Sunday Sermon Notes: July 10. 2022

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!

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.”  

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.

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Calling Disciples

Luke 5:1-11

Luke’s account of the calling of Peter, James and John as disciples differs in many ways from the accounts of Matthew and Mark; I’ll let others speculate on the reasons for this and try to focus on what I see as the really instructive part of Luke’s account. Please read these verses, if you haven’t already, and let’s talk…

OK, now that you have refreshed your recollection of this account, did you notice Peter’s reaction when Jesus caused his nets to be so overloaded with fish?

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (5:8)

Doesn’t that remind you of Isaiah the prophet?

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:1-5

This is from the passage that describes the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the people; do you see the similarity in his response to that of Peter when he saw how amazing and holy Jesus was, that He knew just where to cast their nets for a record catch? Isaiah was accepted for service and went without hesitation:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Like Isaiah, Peter was horrified at his unworthiness to be in the presence of the Son of God, yet in Luke 5:10 Jesus reassured him, and they dropped everything and followed Him without hesitation. You might also take a look at the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and Gideon in Judges 6.

It would be quite normal for any of us to realize that we are neither qualified nor worthy to serve our Lord; we are all sinners after all. Yet none of the “greats” of Scripture were any more perfect than you or I, and when reassured, they followed God’s call. Each of us knows that our sin has been taken away by the blood of Christ, and each of us has every right to seek His loving arms… and each of us has received His call to follow Him. Will we follow the example of Peter, James and John?

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One of “those” days

I’m sure you’ve had those days when it seems like everything is going wrong, when it seems like everyone is against you, and when it just seems like the deck is stacked and the fix is in. Yep, we’ve all had those days, and the funny thing is, even the guy who God Himself called “a man after my own heart” had days like that…

Lord, how many are my foes!
    How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
    “God will not deliver him.”

Psalm 3:1-2

I must admit that I have never had people trying to kill me before, and I certainly hope that you haven’t either, but I’ve had times when it seemed almost like that. So, it might be interesting to know how the man after God’s own heart responded, don’t you think?

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
    assail me on every side.

Arise, Lord!
    Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
    break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance.
    May your blessing be on your people.

Psalm 3:3-8

Happily for me, I’ve never needed to ask God to beat anybody up for me, but as I’ve gone through this life, I, like you no doubt, have had my share of challenges and obstacles to overcome. Sadly, I haven’t always responded to these things as well as David does in these verses.

God loved David, of that there can be no doubt.

God loves you and me too, just as He loved David. We know that God came through for David, that He forgave David for his shortcomings and for his sins, and so, He will do the same for us.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the biggest challenge of all is to remember these things at the time of crisis, rather than following my human tendency to despair first, and think later. Even so, when it takes us a while to see things clearly, to see that God is our strength, our courage, our sustenance and our hope, He is still right there beside us.

What a surety we have; what a strength we have!

God is always there; God is always faithful, even in our worst moments.

What a comfort we have; what a confidence we have!

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Healing

Luke 4:38-44

In these verses we see Jesus healing people of sickness and driving out more demons. The demons it seems all knew who He was, yet Jesus really wasn’t going to rely on the testimony of the agents of Hell to spread the good news; He ordered them to keep quiet. Even when He retreated to a solitary place, the people found Him and tried to persuade Him to remain with them, but Jesus couldn’t do that, for He had come to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God all over

Let’s just keep this short and sweet: When Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God, what happened?

First, people were amazed at the authority with which He spoke about it. Second, people were healed both of their illnesses and their spiritual oppression, both of which are things that came about as a result of Man’s falling away from fellowship with God. Third, Jesus gave practical confirmation of His authority; that it had indeed come from God. Yet there is another element in all of this, an apocalyptic element. Jesus demonstrated in physical terms what would soon happen in eternal terms after He had dealt with the sin of humanity and restored fellowship between Man and God, and if memory serves me, Luke also wrote a volume in which he told that story.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: July 3, 2022

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, yet John is throwing us a curve 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 enough, 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… 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’ 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, dear reader, I didn’t make this up.  Since I have commented on this so many times already, 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? That wouldn’t even make sense, would it?  God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins. 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?

We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord: 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?

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 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− it is by far the greatest joy there is.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June 26, 2022

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

John is continuing his thoughts that we looked at in vv. 7-10, and as I mentioned last time, this is the central core of Christian theology, the part that everything else is built upon.  Simply stated, this love core flows like this:

  1. God loved us while we were still sinners.
  2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.
  3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.
  4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11.  God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step.  Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church.  This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step.  The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.”  OK, why did he choose to write that?  Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and through us all will see it.

I have seen a number of debates about Evolution and Creation.  These kinds of discussions usually have at their core, an assumption that if we cannot observe some “evidence” that God exists, then we can determine that He does not exist.  I’m no scientist, but this seems to be a natural inclination on the part of people who are educated with regard to the Scientific Method.  Remember that one from your school days?  It was the one about observations, and testing theories with observable evidence.

Back to John.  Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you− The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ; at least it should be.  Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence, is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:16b-18

This short text is tricky; we need to be sharp to get the full benefit of it.  “God is love.” OK, so far, so good, this part is easy.  Them John says, Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  For us to live in love is to also live in God, and when we do that, God lives in us because God and love are parallel. They are inseparable.  Here comes the curve: John is building again.  Because of the inseparable nature of God and love, living our lives in love will make love complete, and ensure that we will be confident on the day of judgment: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: OK, this one is really interesting… John finishes this way:

In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Did you catch that?  If we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in us.  This is because love and God cannot be separated.  If we live this way, we live like Jesus lived.  Jesus did not fear death, why should He− He knew exactly where He was going!  When we live in love, we need have no fear of judgment, for that love drives fear of judgment out of our lives.

When a person dies, the next step is judgment.  You might believe that we die and immediately go to judgment, or you might believe that we die and sleep until judgment day, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter; judgment is the next step either way.  Just as Jesus knew exactly where He was going, so do we, we are going to be at His side.

So, what really happens?

When we go to judgment, there are two sets of books. There is the Book of Life and there are the Books of Deeds.  If your name is in the Book of Life, that’s it, you’re in!  If not, the other books are consulted, and you are judged by your deeds: You don’t want to be involved in those deeds books.  The judgment is not a horrifying ordeal if you are in the Book of Life.  Your name is read and that’s it, “welcome home.”  What John is telling us here is that living in love means that our names are in the Book of Life.

Let’s put it another way:  We read about this day in Revelation 21:11 ff. If you are in Christ, living in love (they are the same thing) your name is in the Book of Life.  That being the case, you are not being put on trial or accused of anything at all, for your sins have been taken away entirely; they are as far from you as the east is from the west.  There is no sin to even discuss: Period.  That is why John can say here, that perfect love drives out all fear.  The love God has always had for you terminated all discussion and your appearance at judgment is like a welcoming ceremony.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:19-21

This just about sums it all up, don’t you think?  God so loves us that He went to extreme measures in showing it, sending His Son to die for us… because so great was God’s love (John 3:16).

If God loves us, and we in turn love God, then we must also love our brother or sister.  As you can see from these verses, there is no negotiating to be done.  In fact, John says that it is a command from God that we love our brother− End of discussion.

Well… almost.  It may strike some as odd that God has commanded love.  It is really a fair question to ask if someone asked it… How can I be commanded to love?  I see my brother or sister, and I don’t feel anything for them. As I’ve written before words are funny things; they mean things.  In English, we only have one word: “Love.”  John wrote in Greek.  Greek has five words for our “love” and they mean different things.  The word that John used here is agapaō which is the word used in the New Testament for God’s love.  It is not the word for romantic love. When we are commanded to love one another, this command has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions.  Instead, it has everything do with attitude.

To love your brother or sister in Christ means to put their interests ahead of your own. If your brother or sister is in need, we are to take care of their need before we take care of our need.  We are to be willing to set aside our cares and hurts to see to the needs of others… just like Jesus did.  If we see our brother or sister hurting, we do something about it. Jesus saw us hurting from sin and death, so He did something about it, setting aside His own personal needs… that is unless you’d claim that He really needed to be tortured and murdered, or that it was His idea of fun…

This is the attitude that makes the Body of Christ possible.  If we were to approach the Body (church) as our little plaything or as our chance to be important, or in the way humans often approach things, then the Body will fight and divide.  Hmm, we might think about that one! If we approach it as people who love one another and put others ahead of ourselves, the Body is the most amazing and awesome thing this side of Heaven, as they say.

So, can we do it?  Sure we can!  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  It begins with a commitment to follow Jesus, and it carries on when we are more satisfied in His presence than when we are any place else. Need help or guidance in this?  No problem, seek Him, and follow where He leads.  You’ll know what to do.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June 19, 2022

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1 John 4:1-3

Oh my word, what a timely text!  With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience.  How can we tell who is right and who is not?

Simple: Test the spirits.

Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard.  Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh?  Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t, they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight?  Well, you can decide that one…

 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:4-6

John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer.  We have overcome the spirit of antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far that the spirit of antichrist could ever dream of being.  Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books.  These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ.  That is precisely what John is asserting here.  It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:7-10

We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter.  It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology.  All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless.  In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June 12, 2022

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:7-10

This is an interesting passage with which to begin any day: Don’t let anyone lead you astray. There are many who would do so, and they may try by appealing to our pride or vanity, they might appeal to greed or lust, they might even appeal to our intellect with attractive arguments or curious reasoning, but have you ever asked yourself why they would bother?

John gives the reason in this passage: They are sinful, of the devil and doing the devil’s work, because the devil has been in rebellion against God since the beginning and is looking for allies… or at least to separate us from Christ. It is really important that we get this point.  It is the work of the devil to separate us from Christ, because in Christ we are part of His work, and His work is to destroy the works of the devil.  Actually, this is so simple we might miss it− In Christ, we are a threat, so there will be opposition.

Within this context, John speaks of doing what is right as opposed to doing what is sinful, and in this context doing what is right means following Jesus Christ, and doing what is sinful means not following Christ and trying to lead His followers astray.  So far, this is very straight forward, and then John throws us a curve at the end, a curve that leads us to the next section. Doing right means that we love one another, doing wrong means that we don’t.

Wait! I thought you just said that doing right was following Jesus, and doing wrong was not following Jesus!  Where did all of this love stuff come from?

Simple answer: If we do not love one another as He loved us, then we can’t possibly be following Jesus Christ, because loving one another is where He is leading.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

1 John 3:11-15

Well, we have heard this message from the beginning, that we should love one another.  A quick look through Christian blogs will reveal that everybody writes about it at one time or another… or every day.  Why does it take so long to sink in for so many?

John takes us right to the story of Cain and Abel, an interesting choice.  He tells us that Cain murdered his brother because Cain was following the evil one, that his actions were evil and Abel’s actions were righteous; murder was the result. Now to be fair to Cain, I’ve never heard this mentioned as a motive for murder on a detective show before.  The usual motives for murder are hatred, greed, fear of exposure, jealousy… wait!  Maybe that’s the one: jealousy!  He was jealous because Abel was righteous and Cain was evil, and that led to hatred, which led to murder.  I wonder if Perry Mason or DCI Barnaby would see it that way….

It would seem that John is suggesting that evil will oppress the righteous. Then he takes another interesting step, adding linkage that we should pay close attention to, because it takes the old story from Genesis and brings it starkly to life: Do not be surprised if the world hates you.

I never cease to be amazed when Christians act all horrified and indignant that certain elements in society oppose us at every turn.  What is surprising about that?  Certain elements in society murdered God’s prophets and opposed the Lord Himself to the point of death, not to mention the early church, and evil regimes all through the ages.  There is nothing new in any of this.  No, it is not a sign that the end is near, it is a sign that we are in the last age, just as John said his readers were…

We must love one another, because we have passed from death into life.  We must love one another because God first loved us and He also loves our brother, and we love our brother because we love God: This, too is nothing new.  How will the world know that we are in Christ? Because we love one another.  Will the world hate that?  Yes, but many will also want it and be attracted to it, because once you separate individuals from the society in which they live, they want what we have in Christ.  Therefore, loving one another spreads the Gospel and accomplishes God’s purpose.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:19-24

Chapter 3 of John’s first letter ends with the assurance that we can know for sure where we stand with God, but it isn’t the answer that most of us give if we are asked “how we know”…

John’s answer is that we know by the Spirit within us.

Well steady on there, isn’t that the Spirit that so many are waiting for…until “it” decides to move…? Yes, that one, the one that we say we can’t hear.

Yes, that’s the one John is referring to!

John takes a little different tack that we often do. He says that we will notice whether or not the Spirit within us condemns us, we know that God is greater than our hearts and knows all.  I think that many of us today use slightly different terminology for this by saying that we “feel convicted” about something.  When this happens, we have something to seek forgiveness for and have the need to alter our behavior or attitudes in some way.  When we are not condemned by our hearts, we are confident in His presence. We know that in saying these things, John is making reference to the work of the Spirit in our lives because he says so in the last part of the passage. Now, the remaining question is whether or not this is really true in our lives.

Over the years I’ve noticed that many people will tell me about their active prayer lives.  They will tell me all about the countless hours they spend with God and all the rest.  On other occasions, they will tell me that they never notice the Spirit working within them, and that’s how I know for sure that they don’t have any of this great prayer life they like to go on about.  The reason is that seeking His presence is how we are able to discern the Spirit that is within us.  Notice that John linked the two in verses 21 and 22:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask,

You should notice something else here. Here’s verse 22 in full:

and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

Yes, we will receive anything we ask in prayer, if we “keep his commands and do what pleases him.” As always in John’s writings, asking and receiving are mentioned firmly within the context of doing His will, and not in doing our will.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 29, 2022

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 3:1-3

It’s really an amazing thing to read this text and give it a chance to sink in; this is a text to read slowly, prayerfully…

While we were dead in our sinful rebellion against God, He loved us so much, even in spite of our mindset against Him, that He went to extraordinary lengths to redeem us to Himself, and once reborn, we are now His children.  There are moments when we may not feel like it, but when God looks upon us, He sees His own children… what more is there to say?

None of us really can appreciate exactly what that entails.  It’s like being asked what heaven is like…  I’ve been asked this many times, but I must admit that I don’t really know.  People repeat certain Biblical passages about heaven, and act as though they know all, but they are kidding themselves, for they are quoting non-literal passages that give indications of certain aspects of heaven, but not details, and do you know how I can say this so boldly?  It’s easy; human language does not, nor could it ever, contain the vocabulary to describe fully, accurately and completely those things which no man has ever seen and reported directly – we have no references to comprehend.  The same is true for being children of God.  Much remains “hidden” for there is simply no vocabulary to convey the full meaning.  When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see all. What a glorious hope! It is only natural and proper for us to respond to this by setting aside the old life, the old ways, and to be pure as He is pure to the best of our ability, and according to His leading.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:4-6

John highlights the point made above about purity in these verses.  For us to disregard everything He has done for us, to reject His love and His grace and remain in the old ways is simply inconceivable. That isn’t to say that we will never struggle or make mistakes; it isn’t to say that we are suddenly perfect.  He came to take sin away, after all, not to catch us messing up.  John is once again pointing out the contrast between the follower of Jesus Christ and the one who rejects Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t appear to be referring in any way to a follower who had a bad day.

Before I conclude this, what is it that really jumps out at you here?

For me, the thing that jumps out is that not only is God’s love for us amazing, boundless and tremendous, but that it holds implications that go far beyond anything that we can even begin to comprehend in our current mortal state, and that our hope for eternal life is not only assured, but far more amazing than anyone has ever understood it to be.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 22, 2022

So far in this letter, John has given us a reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He is and His nature. John gave us a comparison and contrast of what the “Light” is, and who is and who is not “in the light.” Then John reminded us of who we are in Christ and how amazing that is.  In the previous section, John warns us not to love this world, and now John is taking us to the front lines on a battlefield, where it becomes plain why he has taken us on this journey to show us just who we are, and just who “they” are.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

1 John 2:18-19

This is the first mention of the term “antichrist” in the Bible. It means someone who is against or in place of the Messiah.  In these verses, John mentions twice that we are in the “last hour,” which is interesting when you consider that many will suggest today that there are more hours to come.  Whoever these antichrists were, or are, they appear to have been hanging around us, and then to have gone rogue. If nothing else, in these two verses, we can be sure that these rogues were hanging around, but they were never “us.”  Recall the descriptions of in the light and in the darkness in vv. 1:5-2:11… These characters were the ones in darkness.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

Now we have a little more information: The rogues John is talking about deny that Jesus is the Messiah.  That is a bald-faced lie, and those who are in the truth would never make such an assertion, so these guys were not in the light. No person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is in the Son, and if a person is not in the Son, they are also not in the Father.  They are antichrist, and there are many of those in the world.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

1 John 2:24-25

These two verses are the warming: Make sure that you hang on to what you know about Jesus Christ.  If you do, you will remain in Him and inherit eternal life. Do not listen to the rogues. By the way, this is why I said above that John has taken us to the front lines on a battlefield.  It is a spiritual battlefield in a spiritual war, where the antichrists in our midst will attempt to pry you away from the Truth.  Resist, and do not listen to their lies!

 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:26-27

John invokes the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit in urging us to remain in Christ.  Consider this: Here is a warning that there are those who try to lead us astray, to turn our backs on our Lord.  They are fighting against us in a spiritual war, and this can sound really scary.  Oh, it’s great in the movies, when their innocent victims are lured into evil by magical powers, having no way to resist.  Take heart! John is pointing out to you and me that we have within us, at our disposal greater firepower by tenfold: He is the very Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Godhead.  If we are focused on our relationship with our Lord, and we take these “battles” to Him, there isn’t even a contest, for “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.”

You know all those stories and books and movies about evil forces that lead the righteous astray?  “The Exorcist” “The Omen” etc., etc…? They really freak people out, which is why they make so much money, right?  People become afraid, and being afraid becomes a distraction for some.  At the same time, you have in these verses a very simple way to discern who the liars and antichrists are; a third grader can understand it.  You also have a solution to defeat the lie that a third grader can understand: stand on the truth of the Word of God, and reject outright the lie.

As simple as this is, many will be so creeped out by the stories and the idea of spiritual warfare, that it almost makes me wonder if these stories of myth, legend and popular fiction are actually part of the lie itself, so that we won’t fight back, and our superior firepower will never be brought to bear on our foe.  Hmmm… do you think we need to have a healthy relationship with the Lord?

I do!

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

1 John 2:28-29

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I sit back and think about everything involved in following our Lord and it all just seems a little overwhelming.  Thinking about who He is, what He is, His love for us, His call to us… and all of the implications of these things… Wow!

I don’t want to mess this all up!

Oh sure, I’m confident in forgiveness for sins, and I understand that He is loving, merciful and not interested in a “gotcha” moment, no that isn’t it at all; I don’t want to grieve Him or let Him down.  In the text we’ve been looking at, John seems to sense the same kind of thing.  He’s taken us through all of these amazing attributes, and he’s taken us through the facts of life in a spiritual battlefield, and now suddenly, he seems to take a little step back to survey the scene, and just as though he were reading my mind, he writes these two verses.

Wow!  What do we do now?  John’s answer is “continue in Him.”  Yes, that’s right; continue in Him so that when He appears we may be confident and unscathed by this world of ours.  By “continue in Him,” I think John means that we should simply keep on living in Christ’s image, as He taught us, doing what He did, following His Father’s purpose and not being distracted. We do know that He is righteous; so then, we do know that everyone who does right is born of Him.  By “right,” John must mean that they do the things that He would do, so while Jesus is the Model for all of us to follow, when those around us follow His model, we have someone to show us the way when we are confused.

Wow! Once again, the answer is simple, if not always exactly easy.

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