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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

1 John 2:29

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

This is an identity issue. In John’s gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night wanting to whether this strange man from Nazareth is really who he says he is, but Jesus flips the pharisee’s question on its head and it is Nicodemus’ identity that is called into question instead: does Nicodemus really belong to God’s kingdom? Has he been born again? In essence, Jesus is asking who his Father is. (John 3:1-21)

In his letter, John repeatedly uses his rabbi’s phrase: born again. The greek word is ‘gennao’, to be fathered by. Have you been fathered by God? Have you been begotten not just by the will of a man and a woman but by the Spirit (John 1:12-13, 3:5-8)? Because – if you have – it has consequences for your behaviour: those who have fathered by The Father do what is right. John is concerned with authenticity. How can you be sure that you are following Jesus? What are the hallmarks of a genuine relationship with the Son? What does fellowship with the Father look like?

I don’t think he intends to scaremonger, but he wants his readers to be sure. He wants them to know know know that they are born again, and he wants them to be cautious of those who claim to follow Jesus and yet live lives that do not testify to their identity of sons and daughters of God. There is beautiful, wonderful affirmation here, but there is also a challenge: to what extent are we like our heavenly Father? Where do I need to live differently that I might look like my Father’s daughter? Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). He was completely in sync with his Dad – so much so that he could say If you have seen me then you have seen the Father. (John 14:9) Can I say this? Can I say that if you have spent time with me then you will have glimpsed something of the character and heart of God?

We are not Jesus. We are not perfect. We are still weighed down by sinful desires and yet John says that sin stops being attractive for the Jesus follower. (1 John 3:3, 3:6, 3:9) We stop doing wrong thing and start doing right things because, through the Spirit, we are being formed into the image of Christ; we are being moulded to look like the Son. (Galatians 4:19, 2 Corinthians 3:18) Through the Spirit sin loses its appeal; it stops tasting good. We don’t lose the capacity to sin; we lose the desire to do so. For John, this is one of the hallmarks of authentic Christianity.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

1 John 2:28

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

There is a beautiful tenderness to John's ferocity. In chapter 2 alone, he uses the refrain 'dear children' five times - not a patronising or belittling address, but a reminder of who his readers are to him: they are his little ones, the precious offspring born of his ministry, his dearly beloved. And yet, there is a fury to this gentleness, a vehement kind of determination, a passionate plea - these are the words of a Father shouting out across the fields to his prodigal as he walks away. Please. Don't. Do. This. These are words full of jealous, firey love that calls out to the wandering adolescent about to make a terrible mistake. Words that seek to save and protect, to spare from harm. To prevent the vulnerable from being led astray (2:26, 3:7)

John urges his readers to stick with it. Continue, remain, remember, keep going. A father standing by the side of the track on Sports Day coaxing his child to look ahead rather than look at his competitors, to get up when they stumble, to remember that there is an end, a finish line, a promise (2:25), a prize.

And so, two questions: who is cheering me on today? And who am I cheering for? As I am urged to continue, am I also urging others? Do I have the same fierce tenderness of John that delivers timely encouragement when it's most needed? Even though I was once a prodigal, have I also become a Father? That is the reminder that Henri Nouwen gives in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, that regardless of which kind of son we are, the greater call on our lives is to become a father. Once we know the wonder and the grace and the joy and the goodness of being welcomed home, we must do as John did: we must become fathers ourselves that we might call home lost sons.

"The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home." (Henri Nouwen)

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

1 John 2:26-27

I am writing these things about those who would lead you astray. As for you, see that the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you: remain in him.

How easily I am led astray. The word here describes a 'wandering planet', a planet that has somehow flung itself out of orbit and is spinning and spiralling into the unknown. I seem to do this most days. I am the hammer all too keen to be released from the grip of the hammer thrower, determined to make my own course instead of trusting in the hands of the one who holds me, the one whose expertise will let me go only so that I will be guided to the place he would have me. I am the hammer that ends up outside the boundary markers with nothing left to do but wait to be found and collected. The lost sheep of the field events. 

Do not let yourself be led astray. Do not let yourself be distracted, lured, enticed, confused. For you have the remedy. You have the Holy Spirit. Deep magic indeed. We - little old, imperfect, sinful, messed up w - carry the Holy Spirit. Since the day that we decided to follow Jesus, He has dwelt within us, He has remained in us in exactly the same way that he did in Jesus. Unlike the Old Testament heroes of old who merely carried the presence of the Holy Spirit for a season, John the Baptist's Messiah was to be identified by the remaining presence of the Spirit of God; we are to be identified in much the same way. 

We are those in whom the Spirit remains. We have everything we need to follow Jesus and live as he did. God has provided us with a permanent teacher, a scripture-revealer, wisdom-giver, gift-bestower, truth-teller. But this is a two-person tango. We remain in him even as he remains in us. We give Him our full attention. We talk to Him. We let him lead us, guide us, teach us, correct us, convict us. This is not a one-way conversation; we are invited into dialogue.