Getting By (With a Little Help)

Walking together
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

1 John 4:1-6

Friends, don’t believe just anyone. Check to see if they follow God. There are lots of imposters. You’ll know the ones who follow God because those who follow God know that Jesus was human. Anyone who denies Jesus was human isn’t from God. In fact, that’s the indication that they’re totally against God. You’ve heard about these people. Now here they are.

Kids, you are God’s, so you’ve already won. They’ve lost. Jesus in you is greater than their worldly machinations. While what they say appeals to unenlightened folk, and they get lots of people listening to them, people who know God will listen to us. We’re God’s. We can’t expect people with no interest in God to care what we say. It’s the difference between being bent toward truth or falsehood.

It can be immensely frustrating to be working hard at something you really believe in, only to have it seem to go nowhere. That frustration is even more intense, when you see someone else, a competitor, enjoying what looks like tremendous success.

  • An “Old First” church struggles along downtown barely keeping its doors open week by week looks enviously at the booming success of the newly built suburban church with hundreds of people.
  • A little human service agency with two people sitting in secondhand office chairs in their closet-sized office on the third floor looks enviously on the international non-profit conglomerate with it’s own 3-acre retreat center, complete with a duck pond.
  • A start-up businesswoman on a mission who finds herself suddenly in a head-to-head competition with WalMart.
  • A divorced woman with three kids wondering where the next rent payment is going to come from while her ex-husband is on a cruise to the Bahamas with his new girlfriend.

In each of these cases – and in your case, too – the stakes are high. The frustration and pain is real. John says that, contrary to appearances, the underdogs win.

In the meanwhile, though, until the real results of your life’s work are announced, two things:

  1. “People who know God will listen to us.” Find those people. Get with those people. They are your lifelines. And,
  2. Remember that your mission is your mission. What “they” are following (if they’re following anything) doesn’t add or take away anything from what you’re called to do. You’re “from God.” They’re doing something else. You’re not competing with that other church, that other organization, that other company, or even that other person. Your primary competitor is you. If you can do better today than you did yesterday, you win. Every day you can hang on is a day that you win.

Don’t believe just anyone. Believe in you.

Do Love

outstretched hand
Photo credit: <a href="">Jeff Kubina</a>

1 John 3:18-24

Kids, love doesn’t happen by just talking about it. Love happens when we do it. Whenever we’re in doubt we can know, and God knows, that our hearts are in the right place by doing love. God is more than just what our hearts tell us. When we do God’s work, we receive whatever we need, just for the asking, so do God’s work and ask boldly. And this is God’s work, that we embody Jesus and love one another. This is what God wants, and all who take on this work are with God, and have God’s spirit.

It’s possible to spend a lot of time second-guessing what’s the right thing. John says we don’t have to guess. The right thing, according to John, is always the loving thing. Out of all the possibilities available in any given moment, one will be – without fail (“we receive whatever we need”) – the most loving one.

Let’s be clear. The most loving action is not always the easiest. Nor is it the thing we wish we could do, but can’t. (It may seem to be really loving to try to solve someone else’s dilemma for them, but I can’t do what someone else must, nor is it probably the most loving thing of me to do what they must do themselves.) Love is always an option that is available, right here, right now.

Let’s also be clear about this, because John is. Loving isn’t just wishing well for someone else, or saying “I’ll pray for you.” Someone who is hungry can’t eat your prayers. Let your prayer and love be giving them something to eat. What St. Francis said about preaching goes for praying and for loving too. Do it at all times, and when necessary, use words.


Give to Live

Man sitting in sunlight
Photo credit: <a href="">maewe</a>

1 John 3:11-17

From the beginning, the message you heard was to love each other. Don’t be like Cain who murdered his brother. He was from the devil. Why did he kill his brother? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were good.

Don’t be surprised if the world hates you, friends. We know we’ve come alive from the dead because we love each other. Those who don’t love are the living dead. Those who hate their siblings are murderers, and murderers won’t live forever.

Here’s how we know what love is: he sacrificed his life for us. We likewise need to sacrifice our lives for each other. When someone has the wherewithal and yet refuses to help a friend in need, tell me where’s God’s love in that?

What we’re talking about here is envy and sacrifice. Envy is the kind of hatred that is evoked when you don’t have what someone else does. It’s the opposite of sacrifice, the kind of love that is expressed in giving away what you have to fill another’s need.

The first transaction leads from life to death. The second leads from death to life. Yet another paradox. The more of life you give away the more you have, while the more of life you take the more you die.

And its not just for religious individuals. The same is true of businesses, even nations. The more generous they are, and the more magnanimous, the more they thrive. The more demanding and self-centered, the more they wither. Consider the difference, for example, between:

  • Southwest and US Airways
  • Finland and South Korea

It probably even works that way for churches.


The Theological Duck Test

Image via <a href="">Wikipedia</a>

1 John 3:7-10

Kids, don’t let anyone fool you. People who practice doing right the way Jesus did right are righteous. People who do wrong are the devil’s children. The devil has been doing wrong from the beginning, but the child of God appeared to put the devil out of business. People who are God’s children don’t do wrong, because God’s nature is their nature. They can’t do wrong because they’re Gods children. So you can tell the children of God from the children of the devil, because if they’re not doing right, and if they don’t love their siblings, they’re not God’s.

This is the theological duck test.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

For all the theological wrangling over propositions and faith statements and right belief, the crux of the matter comes down to whether someone is in the habit of doing right or not. If they’re righteous, then there is something of God in them. If they’re bent toward wrong, then it makes no difference what they say they believe in.

“But how does one know what is right and wrong?” you ask. John’s letter doesn’t pretend to lay out a system of ethics. John doesn’t go into much detail or lay out lots of rules. There’s just one clue. You can tell someone’s doing right by how they treat their siblings. Siblings broadly understood. Brothers and sisters of the human race. Is it loving? If so, it’s right.

Beyond that, the terms to describe love are left for you to work out. But there’s another test for that: the elephant test.

It is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it.