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Monday, 25 April 2016

1 John 2:7-8

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 in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

An old command. In a sense there is no older command: love. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Joshua 22:5) I am reminded of the lyrics of a Misty Edwards song:
Did you learn to love? That's what You will ask of me
Did you learn to love? Not about my ministry
Did you learn to love? Not about my money
Did you learn to love? Did you learn to love?

We will be measured by our ability to love. We will face our maker and he will ask us whether or not we did what he asked us to do. And yet, today, weary and feeling frustrated with almost everyone and everything I find that I am struggling to summon love. I am easily frustrated. Quick to anger. Just plain grumpy. But John is insistent: this is foundational stuff. This is nothing new. You have always known this is part of the cross you are to carry. To follow Jesus is to love one another. (Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27, John 13:35) There is nothing optional about it. 

And so when - like today - love is kaput, compassion is fatigued, and hiding in my house feels like the best option, I must turn again to the fount of love. I must look again to the one who pours his love out into my heart (Romans 5:5) and ask for help. Father, teach me how to love.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

1 John 2.5-6

1 John 2.5-6
But if anyone obeys his word ,love of God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

I am tired today. And feeling pretty grumpy. In my current state, this verse feels like a heavy yoke. Live as Jesus did. I want to ask the question of in what way? In what way are we called to live like him? But i suspect the answer is in every way. Love like him. Talk like him. Be honest like him. Pray like him. Stop for the least and the lost like him. Be obedient like him. Speak with the Father like him. Be filled with the Spirit like him.

All of this seems an impossibility. But it cannot be. Because his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He does not ask us to do what cannot be done. He does not ask us to go where he has not gone before. And by doing such things, by our faltering baby steps of obedience, love of God is made evident in our lives. We display him. We are signs of the goodness of the kingdom and the beauty of the love of Christ. Even in our weakness, God still shows the world his extravagant love through those that choose to follow his son.

And so today, I follow. I am choosing to follow him. I am trying to walk as he did. I am hesitant, unsure. Straining my ears to hear his voice, straining my eyes through the thick fog of my own emotions to see his face and fix my eyes on him.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

1 John 2:3-4

We know that we have come to know Him if we keep his commands. Whoever says "I know him" but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in them.

Taken out of context, this could easily be misconstrued: we only get to be close to God if we do what he says; acceptance is conditional on obedience; I will only love you if...

And yet God loves us. God loves us because it it who he is. He loves us because he loves us because he loves us. He cannot not love us. We do not obey him in order to earn affection from him. But that does not let us off the hook. John is quoting Jesus here (Matthew 7:21-23). There is a distinction between knowing and knowing. Between those who claim to follow Jesus and call him Lord and those who really do follow him, who really do know him. Jesus is saddened by Philip because he does not know him, does not trust him even after he has spent so much time together; even after Jesus has proved his trustworthiness and his worth. (John 14:9) If we really know Jesus intimately - the word used here is the word that Mary uses to describe not knowing a man (Luke 1:34) - if we are convinced by the goodness of his character and the truth of his claims, if we have fallen in love with this man who is God then we will do what he says.

And we will do it because what he says is not burdensome. (1 John 5:3) His commands are not the heavy yokes of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:4) which cannot be carried; they are not legalistic nitpickings or the whims of a tyrant; they are the loving instructions of the one who longs all things for our good, and who would have us live in complete fullness. (John 10:10) We will keep his commands because we love him and because we are confident in his love for us. (John 14:15; 21; 23) We will keep his commands because to do so is to stick with him, to remain in him, to stay close by (John 15:9).

What then is it that we are commanded to do? I once tried to write down all the commands of Jesus in the gospels. We are told to teach others to obey everything that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20), and so what have we been commanded? And the thing is that it's simple, ridiculously simple, and painfully hard: his command is this: love. (John 15:12) Love God. Love others. (Luke 10:27) Love sacrificially. (John 15:13) Love patiently, kindly, humbly, selflessly. Love without counting the cost. Love protectively, trustingly, hopefully, naively. (1 Corinthians 13) Love those who hurt you before and will hurt you again. Love unfailingly. Love your enemies, love your brothers and sisters who wind you up within the church and without, love those you don't get on with and don't agree with. Love and keep loving when you think you can't love any more. Love to the point of death. Love like He did. (John 15:12) 

And here's the rub: it is impossible to love like he did without knowing him. Without knowing the awesome, extravagant, ridiculous love of the cross for ourselves we cannot emulate it. (1 John 4:7-8) We will soon run dry and burn out. We can only love to the measure that we know that we are loved. And so Paul prays, and so I pray for myself today: that I would be rooted and established in love. That I would grasp how high and deep and wide and long is the love of Jesus. That I would know the love that surpasses knowledge and be filled up to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

The rest is overflow.  

Saturday, 16 April 2016

1 John 2:1-2

My dear children, I write this so that you do not sin. But, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours bit for the sins of the whole world.
Kids. Do not sin. Please. Don't do it. There is determination here in what John is saying, the desperate voice of a loving father who sees his dearest children on the verge of doing something they will regret. John's whole purpose in writing is to persuade people to stop sinning, to not get tangled up again the world, to not wind up in darkened alleys instead of basking in the glorious light.

These is a touch of Paul here. Just because we will be forgiven, just because grace is ridiculous and outlandish and extravagant, don't risk it. (Romans 6.1-2) Don't test God. Don't get complacent. Don't take such an incredible salvation for granted.

And don't sin. Don't buy into the world's take on short term gratification: feel good now and worry about the consequences later. Do we cheapen the cross by hammering on about forgiveness unsteady of preaching about the danger of sin? Sin kills (Romans 6.23). Sin is toxic, addictive, poisonous. Sin alienates us from God and from each other. Sin is a very serious business indeed.

Why then is it still so attractive? We have died to sin and yet we still long after it. (Romans 6:2, 1 John 3:9) Why do I waste my time dabbling in what kills instead of celebrating the truth of the God who died for me to bring me fullness of life? (John 10.10) If eternal pleasures are with God, if fullness of joy is only found at his right hand, (Psalm 16.11) then why am I messing around with what I thought used to satisfy me but never really did?

It is, as C. S. Lewis puts it...
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Oh God, open up my eyes that I might see your beauty today. That I might know the worth of your son's sacrifice. That I would have eyes only for him. Let me not get side tracked...

Friday, 15 April 2016

1 John 1:8-10

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 is not in us.

I find confession really difficult: that moment in church when you are supposed to think of something that you have done, said, thought that made God feel sad. It's not that I haven't done, said, thought anything bad. It's just not really bad. Not as bad as some people. Not as bad as the bad people because I am - I think - a good person. I haven't killed anyone. I might have willed someone to shut up and F off but I didn't actually tell them to do it. Not aloud anyway. 

John tells me that I am deceived. Deluded. I am wandering off the path of truth. I am covering up my own eyes - that child in a game of hide and seek who thinks that, just because his or her eyes are covered up then they can't be seen.

Sin is not a do or a don't. It isn't a good enough or a bad enough. Sin is an attitude, a condition. It isn't about whether I did or didn't. It's about the way I think, or fail to think, about God. Sin is what my stubborn heart looks like when I fail to acknowledge that God is good, when I fail to thank him, (Romans 1:21) when I fail to acknowledge the insurmountable worth of His Son. Sin is the slightest darkness that cannot come into the presence of the one who is Light and only light. (1 John 1:5)

God says that we have all sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) We have all forgotten Him. We are all broken by our broken relationship with our heavenly Father. (Jeremiah 2:13) The only way to be cured is to admit that we are sick. (Mark 2:17) Self-deception will get us nowhere. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

1 John 1:6-7

If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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.

How often am I found stumbling around in the darkness? Is it somewhere that I end up in ignorance or on purpose? David prays for protection from his hidden errors and his wilful sins. (psalm 19) Sometimes we get lost down the twisted, darkened roads of sin because we stop paying attention; sometimes we know full well the light dappled narrow path and we avoid it. We do not want to walk in the light because light is scary. Light exposes. Light reveals what we do not want it to. John 3.19-21. The people preferred darkness. And so do I.

To be a child of the day (1 Thessalonians 5.5, Ephesians 5.8) is to have everything on show. Warts and all. It is to confess that we do not have it all together. To confess our failure and our need of him. Much easier to avoid that less trodden path. Much easier to follow our stubborn footsteps. To block out the still small voice. To fall into self-pity and stay there. To give anger a foothold. To indulge jealously. To relish a moment's harsh judgement of another. To do so is to isolate ourselves from God and from each other. To prefer blindness for fear of what we might see in ourselves if the shades were removed.

You, Nic, are a child of light. Once you were in darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Once you belonged to that Kingdom of another but now you live in the glorious light of the kingdom of the One who rescued you. (Colossians 1.13-14)

Act like it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

1 John 1:5

This is the message at have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

This is it. Of all the things that Jesus said, all he did and taught and showed; every parable, symbol, story, miracle points to this one glorious truth: God is light.

Why light? Why use that metaphor? (if metaphor it is because God does indeed dwell in unapproachable light - 1 Tim 6.16) Why not God is truth, God is holy, God is good? For he is. Does light somehow encapsulate all of the above? The pure, white heat of holy fire that burns up every shred of darkness in our hearts, the thing by which we see all else, the One who lights our path (Isaiah 42.16) so that we need not stumble, the opposite of all that is evil, all the injustice that is cleverly concealed...

Or is Jesus' message more simple than that. God is light. He is not who you have been told he is. He is not angry or tyrannical or fickle. There is no shadow of turning in him. (James 1:17) He is the beauty of that first pale dawning light glimmering on the horizon after a long winter's night; he is the golden splendour of late afternoon sun painting everything with its glory; he is the candle flame that penetrates the power cut. He is the light of the world. Those who follow him need never fear the dark again. (John 8:12)

Monday, 11 April 2016

1 John 1:3-4

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you can have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your (or 'our' depending on translation) joy complete.

What does it mean to have fellowship with God? To be incorporated into the Trinity? To be called friend (John 15:15) by the Creator King of the universe? What does it mean that we can draw close to the unapproachable One? (1 Timothy 6:16)

More than that: we are in union with Him: Whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in Spirit. (1 Corinthians 1:16) The word is kollao, to glue, cleave, keep company, to be intimately connected. We are glued to the King. We are intimately bound to Him. And yet this is no mere tacking on. We are not simply pritt-sticked to God or tied loosely to Jesus like some spare part. We are somehow in Him and He is in us. Jesus asked the Father and the Spirit has come to live within us (John 14:16-18). The Eternal God has taken up residence in us. We have become his permanent dwelling place, His home. (John 14:20, 23) Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We are hidden inside Him. (Colossians 3:3) 

This is madness. We exchange all that we are for all that He is. This is a covenant in which we are the infinitely weaker party; we have nothing to offer and yet we are given everything in return; we are invited in. We are asked to dine with our Maker (Revelation 3:20); we are asked to have fellowship with Him.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

1 John 1:1-2

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 to you 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.

The impossibility of proclaiming what you have not experienced. John knows Jesus. He knows all the glory and goodness and beauty of God as revealed in Jesus first hand. He had seen, heard, looked on, touched.

What then of us? When was the last time we truly knew, truly encountered, truly allowed ourselves to be awed and shaken by all that He is? (I am reminded of the lyrics from a song by Cate Lear, "I have felt the deep compassion of my Jesus shaking through my every bone...)

Before we can proclaim Him we must see Him. The Greek here is theĆ”omai: to gaze at a spectacle; to observe intently, especially to interpret something and grasp its significance so that it impacts us. 

And so, do we get it? Have we really beheld Jesus? Have we seen him and understood what he is worth? Have we stared at the awesome spectacle of the cross and been changed by the encounter? Because then, and only then, will we proclaim...

Friday, 8 April 2016

The Word (in bite-sized chunks)

I think for most us of who want to study scripture and get to grips with what God says in his word, the sheer volume and density of the Bible is terrifying. Where to start? How much to read? How to keep persevering? I am the queen of making a bible-reading plan and then failing to get past day three because the aims that I have set for myself are too ambitious; day three arrives, I fail and then I feel disappointed, guilty and demoralised. Hopefully others can empathise with this same dismally repeated course of action: we have every intention of reading the bible; we just don't.

A couple of years ago, I worked through all of Ephesians in tiny chunks, focusing on just one or two verses at a time. I realised - quickly - that there was a huge amount to digest in just one verse of the bible, let alone a whole chapter. I found the process incredibly life-giving. A verse is always doable. (No matter how much we might try to kid ourselves that we don't have time) On good days I would reflect more deeply and spend time delving deep into the intricacies of each word; on bad days I would simply read one verse and that was it. But I was reading the bible, and slowly but surely I made myself through Ephesians.

And so my friend Elaine and I have decided to give it another go. I am reading 1 John; she is reading Galatians. The aim: just one or two verses a day and a quick reflection whatsapped to each other. Again, on a good day, a well-thought through reflection happens. On a bad day, I just read the verse. On a really bad day, I don't read anything at all. But really bad days are few and far between. Especially when you have a friend holding you to account for reading just a little bit of the Word of God each day, a tiny bite-sized morsel to sustain and refresh in the midst of life. 

And so, I invite you to share the journey. Each day (ish) I will publish a little thought on the verses of John that I've been reading. If you'd like a texted / whatsapped version then let me know...