Heard & Seen

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:7-8 NIV)

Truth be told, I’ve always found these verses in 1 John to be challenging to understand. It seems like he contradicts himself–is the command a new one or not? The command itself is to live as Jesus lived by loving one another. We see this in the immediate context of vv. 3-11. Jesus gave this command to His disciples in John 13:34.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)

But how is this a “new command”? Leviticus 19:18, written about 1,400 years before Jesus’ miraculous birth says this:

 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbors as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18 NIV)

I’ve puzzled over these verses for years, never fully comprehending the old vs. new concept. Then, as I was talking through this with the Lord over coffee, the middle of John’s old and new command teaching seemed to stand out as if it were written in bold and italics, like this:

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

The command itself is an old command. What makes it new is that in Christ it is seen, not just heard. It’s not just a principle we read about in an ancient book or print on a coffee cup. We actually see this command embodied in Jesus.

Further, not only is it seen in Christ, but it is also seen in us. There is something incredible that happens when Jesus moves from a message that is heard to a person who is seen in us. The difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is as profound and “new” as if it were actually new teaching we’d never heard before. When God becomes more than just a concept, it’s as if we’re discovering Him for the very first time–even if we’ve grown up in church and know all the Bible stories by heart!

Of course, this applies to everything the Bible teaches. Love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another, care for those in need, be humble, don’t gossip, put off the old self with its sinful desires… all these are “old commands” we have heard. Are they “new commands” that are seen in our lives as we have seen them embodied in Christ?

My prayer for the week is that God will show us a specific old command that needs to become a new one seen in us.

In All Things, Charity

“The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” (Acts 15:6, NIV)

Today, Corinne and I leave for the EFCA One National Conference. In addition to worship, teaching, seminars, and training, we will be attending a meeting at which the leaders of our denomination will discuss the doctrinal statement of the EFCA. The proposal put forth by the denomination is to change one word of the statement, from

We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ.


We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This change would give each EFCA congregation the option of setting their own position on the timeline of events related to Christ’s return. Most will likely continue to hold to a premillennial belief, but some churches may favor postmillennialism or amillennialism (by the way, if you’re interested in what these various views are, check out this great book on the subject). While I personally believe in the premillennial return of Christ, I think the amendment to the doctrinal statement is a good idea.

One of the things that most drew me to the EFCA was the denomination’s value of keeping the primary things primary and choosing to not fight or divide over less clear issues. The fundamental message of the Scriptures is core to what we believe, but many secondary matters are more open to interpretation. For example, the Bible is clear that Jesus will return. But exactly how, exactly when, and what the exact timeline of events will be, those questions are open to interpretation because the Bible isn’t as revealing in its teaching about these things. All three millennial views are present in our own congregation, and I feel no less affinity with or love for those who hold a different perspective than I do on this subject. I grew up in a church where literally everything (even the length of your hair) was considered a primary issue of salvation, and anyone who disagreed with some minor, insignificant point not only couldn’t be part of our fellowship, they weren’t even considered saved!

I am thankful to belong to a more balanced denomination now. Rupertus Meldenius, a German Protestant theologian in the 17th century, is famous for saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In an age where our society is becoming ever more sharply divided, with various factions vehemently hating the others, may our church (and the universal, capital-C Church) stand united in the truth of the gospel. May we agree to disagree on secondary issues. And, may we treat all within our body and without, Christians and unbelievers alike, with love and dignity as human beings created in the image of God, regardless of their theological or political views.

If You Love Me

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15 NIV)

We have a 13-year-old beagle named Lucy, and she is a wonderful dog. During my coffee with the Lord this morning, John 14:15 “wiggled” on the page. As I reflected on this very simple, yet very profound, verse, Lucy came to mind. She’s not trained, but she’s very obedient–always has been. Her obedience isn’t the slavish, downtrodden duty of a dog that has been kicked into submission. Rather, it’s the happy, almost worshipful devotion of a dog that loves her master.

I remember when we got Lucy from a shelter. She was two and full of spunk (she still has the spunk at 13, it’s just a little slower). It seemed evident to us that she had been handled roughly by a man in her past. She was skittish around men, taking on a beaten-down posture of fearful submission and growling if a man came too close. We brought her into our basement, and I spent the next few hours sitting with her. At first, she wasn’t having any part of it, but after a while, she came around. Once I had her trust, I was surprised at how quickly she picked up on what I wanted her to do and did it. She wants to please, loves the praise she receives and is eager to obey (unless there’s a squirrel or a rabbit, then all bets are off).

God brought Lucy to mind as an illustration of what He desires from me. He doesn’t want slavish, downtrodden duty from a beaten-down broken-spirited servant kicked into submission. He desires joy-filled, loving, worshipful devotion from a child who loves his Father and wants to feel God’s smile. It’s not about doggedly following a list of rules out of fear, it’s about loving Jesus enough to figure out what He wants and do it. Why? Because that is the essence of love, pouring yourself out for another. That’s what Jesus did for us. His wish is my command, not because I need to check off my be-a-good-person checklist, but because I love Him. I follow Him out of love.

My prayer for the week is that God will whisper something to you, and you’ll spring into action with all the joy of a child running an errand for his/her Father (or a beagle running to the door for a biscuit, lol).

Here’s My Heart, Lord

“Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.” (Proverbs 7:25, NIV)

Does God have your heart? Or does your heart wander? Does your heart stray? The key to victory over sin is not hating sin–let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t hate sin! Sometimes the reason why it’s hard to leave sin is that we like it… sometimes we even love it. But as much as our fallen human natures love the darkness, we can overcome sin with love for God. We may at times love our sin, but we love Jesus more.

Love is stronger than fear or duty. I may give God my will to do what is right, but unless I give Him my heart, it’s short-lived. Love endures when the will falters. Love compels when fatigue sets in. Love drives on when duty fades away. That’s why worship is so vital to the Christian life! It is in and through worship that we give our hearts to God, and when He has our hearts, He has all of us. This morning I was deeply moved by this verse and the song below. My prayer for the week is that you will make this song your anthem, and in so doing will find yourself more deeply in love with our Lord than ever before.

Photo above by Jamez Picard on Unsplash

This is the Most Excellent Way

I continue the series through 1 Corinthians with one of the most all-time well-loved passages of Scripture in history: 1 Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter. We’ll see that this passage isn’t about marriage, but rather about the pathway to spiritual greatness. Why is love the most excellent path to true spirituality? Listen and find out!

Sermon delivered at LakeView Church on 7/22/2018.

Sin Against a Neighbor

The Lord said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving a neighbor…” (Leviticus 6:1-2a, NIV)

In a court, lying to the judge will get you into big trouble because you’re not just lying to the judge, you’re lying to the State. Similarly, being disrespectful, disobedient, and disruptive during court proceedings can lead to being held in contempt of court. Again, this is because the judge, the jury, and the people involved are representatives of something greater–the rule of law, the State, and society at large.

Leviticus 6 makes it clear that deceiving or sinning against a neighbor is being unfaithful to God. As one pastor put it, “Sin against a neighbor is a sin against God.” Because we are made in the image of God, when we sin against someone else, we are sinning against God’s representative on earth, which is (at least indirectly) an act of rebellion against God’s authority and rule. When I sin against a fellow human being, I deface God’s image in that person. It’s like tagging God’s home with profane graffiti.

God is concerned with how we treat one another. We are called throughout Scripture to love–in fact, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And Paul said that love is “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Every human being bears the image of God within them. The next time I’m tempted to lose my temper or raise my voice at my wife or kids, I need to pause and imagine that I’m getting ready to yell at Jesus Christ. That’s not to say I won’t discipline my kids or have that uncomfortable conversation with a friend. But how would my tone, my body language, and my attitude differ if I were having that conversation with Christ?

My prayer for the week is that we will find an opportunity to show love for another and if we have disrespected someone else, that we will seek their forgiveness and reconciliation.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash