Unwelcome

Those who love to be first bring harm to the church

Read: 3 John

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10)

Reflect:

As ever, I shouldn’t be surprised at the aptness of God’s word to current events, whether on the world stage or in my own life. Substitute “Diotrephes” with “Chinese President Xi Jinping” and this passage still makes sense.

Mr Xi, like all national leaders, I suspect, loves to be first. He is not welcoming to John – that is, through John’s writings in the Bible, which the President wants to re-write. The coming of John, through his gospel, epistles and Revelation, shows the Chinese government to be full of nonsense. So Mr Xi refuses to let the Bible be sold unless it (and all Christianity in China) is adapted for socialist society:

Mr Xi had said religions could operate only if they were “Chinese in orientation” and that Beijing “must provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society” — which experts saw as an part of an ongoing crackdown by the ruling party. (abc.net.au)

The truth is, until Jesus returns there will be people in every country who reject God’s word and refuse God’s messengers.

But what if I substitute my own name in the place of Diotrephes’s name: Do I love to be first? Do I ever reject the messengers who bring God’s truth? Do I refuse to welcome believers who come as visitors to my local church? Do I discourage others to exercise hospitality to these visitors, being overly suspicious? Do I spread gossip about other believers, whether visitors or not? Is my response to my own husband’s sermons (he is my pastor after all) sometimes unwelcoming of the message God gives him for me? Do I think I am better off if I try to do Christianity on my own, apart from a local church body?

May it not be so!

Crux:

Those who love to be first bring harm to the church.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Make me humble, please! Help me to think of others, to be compassionate. Make me kind-hearted, generous, hospitable, welcoming. Help me to put others before myself, to be willing to serve.

I confess I all-too-frequently love to be first. I want to be first in line, first down the highway, first to lead, first to speak, first to act. I need to slow down and let others go first; let Jesus go first. I need to be willing to come in second, last, to DNF or even DNS at some things. Please forgive me.

LORD, I need to trust you more. I need to remember that it is you who establish my steps, you who make straight my paths. LORD, I need to trust you to get me where I need to be, to place me among those you want me to be with. Help me, please.

Amen.

Running

Christianity is defined by Christ, not by any human government

Read: 2 John

Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:8-9)

Reflect:

Today, just after I read 2 John, my husband told me that the ABC has just reported that China has blocked the sale of Bibles – from online stores at least – since Easter Friday, 30 March 2018. It is no longer possible for a Chinese person in China to purchase a Bible in the Chinese language online.

This is both censorship and religious persecution, the preventing of people from freely pursuing their choice of religion. I shouldn’t be surprised. Just yesterday I read in 1 John 5:19, that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one”.

What are the Chinese losing through this heinous act of their government? They are losing access to the revelation of God, the teachings of Christ.

How may Chinese Christians continue in Christ’s teaching if they cannot read it? Only God can make a way, through his Spirit.

The ABC reports that “the most common interpretation” of this pulling of Bibles from online stores is that “it would be replaced with a state-revised edition.” A Chinese government document recently released was quoted as saying the Chinese will ‘enhance’ “Chinese-style Christianity and theology.” From the ABC News article:

According to an official document released by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, one of the biggest tasks in the coming years is to enhance “Chinese-style Christianity and theology” by reinterpreting and retranslating the Bible.

The document, titled Principle for Promoting the Chinese Christianity in China for the Next Five Years (2018-2022), was formally launched in Nanjing in eastern China on March 28. Some social media users said Bibles started coming down from the websites on March 30. (abc.net.au)

There is no such thing as Chinese Christianity, just as there is no such thing as Australian Christianity. Christianity is not defined by the nationality of its adherents, but by Christ, our King. Christianity is not white or black or brown, not eastern or western or even Middle Eastern. Whatever the Chinese government publishes and ‘enhances’, they are merely “running ahead” (to use John’s words), not keeping to the truth.

And it is the truth of Christ that sets us free. But perhaps that is exactly what the Chinese government fears. Perhaps the truth of Jesus Christ has the Chinese government on the run.

Crux:

Christianity is defined by Christ our King, not by any human government.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I am heavy hearted as I pray tonight. I fear for what this political decision means for Christians in China. Will the government try to force Chinese Christians to accept the very antichrists that John warned his readers to avoid (1:7)?

LORD, Give them strength. Make their faith powerful as your mighty power. Help them to keep access to your Scripture, your Word, the Bible, in their own language. May they know the truth about Jesus and not be confused by propaganda of a socialist Chinese-ified version that has no glimmer of your glory.

May people in China find your word freely available once again.

LORD, please make my country’s politicians speak up against this censorship and religious persecution. May our politicians be open in their condemnation of this act by the Chinese government.

And may more people in China and in every country read the Bible and meet Jesus Christ on its pages, starting today.

Amen.

Know

As a child of God, I know the Father through his Son

Read: 1 John 5:13-21

We know that we are the 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. (1 John 5:19-21)

Reflect:

These are the facts of the matter, according to John: We know that we are children of God, “born of God” (5:18); yet the world we live in is (temporarily) under Satan’s power and influence. We will always live in tension, at odds with the world around us, because we belong to God and are kept safe by him, yet our surroundings and our non-Christian peers are in bondage to God’s enemy, suffering under evil’s control.

Furthermore, we know that Jesus Christ the Son of God has come. He has opened and renewed our minds so that we may understand Him Who is True, God himself (as far as limited human minds may understand such a glorious, infinite being).

The Son has come in the flesh and through him we comprehend the Father, in the same way as meeting my eldest son and observing his antics would enable someone to understand my husband’s personality and preferences.

We know God, therefore John instructs us to keep ourselves from idols; from false gods and from lies about God.

Crux:

As a child of God, I know the Father through his Son.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are true. There is no lie or falsehood in you. You are genuine, authentic, original, unique. You are the real deal: a god who is The God, the one and only God – not an idol, not a mirage. You are the only true God. I worship you.

Please keep me from idols, LORD. May I keep learning about you from your Son. May I understand you better as I learn about your Son. May I be strong in faith to stand firm and withstand the lies of the evil one who has control of the world at this present time.

May I be strong in faith to run away from idolatry, to pursue you and a closer relationship with you rather than seeking the cold comfort of the accuser. May I study diligently your word, reading all you reveal to me in it. May I not be distracted by false gods, false promises, false hopes.

May you be my all in all.

Amen.

Life

Eternal life is found in God’s Son, not in science

Read: 1 John 5:1-12

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

Reflect:

I once heard pop-culture science journalist Karl Kruszelnicki speak to a cohort of Australian school students. It was the year 2000, the new millennium, a year of hopes, dreams and new starts, the year the Olympics came to Australia and I met and married my husband. Then a high school science and maths teacher, I was keen to hear what Kruszelnicki had to say, but I remember only one thing from his talk.

Kruszelnicki told the students that, given the speed of scientific discovery and development, he thought their generation would either be the last generation to die or the first generation to live forever.

Such a bold claim. It seemed far fetched to me then, and more so now, but it has stuck with me for 18 years. We may have discovered quarks and found evidence for bosons, identified telomeres and perfected gene splicing techniques, but still, doctors can’t bring someone back from the dead when they are even three days in the grave, like Jesus did.

I am certain that I know a far better, more reliably guaranteed route to eternal life than any scientific, medical and technological advancement. I know this method works because it has been proven, and the historical evidence for its successful occurrence is overwhelming. God has given me eternal life, and this gift of eternal life is found in his Son, Jesus Christ – the first to be raised from the dead by the Father.

If I relied on Kruszelnicki’s science to keep me alive I’d either be devastated when I die despite all science can do, or I’d be disappointed by an elongated life stretched thin at the edges, lacking the abundance and fullness of life in Jesus Christ. I put my faith in Jesus Christ and God’s gift, not in the alluring false promises of Kruszelnicki or any other scientific prophet.

Crux:

Eternal life is found in God’s Son, not in science.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You have the words of eternal life.
You are Source and Sustainer, Sacrifice and Saviour.
You are the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End,
the everlasting One who was and is and is to come, the I AM.

I bow my head in reverential awe before you.

Science, medicine and mathematics are great, but they can’t measure you, they can’t describe you, they can’t explain you, they can’t reveal you. Only your Son, your Spirit, your Scripture can do that.

In Scripture, I see your generosity to me in sharing your life with me in your Son.

In the testimony of your Spirit, I know the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

In your Son, I have eternal life, abundant life, that does not rely upon medicine or technology, but upon the Creator of the Universe, who does not fail.

Thank you.

Amen.

Son

God sent his only Son because only his Son could be our Saviour

Read: 1 John 4:7-21

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. (1 John 4:13-15)

Reflect:

This Easter Sunday I rejoice once again that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. God did this as a demonstration of his love whereby he ensured that I may live through Christ. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

I celebrate once again that I have the assurance of the Spirit within me, by which I testify, together with John, that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is divine, an inseparable member of the Trinity, God himself, Immanuel.

Jesus was not some sleight-of-hand magician, not some Vegas-Style-hypnotist, not a circus show freak. Nor was Jesus merely a man like any other. Jesus was and is and ever will be the one and only Son of God.

God sent his only Son to us because only God could open the way to eternal life. Only God would demonstrate true love on a cross. For this end, God would love us by living with us and for us, by rising again to life.

Crux:

God sent his only Son because only his Son could be our Saviour.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the Holy Creator, utterly different to your sin-stained creation. Yet you sent your Son, your very own Son, your one and only Son – essence of your essence – into the world to be our Saviour, so we may live just as he was raised to life.

This is such good news, such glorious news! Thank you.

Thank you for a Saviour who is perfect in every way, who demonstrated divinity to us, dwelling among people yet not just a person.

Thank you for a Saviour who is kind, gentle, compassionate, just, wrathful, deeply grieved by sin and its effects.

Thank you for a Saviour who knows me, sees me, hears me, cares for me and reaches out for me, walks with me.

Thank you for my Saviour, Jesus Christ, your one and only Son.

Amen.

Flesh

Jesus Christ came in the flesh so his flesh could die for my sins

Read: 1 John 4:1-6

This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Reflect:

This Easter Friday, it is good for me to reflect upon what it means that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” Later on, John commends the divinity of God to his readers as a crucial doctrine (4:15), but here John is emphasising Jesus’ humanity.

Jesus is not solely the Son of God, he is also a Man, enfleshed. This duality of nature is the doctrine of Two Natures. So why should believing this doctrine be a defining mark of Christians?

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: we no longer wait (as contemporary Jews still do) for a Messiah. We have one – he has come and he has died on a cross.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: he was subject to suffering and temptations just as I am, yet he never sinned. Jesus died sinless and innocent, the perfect, blemish-free sacrifice for sins.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: he is truly human so his death for my sins is a true one-to-one correspondence for the death I should have died for my sins. He came in flesh so he could truly take my place and carry my burden.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: his death was a real death, not some mystical or metaphorical experience, but a real loss of life. He took his last breath, his heart stopped beating, his blood began to coagulate and separate into red blood and plasma. He was really alive with a human body, and really dead with a human corpse.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: able to bear my sins in his body on the cross.

Crux:

Jesus Christ came in the flesh so his flesh could die for my sins.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It’s Easter Friday and you know I was half-expecting the Bible passage I read today to providentially refer directly to Jesus’ death on the cross. I was almost surprised when it didn’t. (You know you’ve stunned me with the timeliness of my Bible reading before.) Yet I don’t feel compelled to read on right now, there’s so much meat here for me (oops, seriously, that was an unintended pun, God).

LORD, I can’t get my head around the fact that Jesus Christ, true God of true God, came in the flesh. Yet I know it is a fact. Jesus Christ was always true God; he was and now is and always will be true man as well. How this might be, I do not know, but I do know that it is true: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. He came in the flesh to die for me and for all who believe in him.

You know this is a sticking point, a stumbling block, for my father. He doesn’t believe that One who is God could also die as a man. Please help him to accept this truth, LORD. Grant him your Spirit, the Spirit of truth, so that his spirit will acknowledge Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Please do not let him listen any more to the spirit of the antichrist, the spirit of falsehood. Save him, LORD, as you have saved me, by the death of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has come in the flesh.

Amen.

Rest

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart

Read: 1 John 3:19-24

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

Reflect:

This passage answers some of the questions raised earlier in verses 6 and 9 of this chapter, which say that Christians stop sinning. According to John, if my heart feels guilty, then my feeling shall be corrected by my mind, which knows that God is greater than my heart, greater than my shame.

I stop sinning because Jesus has taken away my sin (3:5). Jesus did this by fulfilling the law; not abolishing it (Matthew 5:17), but refining and redefining it in himself.

Jesus said the whole law is summed up in two commands: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love my neighbour as I love myself (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31). Now John reframes this summation of the law. John says, paraphrasing Jesus (John 6:29), that God’s commands are two-fold: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another.

If I consider the parallels between these two two-fold summations of the law, I can see how the second interprets the first. John’s “one another” defines Jesus’ “neighbour” as fellow believers, I think, based on John’s previous use (3:10, 3:16) of “brother and sister”. (Which doesn’t mean that Christians should not love non-Christians, merely that this love is not a primary command.)

Likewise, “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” clarifies what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We love God primarily by believing in His Son.

And when I believe in God’s Son Jesus, I know that God is greater than me and he has sent his Son to take away my sin. I stop sinning because my sin is no more – abolished not by the abolishing of the law, but by its fulfilment by Jesus Christ. Sin is lawlessness (3:4) and since the law is fulfilled in Christ and through my belief in him, there can be no more lawlessness in me, no more sin in me.

Aaah! Now my heart is free to rest.

Crux:

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Great is your name; great is your glory.
You are greater than me; greater than the condemnation of my heart within me; greater than anything I can conceive or imagine; greater than infinity.
You are greatly to be praised.

I believe in the name of your only Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.

I believe that somehow you, who are more-than-infinite, became less, lowly, a human infant born of the virgin Mary, conceived by your Holy Spirit’s essence.

I believe that Jesus suffered cruelly according to the decision of Pontius Pilate. I believe Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross; that he died there at Golgotha, the place of the skull. I celebrate this as Easter Friday.

I believe that the body of Jesus was buried in a fresh grave by those who sought to honour him.

And I believe that Jesus rose again to life on the third day, which I celebrate as Easter Sunday.

I believe that Jesus was seen alive by honest eyewitnesses before he ascended to heaven, to the God-realm. I believe Jesus is sitting even now at your right hand. I believe that one day Jesus will return to earth to judge all people, including those who have already died and those still alive on that day.

I believe, LORD. Please deepen my belief in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Start

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me

Read: 1 John 3:10-18

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Reflect:

Jesus said to “love your neighbour” was the second most important command of God, superseded only by the command to love God. At the Last Supper, which Christians remember and celebrate tomorrow (on Maundy Thursday), Jesus told his disciples he was giving them a new command: “Love one another.” John repeats Jesus’ commands here.

But what does it mean to love? According to Jesus’ perfect example, to love means to “lay down our lives” for our brothers and sisters, our fellow believers. We must share with other Christians in need. We must love actively, truthfully. I must share generously. I must love actively, truthfully, compassionately, sacrificially.

I was telling someone today about my husband’s flight over Antarctica, which he did a year ago with a dear neighbour and friend, without me. The other person said their spouse would never let them do such a thing because they’d be too jealous. Something was even mentioned about scratching eyes out, I think. But love is not envious, nor self-seeking. I was happy to release Jeff to his exciting flight because I love him and I want him to experience joy.

In the same way, my husband loves me and is generous rather than jealous with me. In the last few weeks, Jeff has said I can fly overseas in June for two and a half weeks for the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. Jeff has committed to parenting our four children without me for the weeks I’ll be gone, and he’s freed up the money from our income so I could buy flights to get there. He’s suggested I visit a friend and bring her to the conference with me, and committed funds for her to join me so I won’t be alone. He’s even encouraged me to do some exciting touristy things while I’m there and helped me find the best way of doing them in keeping with my personal limitations. This is abundantly generous love. This is sacrificial love, and it springs from what Christ has done for both of us, not just from our mutual married love.

Love is generous. Love gives unreservedly. Love is happy to see the beloved rejoicing. Love shares whatever it has. May I love like this.

Crux:

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are love and you have shown me true love in the generous, humble actions of your Son.

Thank you for your love, for the love of your Son, and for the love of my husband in imitation of the Son.

Please make me like Jesus. Let me learn from him how to love rightly. Make me willing to lay down my life for the good of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Help me to be willing to give my time, my money, my attention, my skills, even my future for those who need them. Please help me to give up my aspirations that are selfish, my habits that get in the way of relationships, my hobbies that take up what you want me to give away. Make me generous with all you have given me.

May I be especially willing to give away knowledge of the gospel!

Amen.

Stop

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin

Read: 1 John 2:29-3:10

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:5-6)

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

Reflect:

John is blunt. Blunt, plain and clear. True Christians stop sinning.

We do not continue to sin. We do not keep on in our old sinful ways. Sin stops when a person is “born of God”. Sin stops when a person is called a child of God.

I am filled with questions.

If Christians stop sinning, why might we need a mediator and advocate in Christ (2:1)?

If I don’t think I’ve stopped sinning completely, does this mean I’m not really God’s child (3:9)?

If so, why did John assure me that “this is what we are!” (3:1)?

What does it mean to stop sinning, if “sin is lawlessness” (3:4)?

Is stopping sinning my action, my work, or is it a grace-gift of the Trinity at work in me and active for me – the Father’s love that calls me his child (3:1), Jesus removing my sin (3:5), the Spirit’s seed remaining in me (3:9)?

And how does this all fit together with Paul’s instruction to the Colossians (Colossians 3:5-10) which tells me to “put to death” that which belongs to my “earthly nature” and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator”?

Oi!

Crux:

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I confess that I am confused. I’m confused about who I am and what I do. But what I do see clearly in these verses is You: who you are and what you do.

You are the Father. You lavish your love upon me. You call me your child. I praise you!

You are Jesus Christ. You have taken away my sins. In you there is no sin. You appeared and the devil’s work (sin) was destroyed and obliterated. I worship you.

You are the Spirit. You anointed me. You seeded me with yourself so I may grow and bear spiritual fruit. You remain in me. I honour you.

LORD God Almighty, you are Father, Son and Spirit; you are Trinity.

Help me, please. Make your word, which you spoke to me through John’s epistle today, come true in me and come alive in my life. Stop my sin, LORD, I pray.

Amen.

Remain

I remain in Christ because I remember the Christian gospel

Read: 1 John 2:24-28

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us: eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

Reflect:

John gives a direct command here to his readers. He tells me I must ensure that what I “have heard from the beginning” stays in me. I am responsible.

What is this message that reached my ears? It is the gospel, the good news.

In words of one syllable, it is this: Christ died to save me from my sins so that I may be right with God.

The Big Words version: The gospel of salvation told me that the forgiveness of my sins (justification) and imparting of Christ’s righteousness (imputation) was made possible by God’s free gift (grace) to me, through my faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ in my place (substitution), which turned away God’s wrath (propitiation).

So how do I ensure that this message “remains in me”?

I study and learn more about this gospel message (so I understand all those Big Words that End in SHUN). I read the Bible closely and see Christ’s death on my behalf portrayed throughout its pages. I partake in Holy Communion. I celebrate Easter, gathering with my local church body. I talk about the gospel with my husband, my children, my fellow believers, my co-workers, my friends. Through prayer, I talk about the gospel with my God.

I take responsibility for loving God with all my mind and soul as well as with all my heart and strength.

Blessedly, all this learning, remembering, celebrating, meditating and talking has a flow-on effect, according to John: it ensures that I stay in Christ and in the Father. Christ promised me eternal life, and I have it now as I remain in him.

Crux:

I remain in Christ because I remember the Christian gospel.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

May your name be praised in all the world.

You saw my horrible sin and were justly angry at me. Yet you expended your wrath not on me but on the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, as he hung crucified, bearing my sin and shame in his body.

You are just – terribly, fearfully just.
You are merciful – wonderfully, generously merciful.

You are Sovereign, Saviour and Spirit, Three in One, the Holy One.

I acknowledge you. May I always remain in you, and in so-doing enjoy eternal life.

Thank you for this eternal life which you have birthed in me through the hearing of the gospel and faith in your Son. Keep me in your Son always, eternally alive because I am eternally in him who grants me life.

May I continue to live in Christ, so I may be confident and unashamed – confident in Christ’s sacrifice and unashamed with Christ’s righteousness – before Jesus when he comes.

Amen.