Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dethroning the American Jesus - Final 1 John Post


"We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked on. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." - 1 John 5:18-21 

This journey through the book of 1 John has been long. Looking back, my first post on the book was on January 2 of 2015, and what started out as covering nearly an entire chapter each post turned to covering about three verses.  
But here we are at the end, and John has certainly saved the best for last.  

We know, we know, we know… 
The book of 1 John is so cram-packed full of challenges for the believer. It's full of ways to test the authenticity of one's one faith. It's full of wisdom on what to do in certain situations and full of ways to know you know God. 
Here, in the final four verses, John sums up everything he has said, challenging young and old one last time to examine their lives. He leaves little grey area as three times he declares "we know." 

  1. Sin and evil 

John's first "we know" statement is a heavy one. In fact, it includes three statements within the one.  
First, "we know that whoever is born of God does not sin." 
Let's quickly rule out that this is not entirely literal. If the mark of a true, 100% authentic follower of Christ was that they absolutely never sinned, we would be in a lot of trouble. Peter and Paul would have been in trouble. Martin Luther would have been in trouble. John Piper would be in trouble. Even the Apostle John would have been in trouble. The entire planet would inevitably be damned.  

Clearly, it must mean something else. 

Let's think back to what this entire book has been about - evidence. Is there evidence for the claims you make about your faith? Is there evidence that God should listen to your prayers? Is there evidence that you know God. And now, in these verses, is there evidence that God has changed you? 

Look at the second part of the sin statement. "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself." 

I've bolded the "but" to show the contrast. Contrary to a planet that willfully and happily chooses to do things contrary to God's Law every single day, a true believer keeps himself. He has control over his flesh and control over his emotions.  

Finally, the verse finishes, "and the wicked one does not touch him." 

No matter the consequences, a true believer will consistently choose light over darkness. He is unwavering in his resolve despite culture. She holds fast under heavy peer pressure.  

We live in a time period (as many time periods before this one) where individuals in our country do whatever they want, and our laws are constantly adapting to make sure that their impulses are legal.  

Being pregnant became annoying, so we began killing the babies. Men and women born with the desire for the same gender grew tired of trying to restrain themselves or hide, so equality was demanded. None of this is new, mind you. And it doesn't stop with these two sins. Throw in pornography, popular movies and tv shows that clearly go against what God would want for our entertainment. This story has been told many times. However, because we live in a "sort of Christian" nation, many of the people involved in such things are still claiming to be Christians. This is where 1 John comes in handy.  

They are not Christians.  

I'm not the one saying it. It's just so painfully obvious in Scripture. True believers do not live in sin. They are not "okay" with sin. When they sin, and it should not be often, they should feel the weight of that sin. They should immediately repent, which literally means to "turn away" from it. They will do everything in their power to refrain from doing it again.  

This is why I also believe that addiction has no place in the true believer. If you are addicted to something, then you are its slave, and therefore, where is the evidence that Christ has freed you from the power of sin? 

John has taken off the gloves and is delivering the final blow to fake Christians in the Church. If sin controls you, there is much evidence to declare that you are not saved. 

  1. God and the World 
John's second "we know" statement is about the true believer's place on this planet. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." 

This one is a bit simpler, but still has massive implications. True believers are of God. The rest of the world is under Satan. There is no middle ground. The battle is waged. The chess match is in the heat of play. You are either a pawn of Christ or of Satan.  

Therefore, those who are of Christ will fight His battle. They will not be controlled by the desire and lifestyle of the world. I'm not talking about sin. I'm talking about hopes and dreams. The unbeliever or fake believer dreams of a bigger house, a better car, retirement and health. Those are not the hopes and dreams of a true believer. There's no Scripture to back up those kinds of hopes and dreams. The believers in Acts gave everything away to help those in need. The wealthy did not save up for a better house. They sold their homes and property for the use of the Church. They didn't plant hedges around their property lines. They invited the homeless into their houses.  

Imagine you and your friend are on a fishing trip. You know that in three days the trip will be over and that you will return to your warm, comfy home where your best friends and family will be waiting for you. Your fishing partner doesn't realize anything comes after the camping trip. He's not thinking about that at all. On the first night, it rains heavily and you both get wet. The next morning, your fellow traveler declares that he is going to build a beautiful home. He is going to give the boat a paint job and fix up the gross outhouse.  

You on the other hand, should have entirely different goals. After all, you only have three days here. Why waste that time working on something that won't matter in three days? You spend all three days fishing so that you have some great "catch" photos to bring home. Your friend mocks you all the second day. "Hey, relax man. Sit back and relax, or at least help me build this nicer cabin." You shake your head. "There isn't time for that. I came here to fish, and I only have a couple of days left!" 

A true believer should be very aware of the short time he or she has on this planet, and that should dramatically impact how they spend their days here. It should impact their language, their schedules and even their hopes and dreams.  

  1. Truth and Fiction 
"And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." 

A true believer knows God, and she knows she knows him. She has no doubt of it. We know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know He is God's Son. We know He is the only way to the Father. We know He is the only way to eternal life. True believers have no excuse for slipping through life unnoticed. There should be no doubt in people's minds that we are believers, or at least that there is something very unusual about us. I'm not saying you have to preach on a busy street corner. Lord knows that introvert James has trouble enough speaking to strangers.  

But think of it this way. I'm a Vikings fan. Most people don't have to talk to me very long to figure that out. I'm not an expert like some of my friends, but I know a good amount of the players. I know how we did last year, and I can make a decent argument for how I think we'll do next year. If literature comes up, people will learn fairly quickly that I love C.S. Lewis. I've read about 15 of his books, so I can talk for a good while about his writing.  

So, if indeed I am in God…if He has given me understanding and my hope and trust is placed in Him, what excuse do I have to say nothing about it? The answer is none.  

  1. Believers and Idols 

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." 

"Children" here most likely refers to everyone under John's teaching, not just kids, but I think this command rings true especially for the young, both physically and spiritually.  

The Greek word for "keep" isn't just another way of saying "Don't touch." It involves action. It means to separate oneself from something, or even to flee it.  

I find it so fitting that John ends this phenomenal letter this way. After all he's said, what is his very last statement.  

"Don't get distracted." 

In your endeavor to walk with Christ, keep yourself, separate and sprint away from anything that is going to distract you from the True God. This could include so many things. Don't get distracted by Netflix. Don't get distracted by football. Don't get distracted by money or your career. Don't create a version of God that isn't true.  

The United States of America has created a version of Jesus that is so appealing. He is culturally acceptable and so very tolerant. He sits like a bobble head doll on your car dash, nodding away. Whatever you do is fine. Just be sure to sing an emotional Christian song every once in a while and post something spiritual to Facebook. He doesn't love abortion, but He's not angered by it. He prefers man and wife marriages, but you'll find him tapping his toes at a gay wedding dance. He closes his eyes during the Game of Thrones episodes, but he "gets" the epicness of the show, and is totally fine with you watching it, because "it's not really porn." He wants you to go to church, but he totally understands that you get along so much better with people outside the church. He wants you to witness, but He is insistent that you don't offend anyone or embarrass yourself. So don’t give out give out tracts. Absolutely refrain from showing anyone the Law so that they recognize they are a sinner.  

This Jesus does not exist. While we may not bow down to a literal bobble head of American Jesus, he is the one most Americans worship, and most of them have no idea who the True Christ is, and they would probably hate Him if they found out.  

Conclusion 

I hope you forgive my many rants over the last year. There is a problem with American Christians in this country. But I'm sure that I have been more convicted than any reader. I have examined myself so closely over this past year, and I'm trying so hard to cleanse the filth. Much of what I've written may sound like the writing of a Debby Downer. I hope that's not all you've gotten from this book, because it really is a book of Good News.  

You, a chosen child of God, were ripped from your depravity into His glory. You were stolen from darkness and placed into light. You were given understanding. You were given hope. You were given a promise of a beautiful home after this camping trip. You were promised victory over sin and power over greed and laziness. You were given the ability to discern things that the best scholars will never know. You were given a heart of love like no hippy can understand.  

So, let us walk in the light as He is in the light. There is no better place to walk.  


  



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When Prayer Isn't The Answer


"If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin leading to death." - 1 John 5:16-17

Recently, I talked about prayer and the confidence we can have in it. But what about this passage? Why would this sort of passage follow such an inspiring couple of verses?

It's because God has limits. These are not limits of His grace (though we may view it that way), rather limits to His tolerance of our earthly stay.

There are two kinds of sin according to John. Most biblical scholars will agree that John is not referring to two specific sins. As John Piper said in this sermon, John is not referring to murder as the sin which leads to death and a little white lie as the sin which does not. Rather, these two sins refer to how deeply rooted the individual is in that sin.

Here is an example of a sin which does not lead to death.
Your brother or sister in Christ cheats on his or her spouse. This is a massive sin. It's against God's design for marriage. It tears apart the picture of Jesus and His bride. It's just downright terrible. But…let's say the guilty party is extremely sorry. This person isn't sorry he or she was caught. The individual is truly sorry for the sin committed.
Then, they ask you for prayer. You lift them up to the Lord and beg that God would let that individual continue living to worship and serve Him.

After committing this terrible act, the husband or wife then gets on bended knee, admits the sin, begs forgiveness, admits the sin to the spouse, turns away from the sin and does everything in his or her power to rebuild trust in the marriage.

You were able to pray with confidence, because this sin was not going to lead to death, neither physical nor spiritual.

However, let's take the exact same scenario. This time, contrary to the previous example, this believer has a history of being unrepentant. He or she rarely apologizes for wrong-doing. You find out that this affair has been going on for some time. You are not approached by the individual for prayer. In fact, this person goes on with life as normal. Eventually,  a divorce occurs and the individual remarries. This person continues coming to your church, and perhaps is even a member of your prayer group. What are you to do?

As odd as this may sound. Prayer may not be the answer.

This is assuming a couple of things. Let's call this individual a male (so I don't have to keep saying he or she). I'm going to assume this man has been approached about his ongoing sin. Beginning in Matthew 18:15, Jesus gives the example of how to deal with a sinning believer in the church body. 1 Corinthians 5:13 states that if there is a believer in the church who refuses to stop walking in sin, "put away from yourselves the evil person." Paul goes so far as to tell them not to even sit down and have a meal with that person. In Jeremiah 7:16, God tells Jeremiah not to bother praying for the people of Israel because, "I will not hear you."

I will not hear you? I thought God heard all of our prayers?

Not necessarily.

John's entire first epistle has been about the way a believer should live day in and day out. There are warnings signs that show an individual how they may not be a believer if they live a certain way. He offers confidence to the true believer when he or she prays.

To the individual who ignores all of this instruction, there are two warnings.

First, you are not necessarily a believer, and you should examine yourself to see if you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Secondly, there is a point when God will stop hearing the prayers offered up for you, because you have chosen sin too happily above Him.

It's not a sin to keep praying for a believer who is living in sin, but there is no confidence. After all, it may be in the best interest of both the Gospel and that individual for God to orchestrate a car accident or cancer to take his life.

Think about it. The believer's purpose on this planet is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. The believer living blissfully in sin is not glorifying God. On the contrary, he is daily dishonoring God and is a living detriment to the Christian faith. To pray that God would "bless him" or "give him a good day" or even "give him safety as he travels" may very well not be in anyone's best interest.

So what do you pray?

First of all, always pray as Jesus taught His disciples, "Thy will be done." That is most important.
Secondly, if you are unsure this individual was ever truly saved by the work on the cross, pray for his or her salvation.
Lastly, pray for yourself and those around this individual, that the Lord would lead you and them in how you ought to interact with this person. Perhaps the Lord would have you retell the Gospel to them - to make sure they weren't "saved" into an untrue, prosperity gospel. Perhaps he would have you avoid them, like in 1 Corinthians. Perhaps He would have you give your time and energy elsewhere.

And above  all, examine yourself, to you make sure you are in the faith.



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Knowing what to pray

"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him." - 1 John 5:14-15

Think of the person/people you are the closest to. Think of the individuals who would help you out at the drop of a hat.
If the time is 3 a.m. and you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, what number do you dial with absolute assurance that he or she will be there as soon as possible?

The "sort of" prayer answerer
I've always been a little confused when it comes to verses in the Bible regarding prayer. We all know that God answers prayer. Here are a few verses that remind us of that.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
1 John 3:22 ESV / 64 helpful votes
And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
Isaiah 65:24 ESV / 58 helpful votes
Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.
2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV / 46 helpful votes
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Psalm 37:4 ESV / 42 helpful votes
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Matthew 21:22 ESV / 23 helpful votes
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
1 John 5:14 ESV / 13 helpful votes
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
-----------

The confusing part to me  was that there always seemed to be a hundred different prerequisites to our prayers being heard. If you delight yourself…If you humble yourself…If you keep My commandments…If you abide in Me…If…

I kind of got the feeling that prayer worked like this…
  • If you have your life pretty much completely together and only ask for things that you are absolutely 100% sure are in line with God's plan for your life today and you are 100% sure that there is no selfishness in your request and that your request helps the poor, the sinners and your Great Aunt Ruth…then you can be pretty sure that God will answer your prayer…but don't be SURE…because God can do whatever he wants, and sometimes God answers your prayer by saying no.

It was confusing, and my inner prayer monologue was something like this:

"Dear God, Thank you for today. Please give me safety as I travel to work. I mean, wait, only if that's Your will. If you want me to die in a car accident, then I want that. What am I talking about? I don't want to die today…what about my family. James, shut up. You are praying. Right. As I was saying, please help me do my job well. I mean…only if you want me to. If you want me to get fired then, please do that. Thank you for my family. Please be with my wife and son today. Please protect them and let them have a fun time. Bahhhh…..I mean obviously only it that's Your will. Oh wait, I sinned yesterday. Now, I don't even know if You are listening to me. I'm so sorry about that sin. Please help me be more loving of a husband next time and not watch TV instead of doing the dishes like I said I would. Okay, now what…"

How do I reconcile all of these verses? How do I pray without constantly worrying about if I am meeting the strict pre-payer qualifications?

Think back to the person you most depend on. What is the prerequisite to them helping you?

  1. You are close friends.
  2. Your request does no jeopardize your friendship.

If you and your best friend have a massive argument, and you know it was your fault, you may not have a lot of confidence at calling her at 3 a.m.
If you really want to ask your best friend to take his girlfriend to prom, you'll probably be out of luck.
If you completely ignored every request your mom or dad made last weekend for some "help around the house," they probably won't buy you a new car.

But, when your relationship is as it should be and your request is one that will either keep your friendship that way (or even make it closer), you can expect them to follow through.

That's the way it is with God. He understands you are human, that you make mistakes and that you have human desires. He did, after all, create you that way. He doesn't have angels at the Prayer Center in Heaven sorting through "worldly" prayers.

"Ah, Gabriel, another request for a safe drive home!"
"Hogwash! Doth not James know that the Lord may wisheth Him to crash today!"
"You speak the truth. I believe we shall altogether dispose of this prayer request."
"Truly."

In his commentary on 1 John, Warren Wiersbe said this about prayer.
"What breathing is to a physical man, prayer is to a spiritual man. If we do not pray, we 'faint' (Luke 18:1)."

When you go on a road trip, think of all the requests you make during that trip.
"Hey Sam, can you get the door for me. Hey Jonathan, will you drive. Can you turn on the radio? Can we stop at the next rest area? Can I borrow two dollars?"

That's the relationship we have been granted with God. That's why we are to pray without ceasing. There is a closeness. The reason we need to take care of sin before asking for something is because whatever we are asking for could not even be as close to as important as mending our relationship. The reason we need to ask for things that are in line with God's will is because we know that He knows best.

But I don't have to worry about asking for alertness while driving, because it may in fact be the will of God for me to crash and die, and if He gives me alertness His plans will be thwarted.

Conversation with a friend is not supposed to be burdensome. Neither is prayer.

I believe there are two verses that best teach us how to pray.

The first is 1 Thessalonians 5:17. It simply says, "Pray without ceasing." It is impossible and unbiblical to ignore everything around you and constantly be in deep prayer. Therefore, this must mean a much more laid back, constant recognition of the need for God in everything.
"God, please give me confidence to give this presentation," I pray as I walk into that conference room.
Is that a fleshly prayer? Sure. Can I pray it with confidence? Absolutely. Is it selfish? Not if my confidence lies in God. Does it point to God as the sole resource of my ability to do my job well? Yes!
That two-second prayer just said a lot about my relationship with God.

Here is another example.

"Lord, please give me humility," I pray as my wife nags me yet again for not putting my clothes away. You see, without humility this conversation is going to go very poorly. I couldn’t pray for this situation that morning. I didn't know it was going to happen. I can't ignore the situation and go outside to pray. My wife will think I'm avoiding her.  Because I pray without ceasing, the phone line is always connected with Heaven.

The second passage is Matthew 6:9-13.

"In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

This is how you pray in the moments that are just you and your Redeemer.

"Father. You are so Holy. You are so different and better than anything this earth could ever offer me. You are the Kind of peace, hope, forgiveness, love, restitution and joy. I want those things in my home. Help me to be a husband who is about the business of those things. Help me instill those qualities in my son. Help me to be a husband who is slow to speak, quick to listen and quick to love.

But I don't just want those things in my home. I want them in my community. Help me to be someone who brings those things into my community, and keep me from distractions that would keep me locked inside my own home. I also pray for my brothers and sisters in the faith who are about the business of these things. Give them confidence and boldness as well.

And I pray for my country. Lord, I don't pray that a Republican would be nominated or that any laws that have been passed would be overturned. That is in Your  hands. I simply pray that I would be a man who would impact my country where I am by being Your hands and feet. Lord, you know it is my desire that my country would turn to you, so I pray that you would give believers everywhere boldness - not to start a spiritual war, but boldness to love those who hate the things we hold dear.

I pray for the men and women who lead our country. I disagree with many things they believe and are trying to pass into law, but I am grateful that you have placed them in a position over me, because You know how quickly I would drive this nation into the ground if I was in charge. I understand that the United States of America is not my eternal home, so for now, I am grateful for the people in charge of me who work to keep this the best temporal country that has ever existed. Please give them wisdom to continue leading me. I also pray for their spiritual state. Some of them sorely need You, not so they can become a Republican, but so they can know the joy of having You as their savior, and so they can be freed from the bondage of their sin. I think specifically of President Obama, his wife and children. I thank you that they neglected a normal life, that they might lead this nation. I thank you for President Obama's diligence these past seven years. I apologize for anything negative I have said of him. I pray that you would not only give him strength to continue leading us, but that he would also continue to be a good father and a loving husband.

Father, praying for my daily bread seems silly right now, because my fridge, freezer and cupboards are stocked. And yet, I know that, like Job, you could take any and all of it away in an instant. And so, I thank you for what you have given me. I pray that you would allow me to keep enough of what I have to make it through today, and that you would direct me as to what I should do with the extra - whether I should save it for tomorrow or give it away today.

I ask you to forgive me for the things I have done wrong since we last spoke. I can think specifically of two things, but I'm sure there are more. Help me to continue growing in faith, hope and love that I might refrain from doing those things which are of no eternal value.

And because you are so free to forgive me, help me to continue forgiving those who wrong me. I am so inclined to disdain them, but You give me strength to see them as You see me.

Keep me from sin today. You have promised that You will not lead me into a temptation from which there is no escape, so I cling to that truth. Make the way of escape so clear to me. Give me the strength to do so. Protect me from the lies of Satan today. Remind me of the things You say in Your Word when I need them. Your Word is truth.

Your kingdom is the only one that matters. Your power is the only power I care about. Your glory is the reason for my existence. Remind me of that today.

I long to see You and to be with you in eternity.

Amen.


Prayer should not be a burden. It should be the means of  lifting the great weight the world places on us each day. It should deliver us from pride and selfishness and give us peace.

A three-second prayer may not seem that spiritual, but when your day is filled with three-second prayers, along with time set aside for longer conversation (such as with morning or evening devotions), suddenly your day becomes saturated in God, and you cannot possibly imagine the eternal significance of that.