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Discussion on I John 3:11-24

We talked about the many paradoxes of the Christian life. For me, these paradoxes continue to challenge. One of the most prevalent is the concept put forth in verse 14, that we are moving from “death to life” versus moving from “life to death.” Death is the dark time of our souls. But there are also “small deaths” along the way. The small deaths are still part of the sanctification of our souls, our journey to light (and life). The Christian Way is all about change (within and without).

We then moved into an animated conversation about “righteous anger” (story of Cain & Abel). Is there such a thing? We know that unchecked anger can become bitterness and from bitterness and unforgiveness comes hatred. That emotional path is never good. And yet, we know many stories of God’s righteous anger and even Jesus, who toppled the “money-changers” in the temple, had righteous anger. Can’t believers have the same?

In the end, we agreed that we would not be very good at purely righteous anger. Being human, our tendency would be to nurture that anger and allow it greater power within. However, if we could take that anger, birthed in some kind of evil or inequity, and channeled it into righteous action, then anger would transform. We would be protected from anger’s negative effects and move into becoming change agents for God.

But we must also beware of judging others and saying we can have righteous anger toward others because they break the law. Don’t we also break the law? It is not for us to say one sin is greater than another. Law breaking is law breaking until it moves into lawlessness (willful, consistent law breaking).

We then discussed “sacrificial love.” And I couldn’t help asking, what is the difference between regular love and sacrificial love? Should there be a difference? Finally, it seemed that there is a distinctness. Sacrificial love carries a greater cost to self. We leave our comfort zone when we move into the realm of sacrificial love. This is not an easy arena because, so often, in this type of love, there is great potential for abuse. That is, the one loving sacrificially, may actually become an emotional door mat. But we don’t believe this is God’s intent. Sacrificial love does not mean “losing self.” Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. His suffering was expected. He laid down his life intentionally.

We really stretched ourselves here as we considered all of those difficult verses like “turning the other cheek” and “giving our tunic in addition to our cloaks” [Luke 6:29] and laying down our lives for another. There are people examples who have embraced true sacrificial loving and living. They have given up everything, vowing lives of poverty and casting aside selfish ambitions. But we confessed, we struggle with these. We know in our heads and hearts what might be the better way but our contemporary lifestyle and culture has a powerful hold, to one degree or another.

There is only one thing to face it authentically: confess the truth, and go from there. In the meantime, we can work the basics: care for widows, orphans, and those in prison. That’s a mandate we cannot ignore. The rest will come incrementally.

Our class time was running short after this intense conversation about the sacrificial life. Briefly, we discussed the final questions about verse 20 (” . . . God is greater than our hearts”) asking if this is a phrase of comfort or challenge. We decided it’s both. Mostly comfort, but then, in the face of sin, our knowing God would speak into our hearts (conscience) to draw us away (knowing us better than we know ourselves).

And lastly, it is upon us to obey God in two important areas: love the Lord our God with heart, soul & mind; and our neighbor as ourselves. If we work these two arenas, then there will be confession and forgiveness automatically. The prayers will come from the heart. But, what about the prayers that appear unanswered: prayers for healing and life when illness and death threaten ourselves and our loved ones? Again, there are no easy answers.

My personal belief is that we continue to pray and place before God the desires of our heart until those desires change. And along the way, we must remember, that all prayer is answered but not always to our personal satisfaction. God is efficient. There is no action, no change, no death, no life, no illness, when it is covered in prayer that it isn’t also used of God. That is our hope which cannot be seen. That is where faith grows through loss, pain, and sorrow. That is where a new seed is planted.

Remember the paradox: death into life.

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Philippians 3:2-9

I didn’t know how this study would go, but I felt in the end, that it was a significant time. The words, “knowing Christ” were emblazoned in my heart and so the study did ultimately go.

But first, we looked at Paul’s anger and warning about the “dogs” or Judaizers. We talked about how dogs were such scavengers in that time period and to call someone a “dog” was a huge insult. (Also, as an aside, Jews often called gentiles, the dogs, and here, Paul is passing back the insult.) Anyway, to bring things to our time period, we talked about scavengers of today, like gulls, vultures, and buzzards. With that, I told them a personal experience with vultures. They are a disconcerting presence to say the least. However, after we talked about the “legalism” and destructiveness of these Judaizers, I reminded them that before Paul went venturing forth to proclaim the gospel of Christ, these same “dogs,” who were also Christ-believing Jews, they were the norm back in Jerusalem. When Paul ventured forth, he was shaking up everything they had believed in … gentiles as believers? And NOT circumcised? They were shocked!

But here’s the point, how many people today haven’t done the same things when something “new” comes along? How many people were shocked the first time a drum set was brought into the sanctuary? How many were shocked when folks came to church in jeans? How many of our denominations have been created because of a split in “forms” of worship. How many of us will be the “dogs” when then next wave comes along? Something to consider, eh?

We then talked about the “true circumcision” — the circumcision of the heart. What is that and how do we know we have it? Is the circumcision of the heart at the point of salvation or is part of the sancitification process? I’m not so learned to really know and certainly, the group was divided on this point. It was a fascinating discussion. For me, I see that heart circumcision as one layer of my heart being peeled gently away to make it possible for communion to begin. If an adult male decides to be circumcised, he must be a willing participant, he must humble himself to the procedure and he must present himself to the “surgeon” with trust. Is it any different for the heart? I don’t think so. We must trust the Holy Spirit who is greatest heart surgeon around. (Romans 2:28-29)

jesus-prayingAnd then we moved into the most important part of the evening for me… beginning with verse 7. For Paul, being fully “credentialed” considered all of that nothing — his heritage, his tribe, his orthodoxy, his zeal, his “righeousness”– compared to knowing Christ Jesus. And so we talked at length about what it means to “know” Jesus; what it means to “know” anyone. Some even found verses like John 14:21 (“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” [emphasis mine]) Others mentioned Psalm 51 and Psalm 37 as well with instructions or “tips” for knowing God. In my mind, if the heart is drawn to Him, and we give Him our trust, our energy, our worship, our love… then knowing/communing begins.

One of the keys is in the area of righteousness. This word, which trips so quickly off the lips of many Christians, has lost its power. I find it a word rich with possibilities. Clearly, Paul emphasizes the difference between our “own” righteousness and the righteousness that comes from God. In our own righteousness, we can actually do good things, be “good people” and accomplish great things. But we won’t know the Lord. To know the Lord requires HIS righteousness. And when he gifts us with His righteousness, then the door is open for true communion. Then, we can be IN Christ. Before, we considered the phrase, “to live is Christ,” now we add another dimension, “in Christ.”

These are supernatural states of being. These states of intimacy are happening in the spirit realm. These states are happening within the circumcised heart. These states are happening through the indwelling Holy Spirit. These states happen in our surrender… in presenting our hearts to God to do with as God wills.

We closed the evening by reading aloud a devotional selection from the words of St. John of the Cross (You Set My Spirit Free, edited by David Hazard) and then listening to a recording of Knowing You by Graham Kendrick.