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.

Dependable Transportation–1 John 2:28-29

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. –1 John 2:28-29

Emily has a love-hate relationship with her van. On the love side, it is remarkably better than the vehicle she drove previously, but then pretty much any vehicle not belching flames would be better than what Emily had before. On the hate side, however, the van is old enough to drive itself, a 1991 Chevy van. Yes, the mileage is low, but it has had a number of issues, not the least of which is that it fails to start at the most inconvenient of times. (The most inconvenient of times for a vehicle not to start, by the way, would be whenever you want to go somewhere.)

Last week, Emily found herself stranded at a pizza joint with nothing happening under the hood when the key turned. Seeing that we had just put a new battery into the beast about two weeks ago, this proved especially irritating. It seems that the alarm my parents installed on the van many years ago has some sort of mysterious elusive short that drains the battery in short order. Or perhaps the alternator is going out. Or perhaps there are car gremlins in the works. I don’t know. What I do know is that Emily has not grown more confident of that van starting when she piles the kids into it. That’s a terrific way to live life.

My Toyota Corolla, nearly four years old now, is a beautifully dependable car. Well maintained and parked in a garage every night, it ought to be a beautifully dependable car. The time will come, of course, when my little green Corolla becomes a maintenance headache with wheels falling off or the windshield imploding in my face. Until then, however, I’ll simply pretend that it will forever function as designed. That’s so much better than Emily’s experience, after all.

That sort of assurance and reliability is what John celebrates as this chapter ends. It’s the sort of confidence that he has been emphasizing upon his readers for the last several verses. I could put my faith in obedience but instead, John wants me to put my faith in God. I could trust in the requirements imposed upon me by false religious teachers, but instead I can continue trusting in God, a path that leads to confidence.

If only I could trust in God as well as I trust in my Corolla. In my heart of hearts I know that God is far more worthy of my faith than my car. I know that my car will one day fail, while God will not. Still, that sort of confidence does not come easily. I attempt to bolster it various insurances, which don’t bolster it at all. Instead they undermine it.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

No Teachers Needed–1 John 2:27

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. –1 John 2:27

Some twelve years ago, a group of nice people at the University of Kansas voted to confer upon me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English. This moment brought my father-in-law’s confusion to a head. I can recall, as I began my doctoral program, him looking at me in genuine confusion and saying, “But how can you be a doctor in English?” As different as the various flavors of doctorates are, one thing they all have in common is the sense of completion, of turning student into teacher. On that day in 1996, I was acknowledged as somebody who could direct his own learning.

This summer, I’ll be traveling to Concord, Massachusetts for a week-long seminar on the Transcendentalist writers who flourished there in the early nineteenth century. For that week, I will be sitting under the leadership of a handful of scholars who have established themselves as experts on this important school of thinkers. This July, however, won’t be the first time I have taken the role of student since taking the stripes on my academic gown. Among other things, I’ve sat patiently in about fifteen credit hours worth of seminary classes.

Is there an inconsistency there? Was I somehow sullying my reputation as a “doctor” by sitting under the teaching of others? Certainly not. While I have demonstrated my ability to be the generator of new knowledge with a book and half a dozen journal articles under my belt, I would be the first to admit that I don’t know everything. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is sit under someone else’s tutelage.

When John suggests that his readers don’t need teachers any long, since God’s anointing remains in them, is he saying that nobody can ever teach them anything? I don’t think so. If that were the case, wouldn’t John be contradicting himself since he is clearly attempting to teach the people something. What John is attempting to warn his readers away from is those who would claim that they’re necessary intermediaries between the seeker and God. To gain access to God, we don’t need priests or intelligentsia, prophets or preachers. We have that access.

John doesn’t suggest that we can’t learn things from other people, but he does rightly warn us away from those who would, as we suggested yesterday, create a perceived deficit or need and then propose to fill it. Let us not be gulled into believing that some person holds the magical knowledge, access, or ritual to grant us access to God. That doesn’t mean we should be so full of pride as to think we know everything already, but the essential knowledge of the Gospel, we do know. No one can take that away or improve upon it.

Stop Foreclosure–1 John 2:26

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. –1 John 2:26

As I drove across town today, I saw a sign, hand-lettered and bold in black on yellow, reading, “Stop Foreclosure Now.” I didn’t call the number on the sign, just as I have never called any of the numbers that promise to repair bad credit. Despite my lack of direct experience in this area, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you were to call the number, you’d discover that the  cure is worse than the disease.

Why, then, do these people attempt to convince us that they can repair our credit, insure our cars, extend our warranties, enhance our diets, or stop the specter of foreclosure in its tracks? I think it’s pretty obvious. While they might have nothing that you and I truly need or want, we have something that the advertisers very badly want: our money. In a world where basic needs were long ago met by businesses, today’s merchants need to create new needs that they can proceed to meet. You didn’t know that you needed 112 channels of digital TV, but you apparently do.

Why this diatribe about advertising and phony needs? I’m guessing that John met his share of “Stop Foreclosure” salesmen in his day. In his case, of course, without the benefits of a sub-prime mortgage crisis, he dealt with spiritual charlatans. In order to understand this single verse, in which John gives yet another reason for writing, we need to try to understand the nature of those leading John’s readers astray. If John is writing “these things” in response to those leading people astray, then his words must be some sort of remedy to the false teachings. Since John writes about eternal security in the preceding verses, then I think it reasonable to assume that somebody was trying to undermine that teaching.

Today, false teachers attempt to convince us that we cannot rest assured of our reconciliation to God, that God’s grace is insufficient, that Christ’s sacrifice cannot effect our salvation. Why would somebody teach such doctrine? I would suggest that they do it for the same reason that other advertisers create needs. These false teachers seek to lead us into legalism with themselves as the lawmakers. They strive to use us for their own ends. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did when he came in the flesh and the opposite of the message of love, grace, and hope that John preaches. If that can’t get you excited about your faith, then you need to re-read 1 John up to this point.

Message Control–1 John 2:24-25

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life. –1 John 2:24-25

What a difference a few words make. Typically I do not spend a great deal of time in this space considering the intricacies of the Biblical text, partly because I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and partly because I don’t find that sort of close reading particularly helpful to leading a better Christian life most of the time. Today, however, I find myself compelled to consider the text a bit more closely.

As what a seminary professor friend of mine called a three-and-a-half-point Calvinist, I struggle with a text like this, which seems to suggest that the doctrine of eternal security is in error. Yet the plain English of this passage would lead me to such a conclusion. “See that what you have heard in the beginning remains in you,” John says, and then you’ll stay in good graces with God. This isn’t really compatible with the typical eternal security argument that says “If you’re truly saved, then you’ll remain saved.” This verse suggests personal volition. “See to it,” it commands. This isn’t some passive thing. John’s words here cannot be twisted to mean “As you watch these things remain.” No, he says, “See to it.” We’re supposed to do something. We’re supposed to keep what we heard in the beginning within us.

Here’s where the perils of translation come in. The Greek simply doesn’t say what the NIV translators have provided here. In fact, no other translation I have seen renders this verse in such a way. All of the others describe a much more passive event. Let’s look at a few:

What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. (Holman) –That might just express a natural law as in “Gravity must remain in force.”

let that abide in you which you heard. (NASB) –Here we’re enjoined simply not to drive out what we’ve heard rather than actively keeping it in.

let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. (NKJV) –This is again a passive command.

While I cannot drive out God’s blessings, I can squeeze it out of the forefront of my life and my mind. I can let the thousand demands of life, the thousand calls of the flesh drown out the Word of God, which I heard from the beginning. When that happens, and it happens to all of us now and again, then we are estranged, temporarily, from the Son and the Father. We don’t risk losing eternal life, but we do squander the portion of earthly life God has given us. Therefore, whether I “see to it” or simply “let that abide,” I cannot afford to allow the message of the Gospel to be moved out of its central place in my consciousness.

Oprah Patrol–1 John 2:22-23

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. –1 John 2:22-23

Well here I go. I’m about to prevent myself from ever appearing on Oprah. I’m sure that she was hanging out up there in Chicago, finger poised over the phone, ready to call me and invite me to jump on the couch and proclaim my love for Penny. This is going to blow all of that.

<Deep breath.> All beliefs are not equally valid. (Did you hear that, Oprah?) I’ll even go one step further. Not only are all beliefs not equally valid, whether or not you believe them sincerely, but all beliefs that somehow invoke the name of Jesus do not make you a Christian.

Yesterday, I heard Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, talking about a Jesus who didn’t sound like the savior of the world. Robinson’s Jesus taught about love and provided an inspiring moral example, but he didn’t seem to die for my sins or provide a singular route to God. (Robinson also noted that his prayer life includes very few words, which I found rather odd, but I suppose that’s his business.)

Talk to your neighborhood Muslim and you’ll hear of a respected Jesus, a prophet who called people to monotheism and did a lovely job of delivering God’s message (once Mohammed got it all untangled in the Quran). This is a Jesus, but it’s not Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the one and only Son of God the Father.

Then there’s Oprah, who, in her numbingly New Agey conversation with Eckhart Tolle, self-proclaimed spiritual guide, encourages us to get in touch with our “Christ Consciousness.” In Oprah’s eyes, everyone has has a little sliver of Jesus inside them–sort of like the spleen, I suppose–and what we need to do is get in touch with that sliver. Jesus was really in touch with his Christ Consciousness, which is what made him so great. I guess all that cross stuff was just an unpleasant end to the story.

John doesn’t have much patience for those who either deny Jesus or deny the true Jesus, calling them liars. I’m not a liar, and presumably, if you’re still with me, neither are you. That’s good, but it’s not enough. The question for you and me is what we do with the Jesus we acknowledge? Certainly it’s better not to be a liar than to be one, but if that’s your only claim to fame, it’s rather like being noteworthy for not smelling bad. What will you do with Jesus beyond acknowledging him?