If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:16-21

Water Lily | Florida Everglades | May 2019

I’m not sure how to understand John’s words here regarding not making a request for forgiveness for one who has committed a sin leading to death. I don’t know the full context of his words, and the implications of those who perhaps endangered others by abandoning their faith and betrayed Jesus followers. That sin would lead to the death of believers.

We are not in that situation today. No one is questioning me about who attends worship at St. John, or who I pray with. But if someone is moving toward the edge of idolatry I will pray for that person. I will talk with that person. I will seek to bring that person to a faith in the true God: Jesus Christ and eternal life.

Martin Luther is reportedly to have said, “A god is that to which you look for the highest good in life.” I like that. He speaks of it in regard to the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Few Christians have idols in their homes in the sense of golden calves or Ashura poles. But we all need to guard our hearts against idolatry. Ours idols are simply more subtle and well-disguised.

The great danger we face is disguising our idols so successfully that we fall prey to their powerless and empty promises, and become ensnared in the death trap of Satan. When we give power and place to money, power, sex, fame, or anything other than God and his promises, we endanger ourselves eternally.

We do really need to guard ourselves from idols – no matter what context we are in. I want to hold true to Jesus and guard my heart from idols. I pray you do too.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:13-15

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Water Lily | Florida Everglades | May 2019

When I was in college I made evangelism calls on fellow students. The method we were trained in involved asking the question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven?” I even asked my future wife that question! We had a great conversation about faith, Jesus, heaven, and life after death. She and I rejoice in knowing on the basis of God’s word and promises that we will be in heaven with all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Many people think of such assurance as bordering on hubris. It’s arrogant to say that we know we’re going to heaven they say. Better to say, “I hope to be in heaven after I die.” Few speak of the questions about heaven and earth, and the more nuanced realities of life after death.

The clear promise of God here is that we may know that we have eternal life if we believe in Jesus. In fact we even have the promise that our prayers will be answered if we believe in Jesus.

The confidence in the end is Jesus and God’s promises, not us and our moral or religious purity. Jesus is the key. He is the one to whom we turn in prayer and who has guaranteed our eternal wellbeing by his death and resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of God. When he comes again we can be confident that we will live and be with him forever. Thanks be to God!

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:6-12

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Western Reef Heron | Florida Everglades | May 2019

God’s testimony about his Son is convicting to any who will listen. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He really came as a man, suffered, died, and was buried. He rose from the dead and as author of life brought life and immortality to light.

As I consider that testimony I think of Jesus’ baptism: The Father speaks from the clouds (which Mark says were ripped open) and testified: “This is my Son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” I think of the Spirit’s attestation – coming in the form of a dove and alighting on Jesus. I think of Jesus facing down Satan in the wilderness: refusing to give in to Satan’s temptation. I think of Jesus’ glory revealed on the mount of Transfiguration. I think of Jesus’ encounters with the woman at the well. The way he wouldn’t let the rich young man slide when he presumed he had done enough to win his own salvation. I think of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. Of his silence before his accusers, and his kind word of hope to the repentant thief on the cross.

John speaks of the water, the Spirit, and the blood all agreeing in their testimony about Jesus. There are many different interpretations about these three witnesses. I will invoke the Martin Luther rule here, something to the effect of: When you come to a place in Scripture you don’t understand, simply praise God and continue reading. We praise God because he is above our understanding. We praise God for even if we don’t understand him or his word, we can be certain of his love and of the salvation he has won for us.

There are many things in the Bible that we might struggle to understand. I am thankful for those things I can understand that give witness to God’s love in his Son, our Lord Jesus.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? – 1 John 5:1-5

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Tiny Red Blooms | St. Maarten | May 2019

Mandisa sings the song, You’re an Overcomer. The lyrics include in part:

You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ’til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now…
The same man, the great I am
The one who overcame death
Is living inside of you
So just hold tight, fix your eyes
On the one who holds your life
There’s nothing he can’t do
He’s telling you

There is an important message here: we overcome because God is holding onto us. It’s not the other way around. There is compelling reason that we are urged to remain faithful. We do well to bring our best, purposeful, reflective, and conscious belief in God’s word. That is the reason we study the Word of God: so we know more of what he has promised and so we can hold onto those promises in the face of life’s challenges. 

Ultimately, however, we must rely on God’s hold on us if we are to be overcomers. We have precious little power to stay the course. We are too easily distracted. There are always temptations and challenges to our walk with God. But God sends us his Holy Spirit. He calls us to repent when we sin. He leads us back to himself and points us to his faithfulness and promises.

There are two ways in which I need this message. There are challenges I face in my walk of faith and my vocation. Serving as a pastor of a large church is rewarding but sometimes personally daunting. It is important to me to believe that Jesus is the Lord of the Church and of the church I serve. Perhaps you are faced with challenges in your personal calling as well. God’s faithfulness and promises can be your strength.

There are also those temptations unique to each of us. Whether it is hubris, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, or greed, envy, lust, or anger, we all have our weakness. We all battle demons of one kind of another. The promises of God are very precious to us in those moments we face those temptations. And when we fall, God’s mercy and forgiveness sustains us.

We are overcomers because Jesus has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers (Te Deum Laudamus). Overcomers ultimately hold a humble faith in God, and rejoice that he keeps ahold of us.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:18-21

Red Flowers on St. Thomas, USVI | May 2019

Bruce is a Christian counselor. His manner of counseling is powerful and life-changing. He handles his clients’ hearts with care, tenderness, grace and truth. When I think of perfect love it is the combination of those four elements. To love perfectly we must care for the one we’re loving. We must care for his heart. We must care about her life, sensibilities, and needs. We must also be tender. Rough-shod steamrollers need not apply. Perfect love is not repulsed by even the gravest sins. Love covers a multitude of sins after all (1 Peter 4:8).

But perfect love is also truthful. It won’t let a sidestep go unchallenged. It won’t pretend that all is well when it is not. This is the great challenge for so many of us. We too easily hold back the “last 10”. The last 10% is the more challenging message that makes true and perfect love something other than sappy sugar-coated platitudes. It’s not just a matter of telling a friend that she has a sprig of broccoli in her teeth, or a pal that his fly is open. It’s a matter of wounding a friend for the sake of his good. It’s Jerry telling me, “Dave, you just can’t do that.”

That’s where the idea that perfect love casts out fear comes face to face with the reality that most of us deal with. It seems pretty fearful to tell someone his fault: to give him the last 10%. To get there, however, is a path of gentleness, humility, respect, and grace.

This is God’s love for us. He came to us in gentleness, grace, care and truth. Born a baby in a manger. Engaging fully in the lives of his disciples. Caring for a little girl, a widow whose only son had died, a woman with an issue of blood, and a father who struggled with his faith. This was Jesus’ way of caring and loving. Then in the ultimate expression of grace he offered himself for the sins of the world by dying on a cross between two criminals. All the while he embodied truth. “Truly I say to you…” was more than a heads-up that he was about to say something important. It was his mode of being.

God has this heart of love for all people, and our calling – his command – is that we have that same love for especially our brothers and sisters in faith. In fact we cannot claim to love God and not love one another.

Espousing pure doctrine is a very good thing, but it is not sufficient to express the fullness of God’s love. Being obedient to God’s commands to pray, honor him, and abstain from murder, adultery, false witness, and the like is good. But if we do not have love we dig a hole under our witness that will cave in at the first challenge to our righteousness.

If I am to love perfectly I must reflect on God’s love for me – his perfect love. Embracing that for all it’s worth will make more possible my love for others. It will also embolden me to love even the most difficult-to-love brother or sister in Christ.

Help me, O God, to embrace your perfect love, and let it flow from me to others!

And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:13-19

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Western Reef-Heron | Florida Everglades | May 2019

My dad’s go-to verse was 1 John 4:18. In the King James it is rendered, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” It was important to him because for a period of time he struggled with panic attacks. He would become light-headed and anxious. The doctor told him to breathe into a paper bag – which he would do – bringing temporary relief.

Once I came to his furniture store to find him lying on a sofa breathing into his take-along paper bag. It was humiliating to him, I’m sure, and I didn’t know how to handle it well either. But when he discovered this verse and held to it tightly the relief came more permanently. In time the panic attacks went away: Perfect love casts out fear.

Perhaps you know those dark moments of the soul, those fearful moments of life. The sound in the middle of the night that stops your heart. The news from the doctor that makes your blood run cold. The call from the police with news that crushes your world and leaves you feeling completely vulnerable. The news on TV announcing financial ruin that evaporates your life’s savings. Fear comes to us in many ways. Sometimes there isn’t even a reason for it, but it haunts us.

Perfect love casts out such fear. That perfect love is God’s love. It is complete, perfect, full, lacking nothing. It doesn’t accuse, envy, boast, or rejoice in evil. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God’s love never fails (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

God’s love comes to us and assures us of his good will and hopeful plans. God’s love also directs our hearts to others’ good and favor. When we embrace God’s love for us, and focus that love toward others there is no room for fear. We can live confident, hopeful, gracious, and kind lives when the perfect love of God takes root in our hearts by faith, and flows from us into the lives of others.

Our own love will never be perfect. But God’s love in Jesus is complete, perfect, and absolute. It is a treasure thankfully to be received and richly to be shared.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:7-12

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Western Reef-Heron Takes Flight – II | Florida Everglades | May 2019

Our church staff experienced a significant blessing as a part of a 3dm learning community. We learned a lot together about being a disciple of Jesus. We discovered that an integrated lifestyle was one that balances love for God, life in relationships with other Jesus followers, and a commitment to God’s mission to save all people through faith in Jesus Christ. Our DCE pointed out that this was a matter of being intentional about being a disciple of Jesus.

Here John speaks of loving others intentionally as a show of our love for God. We are to “keep on loving one another” as an expression of our identity as children of God. It’s who we are: people who love because of God’s love for us. On purpose.

This is relatively easy to do when I remember who I am in Christ. When I am intentional about my identity as a child of God, a brother of Jesus, I am better inclined to love others. It’s just all too easy to become complacent about my identity, to lose sight of who I am, and to get pulled into self-serving actions and schemes. I’d rather not admit this, but I must confess: I am a sinner.

Give me a moment of Holy Spirit inspired intentionality, and I’ll go the extra mile. I’ll do the good deed. I’ll serve my neighbor. All this is not only a matter of living out my identity, though that is foundational. It is a result of God’s love to me. For I am not only a child of God, I am loved by God. And as John reminds us, “We love because he first loved us.”

God’s love was not merely a matter of disembodied good will and kind heart. It showed itself by his action. God sent his Son to atone for our sins and quell God’s wrath against us. The word John uses here is propitiation. Propitiation has the idea of a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God. So not only does God love me, he has satisfied his own righteous wrath by punishing Jesus for my sins – and I’ve already admitted my need for that.

Perhaps I need to think about how my anger does not accomplish the righteous things God desires (cf. James 1:20). Certainly I need to be more intentional about who I am as a child of God. Thankfully I can receive God’s love and reflect that to my neighbor – intentionally.