Who Started It?–1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. –1 John 4:10

If I had a dollar for the number of times that I’ve broken up a fight between two of my kids. Tom argues with Olivia. Olivia argues with Alyson. Alyson argues with Emily. Emily argues with Penny. Oh yeah, I’m married to Penny. That’s another matter entirely.

Whenever you get in the middle of some adolescent fight, besides permanent ear damage from the yelling, you’re likely to hear the age-old refrains: “He started it!” “She started it!” In the end, it’s generally pretty tough to figure out who started the fight. The first kid hit the second kid who shoved the first one who called the second a name who looked cross-eyed  at the first, who . . . you get the picture.

Life doesn’t stray too far from the grade-school shoving matches. Who started the problems between the Arabs and the Israelis? Between the Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq. Between Microsoft and Apple? Who can tell?

Some situations, however, can only be started from one direction. For example, the relationship between the power company and my computer is a circuit. Electrons flow from some coal-fired plant somewhere, through the lines to my house, into my computer and then back to the plant. Any break along the line can put a stop to that flow of electrons, but there’s no doubt to where the whole process starts. If the nice people at Aquila don’t set the turbines in motion, there’s no juice.

In the divine plan, I’m a useless creation until the power company begins the love circuit. Love flows between us and God, but there’s no doubt about where that love begins. Who started it? God started it. All too often, in the push and shove of life, we can forget who started what. That might not be all that important in a kid’s fight, but in our understanding of our relationship with God, we can’t afford to think we’ve started anything.

Janie’s House–1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. –1 John 4:9

Janie does not love her house. This house isn’t the one where she lives. I can’t speak about her love (or lack thereof) for that place, but her previous house, the one down the street from our house, the one that she apparently owns jointly with her ex-husband, shows a definite lack of love.

This lack of love is clear. The deck nearly fell off of it before some workmen tore the thing down. Janie has allowed a family of raccoons to take up residence, apparently gaining access through a hole in the eaves. They might also use the broken-out panel of the garage door or the recently kicked-in back door. I’m not entirely sure, but I have it on good authority that the ‘coons have moved in and left their evidence all over the place.

To her credit, Janie did get the grass mowed before being issued a ticket by the city. It had only reached mid-calf when her workers did their duty. The place is finally on the market, a move that brought great rejoicing onto our street. Hopefully somebody will pay a good thirty or forty bucks for the house and relieve us of our long neighborhood nightmare.

Love, whether it be for a house or a person, typically manifests itself in some tangible way. Although we humans can occasionally do apparently loving things for a reason other than love and apparently unloving actions despite genuine love, actual love will sooner or later be accompanied by actual loving actions.

Today’s verse talks about God’s ultimate act of love, one that far surpasses any that you or I might ever muster. But I really don’t want to focus on that act. Instead, I’d like to look at the way that I demonstrate love and encourage you to look at your acts of love as well. How do I show my love for God? My wife? My children? My church and my community? Hopefully I do a better job than Janie when it comes to maintaining the house of love.

Who God Is at Heart–1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. –1 John 4:8

A student of mine wrote a web-site review several years back. I’ve used that assignment for ages, reading reviews of crocheting websites, eBay, the Hard Rock Cafe site, and so forth. This writer chose one of my favorite sites: Amazon. I read his exercise in mediocrity–really, I don’t dislike all of my students’ work; that’s just the more memorable stuff–and fell quickly out of love with it.

After wading through several hundred words replete with usage errors and inexplicable commas, I came to a stunning realization. No where in this guy’s review of Amazon did he mention the word “book.” What is Amazon, after all, but the world’s most amazing bookstore? Take a look at the Amazon entry on Brandtags.net (be warned that this site is wide-open and incurs some really stupid profanity), and you’ll see that both the terms “book” and “books” are enormous, indicating that they are enormously popular.

Somehow, my student missed the fact that Amazon’s top category is books. He missed the fact that they sell more books than anybody on the planet. He missed all of that. Of course, he did discover that you can buy all sorts of electronics and digital media from Amazon, but that’s not who Amazon is at their heart. How did he miss it?

The explanation for this is fairly simple. Amazon uses cookies and personal information to show us interesting (to us) materials to buy. When I log on today, it offers me Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer poems. My guess is that, since you probably haven’t bought several of Berry’s other books, they won’t offer those to you. For ages, they showed me Sherlock Holmes videos after I bought several of those–three years ago.

Because my student did not use Amazon for what it is at heart, he didn’t see Amazon for what it is at heart. Perhaps that’s how people get mistaken notions of God. Perhaps that is why some see God as the heavenly killjoy, a vengeful rulemaker. When we identify God as love, we are seeing him for what he is at heart. Yes, God can look like many other things when you don’t know him intimately.

Love and the Psychologist–1 John 4:7

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. –1 John 4:7

I just had a conversation with Marcie, a very secular colleague, a psychology professor. (Need I say more?) In the course of that talk, we happened upon the idiosyncrasies of one of our more unique fellow faculty members. As we reached a point in the discussion, we both groped for a word that would be both polite and accurate regarding this man. She then indicated that she tried to always avoid negative terms. Is that loving? It seems loving? Yet Marcie would, I’m fairly certain, chafe at the idea that she has “been born of God and knows God.”

Once again, John seems to be putting us into a bind by portraying a binary world. If you’re loving you know God. If you’re not loving, you must not know God. Does this mean that Marcie is a sort of crypto-believer or that the love John talks about is different from the love that Marcie seems to be describing.

As a mediocre Greek and theology student, I must confess that I don’t have a solid answer to that question, but as it turns out, I don’t need to have an answer. In applying John’s words to my life, I don’t have to know about the inner workings of Marcie’s mind. Might she simply be loving in order to be polite and socially acceptable? Yeah. Might her love have a definite boundary? Of course.

What I do need to know about is my heart. Am I ever loving simply to be polite and socially acceptable? My answer to that question is troubling to me. Does my love have boundaries? Will I love this far and no further? Will I love someone who is two steps out of my comfort zone but not three?

I’ll leave Marcie’s mind to her and God. Before I start dealing with whatever speck she has in the eye, I have plenty of work to do with the beam in mine.

No Swimming–1 John 4:6

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. –1 John 4:6

We live on a lake, a charming little eight-acre body rich with turtles, geese, and yelping beagles. More those who live in our house, Penny, me, and three of the kids, life on the lake means only good things. A generous proportion of the leaves that drop from our lakeside trees each fall make their way into the water. The sun plays off the water in endlessly beautiful ways. We can go fishing by walking across the back yard.

For my grandkids, however, life is not quite so simple. They find the lake far more fascinating than we do, a fascination inversely proportional to their swimming ability. Several times this spring we’ve found Ira out on the dock. Last week, Isa, all two years of him, decided to slide into the water in the backing-down way that he descends stairs. Ira and Sydney pulled him out of the knee-deep water, covering his front with mud.

Regardless of how many times we insist that the kids stay away from the water, they seem drawn to it. They just won’t listen. The call of the lake seems far stronger than the admonitions of parents or grandparents.

I must admit that I have a hard time listening to authority as well. Sure, if somebody tells me not to step out into traffic, I’ll listen. Everyone listens to things that seem reasonable, logical, and desirable to them. That’s an easy obedience. But who listens and obeys easily when the commands seem capricious or foolish? Not me.

Notice that in this verse, John doesn’t say that those with the Spirit of God listen to God. He says this person “listens to us.” Us who? Presumably “us” represents John and other church leaders. Did people all assume that John knew it all? Apparently not. If so, then why would he write these words?

Does that mean that I’m supposed to listen to, to obey my pastor and other spiritual leaders now? I know my pastor. He’s eminently fallible. He mispronounces words and commits factual errors. You’re saying I have to listen to him, even when I think he’s wrong?

I believe that’s exactly what John says here. No, John’s not saying that we need to drink the Kool-Aid or follow a pastor into heresy, but then that’s not usually the problem for us, is it? This sort of teaching is tough for me and most adult Americans to accept, but it’s there on the page. I think it’s reasonable to believe that obedience to God’s anointed will keep us out of the deep water, no matter how appealing doing our own thing might seem.

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