1 John 5:13-21 – We Know

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (New International Version)

In a world of constant change, the need for people to experience meaning and stability in their lives is more pronounced than ever. 

COVID-19 currently grips the world in a terrible reality of disease, death, and disruption. Just when we think there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, new strains of the virus arise. Meanwhile, life goes on with all it’s typical changes, losses, and devastating natural disasters.

There are people wondering if they will have a job tomorrow – or if they will ever get called back to one. Many parents are anxious about what kind of world their kids will have when they become adults. Others feel adrift in a fast-paced society, glutted with so much news and information that they have little sense of what is real or true. Discouragement and/or depression may seem to never end.

Whenever there are uncertainties all around us, it’s necessary to return to the knowable, to hang our hat on some solid bedrock certainties we are convinced are always there. That’s why the Apostle John wrote his letter, to remind the church of the known and the knowable:

  • “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
  • “If we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
  • “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”
  • “We know that we are children of God.”
  • “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.” 

In English, we have only one word for “know.” Yet, in the ancient Greek of the New Testament there are two different words for “know.” Throughout today’s lesson, the Apostle consistently uses one of those words, then shifts to another at the end. 

All of the “knows” John used refer to an objective knowledge – an information-based understanding which anyone could discover, learn, or know. Then, the Apostle switched to a different word at the end – to know him (Christ) who is true. That particular word has to do with a subjective or experiential knowledge. In other words, it is an inner witness and knowing of objective knowledge.

In American society, we frame the distinction between the two words by saying we need to know something in our heart (subjective knowledge) and not only in our head (objective knowledge).

Cerebral understanding, combined with heartfelt experience, results in a new confidence in prayer, a new attitude toward the world, and a new awareness of God. These are the impact of knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Knowing God takes both the head and the heart. Only being concerned for sound doctrine creates theological eggheads who dispassionately connect with God and others as if they were merely brains on a stick figure. Conversely, only being concerned for how religion makes us feel causes a kind of spiritual schizophrenia which is unstable and constantly seeks for a new or better experience in worship.

Love and obedience are the sacred pathways to personal and corporate knowledge and peace. Whenever the supreme ethic of love takes place in the believer’s life, through receiving it from God and giving it to others, it brings a sense of divine assurance in a sea of worldly uncertainty. 

Security in God will always outdo the insecurities of life.

Loving God, I know that you listen to me. I pray your love and assurance will fill me to such a place that I have peace amidst the vicissitudes of this life. May I rest in Jesus Christ through the work of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Exodus 13:17-22 – The Presence of God

Pillar of Cloud and Fire

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So, God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (NRSV)

From a human perspective, God makes a lot of nonsensical decisions in the Bible. Telling Noah to build a big boat in a place with no water; Abraham to leave everything, and later, to sacrifice his son; Moses to stroll into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the people go; and, the people to walk through a body of water without getting wet. Indeed, its as if God has an odd predilection for making weird requests of people.

Although today’s Old Testament story gives us a glimpse into God’s thinking, the people were not privy to that information. Yes, God’s people were experiencing an unbelievable exodus out of Egypt. Their wildest dreams could not have imagined such a reality as strolling out of slavery having seen not one but a string of miraculous wonders. Yet, God was not done with the miracle thing.

Although many people would really like to see a miracle happen in their lives, rarely do we think about the circumstances we might need face for that miracle to occur. God typically asks folks to do some outrageous-sounding things to set up the miracle.

An entire nation left Egypt with celebration only to be told to go in a misdirection toward the Promised Land, as if God were somehow geographically challenged. I can imagine that decision had Moses raising a Spock-like eyebrow and the Israelites wondering if God was off his celestial rocker. There is, however, a reason why folks like Noah, Abraham, and Moses obeyed instructions that didn’t make sense to them at the time: The Presence of God.

It is the personal Presence and power of God which makes all the difference.

For God has not promised to create an existence with a zero factor of hardship. God, instead, has created a world that is full, vibrant, and alive with Presence – and a zero tolerance for bullies like Egypt. The uncertainty, doubt, and mystery of the future is thoroughly mitigated with the effusive Presence.

When sitting with patients in the hospital who struggle with the unknown of why they are there and what will become of them (and their families) the last thing I do is try to fabricate reasons so that it makes sense. It doesn’t, and I’m not going pretend that it does. Rather, I remind them of what I do know: The Presence of God is here. God does not go out of his way to give us an easy life. God does, however, go far out his way to communicate his glorious Presence with us.

Pillar of Cloud and Fire 2

God kept constant vigil over the ancient Israelites, powerfully seen with the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Nothing was going to happen to the Jewish people without first passing through the mighty hands of God. Not only do I know God is with us, I also know he neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). When God keeps vigil, God keeps vigil! No smoke or bathroom breaks with God. God’s vigilance is relentless and wondrous, giving assurance to the godly and terrifying the ungodly.

Once we are out in the wilderness of uncertainty, there is no turning back.

That’s okay. The Presence of God patrols the area and divinely guards our every move. For the Christian, the Presence has found its fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Although Christians everywhere serve a risen and ascended Christ, the Divine Presence remains with glorious constancy through the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who is consistently alongside us, empowering us and advocating on our behalf. The beautiful theological truth here is that God is both transcendent (far above us) and immanent (intimately close to us) at the same time, all the time.

Armed with such a robust theological understanding, trust and confidence come to us without having to resort to ginning up positive thoughts. Instructions and commands which seem like nonsense? No problem. The Transcendent and Immanent One has the Presence all over it. In between a rock-and-hard-place (or an Egyptian army and a Red Sea)? Not an issue. I willingly place myself there knowing that with the Presence, the miraculous is about to happen. We need not buck the difficult circumstances. The Presence has got this.

So, then, let us pray for the Church and for the world, and let us thank God for the great Presence: In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, we pray to you, Almighty God, and Father. From the rising of the sun to its setting, we pray to you, ever-vigilant Lord, on behalf of those in despair and darkness, that they may find the hope and light of Christ; those in fear of death, that they may find faith through the resurrection of Jesus; prisoners and captives, widows and orphans, and all those who today need a blessed assurance of the Presence; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.

Click God With Us written and sung by Terrian Woods as we contemplate The Presence among us.