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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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Summary of our Discussion I John 2:1-6

John refers to the listeners of his words as “dear children” or “beloved.” Why? Because he loves them and his relationship with them is close and loving. Everything John has to say to the hearers of his writings is written out of love and concern for their (and our) well being. Can we remember of think of a time when we have had such a loving, mentoring relationship?

John writes as the artist and not like the teacher Paul. John’s way of teaching is circular or spiral and he repeats his theme often, adding small tidbits along the way. John’s message is patient.

Of course, John’s desire is that none of his own would sin and yet he knows that they will. We will too. And because of this, it is so important that we look to our Advocate (parakletos – the one who walks beside) Jesus who will speak on our behalf. We must be honest with Jesus in order to appropriate the power of his sacrifice for us. Christ’s love does not waver, whether we sin or not.

Christ’s sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, of his own life for our lives was done for us as individuals, but also for everyone in the world. What is it we have to do? We must acknowledge this transaction; we must understand the power of this sacrifice so we can truly embed it into our beings. The forgiveness, the atoning blood of Jesus, is always available. (It’s like winning the lottery. We can have the winning ticket but it is worthless unless we turn it in for the cash. The ticket must be used, otherwise, it’s just a piece of paper, an idea with no power.)

In Old Testament times, sacrifice was a symbolic act (an ancient drama) by using the blood of animals to demonstrate a deeper truth. Christ’s sacrifice was the “ultimate battle when Christ disarms the power of sin and death.” [Mastering the New Testament: 1,2,3 John & Revelation by Earl F. Palmer] Jesus is not a victim like the animals. he chose to give up His life. His blood, like those of the animals, is on the mercy seat. We must grab hold.

Once we accept the atonement for our sins (our mistakes, our secrets, our choices), nothing can be the same for us. We are in relationship with Christ … but the quality of that relationship is up to us to nourish. He is walking with us (advocating for us) but we must also walk with Him.

There are two tests of an authentic Christian journey (I John 1:9 & 2:3): Confession and Obedience. These two form a circle: confess, obey, confess, obey, confess, obey. We talked at length about this chicken/egg concept. Ultimately, what are we obeying? How do we obey commandments if we don’t know what they are. And although I understand the logic of this, I also believe there is the mystery of experiencing the “next step” at the point of confession (and forgiveness). The commandments come out of relationship. As we enter into koinonia with Jesus (and others), we learn and grow. I am looking for obedience by choice (not fear). I am interested in obeying the “yes’s” and not the “no’s” or the “do-nots.”

His sacrifice and atonement gives us freedom.

This week’s lesson is definitely a call to all Martha/Marys! Take heed and listen to your heart!

We started with a fascinating trek through memory lane as we discussed who we were as teens and pre-teens in school. Were we high achievers, party girls, or “absent-though-present? The fascinating part was the discovery of how many of those teen characteristics have followed us into adulthood.

Then we discussed our “teachable” role models. Some of the key concepts out of that discussion were enthusiasm, open-mindedness, humility, receptiveness, curiousity, listener, and risk-taker as descriptors of someone with a teachable heart. When we took our own “teachable” questionnaire, we all came out with good scores, mid-range to high which is an encouragement … we are all on the path to being and growing a teachable heart and spirit.

Joanna Weaver speaks of three elements to a truly teachable heart:

  • Being willing to listen
  • Acting on what we hear
  • Responding to discipline

So, I had to ask, “How DOES God speak to you?” Most of the group’s focus was on that “Wow” factor that seems to pierce within; another example was the repetition of a particular idea, phrase, or picture in various ways or places; or, just a sense of His presence as we’re quietly praying or journaling. It was then that I added a kind of speaking that none of the group had heard of called “dark speech” which is a way for God to speak to us symbolically. I told the story of being at the Elijah House Ministries some years ago for counseling training and how a Coke can burst open when it dropped out of a soda machine and how the instructor showed me the possible “message” from such an unexpected or out of the ordinary event. The group was a little uncomfortable with the term “dark speech” but I reminded them of that well known scripture from I Cor 13 about “seeing through a glass darkly” … it’s the same idea.

We then discussed the second and third elements of a teachable heart, that is obedience and subsequently discipline if obedience is not forthcoming. We talked about Oswald Chambers’ insightful passage (October 10th) that identifies how powerful obedience is. If we truly hear God’s voice, in whatever way we do, then it is critical to respond. And, once we do respond, the next step will be revealed immediately. In other words, we see and hear more of God as a result of one obedience! Chambers added, “God will never reveal more truth about himself until you have obeyed what you know already.” I believe we sometimes spend too much looking for something new, moving from church to church, conference to conference, when, in reality we haven’t responded to the truths He has already given.

Horse and rider in harmonyJill gave us a beautiful word picture of obedience. She is a horsewoman and tells of the incredible power there is in working with a horse, particularly once the horse has grasped the relationship with the rider/master. Instead of having to use a crop or any other kind of harsh discipline, once the horse and rider are in sympathetic communication, the horse can respond to the smallest of leading maneuvers (even just a change in pressure from the rider’s hips) to know what to do. Jill called these moments a true dance! All I could imagine was how beautiful it would be to “dance” with Jesus through this kind of communication and obedience. How wonderful it would be to respond to His slightest suggestion in my heart or spirit. This would be the ultimiate “living room” intimacy for me.

Additional scriptures we read and discussed were Hebrews 12:5-11, Joshua 1:8, John 8:31-32, James 1:25, and Psalm 51:10-12. In particular the Psalm passage is one of pure hope for if God could forgive David in his sins with Bathsheba, then surely, God can still use us and transform us!