1 John 2:3-11 – From Hate to Love

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 that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for 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.

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.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (NIV)

If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark. But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don’t cause problems for them. If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark.

Simply based on this Scripture alone, it ought to be abundantly clear that hate really has no place in the Christian’s life. Hate is never justified for any one person or group of people. Love, however, is the consummate Christian virtue. The highest of all truth in Christianity is the grace bestowed on us through the love of God. We, in turn, reflect our Lord’s grace by loving others, no matter their gender, race, religion, creed, or ethnicity.

We all have individuals, maybe even a particular group of persons whom we do not like. Perhaps we even despise them. The Apostle John squarely places the burden of change to fall on those who claim the name of Christ and choose to hate, and not on those for whom we dislike.

I am wondering what will you do to deal with this Scripture? Will you begin or continue the difficult process of forgiveness?  How will you come to be ever more characterized by love?  Will you ask God to shine his light on the shadows of your heart? 

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

As for me, I have not always been a lover of humanity. And I have not always been a lover of God. There was a time (much earlier in my life) when I found relationships and people to be a necessary evil, at best. I believed God to be aloof and unconcerned. Through a series of circumstances, I had become jaded toward my fellow humans and did not see the image of God within them.

One day, many years ago, after I had come to connect with my faith and sought to walk in way of Jesus, I encountered a former classmate by happenstance. Her eyes were bloodshot. It was apparent she had been crying. She told me that she just found out someone we both knew was killed in a car accident.

I don’t recall what I said to her. The only thing I remember is what I thought after walking away. It went something like this: “Well, God, that guy probably wasn’t a Christian. I’m not sure of his eternal destiny. He probably deserved to die. He was kind of a jerk in this life. Hell seems like a good place for him…”

Then, as if some divine baseball bat hit me upside the head, I felt the full weight of my heart’s callousness. Dazed and confused, I went straight home and reflexively went to today’s New Testament lesson. There it was. I had not a wit of love for the deceased man. Neither did I have much love of anyone.

That was the point I began praying earnestly for love, to feel compassion for my fellow humanity, to experience loving another like Jesus did.

To make a long story short, my heart was changed – transformed by the grace of God. It was such a dramatic turnaround, I barely recognized myself. I almost couldn’t believe that a person like me with such a hard heart could be so profoundly different, could have a completely different attitude and feeling toward the great mass of humans for which I previously cared not a wit.

I suddenly understood the Grinch’s enlargement of heart. I became enlightened to old Scrooge’s new approach to the world around him. I felt the power of the Beast being transformed because of beauty’s selfless love. I “got it.” I could now relate to love coming from the depths of my being:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13, MSG)

And I have not looked back since but have pursued loving God and loving neighbor as one in the same.

Those who are in the dark do not see their flaws. Those in the light of the Son can clearly see their need for God’s help. They discover, indeed, love is the most powerful force in the universe. For God is love.

John 12:44-50 – The Light of Christ

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So, whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV)

Jesus is the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Jesus told his followers they are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Simple observation: Neither Jesus nor his followers become light. They are light. So, what does that mean?

To be light means we take a particular posture toward the world. It means we have a unique role in society.

Sometimes its important to say what something is not before we talk about what it is. To be light means we are not:

  • The Judge. The incarnation of Jesus was not for the purpose of playing Sheriff in the Old West, riding into the town of this world and gunslinging the bad guys either out of town or into the cemetery. Just because the world shot the sheriff, does not mean they’re off the hook for not shooting the deputy. There is judgment coming. It’s just that you nor I are the judge. “Do not judge,” said Jesus, unless you’re interested in getting judged yourself. (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Cave-Dwellers. Rabbit-hole Christians. Dorm toads. Or any other metaphor for separating oneself from society and hiding out. Cave-dwellers want to hide out and start little fires that will only warm themselves. A rabbit-hole Christian scurries from hole to hole trying to avoid the world. Dorm toads never leave the friendly confines of their apartment swamp.

Rather than judging and hiding, people of the light possess are:

  • Encouragers. They speak constructive words of edification. Encouragers know there is a bit of light in everyone, so they see through the darkness to the good which can be enlightened and called forth in others. People who encourage have a glow about them which is attractive and winsome.
  • Aware. Being light causes one to see themselves in high definition. Both the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity is seen and held together. People of the light are aware of their identity. They are then able to act with humility, gentleness, and meekness. Since they know they are infinitely loved by God, this brings a great freedom to speak and act with confidence.
  • Believers. Faith begins with receiving grace. It then works its way from an internal truth to an outward expression. People of the light follow in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus. They love, lead, and linger in society as spiritual beings who help illumine the path.
  • Merciful. Since they were once in darkness themselves, people of the light set aside pre-meditated judgment and deal compassionately with those who are spiritually blind.
  • Pure. The light has its way of exposing impurities. People of the light squarely face their own reality and purposely seek purity in all their dealings with society.
  • Peacemakers. Being characterized by the light means we not only possess personal peace; we also make peace through creating and sustaining harmonious relations with others. The light enables us to be spiritual ombudsmen who carefully and effectively bring peace between warring factions.

Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world. That means we do not hide but are present and involved in our families, neighborhoods, communities, local institutions, national affairs, and world problems. Being characterized as followers of Jesus causes a person and a faith community to be visible, to show the world who Jesus is, and what he is like.

The earliest followers of Jesus allowed their light to shine in the world through:

  • Taking in unwanted children, orphans, and babies left exposed to infanticide.
  • Ministry to the sick and dying during times of plague and disease, as well as visiting those in prison without families.
  • Help and kindness to the poor, foreigners, immigrant strangers, and widows, especially when no one else would.

Where light is present, no one needs to remain in darkness. Even a small flickering flame can illumine enough to make a way. And when many small flames come together, there is a great light for all to see.

Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. We are his servants because the same God who said that light should shine out of darkness has given us light. For that reason, we bring to light the knowledge about God’s glory which shines from Christ’s face. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, GW)

May the light of Christ, the living Word, dispel the darkness of our hearts so that we may walk as children of light and sing the praises of a merciful God throughout the world. Amen.

Exodus 10:21-29 – From Darkness to Light

Darkness

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So, Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”

But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there, we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

“Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.” (NIV)

The ancient Israelites were in bondage to the mighty Egyptian empire. After four-hundred years of bondage, God called Moses to lead them out from Egypt to the Promised Land. The only kink was the Egyptian Pharaoh’s outright reluctance. As the most powerful human on the planet at the time, Pharaoh was used to getting his way on everything. God knew it would be a process of deliverance, and not just a sudden event.

So, a series of ten wonders or miracles occurred that struck at the heart of Egyptian power and religion. A discernible pattern quickly developed in which Pharaoh refused cooperation; God sent an incredible devastation on the land; Pharaoh relented with a half-repentance; God lifted the devastation; and, with things “back to normal” Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not let God’s people go. Rinse and repeat a lot more times.

Today’s Old Testament lesson recounts the ninth wonder done by God, using Moses. Although the miracle of complete and total darkness lasted a full three twenty-four-hour long days without harming any human or animal, the sheer fear and terror it brought to the Egyptians left them in a three-day state of suspense. Living on the edge in anxious apprehension is psychologically overwhelming. At least with the other plagues, you could see what you were up against.

Fear in the dark

In the land known as the “eternally rising sun,” the uncertainty of the perpetual darkness was meant to humble Egypt and put it in its place. Yet, with nine strong and full wonders from God, Pharaoh remained intransigent and stubborn. He was not going to let all that slave labor walk away while he was in charge.

I “wonder” what it takes for most of us to make a major change in our lifestyle – what we need to go through before we cry “uncle” and let go. The more power and control we have, the harder it is to do so. Humans are creatures of habit, and wherever there are long standing routines there you will find great difficulty in changing those practices.

No one simply wakes up in the morning and decides to be a jerk. Instead, it is likely that one day a person will arise, look in the mirror, and not recognize who is looking back at them. A series of choices and habits over a long stretch of time eventually formed the undistinguished blockhead. The Apostle James once described the pathology behind the person in the mirror:

You are tempted by the evil things you want. Your own desire leads you away and traps you. Your desire grows inside you until it results in sin. Then the sin grows bigger and bigger and finally ends in death. (James 1:14-15, ERV)

By reading today’s story Christologically we have a clue as to the remedy and reformation needed to form newer and better habits. Just as all Egypt was in three days of darkness due to sin, so Jesus was three days in the dark grave because of the world’s sin. And just as the ancient Israelites were delivered from their cruel bondage from Egypt and entered the Promised Land, so in Jesus Christ humanity is liberated from their power-hungry, money-grubbing, control-obsessing ways of being insensitive dolts to forming new habits of humility, justice, and love. The Apostle Peter said:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, NRSV)

It is the aim of the Christian to look out at the world and bring love where love is not; to discover it is more blessed to give than to receive; and, to have a deep sense of justice which works for egalitarian ways and the equity of all people, not just people of privilege.

So, may we gain a proper perspective of ourselves, others, and the world. And, may we resist the Pharaoh’s among us, while championing the needs of the downtrodden of this old fallen world. May we be like Christ and see Jesus in each person we encounter.

God, you have given all peoples one common origin. It is your will that they be gathered as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and with the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good you give us, may we secure an equality for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be an end to division, strife, and war. May there be a dawning of a truly human society built on love and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord, through the might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 119:105-112 – Light for the Journey

Your Word is a Light

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet 
    and a light for my path. 
I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: 
    I will obey your righteous regulations. 
I have suffered much, O Lord; 
    restore my life again as you promised. 
Lord, accept my offering of praise, 
    and teach me your regulations. 
My life constantly hangs in the balance, 
    but I will not stop obeying your instructions. 
The wicked have set their traps for me, 
    but I will not turn from your commandments. 
Your laws are my treasure; 
    they are my heart’s delight. 
I am determined to keep your decrees 
    to the very end. (NLT) 

Two qualities which stand out to me in these verses are the psalmist’s attitude and affection. This is a person who is determined to hold onto God’s Word because it is his heart’s delight. Yes, our attitudes and our affections are meant to be like a hand in a glove. It is our attitudes which help us to push through the pain to realize better days. And it is our affections which drive us forward, allowing us to experience joy in the present moment as we await our hope of ultimate deliverance. 

Commitments are fluid, always moving – which means they need to be continually rehearsed and refreshed. We are constantly either fulfilling our promises or reneging on them. There is really no such thing as a one-time vow. Commitments must have reinforcement from our attitudes and our affections. Otherwise, they languish on the trash heap of good intentions. This is one reason why the psalms are designed for constant use. 

It is important to have spiritually healthy habits ensconced in our lives well before any suffering and hard times roll in. If we have been nourished and supported by a daily sustenance of God’s Word, then we have both a breadth and a depth of robust theology to draw upon when the going gets rough. In addition, the sheer force of habit brings us back again and again to the treasure chest of divine instruction which informs our decisions and illuminates the treacherous road ahead. 

All the psalms are designed to reframe our own difficult situations. Even and especially when a person’s life hangs in the balance, we have the opportunity of viewing such hard and awkward circumstances through the window of the psalmist. Although circumstances change and we never quite know what to expect, God’s Word remains as our ballast and our rock. Divine love and morality are unchanging. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Spirit is always with us, through each wave of hardship. 

Life is a continual journey, an exploration into the unknown of the future. The path is shadowy and unclear. We are unsure of what is just around the bend. Yet, God’s Word is like a never-ending flashlight helping us navigate forward. Maybe Jesus had this psalm in mind when he said:  

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NRSV) 

In the Christian tradition, the Word is embodied in Jesus Christ so that he is both example and fulfillment of all God’s promises. Within today’s psalm, a sequence of four metaphors runs through these verses: my feet (light for my feet to walk in the way of God); my mouth (deliberate verbal commitment to God’s words); my hands (doing God’s will despite the circumstances); and my heart (desiring God’s decrees and commands).

With Jesus as Word and Light we have a constant companion walking alongside us for the journey; we have an intercessor who takes our wordy or malformed prayers and presents them before our heavenly Father; we use our hands by observing the Master who washed the feet of others; and, our hearts find their rest in the One who loved us and gave himself for us. 

In sum, our attitudes and affections are transformed into sustainable faith for the long journey; our hope is made sure through the promises of God; and, our love finds a resting place in the person of Jesus. Faith, hope, and love are the shoes which enable us to walk the long hard road uphill, as well as absorbing the shock as we run with abandon downhill – into the loving arms of God. 

soap

Let us come to Holy Scripture and liberally digest its life-giving message. I encourage you to find what works best for you in developing helpful spiritual habits. In reading the Bible, I often take the following approach using the acronym S.O.A.P…. 

Scripture 

  • Open your Bible and slowly, meditatively, read the portion of Scripture in your reading plan for today.
  • Write the reference of what you read in a journal along with the date.
  • As you read, ask God’s Spirit to highlight the verse(s) that speak to your life and write it in your journal.

Observation 

  • Make observations about what you just read and write them in your journal.
  • Think about: What is going on? What is the context?  Who are the people being spoken to? What is the background or setting for this verse?
  • Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your journal, in your own words.
  • What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture?

Application 

  • Personalize what you have read by asking yourself how it relates to your life right now.
  • Ask yourself how you can apply what you just read to your own life and write it in your journal.
  • Ask yourself how your life will be different or changed as a result of God speaking to you in this Scripture.

Prayer 

  • Write out a prayer to God in your journal.
  • Your prayer should relate to the verse that you highlighted. It could be asking for help, thanking God, etc. Write down what your heart desires to say to God in response to his Word.

May the words of your mouth, the meditations of your heart, the work of your hands, and the movement of your feet be to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.