Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us. – 1 John 2:18-25

Perhaps you’ve heard of Pascal’s wager. Wikipedia explains it this way:

Pascal’s wager is an argument in philosophy presented by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). It posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.

Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).

That is a major consideration, and the stakes are high. But it’s not the stuff of true faith. Faith is not the result of considering the evidence, weighing the odds, and landing on a conviction. Faith is a gift of God that is centered in the promises of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus. It has to do with the relationship of grace and love that we have because of God’s love and mercy.

Few people worry about heaven and hell these days. Popular spirituality today speaks of death as a peaceful release completely devoid of any connection with faith in God. Fewer still believe that Jesus is the only true embodiment of God’s love and salvation. The idea of an antichrist is foreign to most people – except if they are speaking of beliefs that cross the line of cultural political correctness.

Faith is a relationship with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not a wager. It’s not a moral high ground. The implications of our faith and confession are great. Not only does it have to do with our eternity, but with the honor due unto Jesus. That’s no wager, it’s simply what is due to the true Son of God and Savior of the world.

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. – 1 John 2:15-17

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Purple Blossoms among Yellow Wildflowers | Fredericksburg, TX | April 2019

I was looking today at a blog post from Digital Photography School about a do it yourself neutral density filter (NDF). It was interesting to me and pointed out some benefits and drawbacks to this idea. The main benefit was the low cost of the DIY option. The article also had a link to purchase a real NDF. That got me to looking at real NDFs. Those were not low cost options. Before long I had added a NDF and a filter holder to my Amazon wish list. The things of this world can pull us in and capture our imagination and affections before you know it.

I don’t think that material things – the things of this world – are evil or to be avoided. But like money, when they take up residence in our hearts we’re headed for trouble! The things of this world have a way of getting ahold of us and forming a web of wanting that leads us away from loving the things of God. This is the danger: love of things is not compatible with love for God. It’s as simple as that.

When John tells me not to love the things of the world, then mentions some specifics: “wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important.” These things have nothing to do with the father. Loving those things isolates us from God. They take up room in our hearts which ought only to belong to God. 

To some extent wanting is the great American way. We want so we work harder and try to succeed. We get and the more we get the more we want. It all goes well until we have so much that we no longer own our things, they own us. The wanting web is dangerous because it traps us in a vicious cycle of wanting, having, having to care for, wanting more, having more, and having to care more for the things we have. We become slaves to our satisfied wants.

I don’t know when or if I’ll get that NDF and holder for my camera. I actually do make use of such things in my photography hobby. But I’ll leave it on my wish list for some day when I decide that it can serve me and not make me servant to it. For I want most of all to serve God – the author and giver of life. Come, Holy Spirit, grant me a pure heart so that I may seek Jesus’ reign and rule first and most and not become tangled in a web of wanting!

I am writing to you who are God’s children
because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
13 I am writing to you who are mature in the faith
because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I am writing to you who are young in the faith
because you have won your battle with the evil one.
14 I have written to you who are God’s children
because you know the Father.
I have written to you who are mature in the faith
because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I have written to you who are young in the faith
because you are strong.
God’s word lives in your hearts,
and you have won your battle with the evil one. – 1 John 2:12-14

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Purple Blooms Among Yellow Wildflowers | Fredericksburg, TX | April 2019

Hanover Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri had a skating rink in their parish hall. Wooden floors. Clamp-on skates. Fun music. Popcorn, Milk Duds, Slowpokes, and Cokes. It had it all. There were some good skaters there, but most of the evening was all-skate: Anyone – no matter their skill level – was welcome on the skate floor. That was good for me. I was barely able to avoid falling, but little else. I couldn’t skate backwards. I didn’t dare ask a girl to skate with me. I was thankful for the all-skate nature of that rink.

In God’s kingdom all of his children have a part to play. In these verses John makes it clear that each of us has a particular reason to pay attention to what he writes. In the ESV (a much more literal, word-for-word translation) John names the groups: children, fathers, young men, and little children. The New Living Translation (above) names them as God’s children, young in faith, and those who are mature in the faith.

There may be something worth exploring in these various specific groups of people John names. Maybe you can delve into the depths of the specific distinctions. But the general idea is that each of us has something to claim as a child of God. Young or old. Immature or seasoned. In the battle, or reflecting on God’s mercy: we all have some manner that makes us particularly unique objects of God’s love, and his love particularly precious to us.

Children don’t often know what they don’t know. They are in need of forgiveness in spite of their outward innocence. The sin to which young people are particularly prone is hubris. Young people can easily overestimate their own strength. Older people, on the other hand, are easily swayed to self-righteousness. They know the way things ought to be, but too easily overlook their own faults.

God’s mercy, forgiveness and love is for all those kinds of people. Those who are young in the faith have slayed the dragon. Those who are mature have a deep appreciation for the nuances of God’s character. Children have the living word of God in their hearts.

We can each reflect on and rejoice in the unique station of life we’re in, and thank God for his faithfulness in every season of life. He is the constant against which the waves of life ebb and flow. That’s true for everyone. All skate! Everybody in!

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. – 1 John 2:7-11

Prickly Pear Cactus and Purple Wildflowers | Old Tunnel State Park | April 2019

A friend’s daughter recently got married. The wedding was truly delightful. Large beautifully-decorated church. Amazing organ. Wonderful music. Precious friends. A bride and groom handsome and beautiful. In the moments leading up to the wedding a search was made for “something old” in the spirit of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” I’m not sure what that little rhyme is all about, but it was important to her that she find something old to carry with her as he embarked on her walk down the aisle toward a whole new life.

The commandment that John recalls here is nothing new. It is old. The readers had heard it before. Yet it was new. A new attitude of the heart. A new way of expressing their faith. A newly-rediscovered emphasis on loving God and loving their neighbor. They were reclaiming God’s primary commandments, that summarized the 10 Commandments: Love God. Love your neighbor.

This is an old commandment. But it is new in that it really does have to do with how we show our faith. No longer was it to be temple worship, ceremonial laws, Sabbath laws, or Hebrew identity. They were to take that which they knew to be true to a new prominence of their identity.

So it is with us today. We are commanded to love God and love our neighbor. We have the example of Jesus – perfect in every way. We also have the examples of heroes of the faith who came back again and again to the Throne of Grace, and repented of their sins, and lived out that repentance in lives that honored God.

The path we travel as followers is a well-worn path. As John Baille puts in his book, A Diary of Private Prayer,

O you who were, and are, and are to come, I thank you that this Christian way in which I walk is no untried or uncharted road, but a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets and martyrs.

This is no untested path. It’s an old path on which we discover new realities of God’s mercy and love, and new ways we may express that to one another.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him.Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.– 1 John 2:1-6

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Purple Wildflowers | Near Old Tunnel State Park | April 2019

I love keeping my options open. I try to under-promise and over-perform. I want to offer options to people that cover all contingencies. “If you need some time to think this over, that would be fine by me. I can give you the time, or I can take your answer now.”

There is a little bit of that in John’s comments to his beloved children here. “I am writing this so you won’t sin. But if you do sin, we have you covered.” Just because we never do want people to sin, we don’t want anyone to despair of God’s forgiveness.

This is a remarkable contingency plan. This is the remarkable grace of God. God never wishes us to sin. He knows that sin kills. The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). You sins have separated you from your God, so that he does not hear when you call (Isaiah 59:2).

The additional fact that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) renders us in an impossible situation – unless God forgives our sins, and provides a righteousness to us that we have not earned or that we do not deserve. This is exactly the kindness and mercy of God. For the sake of Jesus forgives our sins. He has atoned for the by death of his Son. This is the message that John shares.

But the grace of God is never to be an encouragement to sin. God forgives us so that we may obey him from a pure conscience. He allows us to live free from guilt and shame so that our love for him may be not motivated by a desire to cover our shame or make up for our faults. That contingency greatly devalues God’s mercy and cheapens God’s grace.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10

Purple Wildflowers | Old Tunnel State Park, Near Alamo Springs, TX | April 2019

The father of a young boy called me and asked that he bring his son to see me. His son had a problem telling the truth. He would lie about various things: whether he had done his homework; whether he had done his chores; what the teacher had assigned; where he had gone – or not gone – with his friends. His father wanted me to explain to the young boy how bad it was to lie.

I tried my best. I explained that if I told him I had $10 for him, but had only $9, he would not like it at all. I told him about how we have to keep lying – even if we start with a little white lie – if we are to sustain the deception. I told him the story of Jimmy and the Little White Lie. This book is about a little boy named Jimmy, who lies after breaking a neighbor’s window with his baseball. His white lie becomes a white blob that grows and grows and grows. It shows children how a lie gets bigger with time. I think it helped.

Worse than a white lie, however is the danger John warns of in these verses. If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar! This is not saying we are lying – which we actually are doing. This is saying that we have assumed the place of God, judging him, contradicting him, saying what is true and false. It is an echo of Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve determine for themselves that which is good and evil.

There are many ways to call God a liar. Any time we choose a path other than obedience to God’s word, or disbelieve what God has revealed in his word, as though we know better, we call God a liar. I’m not ready to do that. I hope you are afraid to do that as well.

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

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Hill Country Lookout | Old Tunnel State Park near Alamo Springs | April 2019

One of the most intense and suspenseful movies I can remember is Wait Until Dark. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin, it is a story of a recently-blind woman (Hepburn) who is being stalked by three thugs in search of a heroin-filled doll supposedly in her possession.

The climax has Hepburn’s character in her apartment desperately trying to unplug the refrigerator. She’s trying to do so because it is the only source of light in the apartment,  the door having been wedged open by her pursuers. She is desperately trying to plunge her world into darkness. It is her only source of safety. She can navigate through the dark. Her pursuers cannot.

This is not the darkness that John speaks about in these verses. He’s not talking about people retreating to the safety of darkness because they are being pursued by evil actors. He’s talking about those who are hiding in the dark in order to inflict evil on others. We must not live in such dark places – places from which we launch evil schemes, places in which we hide our false motives, places where we harden our hearts to the needs of others and refuse to honor God. If we live there we have no fellowship with God.

God invites us into the light. There is, however, a problem there. In the light our evil and sin is exposed. We will have to admit that there sin in our souls. We only deceive ourselves if we refuse to admit it. But if we confess our sins, God forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. By his mercy and grace we are able to come to the light, live in the light, and rejoice in the light of God’s love. No need to hide from the evil one. He’s been defeated, and we are safe in fellowship with one another as forgiven of all our sins. No need to pull the plug!