Category: 1 John (page 1 of 5)

The Primary Command

Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period.  Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.

One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”

Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.

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The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.

People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.

(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)

Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us

According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.

Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.

The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.

We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.

Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.

If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.

This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.

Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.

No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.

Peace,

Allan

Chosen By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul is using Old Testament language in this passage. “Known by God” is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the way God knows Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the nation of Israel. The Bible says they are all known by God. And that phrase is mostly used of very important people at very critical junctures in the story. To be known by God is to be chosen by God. It’s God acting on your behalf. It’s God choosing through no merit of your own — you’ve done nothing to deserve it — to bless you and work in you and through you in his salvation story.

The point is that God is the prime figure. He’s the main actor, the initiator. God determines the appropriate time for his Son to come (Galatians 4:4). God sent his Son (4:4). God sent the Spirit into our hearts (4:6). God made us his heirs (4:7). Paul is pointing to what happens when you are grabbed by God, when God’s attention is focused on you.

The Bible is consistently clear on this. Salvation always begins with God, not you.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law… Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” ~Romans 3:11-24

People don’t seek God; God seeks people. Humans are so caught up in their sin, they’re so in love with their sin, they don’t seek holiness and righteousness on their own. God always has to make the first move. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“The one who loves God is known by God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 8:3

In Genesis 18, God promises to bless Abraham and make him a great nation and save all people of the earth through his family. Why? “For I have known him.” God speaks to his people through the prophet Amos and reminds them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; you only have I chosen.”

God promises David that he will be king and that all David’s enemies will be defeated and that David’s family will reign on the throne forever. And David’s a little shook up. This is overwhelming news and David feels sort of inadequate. And he prays to God:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with people, O Sovereign Lord?” ~2 Samuel 7:18-19

What David knows about himself and about the throne, what David knows about God, is confusing and incomplete. Who am I that this is happening for me? Why am I so chosen and so blessed?

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.” ~2 Samuel 7:20

The answer is simple and profound and comforting. You know me. You chose me. That’s first. And that’s more than enough.

Peace,

Allan

God’s Love Wins

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But completed love drives out fear. ” ~1 John 3:16-17

Confidence because we know that God is love. Blessed assurance about that coming day of glory. No fear because completed love drives out fear. Confidence that God’s love takes care of every single thing I might be worried about.

Everything we know about God and all the things we don’t yet know about God begin and end with his love. There’s nothing we can say about God or his character or his plans for his people without first considering his great love. Love is who God is and love is what God does. And God’s love is unrelenting. It never quits. It never slows down. It never gives up. And it never loses.

That kind of love drives out all fear.

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16

When the holy Creator of Heaven and Earth loves like that — selflessly, sacrificially — there’s nothing to be afraid of. His love gives us confidence because wherever there are problems or issues, wherever things go wrong, wherever things don’t work out, God fixes it with his eternal love.

Where there is rebellion, God doesn’t reject, he accepts. Where there are broken vows, God doesn’t bring justice, he delivers mercy and grace. Where there is conflict, God doesn’t fight, he defends and protects. Where there is sin, God doesn’t condemn, he saves.

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” ~John 3:17

God is solving every problem, he’s restoring everything that’s broken, with his love.

And he wants you to know it. And experience it. He wants you to believe it and trust it.

Have you messed things up so badly and so much that you question whether or not God’s tired of loving you? Have you suffered so much pain that maybe you question whether or not you really love God? Or can trust that he really is love?

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:35-39

God’s love is undefeated, untied, and un-scored upon. God’s love conquers all. It triumphs in the end. His love is more important and more eternal than faith and hope. It stands above all the other Christian virtues. And it’s our number one tool in the toolbox for winning the world for Christ and his Kingdom. God’s love wins.

Peace,

Allan

Love Does Stuff

“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. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~1 John 4:7-11.

Words about love are beautiful. Love as a theory is compelling. As a concept, love is glorious and inspiring. It’s really nice.

But it’s also really safe. As an idea, love is non-threatening and non-risky. And it changes nothing. Love in the brain doesn’t do much for people or for the world.

You and I may think love, we may feel love, we may say love; but the Bible tells us that love does things. The love of God that’s been lavished on us in Christ Jesus is too powerful, it’s too full of holy potential, to be locked up like a prisoner behind our foreheads.

Love must be done — not just believed, not just admired, not just felt. It must do. Love can’t just be a noun, it must be a verb. It has to be expressed in tangible action.

This is how God showed his love among us: he thought good thoughts about us.
This is love: he felt love for us.
This is how we know what love is: God told us he loved us.

No! He sent. He gave. He sacrificed. He came here. He suffered and died. That’s love!

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother or sister in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” ~1 John 3:16-18

Love will change lives, love will change our city, it’ll change the whole world; but love has to be expressed with action. Love has to do stuff. Our Lord says we are the salt of the earth. But salt unapplied is just as worthless as bad salt. You’ve got to shake it. You can’t leave it in the pantry. Jesus calls us the light of the world. But a light under a bowl doesn’t do a cryin’ thing. You’ve got to climb up on a table and shine.

That’s the call. That’s the command. Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister (1 John 4:21). Making the decision to love God necessarily means deciding to love others. And when you do, it’s a mixed bag. Showing God’s love to others opens you up to the very best and worst of people. You’re going to experience help and hurt, fun and frustration, compliments and complaints. That’s just the way people are.

But showing that love of God to others is so invigorating. It’s so life-giving. Making the decision to love all people — even people who are not easy to love — brings into sharp focus the life-changing power of God’s choice to love us, when you and I are not always so easy to love.

“We love because he first loved us.” ~1 John 4:19

Peace,

Allan

Love Changes Everything

You’ve heard it said that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. You want to know how a guy is going to act in the future, you just look at how he’s acted in the past. That notion goes largely unchallenged. We accept it, we don’t question it. Why? Because of our own experiences.

Maybe you’ve dated a person who does something you just can’t tolerate — some behavior, some character trait, a bad habit — and you break up. Sometimes that person will promise to change: “Take me back! I’ll change!” After a period of time — six months, maybe six minutes — you take that person back. But before you can blink that person is back to doing the exact same stuff as before.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Your brother-in-law is never going to pay back the money he borrowed, that department store is not going to have the advertised item, and the Cowboys are going to rip your guts out in December. How do you know? Past behavior is the best indicator. You know what’s going to happen.

Or do you?

This seeming certainty of the formula seems to change when the love of God in Christ Jesus is involved.

Look at the woman in the well in John 4. She’s the town sleaze. She’s had five husbands, she’s shacking up with a sixth guy, and nobody will talk to her. We know her future, right? She’s going to run right through this guy number six and guy number seven and number eight, maybe a dozen of them, and she’s going to keep drawing water in the heat of the sun until the day she dies all alone in her guilt and shame.

But then Jesus goes out of his way to love her. He doesn’t just feel love for her, he shows it to her. He does something. He rearranges his travel schedule to get to her. He sits down and honors her with his time and full attention and conversation. He teaches her right there at the well and the town sleaze becomes a Gospel preacher! Her whole village believes in Jesus, the Savior of the World!

What about the woman caught in adultery in John 8? She’s about to be killed. And that might be the best thing for her. That’s what the Law says. If she’s not stoned to death, she’ll keep cheating, she’ll keep lying, she’ll keep hiding, she’ll keep sinning. We know this. Past behavior is the best indicator, right? But Jesus stands up for her against the authorities. He shows her his love by defending her, by believing in her. And she leaves her life of sin. She’s given the gift of new life by the love of God in Christ.

Zacchaeus is going to keep cheating people on their taxes, he’s going to continue lining his own pockets, and padding his profits and looking out for number one. But Jesus pulls him out of a tree, he eats dinner with him at his house, and he looks him in the eye and calls him a son of Abraham. And now Zacchaeus is giving half of everything he owns to the poor! He’s going back through his books and making things right, blessing others, realizing deep inside that it’s better to give than to receive.

The demon-possessed guy in the Gerasenes in Mark 5. His community has banished him to live in the cemetery. He’s not in his right mind. He’s got no name, no family, no clothes, no peace. The devil and his demons have successfully stolen from this man everything it means to be made in the image of God. What’s going to change? They’ve tried everything with this guy. He’s going to keep being scary and keep suffering and he’s going to die in his chains.

But Jesus gets in a boat and braves a terrible storm in the middle of the night to get to this guy. Our Lord goes to him and shows him his love and his power to change everything. He lets this man know that he matters to God. And that divine love of God drives those demons to the bottom of the sea and the next thing you know this guy is clothed, he’s in his right mind, he’s got a family, and he’s got a purpose. He’s preaching in the Decapolis, proclaiming the Good News all over the Ten Cities. And all the people are astonished.

Peter is a God-cursing, Christ-denying, lying scoundrel until Jesus shows him unconditional love and gives him unlimited forgiveness and changes him into a cornerstone of his eternal Church. John is a violent, volatile hothead — “Call fire down from heaven! Blow ’em all up! But the love of Jesus immerses him and changes him. And John winds up writing the most beautiful words we have in the Bible on love.

Past behavior is not the best indicator of future behavior. The love of God in Christ means the life you’ve lived to this point today is not the only life that’s possible for you. Or for your neighbor. Or your enemy.

Your church is filled with courageous people who used to be all kinds of unholy until the love of God in Christ changed everything. Our lives have been eternally changed by the love of God, so we have faith that the love of God can change all lives. Showing that love of God to others in faith is the whole point. Galatians 5 says the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. Seeing the potential for God’s love to change everybody around you, to change our city, to change the whole world — that’s the invigorating challenge.

As John would say, we love because he first loved us.

Peace,

Allan

Love First

We all know what’s happening in our world, in this country. It’s not new. It’s just amped up to eleven on the ten-point scale and it’s louder than normal and it’s all around us all the time. There is division and strife and conflict. You can’t get away from it. Black and white, left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative — it’s splashed across every screen and blaring from every set of speakers. You can’t eat a Twix bar without being forced to choose left or right. And you can’t turn on a football game on Sunday afternoon to escape from it.

And we’re all experiencing this together — all of God’s children, all of Christ’s disciples, all asking the same questions.

How do we handle this? What are we supposed to do? How do Christians engage this volatile culture? What do we say? How do we act?

I think most of us wish there was a third option, a different way, a way to be above all the conflict but still engage what’s happening in ways that matter.

May I suggest love?

Completely love. Love completely. Sharing the immeasurable love of God with others lifts us above the strife.

The world is squeezing us to make a choice between two options and we get in trouble when we don’t recognize that third way, that third and very different option that takes us high above anything else being offered: Love. Committing to love as our guiding principle, as our continuous posture, actually fulfills or completes God’s purposes for the love he’s lavished on us.

The Bible says we love because he first loved us. We love completely because we are so completely loved.

Peace,

Allan

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