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.

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.

Thesis Statement–1 John 1:1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. –1 John 1:1

If there’s one question that I have asked in the two decades I have been teaching writing to college freshmen, it is “What is your thesis?”

The reply, often as not, is something like this: “It’s global warming.”

No, no, no! That’s not the thesis. That’s the topic. I can’t count the number of students who have turned out a paper that was clearly on a particular topic but that wasn’t at all clear what it had to say about that topic. You could have a thousand theses regarding global warming, but you need to pick one and support it.

I’m tempted, looking at today’s verse in isolation, to accuse John of a similar short-coming. Okay, he’s going to write about the Word of life, but what about it? Happily, John gets more specific in his attitude toward the Word of life in the ensuing verses and chapters, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What does he say here?

In this verse, I believe, John is establishing his credentials. He uses five descriptive phrases before explaining that he’ll be writing on the Word of life. The first of these phrases deals directly with the Word. It is “from the beginning.” Such a pronouncement makes the Word more worthy of our consideration than the latest dish on Brittany Spears.

The remaining four phrases, however, deal not so much with the Word as with he who heard the Word, John himself. To paraphrase, John says that he has heard the Word, seen it, looked at it, and touched it. In short, he has experience. Of course we know that John the Apostle

How fitting that in this first real posting after my lengthy sabbatical, we should have a meditation on the primacy of the Word. The Word is vetted. It is from the beginning. Nothing that has been made was made separate from the Word. Compared to the Word, I am nothing, you are nothing, and even John the Apostle is nothing. So what can we do? How do we respond to the Word? Just as John says, we respond: we hear it, see it, look at it, and touch it. In other words, we study and consider the Word, both in the person of Jesus and in the pages of the Bible.

For Three Sins–Amos 1:1-15

Originally posted on Saturday, September 4, 2004

Alyson is home from college for Labor Day weekend. While she’s in town, she decided to get some homework done, a decision I heartily endorse. Her mission this time is to interview someone of a different faith. She chose her grandmother, a member of the Community of Christ (aka RLDS). Although I didn’t witness this interview, I had it related to me in considerable detail by both Aly and Penny, who witnessed it but was forbidden to speak. They’d have had to stick a cork in my mouth to keep me quiet, I’m afraid. Apparently, the conversation went something like this:

Alyson: Who do you believe will go to heaven?

Grandma: I believe that everybody will go to heaven. Except murderers. I mean, if the murderers confess their murder and change their lives, then they will go to heaven, too.

Alyson: So you’re sure that you’re going to heaven.

Grandma: Well, you can’t be sure until you die. You have to do the best that you can and hope that it’s enough. [I know this sounds like the guy in the FAITH video series, but that’s what she said.]

Alyson: But I thought that you said that everybody would go to heaven.

Grandma: Yes, everybody will eventually go to heaven. First, they’ll go to a holding place where they’ll have the chance to learn about God and choose for him.

Alyson: And will they be able to choose against him?

Grandma: Yes, of course, because otherwise they wouldn’t have free will.

Alyson: So what will happen to the people who choose for God?
Grandma: They’ll go to heaven, of course.

Alyson: And the ones who choose against him?

Grandma: I don’t think they will choose against him, because everybody’s going to go to heaven.

Alyson: Why do you think that’s so?

Grandma: Because God loves us and he wouldn’t let any of us go to hell!

Wrong! If I’d have been there I’d have been yelling “wrong” at that point. Yes, God loves us, but that doesn’t mean that God will just ignore our sins. How do I know this? If we haven’t figured it out by reading Hosea and Joel, then maybe we can find it from Amos. Sandwiched in history between Joel’s day and that of Hosea, Amos brought a sharp word of warning to the nations around Israel.

“For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” Time after time, Amos speaks for God predicting the doom of the various nations surrounding Israel. Why were they doomed? For three sins, even for four. He doesn’t name their sins, but presumably they know about them.

Whoever taught my mother-in-law that sin doesn’t really matter did her a grave disservice. Yes, God loves us, and yes, he gives us every opportunity to escape the penalties of our sins, but God will punish sin in the end.

This lady’s theology is confused to a dangerous degree. But we have no excuse to live in that sort of confusion. Those who trivialize sin do so at their own peril and sometimes at the peril of others.