See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. – 1 John 3:1-3

20180609-DSC07631

Acrobatic Dragonfly | Mercer Botanical Gardens | June 2018 (This photo took 3rd place in the assigned category {Macro} of the June 2018 NWHPC Competition.)

Except in a few cases, I’m not very good at picking out familial resemblances. Someone will say, “He looks just like his dad,” and I won’t see it. Sometimes, however, I do see it. She does look just like her mother. I even hear her mother’s voice in her!

John says that we are God’s children, and if we are not recognized as such by the world it’s because the world doesn’t know the Father. The better you know the Father, the more quickly you see the Father’s traits and characteristics in his children.

Sometimes we do not reflect our heavenly Father’s character. Sometimes bitterness, selfishness, and pride cloud others’ view of our identity as children of God. That’s a reality. It is also true, however, that we cannot hide our true identity – just as a child will rebel against his parents, seek to distance himself from the family, but fail to completely disavow his lineage.

Identity is a given. We don’t earn it. We don’t obey ourselves into being God’s children. We don’t do-good ourselves into that status. God bestows it upon us by his grace. We embrace it by faith. One day we will be like he is. One day. Until that time, we do well to hope for his final revelation, and seek to live out our true identity as God’s beloved children.

 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. – 1 John 2:26-29

20180609-DSC07628

Water Lily 2 | Mercer Botanical Garden | June 2018

In September of 1980 Newsweek Magazine published an exposé on Mormonism. It detailed a number of Mormon beliefs and practices that would not be discovered until one is deep within the Mormon belief system. One commentator wrote about this article on his (Mormon!) website:

In its September 1, 1980, issue, Newsweek magazine carried a story entitled “What Mormons Believe.” The article…summarized some fundamental doctrines of the [LDS] Church, noting in general that “their family values are mainstream America, but their theology is a radical conception of God -and Mrs. God.”

Some may wish to defend LDS teaching, or even deny their un-Christian heterodoxy altogether. But there is much deception in LDS theology, including covering over the fact that according to their teaching Jesus is said to be Satan’s spirit brother. They deny that he is eternally God, “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God from God, very God from Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed).

So what of the Christian faith? What separates our faith from a massive religious deception? The fundamental teaching of the Christian faith for 20 Centuries has been summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Wander from the truths expressed in these ecumenical creeds and you depart from the foundations of the Christian faith.

John writes to people warning them of those who would deceive them. The stakes were high in his case, for he faced exile and death for holding to the faith he professed. The stakes were high because people were seeking to turn believers away from Jesus. The stakes were high because deceit lay at the root of it all.

John speaks of the danger of self-deception in 1 John 1:8. Here he speaks of others’ deception by false teaching. At the root of it all is Satan, the Great Deceiver and Father of the Lie. To deny either our sin, or the deceitful work of Satan is a grave danger that leads to eternal doom.

God is not out to deceive anyone. Jesus is Truth Incarnate, and the source of righteousness, life, and salvation. There is no deceit in him.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. – 1 John 2:18-25

20180609-DSC07626

Water Lily | Mercer Botanical Gardens | June 2018

My brother-in-law told me several years ago of a time when some colleagues where expressing grave concerns about the way they were being treated in a business deal. They imagined all sorts of scenarios by which their clients were out to get them. In an unguarded moment he said to them, “Evil thinks as evil does.” He regretted saying it, but he spoke truth. Innocent people – people without ulterior motives – think little of how others might take advantage of them. Those who imagine others’ motives to be impure are much more likely to think that way about others – or at least to have experienced such ill treatment themselves.

Once again John speaks to people who know about God and Jesus, and eternal life. He even states that he is writing to those who know the truth, because they know the truth. One might think that there is additional information, deeper insight, or new application to the truth of which he is reminding them. Perhaps there is.

Clearly, however, there is another issue at stake: There are those who want to deceive God’s people and point them away from Jesus Christ and the eternal salvation he has won for all who believe. In truth, it is those who know the truth who are special targets for Satan’s schemes. It wasn’t to fallen Adam and Eve that the Serpent appeared; it was to they who knew the truth and were completely innocent – in every sense of the word.

Satan is the father of the lie. He is set to destroy us and to deceive us into unbelief and other great shame. We do well to rehearse the Old, Old Story of Jesus and His love, lest we fall prey to another gospel which is really no gospel at all.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

20180609-DSC07628

Water Lily | Mercer Botanical Garden | June 2018

Sometime around 270 AD, [St.] Anthony heard a Sunday sermon stating that perfection could be achieved by selling all of one’s possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor, and following Christ (Matt. 19:21). He followed the advice and made the further step of moving deep into the desert to seek complete solitude (Wikipedia). For some time others followed his lead and the group became known as the Desert Fathers. Their goal of spiritual purity took the form of withdrawal from the world, recitation and memorization of Scripture, charity, and forgiveness.

These are all good things, and so is any discipline we might embrace to enhance our relationship with God. John would seem to point to such a lifestyle in these words were it not for the fuller context of his letter. In that letter he speaks of loving one another. He also expresses a truth that God loves all people, so how shall we remove ourselves from those who are less pleasing (or more challenging to our Christian walk)?

Jesus’ example was clear: he ate and drank with sinners and prostitutes. He asked that the Father would protect his followers from the evil one, even as he prayed, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world…” (John 17:15). Asceticism has the appearance of holiness and godliness. But one does not have to go to such extremes in order to eschew love for the world.

Loving God, valuing the Giver, not the gift, and guarding our hearts from greed will allow us to follow John’s directive as well. These serve to fulfill our calling as Jesus’ disciples on a daily basis.

We fall prey to the love of the world when the pride of life and the undue concern about what others see overtakes our attention to the daily duties of family and friendship. But  when we love God and our neighbor, and do the menial things that such love requires we are most truly abiding with God.

Martin Luther spoke about this in his The Estate of Marriage (1522):

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.

I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:12-14

20180609-DSC08384

Water Lily | Mercer Botanical Gardens | June 2018

A man came into my office several years ago and wanted to know if he “had to go through confirmation instruction” in order to join our church. He had been confirmed years ago, and had been attending another church for some time. He wanted to join the church but didn’t want to go to a class to do so. Whether there ought to be a class or not, the question reveals a fundamental idea: Once I’ve gone through confirmation I don’t need to study the Bible any more.

John writes to young men, to fathers, and little children (which may actually refer to all the people to whom this letter is addressed; this is a term of endearment for John). Make no mistake, however, about the pointed word to fathers and young men. The reasoning may not be obvious, but the exhortation is clear: John was writing to them all. They are being called on to pay attention and heed his word to them.

Our status and identity as God’s children does not remove us from the need to hear what John is saying. If you’re strong, have been delivered from the evil one, have been forgiven, and have known Jesus from our earliest years, you are a proper recipient for God’s word. John is saying that he is writing to those who are of the household of faith.

Some people believe that when you get through confirmation instruction, you graduate. That’s all you need to know about God and Jesus, they suppose. The strong and the weak need to hear God’s word. We never outgrow the need for teaching, correction, reproof, training in righteousness (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16).

Are you still learning?

 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.1 John 2:7-11

20180609-DSC07603

Bee landing on a sunflower | Mercer Botanical Garden | June 2018

Do you have a junk drawer? Almost everyone does. In my junk drawer is a multitool which I occasionally use, a special heavy-duty scissors, various and assorted coupons, key rings, an cable for an old iPhone (which no longer fits the phones we now have), an odd battery or two (do either of them work?), and…junk! Cast a new eye on those things – especially the “junk” and granddaughters can discover a treasure trove. “Can I have this quarter? Oh look! Here’s a toy car, and some golf tees! Can we go play golf?”

Jesus says that one who has been trained for the kingdom is like a man who brings forth treasures new and old. There are new discoveries to be made; new ways of applying God’s truth to life, and those great ahah! moments that come to one who walks in the light of God’s grace and truth.

John says he is giving no new command; that it is as old as the beginning of all things. But he says it is new as well; there are new ways the old truths intersect with life in the light. The key to all that is to love your sister and brother in Christ. It is when the threads wear thin and the fellowship is strained that we discover how precious love for one another truly is. There we discover the depth of God’s love for us – not a love of convenience, or an attitude of a mere kindred spirit – a deep, abiding, caring love the depths of which are revealed in the hard places.

A thought…perhaps your church family includes at least one person whom to love is a challenge. It might be that things are not going as you would wish. We can abandon these challenges and hard places. But that’s the old way; it will never reveal the treasure of a deeper and truer love. To remain and seek the good of your sister and your fellowship is a walk in the light that will guide your ways in God’s love and peace.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:5-10

20180609-DSC07603

Bee Coming to Sunflower | Mercer Botanical Gardens | June 2018

I am at the 61st Triennial Texas District Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Irving, Texas. It has been a full day with insightful presentations, worship, Bible studies and devotions, together with elections of new leadership for our District. Rev. Mike Newman was elected District President on the first ballot. He is a dedicated servant leader and gifted author, speaker, and colleague. I am thankful in anticipation of his leadership of our District. He succeeds Rev. Ken Hennings who served 12 years as our District President. Ken is a dedicated leader, churchman, mission-minded, and well-respected servant leader. I am thankful for both of these men.

Rev. John Davis was elected as First Vice President of our District. For that I am doubly thankful. He and I were both nominated for Vice President of our area of the state. At a meeting of mission-minded pastors John was selected as the one we would support for our area vice president, and as First Vice President of our District. Our group, Great Commission Advocates of the Texas District, prayerfully considered all the candidates and when the selection came to John rather than to me, I was thankful to have been considered, and grateful that John was chosen. I have plenty to do, and will continue to serve the larger church through my involvement with PLI as well as future possible synod-wide service – if the Lord so leads.

All this is good news…relative to the news of the world in which we live. This good news – of leaders whom I trust and respect being elected – pales in comparison, however, to the Good News of Jesus Christ who forgives sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Thankfully all who were nominated for the various offices, boards, and committees of our District believe, teach, and confess this truth. It is the basis for our fellowship and the focus of our mission efforts. It is our prayer that all would come to faith in Jesus and enjoy the rich, eternal, joyful, and enlightened fellowship founded in our faithful walk with Jesus in the light of his love.

May we ever walk in that light!