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.

Two Roads Diverged–1 John 2:10-11

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. –1 John 2:10-11

Robert Frost famously wrote about two roads diverging in a yellow wood. “Sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler,” he described himself. Life is full of those sorts of forks in the roads. My long-time colleague and office-mate just took a wonderful new job within the institution. She hasn’t looked back from that decision, but she did pause on the day she signed her new contract. Before they’d let her sign on the new line, they made her resign her faculty contract. To the best of her knowledge, there’d be no going back. Similarly, as much as I would like to sell our house and move to the sticks, part of me realizes that this is a change for keeps. If we regret this move a year down the road, we’ll be facing a very grim prospect of moving again.

The two roads–the road of light and the road of darkness–that John describes in today’s verse, however, isn’t that sort of a choose-once-and-live-with-the-consequences deal. It seems to me that I can hate my brother in the morning and love my brother in the afternoon, yet that’s not what these verses seem to suggest. They don’t say “whenever” you love or hate your brother. Instead, they say “whoever” loves or hates. The other translations render it differently but never changing the meaning: “He who loves” or “The one who loves.”

This observation leads me to wonder if John sees this as truly an either-or choice. Can the one who loves a brother in the morning hate him in the afternoon? The answer to that question, it seems from the context is no, but the Greek word translated “hate” here, miseo, must be understood. The English word “hate” has experienced some semantic deflation over the years. My son says he hates Pizza Hut pizza. My daughter hates her hair. Is that the sort of miseo hatred John references? I don’t think so.

Hatred does mean irritation or frustration with. Hatred isn’t the same as “I don’t want to share a room with you” or “you’re making me really angry right now. ” Similarly, though, love is not the trivial thing that we frequently make it. The love described here, agapao, means to love dearly. I don’t love lasagna, Fridays, or even Jayhawks basketball in that profound manner.

Hopefully we do not have a problem with miseo toward our brothers (and sisters), but for many of us, our agapao could use a bit of work.

Don’t Be a Hater–1 John 2:9

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. –1 John 2:9

I ran into Walt at Sam’s Club not too long after he left our church. At that point in history, a good number of folks left our church. Life–church life, especially–could be funny if it weren’t so terrible at times. Many of those who left were and are my friends. Walt’s a little different story.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” he responded. We made another comment or two about the weather or kids or somesuch, but without the slightest lead-in, without any provocation, Walt apparently felt constrained to start lambasting the church, the pastor, and (by a reasonable assumption) the people who had not followed him out the door. His words were not the carefully considered words of a couple of friends. These people, in hushed tones, indicating deep contemplation on the matter, indicated, “We just couldn’t stay there anymore.” I respect those people. I disagree with their conclusion, but I respect them. Walt, however, was just ugly.

John isn’t exactly commanding us to love each other in this verse. He’s instead holding up love for each other as a litmus test for whether we walk in the light or not. Most people can’t fake love very effectively, at least not all the time. Even when you can fake it externally, you know when you’re filled with hate.

I don’t believe that John insists that we never grow irritated with our brothers. After all, the church in the first century probably had its fair share of oddballs and difficult personalities, just like the church in the twenty-first century. There’s a difference between avoiding a person and hating them. There’s a difference between saying something unkind on the spur of the moment and acting unkind through and through. Those first actions simply illustrate our human frailty, while the latter ones betray a lack of love.

I don’t have a Geiger counter that lets me know whether someone walks in spiritual darkness or light, but I do have the words of John to suggest that Walt is not walking where he thinks he’s walking. What bothers me, however, is not the bitter life Walt is leading but the casual attitude I take when I walk on the shady side of the street. Hopefully like you, I’m never utterly consumed with hate. I’m pretty sure I walk in the light, but there are far too many times when I allow myself to dip into the shadows of hatred. It’s a bad neighborhood to be avoided.

Not Old, New–1 John 2:8

Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. –1 John 2:8

I’m sitting in my office right now, waiting on a student. Sara, to show up. She needed to meet with me, but her schedule didn’t match up with my office hours. Due to that, I wound up making a special trip to school today, burning up my gas and now twiddling my thumbs as I await her, ever more doubtful, appearance.

There is a plus side to this.† Because I came to school today, I attended a lecture by our visiting scholar, Dr. Monira Soliman, an Egyptian comparative literature professor, who will be teaching my class tomorrow. Yes, I know that you believe listening to an Egyptian comparative literature professor sounds like listening to water evaporate, but it really was interesting. This woman, a Muslim, explained how Islam is represented in various female Muslim writers. She pointed out that many of the stories that come to us from the Middle East are not terribly representative of that culture. Instead, they represent what people want to believe about the Middle East.

Another comment that Professor Soliman made, however, took me back. She suggested that all religions– Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism–are basically alike. Surely she didn’t really mean that. I’m hoping that what she meant (and it is what she later explained) is that all the religions hold a huge number of moral and ethical teachings in common. If they were all the same, then why would Muhammed have been needed to “set the record straight”? In fact, they are clearly not all the same, even in that area of moral-ethical teaching.

For the Christian, however, the difference is profound, a depth hinted at in today’s verse. While the advent of Christ did very little to change the moral codes applying to Gentiles, His coming made a huge difference in the working of those moral codes. In the Islamic world, you must punch your ticket, praying, making pilgrimmage, giving to the poor, and so forth. Judaism has a different ticket, but it too must be punched. For the Hindu and for the Buddhist, still other tickets pertain.

But to the Christian, the ticket is a goal, not a requirement. We have the liberty to strive toward perfection knowing that we have been delivered from needing perfection. The darkness of legalism is passing, and the light is now illuminating an age of grace. That’s a powerful difference.

Sara is now twenty-eight minutes late. I don’t believe she’ll make an appearance.† If I were operating under the old dispensation, I’d hold this failure against her forever, but I can be gracious. Hopefully she’ll do better next time and continue to make progress toward the person God created her to be.

Not New, But Old–1 John 2:7

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. –1 John 2:7

“How many times do I have to tell you the same thing?” If you’re a parent, you’ve probably uttered these exact words or ones very much like them. Of course, what the kids hear is something more akin to “Mumble mumble rumble mumble.” That’s the nature of parenting.

When I was a child, I heard my parents’ admonitions as a host of random and unconnected advice. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” “Look both ways.” “Finish your peas.” “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” “Learn to save some of your money.” It seemed that, to please them, I had to memorize an entire list of apparently unrelated rules and regulations. Only after time did I recognize that these things were neither random nor unrelated. Instead, their demands on me started to fall into categories.

“Don’t waste your money” was a big one in my family, not surprising since my father was a banker. “Give proper respect to authority” stands out as another one, as does “Don’t be gross.” Of course, my mother would have never said “gross.” That word is just too–well–gross.

In the end, I recognized that there wasn’t much that I heard in my family at sixteen that I hadn’t heard at six, albeit in a different form. Of course it took me until I was thirty-seven to figure that out.

The “message† you have heard” that John mentions here is presumably the gospel of Jesus. It’s a familiar message, one preached, in quite a straight-forward manner, over the last two Sundays at my church. At times, we might be tempted to wave off that message, assuming that we’ve heard it all before. It’s an old command, an old message, to be sure, but if John thought it worthwhile to share that old message with the recipients of his letter, then how much more should we, separated by nearly 2,000 years from the eyewitnesses to the message, attend on its repetition.

The old message is still a good message, in fact the best of messages. Let’s never forget that.

Walk the Walk–1 John 2:5b-6

This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. –1 John 2:5b-6

I had a student, Matt, not long ago who announced, over the first couple of days of the class, that he had been in the Marines. Obviously, in his early twenties, Matt couldn’t have been in the Marines for all that long if he had already put it behind him, but I welcomed the news. Although I’ve experienced former Marines who were a bit difficult to get along with, I generally find them to be disciplined and dependable. When they foul up, they generally admit it. I looked forward, therefore, to dealing with Matt the Marine.

I got over my admiration within a couple of weeks. A pleasant enough guy, he proved a sporadic attender. When he did show up for class, he frequently rushed in fifteen minutes late. Invariably, he would approach me after dismissal to apologize for his tardiness.

Generally, I’m a pretty easy-going guy on these matters. Things happen, of course. Between traffic and the oddities of life, anybody can have a late day. Show up late once, and I ignore it. Do it twice, and I’ll be mildly annoyed. Do it frequently, however, and I have no pity. That’s how I felt with Matt. If he truly felt bad coming in late, then he’d make sure to be on time.

When I mentioned Matt’s misdeeds to a former military friend of mine, he suggested that maybe Matt wasn’t really Marine material. Perhaps Matt got invited to leave the Corps. I don’t know if that’s the case at all, but I feel pretty confident that Matt wasn’t the poster child for the Marine perfection.

I’m too old to be a Marine, but I am not too old to learn to better walk like Jesus did. That’s a noble aspiration, but just how did Jesus walk? Barefoot? Quickly? With a limp? I hardly think that’s what John had in mind. The problem with this verse is that nobody can be entirely sure just how Jesus walked. Some would emphasize Jesus walk as a healer, while others would focus on his advocacy of the powerless. Some would point to his righteousness, while for others his iconoclasm is vital. Just how do we walk like Jesus walked.

This is where Matt the Marine can be a useful source. You see, as much as I might read about the Marine Corps, as many Marines as I might know, the only way for me to truly understand the way of the USMC is to sign up and go through the experiences that the Marines experience. I’d need to live among them, depending and sharing with them. If you haven’t marched with the Marines, then you really don’t fully understand them. Similarly, the only way for me to truly walk like Jesus is to walk with him as best I can. To understand Christ’s walk, we need to get close to him, to observe him, to know him. Then, like the Marines, we can hope to live up to the lofty motto, semper fidelis, always faithful.