Archive for August, 2011

Contrasts

August 19, 2011

Title: Contrasts

Text: 1 John 2:7-11

Time: August 14th, 2011

 

At this point the Apostle John is an old man. He’s one of the original disciples selected by Jesus to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, but he’s probably the only disciple of the original twelve left. The two most famous Christian leaders, Peter and Paul, are also probably gone by now, and John himself is nearing the end of his life. It’s probably around the end of the 1st Century, maybe 85 A.D. or so, that John is writing. He’s about all that’s left of the original leaders of the Christian church. So naturally, he’s highly esteemed among all Christians, everywhere. His advanced age also gives him added authority. He’s trying to impart his knowledge and wisdom about the Christian faith to others who will carry on now and after he’s gone. So he’s very direct, very forceful and very clear about what he says. In the Gospel of John, he’s more subtle and theological. He spends more time in that Gospel developing spiritual themes and ideas. In the Book of Revelation, John communicates grand, sweeping ideas based on visions he’s received from the Lord. In his letters, like the one we are examining today, he writes in short, practical words of wisdom, given for practical purposes. He changes topics quickly, or whenever he feels it’s important to cover something that comes to mind. That’s why I’m spending time on each different topic that comes up – because I want to hear and understand and communicate the wisdom of this beloved apostle to all of us here and now in the modern world. God is speaking through the Apostle John. Will we hear his message and obey it? Today’s message that John communicates is one of contrasts – between the old and the new, between darkness and light, between hate and love. We’ve already dealt with a number of different and difficult topics in just the past few weeks, things like sin and salvation, themes that really requires a lot more explanation. But we’re doing our best to keep up with John the Apostle as he leads us along a path that he feels is necessary for our spiritual health. One of the benefits of teaching the Bible verse-by-verse is that it leads us rather than us leading it. In other words, if we do the typical topical method of teaching, it is we who select the topic and we who select the verses that relate to our topic, and then we teach what we want to hear from verses we have selected. But when we learn verse-by-verse, it’s really God who selects the topic from the verse that comes up next in line. In this way we learn things we don’t already know from topics we haven’t selected for ourselves. We trust that God is leading us because we aren’t leading ourselves in whatever topics we uncover as we go through the Bible. So with that in mind, let’s dig into this next verse and see what God is trying to say to us today. 1 John 2:7-11, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (more…)

How We Know We Are Christians

August 19, 2011

Title: How We Know We Are Christians

Text: 1 John 2:3-6

Time: August 7th, 2011

 

How do we know that we are Christians? I think of the older contemporary praise chorus that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Is that how we know we are Christians — by our love? But then we must tackle the difficult task of defining what is love and how is it expressed. Or, is it good enough simply to claim Christianity? Do we know that we are Christians by simply asking ourselves what we are? Am I a Buddhist? No. Am I a Hindu? No. Am I a Muslim? No. Am I a Jew? No. Well, then, I must be a Christian! But does it automatically mean that I’m a Christian simply because I’m not a member of any other religion? Is it simply as a process of elimination? I doubt it. How do we know we are Christians? Is it because we are members of a Christian church? Or am I a Christian because I was baptized once upon a time? Am I a Christian because I raised my hand at an evangelistic meeting or went forward at the invitation of the evangelist? Does signing a decision card make you a Christian? A lot of people assume so. Some people think that being an American pretty much makes them a Christian, or being a member of the Western world civilization, since our culture is known historically as a Christian civilization. Does going to church make you a Christian? How about reading your Bible or praying? Do these make you a Christian? I once heard someone say, “You ain’t a man until your papa says you are.” Could we apply that to Christianity and say, “You ain’t a Christian until somebody else says you are?” In other words, it’s not enough to claim to be a Christian. It’s only so when somebody else calls you a Christian – then and only then do we have the right to know we are Christians. Interesting. That test might not be far from the truth, although this is nowhere taught directly in the Bible. Then there is the clever question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian. Would there be enough evidence to convict you?” But what would count as evidence? Your profession of faith? Your reputation in the community? Your participation at church? The consistency between what you say you believe and the way you live your life? It’s an interesting question. If you were arrested for being a Christian – or in other words, you were picked up on the charge of being a Christian, which in some countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, could actually happen. And if you were brought to court, would there be enough evidence to convince the jury or judge that you really are a Christian? This is one of the topics the Apostle John deals with in the lesson for today. 1 John 2:3-6, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Let’s break John’s teaching down a little more in order to clarify better how we can know we are Christians or not. (more…)

Don’t Sin, But If You Do Sin, There’s Hope

August 19, 2011

Title: Don’t Sin, But If You Do Sin, There’s Hope

Text: 1 John 2:1-2

Time: July 31st, 2011

 

The Bible is the most practical and relevant book of all time, although most people today don’t think so. The Bible describes reality as it is, but doesn’t just leave it at that; instead, it points us to reality as it should be. A lot of people think the Bible is an old book full of irrelevant truths that don’t apply to life today and has nothing to say to living in the real world of the 21st Century. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible is totally relevant for today and it deals with everyday issues of life. For example, in today’s lesson, we continue exploring the topic of sin, not in some abstract or theoretical way, but in a very useful and relevant way. The Bible describes the ideal, God’s will for our lives, but also acknowledges that we fail to live up to God’s ideal will. It then describes what we can do about that. It doesn’t leave us hanging with no help or hope for our lives. Have you ever thought about this dilemma – God has high expectations for each and every one of us because we are made in the Image of God. Yet on the other hand, we fail to live up to God’s high expectations constantly. This is just another way of saying that God has given us his divine law, yet we constantly violate God’s law through sin. That is the dilemma. What is the solution to this problem? God’s Word explains in 1 John 2:1-2, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Do you see the very practical and relevant way God deals with us in our sinful reality on this earth? He commands us not to sin through His Word. He defines what is and isn’t sin in the Bible. Yet, he’s realistic enough to know that we all sin and so he addresses that reality by giving us instructions what to do after we sin. Is God resigning to the fact that we are sinners and we will sin? Is God giving us his divine expectations but at the same time not really expecting us to live up to them? It seems so. In this way we see God the Father in heaven acting as the Ultimate Parent to us his children on earth by telling us clearly what he expects out of us, but then he is realistic enough to know that we will disappoint him and fail to meet his expectations. Yet he still desires a relationship with us, even as we are sinners who daily sin. So he gives us instructions how to salvage ourselves from our mess of sin. More correctly, God’s plan of salvation is his salvage operation for us and the whole human race. All humanity is fallen into a mess of sin and selfishness. Each one of us fails to live up to even the most basic of God’s expectations. We all sin in thought, word and deed. So then how can we have fellowship with God who is all-perfect and all-holy? God himself gives the solution in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today’s passage outlines the basic problem and God’s solution for us. Let’s look at it. (more…)

The Futility of Denying Our Sins

August 19, 2011

Title: The Futility of Denying Our Sins

Text: 1 John 1:8-10

Time: July 24th, 2011

 

One of the biblical Christian truths that is experiencing difficulty in the 21st Century is the doctrine of sin. It’s probably one of the most unpopular teachings found in the Christian church today. Not that the topic of sin has ever been “popular” in the common sense of that word, but today it’s not only unpopular, but it’s also being denied outright. It’s one thing to not like talking or thinking about something, like death and taxes, for example, but it’s another thing altogether to simply deny a reality. But that’s what people are doing more and more today. Now this denial of sin takes basically two forms. First, people today tend to deny the reality of sin outright formally by saying things like, “I know the Bible teaches and Christianity teaches that there is something called sin, but I just don’t believe it.” That’s outright denial of sin. It’s a denial of an absolute moral standard from God, or that God has communicated any absolute moral standards that he expects us to follow. That’s outright denial of sin. You’ll find this outright denial of sin in higher education institutions such as colleges and universities, or in government institutions such as state-sponsored counseling services or social programs. Of course, there are always atheists, agnostics, skeptics and all kinds of people who simply reject the biblical teaching of sin who will deny sin outright and out loud. Maybe you know somebody like that, either in your family or a friend, neighbor or co-worker. But then there’s another kind of denying of sin that is more a denial by neglect than by outright rejection. In this, people just don’t think about sin and by default deny it. Now this type of denial of sin can even affect so-called Christian people and even churches and denominations. While officially affirming the biblical and historic Christian doctrine of sin, these individuals, groups, churches and denominations essentially deny sin because they simply don’t talk much about it, or teach on it, or deal with it in any meaningful way. It simply dies of neglect. It’s this last type of denying of sin that we need to be particularly careful of as Christians in the 21st Century today, because we live in a secular society that denies sin in one way or another, and this tempts us to join in ourselves in some form of denying sin. As a pastor, I’m aware that most people don’t particularly like to hear or learn about sin; it isn’t a pleasant topic – at least when it comes to dealing with our own sins. Talking about other people’s sins is a very popular topic; all we have to do is listen to the news every day and we’ll hear reporting on some interesting sin that someone, some celebrity or politician or preacher, is doing. But as far as learning about and dealing with our own sins – that’s not interesting, in fact, it’s not pleasant and most people, even most Christians, don’t want to hear it. Which does present a problem for good, solid Christian churches. Do we teach and preach what people want to hear – give the people what they want? Or do we teach and preach what God says in God’s Word about sin regardless of opinion polls? Well, I think it’s pretty clear. We must teach what God says in his Word regardless of what popular culture thinks or regardless what opinion polls reveal. We must deal with reality, even unpleasant realties, like sin. That’s what John does in 1 John 1:8-10, he addresses the topic of sin: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (more…)

Walking In The Light With God

August 19, 2011

Title: Walking in the Light with God

Text: 1 John 1:5-7

Time: July 17th, 2011

 

We’re in the second week of studying the Letter of First John. Last week we learned that we can share in fellowship with the original disciples by sharing in fellowship with God through faith in the message of the gospel. The original disciples – or as they are called now – apostles or “sent ones,” witnessed the Incarnation, that is, God come in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. They witnessed that miracle and they now share their testimony of that supernatural event with us through the pages of the New Testament in the Holy Bible. When we read and believe the gospel accounts, when we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we share in the same faith fellowship as the original Christians. They had fellowship with God through being witnesses of Jesus Christ; we have fellowship with God through believing the disciples witness and trusting in Jesus Christ. So as it turns out, we can have the same fellowship they had with God through Jesus Christ, except we go through their testimony instead of going directly from eyewitness observation. The fact is, if something happened, it happened. If something is true, it’s true whether I saw it or whether someone else saw it and accurately reported it. If it’s true, it’s true. Today, we don’t actually have to witness the Incarnation personally to believe in it and benefit from it. If Jesus came, lived, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again to life, it really doesn’t matter whether I am witness to it or not, just as long as someone was witness to it. Now if nobody had seen the risen Christ, if there had been no eyewitnesses to the Incarnation, then faith would be on shacking grounds. But that’s not the case. Someone did witness the Incarnation; there were people around to experience the risen Christ, so it’s all true, for all people to believe. That was the basic message last week in the first few verses. But this week the discussion moves forward to add something else for us to consider. Let’s look at the passage for today, 1 John 1:5-7, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” God is light, the passage teaches, and anyone seeking fellowship with God must walk in the light in order to relate to him. But our problem as human beings is that we are not naturally of the light, but instead of the darkness. So then how can we have fellowship with God? Only through the supernatural cleansing of our sins by the cross of Christ when we trust by faith. Let me unpack this nugget of truth in order to give us a better appreciation of our salvation. (more…)

Come Join Us!

August 19, 2011

Title: Come Join Us

Text: 1 John 1:1-4

Time: July 10th, 2011

 

This week we’re moving into a new book of the Bible, into First John in the New Testament. It’s written by the same John who wrote the Gospel of John, the Apostle John, an original member of Jesus’ twelve disciples. John also wrote the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. So here is an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus Christ who then becomes a leader in the early church and outlives all of the other original disciples. Now not all the disciples wrote accounts of what they saw or wrote teaching letters to different churches; only a few did. We think of the Apostle Peter who was also someone who was a leader in the early church – Roman Catholics think he was the first Pope – and someone who wrote instructions to early Christians, for example, 1 and 2nd Peter. But outside of Apostle Paul and Luke, John is one of the leading voices we hear coming down from Christian history beginning in the 1st Century. Today, we’ll start into the first letter of John, the first chapter, the first verse: “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. As you can see, John is writing about his experience and his being a witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. But that’s not all, he’s inviting us to come along and join in with his experience in order that we too might have fellowship with God through faith. The apostles witnessed great things, probably the greatest things ever to occur on earth. Think about it – God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, came to earth and walked among people as a man for 33 years in order to live, die, and rise to new life for us. Now the problem is that I wasn’t around to see it and neither were you. In fact, the vast majority of people on the earth at every time period missed out on God’s appearing, or to use the technical theological term “the Incarnation.”  Only a small fraction of earth’s entire population witnessed God’s appearing in flesh through Jesus Christ. Now that doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why did they get to be around when Jesus lived and I didn’t – or you didn’t? And most importantly, how come those few people get the benefit of believing in the actual, flesh and bones Jesus, while we only get to believe rumors, reports of it. No wonder their faith was so much greater than ours today – they got to see it up close, while we have to settle for accounts of others? That’s one of the problems that John is trying to solve in the opening of his letter. He doesn’t want us to feel like outsider to the faith. Yes, he did get to experience Jesus along with the other disciples in a direct, immediate way, but he’s going to try to do his best to open up that direct eyewitness experience to us as well, by describing it as best he can. The Gospel of John does a great job of communicating a little of what it was like to actually witness Jesus up close, and now the letters of John attempt to draw us into the faith experience also. We don’t have to feel left out because we weren’t actually there to see and hear Jesus. We can enter into the experience through faith and share in the exact same fellowship with God that the apostles had. John’s letter explains how. Let me point out three important things. (more…)