more of what John, “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say from 1 John 1:1-4 to us today

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

1 John 1:1-4; MSG

I’m not qualified to even guess what John the elder and beloved apostle would say to us if he were alive today. But I try to draw from others, as well as what little I understand myself. I’m imagining him as an old man when 1 John was written (along with 2 and 3 John letters).

I think John might emphasize to us the fellowship we’re to be a part of as well as what that means about all other fellowships. This fellowship doesn’t necessarily exclude other fellowships, but it holds preeminence and priority over all the others. Other groups or associations might have their place, but never at the expense of this bond we have together in God the Father and in Jesus our Lord by the Spirit. And the communion in which we live in Christ is not some private religious escape or whatnot which has nothing to do with the rest of life. It enters into everything, and determines our own lives, even at every step. What that means will unfold as we go on through this letter.

And our deepest abiding joy, indeed our true meaning for living is found only in this fellowship in Christ, nowhere else and never in addition to anything else. It stands alone. No other entity can demand the same allegiance or devotion. This means  that people can even be at variance in competing lesser fellowships, yet their unity with each other in the one fellowship in God the Father and in Jesus Christ remains intact, undiminished. And if that’s not the case, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong, that something that’s supposed to be representative of God and of what comes from God in Christ, indeed is not.

if John “the elder,” the beloved apostle were here today: 1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

1 John 1:1-4; MSG

John is not here today in person, but his writings are, and they point us to “first things.” We might say back to first things, because we are so prone to wander and get off track, and that includes all of us. The beginning of this letter is like the beginning of John’s gospel which is like the beginning of the first book of the the Bible, Genesis. And if John wrote the book of the Revelation, the beginning of it points us in exactly the same direction. To Christ.

We might say Christ is the ground of being in the sense that all life and meaning come through him. Creation finds its fulfillment in proper relationship to him. But it comes to us in a very down to earth, fully human way. Christ became one of us, living completely in our existence. And John might tell us today that this is where we must begin. If we’re not grounded in this, then we’ll get everything else wrong.

We can take it for granted that yes, we’re grounded in Christ. John’s point here is that we’re to live in fellowship, in communion with Christ and through him, the Father, in a very natural spiritual sense. And that this fellowship precludes everything else, or probably better put: all other relationships are secondary and subservient to that. But this fellowship or relationship helps us live fully in the other legitimate relationships of life. But also cuts off all that is not legitimate, that which, really, is not of Christ.

So John might want to emphasize with us, if he were with us, and going over this letter today, that we start with Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (“A to Z”: The Message), and all that is in between. All of life must considered from that perspective. And the goal is nothing short of a real, deep, abiding communion and fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. That is where we’re to live. Nothing more and nothing less.

Jesus is with us. are we with him?

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:1-17; MSG

Christ’s words to his disciples echo to us today. We often want to do much for our Lord, even out of love, so we give it our best effort and inevitably fall short. It seems here that Jesus is telling us that a first priority is to be at home in organic, intimate relationship with him. I really like how Eugene Peterson puts it. And this is both an individual and communal endeavor. Jesus talks about individual branches which bear no fruit, but is talking to his disciples as branches on the same plant, who are to love each other.

I think oftentimes God lets us have success, but then the well dries up because we have something more to learn, at least better. This is a lesson from our Lord he gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before his crucifixion. It was and we can say is something close to our Lord’s heart, something he practiced in relation with the Father, and wants us to practice in relation with him.

Too often we tend to downplay relationships in our emphasis for doing, getting the job done. I know that all too well in my many years it turned out to be, in factory work. At this late time for me, I’m learning more the importance of relationships, working with people whose ethnic practice is much more relational and communal, even though they work quite hard as well.

It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t help in God’s good grace. But it’s more like a little bit from our communion with Christ will go much farther, and be much more potent than all our efforts all day.

So it seems like first things first, we need to focus on our union and communion, indeed on our relationship with Christ. Of course it’s only in and through him that we have that relationship at all, through his life, death and resurrection, and by the Spirit through his ascension.

If we’re at an impasse, maybe we just need to stop dead in our tracks. And seek to draw near to God. Jesus already makes his home in us. We’re to make our home in him. So maybe for us for a time it won’t be a matter of doing, but just trying to settle into our friendship with him, loving each other, as he taught us. Knowing that the fruit, good things will inevitably come out of that. But learning to settle in and be settled in that.

what does God’s promise to never leave us mean?

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Repeatedly in Scripture we have God’s promise not to forsake his people. And Jesus made that clear at his ascension (Matthew 28), his presence being with them (John 14) through the soon to come outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,2).

We need to take it in that Scripture tells us that we are in God through Christ, and God is in us. What we’re referring to here is like living in a sphere, even a bubble. Our struggle comes in part because we don’t understand this and therefore we’re not expecting closeness to the Lord, nor to be guided directly by him through the Spirit, and the means the Spirit uses: primarily Scripture and the church.

This makes all the difference in the world, the difference between night and day when we begin to act as if this is so, and to do that in the beginning will ordinarily be quite apart from our feelings. And this all really is not a matter of emotions. That will always come and go. But to have a sense of the Lord’s interactivity with us is indeed encouraging.

For us Christians, Christ is central in every way in this. We know it’s because of his life, death and resurrection and ascension that this new life is available to us. And it’s a life in which Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3). Our only hope is in him.

And like the Scripture above tells us, he promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever we have to go through he’ll intimately be there with us through it all. What we must do is act as if that’s the case, applying Scripture, like Philippians 4:6,7, etc., etc. And we’ll soon find out that this is indeed the case. But something we’ll have to do again and again, so that over time it can become more and more second nature to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.

rewiring one’s brain

In neuroscience, neuroplasticity is big nowadays, the idea that one can impact their brain for good or ill in numerous ways. I’m sure there’s limitations to this, but I’m convinced there’s truth in it. Like how the music we listen to affects us. Or engaging in some activity which in and of itself might not be good or bad but binds us, and disengaging.

Change is slow, but it does occur over time. But we have to persist.

Scripture is the source I turn to again and again. And the church, along with the fellowship of believers in the communion of Christ. And I want to turn away from whatever might get a hold and control on me, whatever that might be. Sometimes in our lives things we know are not good in themselves, and yet we can rationalize and be blind to what is obvious. Our uneasy thoughts can betray that fact. Oftentimes in matters which in themselves are not bad at all, but become bad because they get an idolatrous grip on us that won’t let go, or perhaps more accurately, we won’t let go of.

Repentance is needed. Slowing down and actually stopping has helped me. And letting go of thoughts that argue against change. Replacing them with thoughts hopefully from God, or waiting for such thoughts.

This seems to be important for me right now. It seems like there’s been dead ends or less than helpful places where the fruit borne was not what was intended. So I wish to go to better places. Not leaving behind legitimate concerns, but hopefully thinking and living in a way that will be more helpful in addressing them. In and through Jesus.

 

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

the sheep listen to and follow their shepherd

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

We should meditate on God’s word regularly, day and night (Psalm 1) which should lead us to meditate on our Lord, and as I’ve put it in the past, be in interactive relationship with him, in fellowship, communion, yes, person to person.

Christianity has been called a Book faith. And it is very much tied to scripture, to the Bible. But it doesn’t stop there. It is personal and interactive with the Three Person God, who in himself is personal. And a large part of what it means to be human seems to be relational, humans living together, and in the end, God living with humans (Revelation).

To be a Christian is to be a Christ one, “in Christ.” Christ in us, and we actually in him. God in Christ: the Father and the Spirit in the Son, and the Father and the Son in union by the Spirit. And us together in Christ, so that we exist in this holy communion together. And as we see in the passage above (click the link), Christ has other sheep, so that they are brought into this communion. And that would be part of our goal through prayer, to see others hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and join us.

For prayer, and even for all of life this seems essential. Here is a good website to help us get started and grow in this way, called Soul Shepherding. So let’s be in the Book, but from that, also in interactive fellowship with Jesus. In and through him.

to know Christ is to make him known

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

There has probably been no one who had a greater passion for people coming to Christ than the Apostle Paul. At least he’s the model for that given to us in scripture. But as we can see from the book of Philippians, his passion and indeed his life was Christ.

I wonder if instead of concentrating on bringing people to Christ, if we would just concentrate on Christ himself, than others would receive far more benefit from us. They might actually somehow see Christ at least at work in our lives, and might catch a glimpse of his beauty.

Yes, it’s the gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and we dare not minimize that. But in pointing others to Christ, it is not only the message, but the medium. In other words, we need to be something of what we’re trying to share.

I think if we just settled into knowing Christ instead of trying to make him known, then he would much more likely be found by those around us. Not that we shouldn’t be intentional in trying to make him known. But if knowing Christ was our main goal and the natural part of our lives, then others would much more likely be drawn to him by what they see in us.

We may have been rather more or less far removed from this thought. In Christ’s appeal to the church at Laodicea, it is obvious that this congregation certainly was. He speaks some pretty stern words, along with this invitation:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelation 3:20

The promise here is one of companionship and intimacy. A huge part of the disciples three years with Jesus was simply being with him. And after Pentecost, Christ by the Spirit is with us forever. But communion as in friendship does not automatically follow from that. Like any other relationship, it needs to be made a priority, and cultivated.

To simply know Christ. What we need, and what others need from us. In and through him.

friends

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

They say women are better than men at relationships and specifically– friendship, and I partly believe it. To think through friendship a little, it might be good to give some definitions or descriptions.

Relationship is how we relate to each other, what kind of communion or fellowship there might be in that. Friendship is a bond people have in which they have something in common, and just seem to get along well with each other.

To be friendly is what ought to characterize people everywhere, though in this broken world one has to be on guard, particularly for children. Maybe we get so used to the guarded reserve around us, we carry that too much everywhere we go. Many of us too are introverts, so that we would just as soon remain to ourselves in quiet and peace.

It is interesting how some of us have a special bond in which our personalities seem to mesh well. A word here to those who are married: Whatever special bond you do have will be tested simply because of the fact that both of you are sinners. You’ll have to work through your problems, be sorry and work on change when you hurt each other, and be committed in that way to each other. Other friends don’t have the weight of living with the other 24/7.

There is no doubt that we need friends. Maybe that’s in part why people are on social media all the time, which actually does not lend itself well to being friends, and actually hurts real friendship in the process. Do I need to mention people together wherever, looking at their cell phones?

Loyalty through thick and thin is what will characterize a true friend. They are there regardless, and you are there for them regardless of what they might be going through.

God made us for communion and fellowship, yes, even friendship with God, and with each other. We need not despise or set aside a friendship which seems weak and lacks depth. Maybe it will grow. People need friends, and a little bit of friendship can go a long way at times. There are those friendships which seem special, with a depth to them to which there seems to be no end. Just a glimpse of what in large part we were made for, and what will be completely fulfilled someday in and through Jesus.