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.

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.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.