All posts by tunemyheart

Mark Browning lives on 60 wooded acres in the Greater Bates City, Missouri metropolitan area. For over a quarter of a century he has been wed to the lovely Penny with whom he shares four children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he teaches English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Incompleteness–1 John 2:4-5a

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. –1 John 2:4-5a

Today is the first day of the eleventh week of the semester. I like to refer to this period of the academic year as the “long dark night of the student’s soul.” Why? Simple: We’re far enough into the semester that the new has decidedly worn off, yet we’re far enough from the end that it isn’t exactly imminent Add to that the fact that students are beginning to see that their grade’s fate is being settled, and you have a lovely prescription for anxiety and doldrums.

Over the next month of so, I’ll probably have two or three students who decide that the best solution to their impending doom lies in the fabled grade of “I” or incomplete. Those of us who have taught for more than a couple of years recognize that the “I” is simply a “delayed F.” In my twenty years of teaching, I’ve had exactly one students–she delivered a baby around fourteen weeks into the semester–successfully complete an “I.”

What is an “I” worth? In a three-credit-hour course, you get twelve grade points for an “A,” nine for a “B,” and so forth. An “I” earns you none. A semester later, an “I” automatically turns into an “F.” So what is it worth? In virtually all cases, it’s worth nothing.

What is God’s love worth when it is incomplete? That question might make you pause, but a quick read of today’s passage demonstrates that such a question makes sense. Presumably, God’s love is incomplete when we do not obey God’s word. Is that a reasonable conclusion? The verse says, “God’s love is truly made complete in him,” in the person who obeys God. God’s love is not incomplete without us, but we are certainly incomplete without God’s love within.

In Christ, God’s love was made complete, incarnate, upon the earth. Through obedience, the believer can provide another vessel in which God’s love can take on completion. The question for each of us, then, is whether we provide such a vessel, whether we allow God’s love to come to completion through our obedience. God does not need that completion any more than I need my students to pass. But my students need to pass, just as I need to have God’s love complete in me.

The Coach’s Dream–1 John 2:3

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. –1 John 2:3

In this, the best of all possible worlds, the Kansas Jayhawks have just found their way into the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 2003, when Kirk Heinrich’s last-second three-point attempt against Syracuse in the title game found iron and bounced away. Next Saturday, KU will play North Carolina for the chance to advance to the title game. They’ll probably get steamrolled by the Tarheels, but until then, I can live in basketball fan bliss.

I mention all of this hoops dreaming because that’s what today’s verse puts into my head.  Next week, when my beloved Jayhawks lace up their Nikes, the biggest obstacle in their path will be one Tyler Hansbrough, pride of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a six-foot-nine twenty-two-year-old who does just about everything that coach Roy Williams asks him to do. After posting All-American seasons during his freshman and sophomore years, Hansbrough did not rest on his laurels. Instead he worked hard on his defense and on extending his shooting range. When you’re six-foot-nine, nobody really expects you to have a shot beyond ten feet, but Tyler developed such a shot, so that by season’s end, he was hitting fifteen-footers regularly. Granted, the kid missed all five of his three-point attempts this season, but that just gives him something to work on for next season.

What impresses me about Hansbrough is that he actually listens to his coach. Gifted beyond belief with natural talent, he doesn’t listen to his own ego or to the adoring fans. He listens to Roy Williams. When Roy tells him he’d like to see him defend better next year, that’s what Tyler works on. When Roy says to work on your jumper, Tyler shoots hundreds of mid-range jumpers. This guy is a coach’s dream.

Basketball coaches frequently see talented kids come into their programs and then watch as those kids stop listening and start believing the hype about themselves. Those aren’t the real players. The real players combine talent with a teachable spirit.

Although I will undoubtedly never dunk a basketball or use my years of NCAA eligibility in anything more demanding than darts, you and I have been recruited to a championship team. Having been offered the scholarship, the jury is still out on whether we have fully and whole-heartedly joined the team. How can you tell a genuine Jayhawk or a genuine Tarheel from the counterfeits, the pretenders? The genuine article listens to the coach.

Genuine Christians listen to God. John isn’t suggesting here that the genuine Christian is perfect, any more than Tyler Hansbrough is perfect. But the genuine article can be led and taught. The genuine article obeys.  So the question we must all ask is whether we are the real deal or pretenders.

And by the way, “Go ‘Hawks!”

The Advocate–1 John 2:1-2

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. –1 John 2:1-2

Last fall I experienced a very disappointing, disillusioning series of events regarding something that ought to be free from that sort of problem: Boy Scouting. You’ve heard the old dig, thrown at people who are perceived to be a little too straight-laced, right? “You’re such a Boy Scout.” If those people only knew how Scout leaders can behave.

My problem arose because I’m naive. Or maybe because I try to see the best in people. I’m not sure. As a volunteer charged with overseeing training in our area, I had several people working on my staff. One of them was getting some flak from the people up the food chain. As I typically would do, I stood up for my team member, defending actions, decisions, etc. Then I discovered that this person had been working behind the scenes to undermine me, complaining about nonsense issues and concocting even more nonsense. I felt betrayed, in general, but especially after I’d defended this person.

It’s great to have allies. When my long-time office mate received a promotion recently, I mulled over the prospect of her leaving. Then I realized that I would have a friend in high places–most useful. She’ll speak on my behalf when the time comes. Similarly, I have mixed feelings about my long-time assistant dean retiring. He’s been a good advocate for me for eight years. Who knows what the new person will be like?

The one constant in all this is the constant advocacy of Christ. Unlike my unpleasant Scouting associate, he won’t stab me in the back. Unlike my office-mate, he can’t be promoted any further. Unlike my supervisor, he will never retire.

What confidence we have as we try not to sin to know that all our sins are always already blotted out. This is the confidence that a child should have as they attempt to ride a bike, doing their best to stay balanced but knowing that Dad will save the day if they fail.

Personal Foul–1 John 1:10

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. — 1 John 1:10

We’re in the middle of March Madness, a basketball tournament designed to make the fans of sixty-four teams feel lousy while making one set of fans feel great. So far, my favorite has survived into the round of sixteen. One of the things that always amuses me about basketball is the reactions of players to fouls. Some players take the foul call with grace, but many of them have a look of utter disbelief when the whistle blows for them. Some of these guys could throw some sort of flying body block into an opponent and then look, mouth agape, at the referee when the foul is called. “Me?” they ask before breaking into a huge smile that says, “Those crazy refs!”

Today’s verse is yet another of John’s “if” statements. These last three all deal with our admission of sin. Of course, yesterday’s verse, 1 John 1:9, has been memorized by generations of believers, but its importance is underscored by these two framing if’s. Twice John says “If we claim we have not sinned.” Why? Because like basketball players, we tend to deny our sins.

Referees are accustomed to being second guessed. They expect every decision to be questions, criticized, and condemned by half of the coaches, players, and fans watching. I suppose that’s how God feels as well. How many people on this earth go through their day immediately responding to the divine whistle, raising their hand, and saying, “Yeah, that was me”?

You don’t claim never to have sinned, do you? Of course not, but you probably, like me, claim that certain deeds are not really sins. Does that make God out to be a liar any less than claiming we don’t sin? We need only look to Isaiah 64:6 to see just how warmly God considers our sins. The call of God on our lives is not necessarily to banish all sin from ourselves. While such an end is desirable, it’s not expected. Acknowledgment of all our sin, however, is both desirable and expected.

The Powers of “If”–1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. –1 John 1:9

“Yes, I said ‘if.'” Can you locate that line in the annals of moviedom? “If” is the dreadful, duplicitous word spoken by the wicked stepmother in Disney’s Cinderella. “If” Cinderella gets all her work done, then she can go to the ball. If!

“If” can be a terrible word, a word used to weasel out of just about anything. “I’ll help you move if I get around to it.” “I’ll take you to the movie if you’re good.” “I’ll start tithing if I can afford it.” That’s the power–the awful power–of “if.”

Here’s the problem with the uses of “if” that I’ve just shared. The condition on which things depended, the “if condition,” was fuzzy in all three cases. Getting around to it is not specific. Neither are good behavior nor affording something. When the “if condition” is fuzzy, then the result can be anything you like. “I’ll give you a million dollars if I feel like it.” I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t feel like it.

Another use of “if” comes in the vast expanses of small print that you find in credit card agreements and wireless contacts. “Pay no interest,” they promise, but then add (in tiny print) “if you make the minimum monthly payment every single time without being so much as a minute late in which case you’ll have to pay ALL of the interest and your rate gets jacked up to 23.9%.” If. When the “if condition” is restrictive enough, the company knows they won’t take a loss. They know that nine out of ten buyers will mail a payment late and then whammo!

So let’s evaluate God’s use of “if.” Is the if condition fuzzy? “If we confess our sins.” That seems pretty straightforward. Apparently we don’t have to use any particular formula or timeframe to confess our sins. We just have to confess them.

Is the if condition unreasonably complicated? You could read Exodus and Leviticus and think they were unreasonably complex, but the single condition in this verse seems pretty easy.

It’s easy and the payoff is a two-fer. You get forgiven and purified, all for the price of confession. That’s a great deal, a much better deal you’ll get from your credit card company.

This isn’t the wicked stepmother speaking in 1 John 1:9. It’s a great and gracious Father. We must take Him up on His “if.”