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.

Fooling Myself–1 John 1:8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8

A hundred years ago, when I was in college, I had a roommate, Terry, who was, with the exception of his determination to listen to Barry Manilow music when he went to sleep, one of the nicest people you’d ever hope to meet. Terry intended to become a doctor, and he would have been a very kind and caring doctor, I’m sure. We shared that room for a semester, during which he spent a good portion of his time typing papers. As a writing teacher, I approve of typing papers, but Terry had one problem: he was usually typing somebody else’s paper when he should have been working on his own. After receiving awful grades in his first semester, he created an equally dismal grade report in the spring. His departure from the college was rather quick and graceless.

A year or so later, Terry reappeared on the campus and announced that he had cleared his academic hurdles and stood ready to enter the fray once again. When I asked him what his major was now, he said, “Still pre-med.”

As nice a guy as Terry was, I just couldn’t laugh at him. However, having anchored his grade-point average with the ballast of D’s and F’s, he didn’t seem quite pre-med material. Perhaps Hollywood Upstairs Medical College (alma mater of The Simpson’s Dr. Nick Riviera) would accept such a student, but most schools wouldn’t. Terry was, I am fairly sure, fooling himself. If that got him through school, then I’m happy, but I’m pretty sure there’s no Dr. Terry roaming the halls of a local hospital.

Of course no Christian is going to practice Terry’s kind of self-delusion. We know better than to say that we never sin. “Of course nobody’s perfect,” we’re quick to admit. “I’m not trying to say I never sin.” We say these things, but do we really mean them?

What we really mean, I think is that while we know we sin in theory, our sins are pretty tame and understandable. It’s not like we’re axe-murderers, right?

Self-delusion takes many forms, especially when it gets into the sensitive territory of our own self perceptions. Do I really want to think of myself as the sack of garbage that I truly am minus the grace of God? Do I really want to face up to the freighters full of sin that I bring into port each and every day.

All too often, we categorize sin, lumping the really bad stuff that we don’t do in one corner while excusing the not-so-awful stuff that we do. In the end, we’re no more realistic than Terry when we see ourselves as better than what Paul calls himself in Romans 7:24: wretched.

Genuine Country?–1 John 1:6-7

If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. –1 John 1:6-7

I have a great deal to be thankful for, but near the top of that list is the fact that the country-decor craze in the United States seems to have crested and begun to recede. For a while, it seemed, everything purchased by a thirty-something suburban homeowner had to be a sort of robin-egg blue and emblazoned with chickens or farmhouses or somesuch. When in doubt, it seems, the design gurus behind this craze opted to slap the word “Country” on the objects. I never found this look terribly appealing.

Here’s the deal. If you live in a four-bedroom ranch, if you have a sprinkler system, if eat more than once a month at Panera, if you drive a minivan, if you don’t know what Carhartt makes, if your pickup bed is empty, if you think that chickens grow in the back of Hy-Vee, then you might well not be a country person.

Similarly, if you expect military surplus at Old Navy, start your day driving on gravel, can seel livestock from your bedroom window, or think that Casey’s General Store has the finest coffee on the planet, then you probably aren’t a city person.

Can both parties agree to stop faking it?

But really, much more dangerous than a suburban type trying to fake either urban or rural credibility, are non-believers trying to fool others into thinking that they are believers. And worse yet is to fool yourself. It’s a sad fact, but many people within the church today are strangers to the light. They walk in darkness most of the time and only visit the light for an hour or two on Sunday morning, thinking that they really belong there.

Perhaps most imporant is you! John is not suggesting that we have to walk 100% in the light to be people of light or 100% in the darkness to be people of darkness. If that were the case, then things would be simple. Elsewhere in this chapter he’ll indicate that this isn’t a one-step-of-darkness-dooms-you sort of thing. The last words of these verses suggest it as well. After all, if a person only walks in the light, then what need is there to be purified of sin?

But there are those who walk mostly in the light or mostly in the darkness. The question is, which are you? My guess, since you’re reading this, is that you belong to the light, but don’t deceive yourself. You can be assured that God isn’t deceived.

A Deer in the Dark–1 John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. –1 John 1:5

One night, years ago during one of the summers I spent on the Scout camp staff, I walked home from a campfire early, leaving everybody else in the glow of the dwindling blaze. Between the campfire site and the main part of camp, I had to walk through a profoundly dark area. No electric lights gave me guidance and the overarching trees blocked out whatever moonlight might have been available that night. Still, I knew this path well. Provided I stayed on the pavement, I’d be fine.

Somewhere in the middle of that inky darkness, I heard a ruckus in the woods, something crashing headlong through the underbrush to my left. I stood for a moment trying to understand what my ears perceived. A deer, I decided. A deer must be panicked and dashing through the night away from some threat, real or imagined. My ears then told me that the deer was headed my way, up the ridge to my left. What should I do? Should I run? What point would there be in that? For all I knew, I might run right into the deer’s path, winding up skewered on an antler. Shuddering somewhat, I determined to stand in place and wait. The thrashing in the brush came closer and closer. Then I heard a clatter of hooves on the pavement in front of me. How far? I can’t say, but too close for my liking. Then the beast dove into the brush on the right side of the road and headed down the hill to my right.

Let me be clear. I’m not afraid of the dark. I am, however, sometimes afraid of the things that the dark conceals. The darkness conceals danger and duplicity. It hides pitfalls and problems. Sometimes it conceals a stampeding deer that only God’s grace directs around you.

This is why I am relieved to read that there is no darkness in God. God is light. He illuminates everything. There’s nothing unknown, nothing hidden in him. In God, we don’t flounder around asking what to do. We don’t worry about the things we don’t know, the things that go bump in the night. In God, we don’t fear the ultimate darkness, death.

God is light. This much is clear. What is not so clear is how we will respond to that light. Will we hide from it, seeking to hang onto our evil deeds, or will we open ourselves to it, allowing it to seek out and expose our imperfections?

Daniel’s Question–1 John 1:3-4

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

Today is Friday, Spring Break Eve. Since attendance in my classes is typically dismal on this day, I managed to cancel both of them. This way, I wasn’t even attending. I did, however, put in my time at school, puttering around in my office, attempting to get caught up so that I could have a guilt-free break.

In mid-morning, Daniel, a Comp I student, strolled in. I had forgotten that he intended to bring a paper by to share with me. As I read through his paper and suggested some ways he might improve it, I noticed that he seemed agitated. Was I perhaps troubling him with my suggestions? I couldn’t be sure. Upon finishing my monologue, I looked at him. “Do you have any questions?”

“Yes,” he said, clearly not completely at ease with what he was about to say. I prepared myself to hear him express some disapproval of what I had to say. In twenty years of teaching, I’ve heard it before. He wouldn’t bother me, but that’s not where he went. “I have one question. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Whoa! Where did that come from? In those twenty years, I’d never had a student espouse his faith so directly. I assured Daniel that I had done so. He wasn’t quite done. He asked me a couple of other questions that I assume were designed to ensure that I wasn’t just blowing him off or suffering under some delusion regarding my salvation. This kid was serious!

What gave Daniel the nerve to walk into my office, not knowing where I stood on matters of faith, and risk himself like that? I think the answer is to be found in today’s scripture. Daniel, like John, was simply sharing what he had seen and heard. He has found fellowship with others in Christ and it’s a great thing. He wants to share that great thing, share that joy, much more than he wants to preserve some mask of politeness. He also knows the flip-side, the option to that fellowship, which is an eternity in Hell, separated from God.

Some of my non-believer colleagues will not take Daniel’s question as warmly as I did. However, they should realize the love out of which that question springs. I commend Daniel for having the same sort of courage and witness that animated the Apostle John. Carry on, my brother!

The $64,000 Question–1 John 1:2

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. –1 John 1:2

Do you know on what continent the Danube River is located? Or how about this one: If you were born on Easter, will your birthday be on a Sunday every year? These are, obviously, questions, but they aren’t just any questions. These were the pair of questions that bounced contestants off of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? tonight. Sadly, neither of the players turned out to be smarter than a fifth grader.

As I write this, I find myself awaiting my opportunity to go on my game show of choice, Jeopardy. A friend of mine appeared on the show years ago. He assured me that it’s a whole lot easier to answer those questions when you’re sitting on your couch than when you’re under the glow of television lights and facing down a life-sized Alex Trebek. You see, there are questions and then there are questions! It’s one thing to shout out, “The Danube River is in Europe you simpleton!” while eating hummus and chips (as I did), but when you have the fate of the world–or at least of your bank account–hinging on the answer, the pressure gets greater.

I mention this because in today’s verse, John makes the same sort of move, increasing the stakes. In 1 John 1:1, he talks about “the Word of life,” but today, we find that this isn’t just any old life he’s discussing. This is eternal life. And not only did the life just get better, but we discover that this isn’t simply the “Word of [eternal] life” but it’s the life itself, life that has come from the Father and appeared on earth. In short, this word, this life, is pretty much synonymous with God. If we have any doubt on this matter, we simply need to read John’s other great opening, the first few verses of the Gospel of John.

Lest we have any doubts about the importance of what we’re studying here, John lays it on the line. The Word of life is life itself, eternal life, and God in the person of Jesus Christ. I may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but I can understand what John’s talking about here.