Tag Archives: 1 John

Waiting

Waiting:  it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most.  Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task.  Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating.  Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.

As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk.  This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to.  We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God.  Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey.  It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.

Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity:  after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples.  Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful.  One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him.  In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait.  It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone.  Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait:  what do we do when we are waiting on God?

One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side.  There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it?  Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment.  While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth.  Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether.  After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait?  This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).

So what are we to do when waiting on God?  Above all else, we must remain faithful.  This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives:  maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example.  Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5).  As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale.  Love is more than a feeling:  it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things.  When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy.  Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party.  This is why, for example, parents discipline their children:  it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development.  When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him.  Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter.  Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.

It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait.  As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy.  As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own.  It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself.  There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own.  Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place.  Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves:  to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed.  It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.

When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation.  We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him.  Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God:  when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait.  Are we patient?  Are we kind?  Do we give grace as we have received grace?  As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.

Advertisements

Sharing Faith

When we think of outreach, evangelism, and the like, we very often come up with thoughts of shiny new programs at church, awkward conversations, or those little track books.  In many cases it seems to be accompanied by a great amount of production and fanfare.  For some, it may raise a note of pride as they reflect on how many people they’ve “led to Christ.”  Others may experience a sense of shame or regret at opportunities missed or avoided.  Indeed, the Great Commission given by Christ Himself speaks to this very topic:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

However, I believe a question we often wrestle with is how we go about doing this:  how we share our faith with others.  When we talk about this topic, we usually end up talking about marketing Christianity.  More to the point, we talk about how to convince people to join church and the result is that our evangelism is more akin to a sales pitch than any sort of witness or sharing of Christ’s message.  It is no accident that Christianity is treated and perceived as merely a club when it is presented as such by Christians themselves.

So what is the alternative?  If not convincing others to become Christians, what are we to do?  To begin, let’s take a moment to consider exactly what it is that makes a Christian a Christian, namely, our relationship with God.  We have accepted God’s free-standing offer of grace and thereby been reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.  Through this reconciliation, our relationship with God becomes one in which, rather than resisting or being indifferent towards His love, we are free to receive and return that love.  Our obedience in following Jesus’ example is an act of love, not an attempt to earn love.  This mechanic of God’s love filling us and being manifested in our attitudes and actions lies at the heart of our lives as Christians.  It is also this love that binds the Church together and makes it what it is:  the body of believers across time and space.  So at both the individual and group level, our relationship with God is what moves and sustains us; it is the beating heart of our faith.  Thus, when we share our faith, the core of what we are sharing is this relationship.

With that in mind, we turn again to the question of how we go about sharing our faith.  The introduction to 1 John provides us with some perspective and guidance:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

-1 John 1:1-4

John’s aim is that the reader should join in the fellowship of believers, which is the fellowship shared with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.  He grounds his appeal not on clever arguments or flashy displays, but on the declaration of what he has witnessed.  John and the other Apostles testified to the reality of Christ’s resurrection through their eyewitness accounts and first-hand experience.  Anyone who is a believer has a testimony to give of their experience with God, for we all have witnessed Him working in our lives.

The abstract ideas and concepts utilized in arguments are useful for understanding what we know about our relationship with God.  However, they cannot, of themselves, show God to others.  They can speak to and convince the mind, but they have no power to move the heart.  At best, we can reach a kind of deism through these arguments, choosing to accept that God exists but remaining agnostic about His personal and ongoing involvement with His creation.  In order to share our faith, we must speak from our personal experience with God, declaring what we, ourselves, have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and what our hands have handled.  In so doing, we let God speak through our lives.

As stated earlier, everyone who is a believer has a testimony to share and a relationship with God from which to draw.  We should be prepared to speak of what we believe and why, but we need not be professional nor even gifted orators to speak from the heart.  Christ does not call upon us to be salespeople or spokespersons, He calls upon us to be witnesses.


The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged


Heroes and Villains – Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara

“As I had encountered kindness, I wanted to be kind myself. I wanted to be able to do something, just like others had done for me.”

-Takashi Natsume

Shigeru_&_Touko

The Natusme Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) series follows a boy named Takashi Natsume who has the ability to see youkai (spirits that feature prominently in Japanese folklore).  However, those around him find his behavior disturbing as he often appears to be frightened by or talking to no one (since most people cannot see youkai).  As a result, he is considered to be a bizarre or “freaky” child.  His parents died when he was young so Takashi spent his childhood being passed from home to home.  However, this changed when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras.  Touko and Shigeru are never really involved in the youkai antics which make up the bulk of the storyline.  As a matter of fact, they very much appear to be your average middle-age couple.  What makes them exceptional is the love and kindness they show Takashi by making him a part of their family, a fact they constantly remind and assure him of.  The Fujiwara’s provide a loving base and foundation that Takashi has never known before and which helped him to, in turn, show kindness to others.

The Apostle John writes the following:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His soon to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)  John makes the bold statement that if we do not love, we do not know God.  Why?  Because God is love.  John goes on to further flesh out this idea by explaining how we have seen the love of God in action, namely:  that He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him.  Paul puts it this way:  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  The love which God shows us is profound in that He loves us for ourselves, not because of ourselves.  By this I mean that God’s love is not dependent upon us.  God’s love does not come to us because of anything we are, say, or do, but because of who He is.  Love is an integral part of God’s character and we cannot know God without knowing His love.  To put it in more human terms, returning to the Fujiwaras, love and kindness is so much a part of their characters that we as observers behind the fourth wall, as well as Takashi, don’t know them without knowing that love and kindness.

After making his statement about the love of God, John goes on to say that we ought to love one another.  Why?  Because God loves us.  If God has showered so great a love on us despite our being in rebellion against Him, what excuse are we to give for not loving others, be they our siblings in Christ or not?  The same God who speaks to us through John telling us to love one another also tells us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Where can such a love come from?  John provides us with an answer when he proceeds to write:  “No one has seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected (made complete) in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him , and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:12-16)  It is through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to not only partake in this great love, but also share this love with others.  Love is one of the spiritual fruits which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives by virtue of His presence. (Galatians 5:22-23)  It is also the Spirit who enables us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  When the Spirit abides in us and does His work upon our hearts, we cannot help but to love others because love is the fruit of His labors.

John is not the only one who exhorts us to love one another, Christ, when He is eating the last supper with His disciples speaks thusly:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Now here is a remarkable thing:  Jesus says that the love we are to have for one another will be a distinguishing mark that we are His disciples.  This is because we are not to love as the world loves, but as Jesus loves, as God loves.  This unconditional and unwarranted love is an outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and if we love as Christ loves it shows that we are truly His disciples because it is apparent that we know Him.  And if we know Jesus, then we know God because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. (John 14:7-11)  However, we mustn’t go thinking that this love is something that we can wear as a mask and pretend to be Christians.  For if we pursue such a venture it will soon become apparent that our love is just as hollow as a mask as well.  We can only fool others for so long and we can never fool God.  The love of God is not something that can be replicated or faked which is another reason why it is a distinguishing mark of Christians.  While he was still being passed from relative to relative, it was not unusual for Takashi to stumble upon a hushed conversation between his foster family as to how to get rid of him to someone else.  This is not the case with the Fujiwaras.  There are no whisperings of disapproval or planning behind closed doors as to how to rid themselves of him.  As far as they are concerned, he is and will always be part of their family.

Looking at the Fujiwaras’ relationship with Takashi shows us a number of things.  First, it serves as a metaphor for the way that God welcomes us with open arms into His family.  The effect that their love and kindness has on Takashi, encouraging him to do likewise, serves as a reminder of the way that God’s love kindles and nourishes a flame of love within us.  This flame can be used by God, if we allow Him, to light and feed the same flame in others.  The Fujiwaras remind us that one being a hero sometimes means choosing to love and to love unconditionally on a daily basis.  As Christians, we know that when we do something as seemingly mundane as loving as God loves on a daily basis, it is showing God to others on a daily basis; for God is love.

Food for Thought:

  1. In what ways is God calling me to love as He loves?
  2. How might I better cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart?
  3. Consider how marvelous it is that God loves us so much as to cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and fill us with His love to the point that it overflows from within us.

Coming Soon: “What the Hell?!”

Coming soon to kuroboushichristian:  “What the Hell?!”  A study looking at how God, who the Bible says “is love” (1 John 4:8), can also have created hell where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44).  Does this make God inconsistent?  Does it make Him less merciful or righteous?  I cannot promise to put a decisive end to such questions, but I do hope that the next couple of weeks will help you to think about them in new ways.


Who’s the Boss?

Many times we fall under the impression that being a Christian means that things will be “nice” from now on and all of our troubles will be over.  However, we soon discover that this is far from the reality.  Rather than being moved to a retirement community, we find ourselves in the midst of strife.  When we gave our life to Christ, we rejected our sin and agreed with God that it is vile and worthy of destruction.  Thus, we stepped out the dark and into the light.  Our former partners in crime (our sinful nature, the World, and all enemies of God), are loathe to see us go over to Him and do all that they can to regain control of our lives.  Perhaps the most intimidating of these foes is Satan and the rest of the fallen angels.  They are often portrayed as immensely powerful beings seeking to deceive, destroy, and dominate.  Peter refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and John uses the terms “dragon” and “serpent” to describe him.  We read in the book of Job how Satan afflicts Job and destroys all his worldly possessions (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).  Later, in the Gospels, we read of the terrifying results of demonic possession such as the man who wandered among the tombs crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:1-5).  Many stories exist of the desert monks being harassed by demons appearing in many fantastic and horrifying shapes.  Even today we see churches torn apart by petty quarrels, cults rising up to spread false doctrines, and all manner of death, suffering, and destruction.  The size and scope of the threat posed by demons often leaves us dumbfounded.

It is easy, when confronted by Satan and his works, to forget a profound truth:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

-1 John 4:4

We often speak of the war between good and evil, but consider this: when has God ever fought a war or a battle?  God does not fight, He smites or refrains from smiting.  Satan and his ilk run around and cause trouble only because God does not strike them down as He can at any given moment.  To ask why God refrains is to ask why there is suffering in the world; this is a question that God is not obliged to answer us on and we must trust in His goodness and holiness.  Returning to the main point, two instances illustrate that God has complete power to do as He wishes with devils.  These are the same two instances cited by St. Anthony in his speech to encourage his fellow monks in the desert.

The first instance is Jesus’ casting a legion of demons out of the man who lived among the tombs.  At the very sight of Christ the demons cried out and begged Jesus, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  Not exactly the words of someone who getting ready for a battle.  Rather, it rings more of a scoundrel caught in some mischief by the king and who begins to plead for his life without the king saying a word.  Perhaps more startling is the fact that the legion of demons is begging Christ for permission to enter into a bunch of pigs and it is only after Christ says they can that they are able to do so.

The second instance involves the story of Job.  While Satan’s affliction of Job is what may first come to mind, recall the events leading up to it:  the angels are coming and presenting themselves before God and Satan shows up as well.  The conversation between God and Satan soon turns to Job, a man who “fears God and shuns evil”.  After Satan slanders Job before God, God gives Satan permission to do what he will with everything that Job has.  However, God sets a limit on Satan’s power, commanding him not to lay a finger on Job’s person.  Satan destroys Job’s children and possessions, but leaves the man untouched.  Again Satan comes to God and slanders Job and this time God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s health but sets another strict limit on his power by commanding him not to kill Job.  Here we have Satan himself, the leader of all demons and ruler of the World, unable to do a thing without God letting him.

It is important to keep in mind that God is not ordering the demons to cause havoc, but instead He allows them to carry out what is in their minds to do.  Jesus allows the demons to go into the pigs as they requested.  Satan is allowed to carry out his plan against Job only after God permits him to and only to the degree that God allows him (first not to harm Job himself and second not to kill Job).

What this means to us is that although it may seem like Satan is in control, we can still trust in God who is the One really in control.  We may not understand why God doesn’t just destroy all of the rebellious angels rather than allowing them to pursue their wicked schemes, but we know that they act only as far as God permits them to.  This is one of the reasons why Paul can encourage the Corinthian church by writing,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:13

Why should demons, who have no interest in our welfare (quite the opposite, actually), refrain from overwhelming us with their wickedness and despair save that the hand of God holds them back?

Thus, despite their apparent power and authority, Satan and the other angels who have rebelled against God, are still subject to God’s power and authority.  They are “reserved in everlasting chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day,” unable to do anything without God’s allowing it.  We are not held at Satan’s mercy, we are given refuge under God’s.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

–James 4:7