brought back into fellowship with God.

A prominent theologian, who is the son of a prominent theologian, recently had to resign all of his positions in disgrace because he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, AND, he had a minor child with him. The arresting-officer wasn’t swayed by who he is and what he has done prior to that time, because in the eyes of the law, he had violated the law. The judge might be lenient on him, but he won’t get off Scott-free. Thus it is when we stand before God. Regardless of how “good” we may have been, we were born sinners, and regardless of how “minor” our sins may have been, we are guilty before God, and there is NOT any “plea-bargaining“. There is ONLY on plea that holds up in God’s court and prevails, and that is the blood and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Had God not become human in the person of Jesus Christ, there would NOT be any acceptable plea. We would ALL be guilty before God.

That was the way it was with the Apostle Paul. Paul, then known as Saul, was a Pharisee who was zealous for the Law of God, yet he rejected the very Messiah he had longed for all his life. He also rejected and persecuted the very faith that had grown up around Christ and His teachings. When the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t confront him about the “good” that he had done, but about the EVIL he was doing. Paul was guilty before God, and he needed a new heart and a new life-direction. Acts 9:1-7 recounts his conversion.

His humanity also matters because He experienced everything that we experience, pain, sorrow, loss and grief, so that when we experience those things, He can share in them with us. When I lost my mom, as painful as it was, my supreme-comfort was that she is in the presence of God, and that Jesus shares in my pain, sorrow, loss and grief. I don’t travel this road alone. Jesus is with me every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul gives us even deeper reason to believe in Jesus’ true humanity:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Jesus had not truly become a man, He could not have died on the Cross, and He couldn’t have been raised from the dead. All of these events are absolutely-vital to our salvation. Paul ends with these words; “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The Heidelberg Catechism opens with these beautiful words:
Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul,
in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

For those who are in Christ, we are kept by the Lord and Creator of the cosmos. Jesus didn’t abandon His earthly-body when He ascended back into Heaven. He is living at the right hand of God the Father as the eternal God-Man, as fully-human as we are.

Is Jesus your Savior and Lord? I pray that He is, but if He isn’t your Savior and Lord, tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor are you even guaranteed your next breathe. We all have an appointment with death, but we don’t know when that will be. As I was working on this message, one of my elderly neighbors took her last breathe. I had seen her outside that morning. Only God knows her eternal-destiny. The only way for you to be certain that, when you die, that you will meet your Creator in peace, is by humbly acknowledging your need for a Savior and committing your life to Christ. He died that you might live, and He lives that you might live with Him forever. May this be your day of salvation. Jesus is waiting for you…

In Christ,
Steve

Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

3rd John is another personal-letter, which is also his last letter. So short, so telling. John is writing to his friend and brother Gaius. He seems to have been a leader in the church, and even though there are other mentions of men with this name in Scripture, it was a very common name; we can’t be sure if he has other mentions or not. Gaius was obviously serving others, and sharing God’s love with them. He was hosting a group of missionaries, and these workers were people he didn’t know.

You Walk in the Truth
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

As we saw also in 2nd John, his personal greetings are warm and tender. Wishing “prosperity” and “good health” was a common Greek greeting, so we should not be surprised that John greets Gaius this way, but what wasn’t “common” was tying physical prosperity and health together with spiritual-health, so in that regard, this is no “ordinary” letter. Messengers have brought news to John that Gaius is acting in an exemplary-manner, which brings great joy to the Apostle.

5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Gaius is the kind of Christian who is worthy of imitation. He is serving in love, he is putting others first, he is doing the kinds of things we should be doing. John encourages Gaius to keep up the good work. But there is another guy who comes up in the letter…

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Uh-oh! Looks like John had a wannabe “big-shot” on his hands, a “big-shot” who thought that he knew more than John, who was an Apostle.

This dude Diotrephes is all too common in our day, and obviously they had this sort of nonsense going on even in John’s day. Did you catch what John said about him at the beginning? He said that Diotrephes “loves to be first.” Well that about sums it up! Do you know others who love to be first? They are the important ones, they are the ones who can’t be inconvenienced, they are the ones who always have the last word, who always get their way, and who must always be in charge. They want to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. No doubt we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “the first will be last and the last will be first!

Diotrephes won’t welcome the Apostle to the church, and kicks others out for welcoming the strangers that Gaius has taken in. Diotrephes seems to have much to say about others. A bunch of nonsense (or gossip) is being spread about people like John himself, who should be given the respect they are due. I wonder if Diotrephes is doing this because he must be in the spotlight, and just can’t handle it when someone else gets attention.

I cringe when I see a ministry named after its founding-father and guiding-light, even though I know that there are many GOOD ministries so-named. All I can ask is “Why?

Maybe we’ll never know the exact motivation, but I think we recognize the person, and John is telling us not to emulate them or their behavior. Who can argue with that advice?

People follow all kinds of “role models” these days, but unfortunately, many people are following the wrong kinds of “role models“. We see big-name sports-stars get rewarded with even juicier contracts after an episode of wrong-behavior. What is wrong with that picture? Who do you know who would be a GOODrole model” for people to follow?

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Finally, another good guy is mentioned: Demetrius. So there you have it, two brothers who are serving faithfully, and one bad apple. It seems that the bad apple makes the most noise, but the faithful servants are making a difference for the Gospel. I’d say there might be a lesson in this for us!

13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

As we saw in 2nd John, the Apostle had many more things to say, but he wanted to say them in person. We read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and read the Apostle’s writings, and yet, if Jesus or one of the Apostles walked through the door of this room, we would turn our attention to them and would be all-ears for what they had to say. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Jesus and the Apostles said many things which were never recorded, but as John wrote in John 20:30, we have a very-adequate record for our needs and purposes, and while the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles only reached a few people during their lifetimes; countless millions of people have been reached by the written word they left behind.

15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

As John is closing this personal letter, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and Gaius would know who else to greet by name.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 2 John 1

Unlike 1st John, which was very likely a chain-letter, 2nd John is addressed to very specific people, “the chosen lady and her children.” John isn’t breaking any “new-ground“; rather he is summarizing specific teachings into concise “bullet-points“.

Since the “chosen lady” is NOT identified, nor are we told where she lived, any speculation is useless. It IS quite-likely that she had read John’s 1st Epistle, because John only summarizes and reinforces the key teachings of his first Epistle.

2nd John is only one of many “personal-letters” (Epistles) which have been preserved for us in the New Testament. John wrote two, 2nd and 3rd John, Paul wrote four, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and Philemon, and we must not forget that Luke addressed both his Gospel (Luke) and Acts to Theophilus. The New Testament would be much “emptier” without these books.

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

As we saw in 1st John, John calls himself “the elder“. “Elder” is otherwise known as “Teacher“, “Pastor“, “Bishop” or “Minister” in the New Testament. The Pastor in many churches is also known as the “Teaching Elder“, as distinguished from “Ruling Elders”.

Chosen lady“…”chosen” by whom? “Chosen” by God. John didn’t just pull “chosen” out of thin-air, because everyone would acknowledge that the Jews were God’s “chosen people“. God “chose” Abraham to be the father of the nation whose ultimate goal was to bring forth the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who would “crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15), and through whom “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). God then “chose” Judah to be the father of the tribe from which the Messiah would arise. Furthermore, God then “chose” David to bear a “greater Son“, the Messiah. If we dig back to the “root” of “chosen“, it will take us all the way back to Adam, and the son God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah, and to Noah’s son whom God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah.

John’s understanding of “chosen” was cemented in his mind and heart by his interactions with, and the teachings of Jesus, the Messiah. “Chosen” and “elect” are used virtually interchangeably throughout the New Testament. That would be an intensive study in and of itself, so I won’t delve into it here.

John not only addresses this letter to “the chosen lady“, but also to “her children“. These “children” may have either been her own “children“, or if she was a “spiritual-mother” to many other people, it could have meant to them too. “Whom I love in truth“, John had a deep affection, a spiritual-affection, for this particular group of people. John then enjoins everyone “who knows the truth” to be part of this great “love-circle“, “for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” As the result of being part of this beloved-gathering, he says; “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” If we know and love the truth, this result will be in us as well, because “grace“, “mercy” and “peace” are ours in Christ. Even though we may have a lot of turmoil and trouble in this world, we are at peace with God through Jesus Christ, His finished-work and shed-blood on our behalf. We have been declared “righteous” before God, and that should give us an unshakable “inner-peace“.

4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

The glad-news had reached John that some members of this family were practicing what he had taught them earlier. How disappointing would it have been to get news that they had abandoned the truth, as evidenced by their un-Christ-like behavior? John reiterates his admonishment that they KEEP on loving one-another. Jesus, in John 13:35 said “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.

Where have we seen this theme before? Didn’t John just address this theme in a significant-portion of 1st John? He is reiterating the point that our Christology (doctrine of Christ) matters, a LOT. It is easy to have a “soft” or “faultyChristology. All we have to do is “follow-the-crowd” and not study the Bible for ourselves. Having a strong and robust Christology is even counter-cultural in some religious-circles.

I think that many people who have a faulty-understanding of the Imago Dei (image of God in man) also have a “soft” or “faultyChristology, because, if they look upon our human-bodies with disdain, it is quite easy for them to disdain Christ’s full-humanity as well.

Even as they mouth the words of the Apostle’s Creed; “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen!” they are thankful that it doesn’t go into any more detail about His life as a Man, and they certainly don’t want us “filling in the blanks“. Yet, if Jesus Christ wasn’t fully-human, we aren’t saved, and we are wasting our time here. It is no exaggeration that our salvation hinges on the full-humanity of Jesus Christ. These are warnings we still desperately-need today.

8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; WOW! Another bold-warning. Tenaciously cling to the TRUTH so that you get your full-reward, but what was “the teaching of Christ“? Have we forgotten about the two “Great Commandments“? Have we forgotten how Jesus commanded us to love one-another? Jesus said; “Love God above all else“, “Love your neighbor as yourself“, and “Love one another as I have loved you“. That is where “the rubber meets the road“. Do not forsake the truth that you have received, because, if you do, you DON’T EVEN HAVE GOD. We are to demonstrate, by our actions, that we are obeying “the teaching of Christ“. That is why, in addition to teaching sound-doctrine, I believe that our “greatest-asset” as a community of Believers is that we also having a “loving-community“. While others here at the Cove may reject the Gospel, it won’t be because we don’t love one another.

9b The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If we abide in the “teaching of Christ“, we have the assurance that we are in Christ, and are accepted by the Father also. We have ASSURANCE OF OUR SALVATION. It is as simple as that.

10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

WOW!! We aren’t to even associate or fellowship with these false-teachers, because, if we do associate and fellowship with these false-teachers, we are PARTICIPATING IN THEIR EVIL DEEDS. We are to shun and dis-fellowship them from our church-family, i.e., excommunicate them. I know from experience that they DON’T want to have their “eyes-opened” to the truth. They are so “set in their ways” that, no matter how much “evidence” you give them from the Bible, they will STILL refuse the truth. Some would even prefer that there was no “bodily-resurrection“, that they could spend their days in Heaven as “disembodied-spirits“, because they DISDAIN OUR HUMAN-BODIES THAT MUCH.

12 Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.

In this day of “instant-communications“, there are still many things we CAN’T do “long-distance“. “Virtual-hugs” are better than none at all, but we all need real hugs, or try eating together – long-distance. I am a member of the CNA Board, and because we are geographically spread-out, we have had to have our Board meetings by phone-conference. Yes, we planned the CNA Spring Conference by email and phone-conference, but we also scheduled a Board meeting during the Conference when we could all meet face-to-face.

We may not have done any more business than we would have done by phone-conference, but there was something extra-special having the five of us gathered in a circle, in the same room, doing the business of CNA. That meeting will be long-remembered for being our first face-to-face meeting as a Board.

John understood this too, and he was looking-forward, as we did, to being with those he loved and cared deeply about. We were created for personal-relationships with one-another. I love this quote from Eugene Peterson, “Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

13 The children of your chosen sister greet you. (2 John 1)

John is sending greetings from the children of another “chosen sister“, because everyone who is a child of God IS a “Brother” or a “Sister“. It is quite common for visiting-Pastors to bring greetings from their home-church, and when I speak at other venues, I always bring greetings in the name of the Lord from Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship. That reinforces the truth that, while we are geographically-diverse, we are still a part of the same body of Christ, the Church.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
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. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!