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Discussion of I John 2:24 – 3:2

What a powerful time in the Lord. We shared in so many different ways and I am grateful for everyone’s willingness to be transparent and really talk about some of the hard things. May we all remember how important it is to pray for one another.

Because our discussions are quite vibrant, we do not always make it through the questions. That’s OK with me! This evening we started back at vs 2:24 and discussed the true meaning of “abiding in Christ.” What does that look like? What does it mean to us individually? We understand it means, literally, to remain or to dwell or to rest in. But do we? It is so important to understand the importance of our grafted-in position “in Christ.” But this too, is a mystery. Since we can’t be “in” the physical body of Christ, this is a spiritual condition, a unity of soul.

We also discussed how sin and self-interest could bring us to times of separation or detachment from the vine (John 15:5). But, thanks be to God, despite our ability to detach, God is able to re-attach us when we confess along the way. His grace is sufficient.

Some of these times of “detachment” from the vine or the “body of Christ” are times when we can be taken advantage of. These are times when we can be “duped” and led astray even further by false teachers. As they say, the best way to protect against getting a “cold” is to stay healthy. So it is with recognizing false teaching. The best way to know truth is to continue to abide.

It is in the place of abiding that we are able to hear God’s voice, where we are instructed, where the source of all “actions” are “works” must be centered, and where confession and forgiveness live together.

I confessed to the group, when I am challenged by others about anomalies in scripture or asked “why” one person dies while another lives or challenged with “the people who never hear about Christ… ” etc. My answer is simple: it’s a mystery. There is great mystery and paradox in the faith walk. All we can do is abide.

We then talked about the returning Jesus and the one who returns will not be the “gentle Shepherd,” but the King of Kings. Some people may be ashamed by their sin, their willfulness, and their denial. But as we have talked about all along, Jesus is all light. God is all light. And the when the Light comes, the darkness flees. Are we still anticipating his coming? Really? What are we doing in the light of his promise? The best answer: abide!

And lastly, we talked a great deal about being “children of God.” What makes us children? What is God telling us about our relationship to God? Shouldn’t we experience the sense of comfort and safety that a child feels with his/her parents? Plus we are promised to be “like him.” When we are adopted into the vine, we become like Jesus. We are born again!

I was so glad to be able to absolutely clarify that anyone (and everyone) who accepts the Messiah as the direct sacrifice for sins (those things that separate us from God), we are grafted in and as soon as we are grafted in, we are becoming new. We are re-born.

Being “born again” is not about singing praise songs or being “on fire” for God or anything like that. Being born again is the shortcut terminology for adoption. And when we see Jesus again, because of our new relationship with Christ, we will “see him as he is” and we will be like him.

Jesus is different now than he was while he was on earth. He is the same: he is different. (After the resurrection, he may have looked human, but he could also walk through walls, and move through time and space). Hallelujah!

Summary of our discussion on I John 1.

I’m not sure I can capture everything we covered in our first class discussion. For me, it was tremendously invigorating and filled with lots of good ideas and viewpoints from everyone. Hopefully, class participants will add what I have forgotten!

We spent a lot of time talking about beginnings. John begins this book, “That which was from the beginning, . . . ” which is very similar to how he begins his gospel. There is the true beginning, when it was only God (in all of his myriad forms); there is the beginning that happened when Jesus was born and God came to be among us humans; and, then, we discover later, there is the beginning of new life (a new age) on earth when Jesus sacrifices himself on the cross. We are still in this time. And finally, there is our own beginning in the class itself. We are looking for change, for insight, for understanding.

John wrote with authority because he was an eyewitness. A type of authority is given to us to tell our own stories of being touched by the Christ. We forget that this is the key to our witness: what we ourselves have experienced cannot be taken away. Someone can say that they don’t believe in Jesus, but they cannot break apart one’s own eyewitness of Jesus’s work in our lives. Also, remember, our roles as a witness also gives us the authority to proclaim the meaning and significance of those events in our lives. We have the authority to interpret our own experiences.

Jesus is the Word of Life… the logos, the mouthpiece for God. The word went from being abstract in the Old Testament to concrete in Jesus.

Fellowship is at the heart of John’s message because love is there. Koinōnia (close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, and close relationships) is demonstrated through the relationship that Jesus (on Earth) had with the Father. We are invited to have koinōnia with the Christ. Walking in the light is being in koinōnia. If we are in koinōnia with Jesus, we should also be in fellowship with one another. If there is a breakdown in either area, we are actually moving toward darkness.

There are opponents to koinōnia like pride, jealousy, lying, gossip, etc. (in other words, sin).

In most of our churches, we are not in koinōnia. Most of our church relationships are surface relationships. We do not expose our true selves. We may fear rejection. It’s a risk to be transparent.

Is Christianity black and white? If it is true that all that is “white” or “light” is Christ Jesus, then it makes sense that all that “black” or “dark” or evil is embodied in Satan. Everything in between is us. We are all in the gray areas … some lighter shades as we move toward the light and some darker as we are either sucked back into the darkness of sin or willfully turning away from the light.

All sin is black whether it’s murder or gossip or betrayal or gluttony. Like the spots on a dalmatian dog, it attaches to us. We must take care that we don’t look at the sins of others as though they are worse then our own. We are all capable of great harm and evil.

If we are in the darkness, we must want to move into the light. We have to come to grips with the reality of where we are. We must be transparent with ourselves. Denial or self-deceit will keep us in the dark. We must acknowledge our own sins (our secrets). We may have to come to the “end of ourselves” before we realize what we need. We may need someone to walk along to help us turn around.

The best way to begin the journey is confession (I John 1:9). The Greek for confess is homologeō which means “to say the same thing.” God knows our sin and is waiting for us to acknowledge and profess what is already known. This is part of the cleansing.

And as a result, God extends forgiveness: freely.

Philippians 2:1-11
Earlier in the week, I asked everyone, by email, to take a survey I created based on the first two verses of chapter two. Primarily, the reason to take this survey was to think about the descriptive words Paul gives the Philippians … “if” they are indeed “united with Christ.” And doesn’t “united with Christ” also feel very similar to “to live IS Christ.” They are the same idea.

So, what are those words: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness & compassion are specifically mentioned in the NIV, but class members added strength, joy, affection, mercy, sympathy, and humility. All of these are a “measuring stick” of sorts for unity with Christ. Do we experience these attributes? Do we practice them? It is in my mind that “the degree to which we can claim these words and walk them out is the degree to which we can experience unity with Christ … and thereby, unity with the Body.

When Paul says that their practice of these words would make his joy complete, he is sharing with them how much he cares about their progress… their practice is proof or confirmation that his teaching wa meaningful and significant. He wants them to be ready for the next step!

As we discussed the concept of like-mindedness, there were several good discussion points: one person called it agreeing with the center… or another said that the goal is the same. In essence, we all understood that there may not be agreement on the details, but the core truth is the same. It is not and should not be an excuse for creating “automatons” or practicing “group think” [like the novel, 1984]. Another way of thinking of like-mindedness is harmony in music. To sing or play instruments, we don’t all have to play the melody … in fact, the melody becomes richer when others are singing parts. We even sang a bit as a group: “Jesus, Jesus… let me tell you how I feel. You have given me your Spirit, I love you so.”

I then described to them the story of the “long handled spoons” … I actually found a more succinct version of it on the Internet. It goes like this:

Long Handled Spoon

Long Handled Spoon
[Author Unknown]
A man spoke with the Lord about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, “Come, I will show you hell.”

They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arm that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible.

Come, now I will show you heaven,” the Lord said after a while. They entered another room, identical to the first — the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished. “I don’t understand,” said the man. “Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?”

The Lord smiled, “Ah, it is simple,” he said. “Here they have learned to feed each other.”

This is what we must learn here on earth… and not wait until heaven. This is about being like-minded and all the other words as well. This is about unity and community!

But the primary destroyer of unity (and community) is “selfish ambition.” It only takes one person to destroy a community. In the church today, it still happens, but it looks like territorialism. This is the opposite of harmony. This is discordant. Individualism is strong. It’s actually one of the attributes of the early Americans who forged this country. Is it so bad? It is if the individual isn’t rooted in a higher truth.

On the flip side is humility… but not “doormat humility” which is not humility at all. That’s a false modesty; that’s a victim mentality. That is not what Paul is recommending at all. True humility is focused on God and on others. It places the attention on the strengths and virtues of others. Its ROOT is love. I heard another definition of humility while I was at a Leadership seminar and the speaker said that humlility also requires a realistic understanding of self… it’s being at peace with yourself. Of course, this is also crucial to love, really.

Lastly, we addressed verses 6-11, which are sometimes referred to as a “hymn to Christ.” Scholars actually disagree as to whether or not it is or isn’t a hymn, but I don’t think that’s critical to our current study or understanding. The key to these verses is that they are Paul’s way of giving us the “ultimate example” of everything we discussed in session: Christ is the perfect example of humility.

In the 4th Century AD, in the time of Constantine, there were two bishops with divergent ideas about the divinity of Christ Jesus. One, Alexander, believed that Jesus “was” from the beginning, equal in divinity with God and always existed (based on John 1:1-2). Another bishop, Arius, believed that Jesus was of lesser divinity until he completed the task given to him by God and only then was he fully exalted. Arius did not believe that Jesus always existed. What’s particularly interesting to me is that two modern day groups still follow this understanding of Arius: Jehovah’s Witnesses & LDS. That’s interesting. But, to complete this history lesson, Constantine got all the bishops of that time together and they met at the Council of Nicea and he basically told them: don’t come out until you come to an agreement. In the end, they produced a document that is still used today: The Nicene Creed. And yes, they followed the lead of Bishop Alexander.

Christ’s example, then, of humility is that he willingly became a man (that might compare to one of us agreeing to be an insect) and did not claim any extraordinary powers but came as a servant to mankind, and died as God, the Father, asked him. And only after his complete surrender, his complete humiliation, was he raised up and exalted. This is the extreme version of what we are told over and over through the New Testament: Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Lluke 14:11; Luke 18:14; James 4:10; and I Peter 5:6.

Reach out this week in humility with a long spoon of selflessness.

Philippians 1:12 – 29
We flew the material last Thursday in an effort to cover everything in the time allotted. From basic information about the “palace guards” possibly being physically attached Paul during his imprisonment to much deeper issues about our personal witness and the pain and struggles that have touched it.

We had a more lengthy discussion about the state of the church and the possible envy, rivalries, and judgments between the various denominations. Some of the group are still uncomfortable with the idea of some ministries being “acceptable” as long as “Christ is preached.” But this is, ultimately, Paul’s message in verse 18! An interesting comment came up that all this might change if the “teaching” impacts us as individuals and if it is false, it is so important to be well-grounded. And yet, it is still my over-arching belief that if one is authentically seeking the Lord, He will be found… in truth.

When we addressed Paul’s ability to be able to rejoice in his circumstances, we see him first rejoicing for the preaching of the gospel (his first concern, always) and secondly, he is rejoicing for his confidence in the Philippians continued support … through their prayers as well as their largess. Paul is able to see the big picture. And as someone added, Paul probably had “visions” of the spirit realm, an experience that gave him even more confidence of God’s hand upon his life. And as a result, Paul continues to have a “divine perspective.” He also believes that no matter what happens (alive or dead), Christ will be magnified.

Paul is willing to to enter into the sufferings of Christ, which is often difficult for us. If only we could hold onto the Truth: Christ controls our destiny. God must be in control in order to rejoice. To the degree that we allow God to be in control is the degree to which we can experience pure joy in our circumstances. And of course, the opposite is also true, to the degree that we do not allow God to be in control, we will experience worry, fear, anger, resentments… just to name a few.

In verse 20, Paul asks for courage that he not be ashamed. The shame he is talking about here is actually being “faint-hearted.” In other words, for him, to not speak the gospel, in even the most difficult situation, is to fail his Lord. We must all remember that courage is not the absence of fear but the resolve to act in the face of danger. Paul was human. He did fear despite being “sold out” for the Lord.

jesusWe then delved into the mystery of the phrase, “To Live is Christ.” When we started class I had everyone write a list of their activities and feelings for the week. At this point, we used this list to complete the phrase … To live is ___________. Here is where we see how we often live really. Maybe it’s “to live is working” or “to live is sleeping” or “to live is weeping” or “to live is praying.” Whatever it is, we must consider more mindfully what it means if we claim this phrase as our own. This is not a joke. This is not something to said in a cavalier way. Are we truly willing to live as Christ did? Are we willing to put on the feelings, activities, challenges, and love of Christ?

If we do, each day, then we are indeed as Christ walking amidst the people. Our existence is a testimony. Our “being” is a witness. We spend so much time worrying about “telling people about Jesus” and I say, if we are really living Christ, then our very conversations will speak Him. Jesus walked the roads and byways and ate with sinners and unbelievers. He taught but he did not “convince.” He spoke of the Father, of love, of the Kingdom of God, of reconciliation, of hope, of healing, … to live is Christ? Can we really do it? And then, can take the next step and actually believe that death is even better than that? (Oh, death where is thy sting?)

And lastly Paul entreats the Philippians (and us) to conduct themselves always in a manner worthy of the gospel. Someone brought Ephesians 4:1-5 as a pretty complete description of what that might mean. And part of that may include suffering. This is part of our “koinonia” with Christ. Often we fear the suffering OR we feel guilty because the truth is we really don’t want the suffering part of living his life in us.

Oh Lord, let my story be an authentic expression of You to that part of the world I touch.