Worldly Wiseman–1 John 4:5

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. –1 John 4:5

Dan wrote a persuasive paper earlier this semester. In it, he sought to prove that religion was evil and science was virtuous. To support his thesis, he arrayed a wide collection of examples, spread over centuries. He noted that Copernicus might have felt constrained not to publish his findings during his own lifetime. He assumed that the problems that Galileo had with the church were strictly of a theological nature rather than the political nonsense that made up at least half the disagreement. Finally, he cited the Scopes trial in which religion sort of played a role.

When I didn’t immediately fall all over myself in praise of his manifest brilliance, Dan grew a bit testy. (Okay, I’ll admit that my responses to him were probably more caustic than they should have been, but I knew he was a capable person and I wanted to challenge him to do better.) He shot back, defending his work, threatening to talk to my dean. After I offered to include the dean in our future email discussion, he simmered down.

My point, the point that he missed, was that persuasive papers were just that: persuasive. If the only person who agrees with you at the end of a persuasive piece is the person who agreed with you at the outset, then you are, by definition, not persuasive. His paper was laughably easy to dismiss. I will note that his ensuing research paper took much the same thought but presented it in a much more compelling manner. He received an A for a paper I really did not enjoy reading.

Why should I have been surprised that some like Dan thinks the evils of religion are so obvious that you needn’t work very hard to prove them? Why should I be surprised that people think immorality is acceptable? Why indeed?

John reminds us here that our minds do not work like those of non-believers. They hear and believe things that we cannot fathom. They view the world and speak of it from a vantage point we cannot share. Still, we act surprised when they arrive at conclusions that seem ludicrous to us. Indeed, we should not be surprised. What we should guard against most strongly is the temptation to take their worldview more seriously than it deserves.

The Eternal Yankees–1 John 4:4

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. –1 John 4:4

Back in the 1950s, Kansas City had a baseball team, a team that was perhaps more consistently mediocre than the Royals of recent years. What really riles longtime Kansas City baseball fans, even after fifty years, is the sense that the A’s of those years were an unofficial farm team for the New York Yankees. As evidence of the supposed collusion between the two team’s front offices, students of the game note a series of sweetheart trades–sweet for the Yankees, but sour for the A’s–that sent washed up has-beens west and up-and-coming stars east. The two most notable exports from Kansas City were Bobby Shantz and two-time-MVP Roger Maris.

Maybe it wasn’t a setup, however. Maybe there was something in the water. There’s something about putting on the pinstripes it seems, that brings out greatness in players. Similarly, there’s something about putting on the uniform of a perennial loser to help a player underachieve.

Can you imagine giving the pep-talk before the Yankees take the field? “You’re the Yankees! Go out and win.” How easy must it be to go out into the field knowing the Andy Pettite or Roger Clemons is pitching? That is, I suppose, why Joe Torre received no love after last season. Handed a slew of superstars and the keys to the game’s most storied franchise, he couldn’t deliver championships for years on end.

How much more confidence should we have, Christian? We’re on the greatest team in history with the ultimate teammate in Jesus. It’s like having Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Koufax all rolled into one with plenty of ability to spare. Why, then, do we behave as if we’re playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or some other long-time loser?

Greater is he who is in us. That’s too easy to forget.

Pass the Test–1 John 4:1-3

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. –1 John 4:1-3

It’s exam week in college’s across America. Just this morning, I had sixteen students sit through a final as I waited to hand them back their final papers. In all of this, I’m glad that I don’t have to take exams any more.

Today’s verses, John’s test for spirits, would seem to be a rather broad umbrella for spirits we should believe. If the spirit acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh, then that spirit is from God. What could be simpler?

In walks Spirit #1. It acknowledges that Jesus did indeed live and breathe and walk upon this earth. That’s about as “in the flesh” as we could hope for, so that spirit must be from God, right? That’s the spirit that informs the Muslim view of Jesus. In their view, Jesus was a great prophet, perhaps the greatest prophet before Mohammad. Does that spirit pass the test? No. That spirit believes in the physical person Jesus, but I had a guy named Jesus (hay-SOOS) serve me pizza recently. Big deal. There’s a difference between Jesus and Jesus Christ.

Next we meet Spirit #2. This spirit refers to Jesus Christ, claiming that he walked on the earth. Therefore, this spirit is from God. Before you agree, let’s be sure that the Jesus Christ being embraced by this spirit, a spirit that seems to inform the Mormons, is the same Jesus Christ. According to the former LDS President, Gordon Hinckley, ‘The traditional Christ of whom they [evangelicals] speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.’ So what do we make of that? It seems that Hinckley is putting a tougher test on spirits than does John.

Finally, I’d introduce you to Spirit #3. This spirit talks about Jesus, perhaps referring to him as Christ, but it doesn’t act as if the advent of Jesus in any way changes the world. Does that spirit really believe that Jesus Christ, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Fully Human/Fully Divine, walked the earth? That spirit seems alive and well and prowling our churches and sometimes our lives.

Any spirit that winds up saying “So what?” after acknowledging that Jesus walked the earth is not really acknowledging that John’s Jesus walked the earth. As I’ve said before in this space, the appearance of Jesus changes everything. Everything!

Diagnosis with a Twist of Lyme–1 John 3:24

Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. –1 John 3:24

A year or so back, Penny had the pleasure of lyme disease. If you’ve never experienced this tick-borne illness, then save yourself the trouble and trust me. It’s one to skip. She had all manner of stiffness and general yuck. At first the doctors–bless their hearts, they try–settled on arthritis as her affliction. Penny protested that she had not suffered from arthritis for several years and that her symptoms sounded a good deal like what she’d read of lyme disease. No matter. She had arthritis. (This same doctor might have recommended me for a hysterectomy.)

This hasty diagnosis bought the bacteria a couple of weeks to reproduce and settle in. Eventually, another doctor–one we no longer use, I might add–listened to all of Penny’s complaints and said, “I think that might be lyme disease” in a tone that seemed to say “why didn’t you think of that sooner.”

We had to practically lay siege to the lab and doctor’s office in order to get the test results back, but when they came, they confirmed what she had suspected for several weeks: lyme disease.

Unlike some diseases, lyme disease does not simply keep bothering you until treat it. This is one that will progressively worsen. Catch it very quickly and it’s a non-event. Let it run for months and you’re in for some very bad effects. Happily, Penny was closer to the beginning than the end.

I’m not entirely sure how the test for lyme disease or any other ailment works. My understanding is that the lab techs perform some sort of analysis to determine if some substance is present that indicates the critter involved in the illness. For example, if I were performing a test to see if my daughter Alyson were around, I’d probe the trash cans for Sonic Drive-in trash. That’s a tip-off to her presence.

How, however, do you do a test for the Spirit of God? Is there a blood test indicating the Spirit and therefore the indwelling of God? John would seem to suggest that ability, yet I’ve never been offered such a test. Wouldn’t that be a nifty test for a prospective Sunday School teacher?

Just as bacteria leave behind chemical markers and Alyson leaves behind tater tot wrappers, the Holy Spirit provides evidence of its presence, evidence that plays out in our lives. Inwardly, that evidence involves the sense of conviction and duty that comes to a believer. Outwardly, it should be manifest by a holy life and a string of loving actions.

As certain as I am that the Holy Spirit is within me, I sometimes wonder if that presence is truly evident to the outside world, to my friends, my students, and my family. If I were accused of being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict me. Do I present the symptoms of a spirit-filled life? I’ll leave you with that question today.

It’s So Simple–1 John 3:23

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. –1 John 3:23

I love this time of the year. As you read this, I’ll be finished with exams and ready to turn in grades on Friday. As I write it, I have another week to go. Regardless, I love this time of year. Soon, these students will be going away, and I’ll never have to look at them again.

But I also hate this time of year. No, I’m not going to get all sentimental on you. While I do actually like a good number of my students, by the end of the term, I’m ready to see the backs of them, at least for a while. The reason I hate this time of the semester is because of the silly questions. Here’s one, from an email two days ago:

I just make sure that if i have done annotated bibliography, which means I don’t need to do the final assignment. Is it right?

No, it’s not right. The online course says that isn’t right. The course overview sheet I asked everyone to print out back in January says that isn’t right. My weekly (or more often) emails say that isn’t right! What more do I have to do to get through to these people?

If it were only one silly question, I’d be okay with it, but there are many. Granted, it could be worse. I could have to really work for a living, but it does make me hate–okay, maybe dread–this time of year.

My online course is really simple. Start at the beginning and follow the directions. Keep hitting “next” until you reach the point that says you’re done. That’s it. But these students just insist on making it complicated. Or they refuse to read the instructions and try to find their way alone.

Happily, our relationship with Christ is just as simple.  We have to do two things:

  1. Believe in Jesus.
  2. Love each other.

That’s really easy. I don’t have to figure out which way to turn to face Mecca. I don’t have to discover which foods are kosher. I needn’t give exceptional respect to cattle. There’s no particular language that must be spoken or pilgrimage that must be made. Christianity is simple, which is good, since humans are notoriously bad at following directions.

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