Nothing but Reruns–1 John 4:15-16

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.–1 John 4:15-16

Back in the old days, when my household had cable television, we became semi-addicted to the various versions of Law and Order. We watched the original, especially enjoying the ones with Jerry Orbach, and we watched the SVU variety. We never could get into Criminal Intent with its tall, badly shaven, goofy detective as the lead. It just wasn’t the same.

One of the numbingly familiar things about Law and Order is the sameness of it all. The show always starts with one or several people going about their everyday routine, perhaps arguing about a parking ticket, and encountering the grisly evidence of some heinous crime, a  dismembered torso in a dumpster for example. Then they flash to the detectives arriving on the scene. One detective, usually Orbach’s Lenny Briscoe, gets off a wisecrack before the title sequence rolls.

Penny and I noticed a trend with Law and Order. Whenever you see an actor on the show who you have seen before, they did it. When you see the guy who played John Boy Walton or Jane Seymour (aka Dr. Quinn), they’re the culprit. The detectives might first find that person sympathetic, but eventually, after two or three plot twists, that familiar face will be unveiled as the killer/counterfeiter/terrorist/what-have-you.

Probably it is just this predictability that has spelled the end of the run for this program. It’s been a long, successful run, but there are only so many ways you can have basically the same people investigate basically the same crimes in the exact same city. In the end, even the new shows have begun to feel like re-runs.

I mention this because today’s verses seem very much like a re-run. What is John’s problem? Does he really have to repeat these words?  Didn’t he just talk about God in us and us in God back in verse 13? Haven’t we been all over this live in love and love is life and God is love stuff? Was John being paid by the word? What is up with the reruns?

I’d like to suggest a theory here. John is not a logician and his epistle is not a mathematical proof. The love of God and our ineffable relationship to God the Father through Jesus the Son is not something that can be broken down and fully explained using human logic. This should not be surprising. My love for Penny and hers for me are not explainable through logic. Happily that’s true, as no purely logical person would put up with me.

The love of God is not something we factor and balance and solve for X. The love of God is something that we dwell with, experience, immerse ourselves in. This love is a rerun that is never old. When we try to make it other than that, I believe, we diminish it into something of merely human dimensions.

Evidence of Residence–1 John 4:13-14

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. –1 John 4:13-14

I’m sitting on the couch in my living room as I write these words. In my blissful fantasy life, I can imagine that I live here alone, especially without the interference of those pesky kids. I can imagine it, but my dreams are quickly scuttled. The evidence of the kids’ residence is simply too clear.

Tom whistles–whistles!–in the hallway bathroom. Since he traipsed around in poison ivy this afternoon, he was instructed to put his clothes in the laundry and take a thorough shower. I have no doubt that his clothes are strewn about the bathroom and his towel is wadded on the vanity.

You can always find Olivia in our house by following her trail of cast off items. For some reason, the child believes that chairs are the place to leave books, and she is gifted at placing them so that they take up the most room possible. Lately, she’s become quite good at abandoning her iPod in inappropriate places. It’s amazing that she’s managed to hold onto that thing for nearly a year.

Alyson is tidier, but the evidence of her residence is still easy to find. A milk crate full of CDs graces the kitchen table right now. How can one person, one under-employed person, own that many CDs? They belong to Alyson. She thought some of us might enjoy them.

Now Olivia is pouring dry cereal into a bowl. Did she ask? No. Did she get some on the counter or floor? Probably. Will she leave the bowl somewhere we don’t want it–namely anywhere but the dishwasher? No doubt about it.

There can be no doubt that we all share this house together. According to John, there’s no doubt that we share our bodies with the indwelling Spirit of God. But is there really no doubt? I hate to be skeptical, but the inward residence of an invisible Spirit doesn’t strike me as the sort of evidence that will hold up in court.

On the other hand, I wonder if John doesn’t intend verse 14 to add to the evidence. How do we know that God has given us his Spirit? We know because we testify that the Father sent the Son to be Savior of the world. That testimony, John seems to suggest, should be as obvious as the evidence of my children living in my house. I must confess that such evidence is not as clear in my life. How about yours?

Imperfect Love–1 John 4:11-12

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. –1 John 4:11-12

In my office at home are many books. I’m a bit of a book junkie. Among my many books is a smallish collection of nicer, more valuable volumes. No, there’s nothing worth breaking into my house and stealing, but there are some items that mean something to me. Most notably, I have a small collection of T.S. Eliot first editions. Someday, when the kids are done with college and the mortgage is retired, I’ll fill my declining years by adding to that collection. I’ll be able to see a first edition of The Waste Land go up for auction on eBay and do something other than looking longingly at it. Frankly, in the grand scheme of collectibles, a $5,000 book isn’t all that outrageous, but given my current budget, it might as well be $5 million. Still, that goal gives me something to look toward, a project to complete. Someday, if I don’t get distracted by something shiny, I’ll see it happen.

Perhaps that’s what God has in mind for his love. His love, as John describes it in verse 12, will be made complete when we show love for one another. Maybe that’s what God is waiting for. It’s as if he had a checklist of baseball cards. Most of the boxes on the checklist are marked off, but he’s waiting for one or two hard-to-find items. Perhaps when you and I show love for others, then God’s collection will be complete.

Or perhaps not. That work translated as “made complete” in the NIV is rendered “made perfect” in other translations. The Greek word deals with things reaching their natural ending and purpose. God’s love is not incomplete regardless of how unloving the members of Christ’s church might be at any given time. It’s not incomplete, but it is not reaching its intended target, accomplishing its intended end. It’s rather like God’s love is a garden hose full of water. Our job is to direct that water onto the thirsty plants. We don’t add to or take away from the water, but we can get it where it needs to go.

How blessed are we that we get to serve as “nozzles” to God’s hose of blessing? It’s a poverty when we stand aside and allow that hose to remain unused by us while people are dry and needy. Let’s be clear. God’s love can travel many pathways, but I want it to be made complete in mine.

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.

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