1 July 2022
Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:8).

Not new, and yet new all the same. How can this be? What’s the author of First John playing at?

The commandment isn’t new because it’s the work of an almighty and everlasting God. It is new because that same God has been definitively revealed in Jesus Christ.

The commandment isn’t new because God has always been at work in human history and in the human heart. It is new because the way in which God is calling us to participate in that work has changed.

The commandment isn’t new because God has always been a light shining against the darkness of our world. It is new because Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have made it clear that darkness is living on borrowed time.

Evil was never going to win, but in Christ, it has already lost. The best it can do is keep up appearances.

Thank you, O God, for commandments both old and new. May we live in the assurance that darkness doesn’t rule this world, so that we may also prevent it from ruling our hearts. Amen.

2 July 2022
Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister abides in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling (1 John 2:9-10).

What does hate look like?

If you’re anything like me, when you hear or read the word “hate,” your mind conjures up scenes filled with high drama and blatant hostility: menacing people with flushed faces screaming invective at their unfortunate targets, making what Merriam-Webster cooly calls their “passionate dislike” known to all the world.

Hate can, and does, look like that. But we mustn’t make the mistake of supposing that it only ever looks like that. If we do, hate becomes something that other people do, an act so singular and grotesque that it becomes almost incomprehensible to the rest of us.

The truth is that we’ve all been poisoned by hatefulness, and doled that poison out to others, and too often–as the author of First John rightly points out–we reserve the worst of it for the people we care about the most. We allow hurt feelings to fester in the dark corners of our souls, surfacing in tiny acts of spite that betray something much larger.

We may convince ourselves that it’s tolerable. We may convince ourselves that it’s enjoyable. But it’s not the way of the light.

Help us, O God, to see darkness for what it is, and to live in the light. Amen.

Thomas Away 3-12 July

5 July 2022

Pastor Thomas, Jesse Lee’s devotion scribe, is in Appalachia working with 160 other volunteers this week to make homes warmer, safer and drier. We also have crews working on the same goal locally. While he is away, we will offer prayers for blessing for all.
Today, a reminder that, “…we are all God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

6 July 2022

Sending love and light to all the ASP volunteers working hard in Appalachia and close to home to make homes warmer, safer and drier.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Colossians 3:23-24

7 July 2022
Thank you to all the ASP volunteers working hard in Appalachia and close to home. The work you do to make homes warmer, safer and drier is a beautiful example of the power of love. God bless you and the people you are serving and the faith that brings you all together.
“Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:8

8 July 2022

Thank you ASPers, in Appalachia and close to home! Bless you and the people you serve. Let God’s beautiful love shine forth in your work.
“…perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” Psalm 50:2

9 July 2022

“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;” Psalm 91:11

10 July 2022

“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands…the Lord your god has been with you and you have not lacked anything.” Deuteronomy 2:7

11 July 2022

“The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24

12 July 2022

Whether things are going along swimmingly, or if you’re in a rough patch, remember God has plans for you. Stay close to Him…pray (talk) to him. He is always with you. You will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

13 July 2022
But whoever hates a brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness (1 John 2:11).

There’s a moment in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams that has stuck with me since the first time I saw it. The film tells the story of a man named Ray who builds a baseball field on his Iowa farm at the request of a mysterious voice.

To Ray’s astonishment, long dead major-league players begin emerging from the corn to play their beloved game once again. But while Ray and his family can sit along the baselines in rapt attention as icons like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte show them how it’s done, other characters in the film aren’t so lucky.

“You can’t see them, can you?” Ray asks his brother-in-law, Mark. Mark stares back in silent confusion. What’s there to see?

The “blindness” that the author of First John is writing about is a bit like Mark’s blindness: partly chosen, partly imposed. Their account of how darkness falls upon the human soul further complicates the simplistic understanding of “hate” that we explored two weeks ago. To hate in the long run isn’t just to reject love, but to become blind to the reality of love, to not see what’s plainly there.

Remind us, O Lord, that when it comes to love, there’s always something more for us to see. Amen.

14 July 2022
Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world, for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:15-16).

What does detachment from “the world” look like? Are we all meant to cut ties with the world around us and devote ourselves to God through individualized prayer and spiritual disciplines alone, as some in the early Church believed? Is the Christian faith, at its core, about escaping from the world to grow closer to God?

I don’t think so, and I don’t think that the author of First John does, either. Remember: we’ve spent all of chapter two up to this point being admonished to love one another, and we can’t very well do that while also trying to escape the world around us.

What the author of First John is getting at here is the importance of loving the world not for its own sake, but for God’s sake. When we love the “things of this world” only for what they can do for us, those things can easily become vices, but when we love them as creations of almighty God, we’re loving the world well, and spreading God’s love within it.

Help us, O God, to love you above all things, and to love all things through you. Amen.

15 July 2022
And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God abide forever (1 John 2:17).

Endings can be tough.

This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in Jesse Lee’s annual Appalachia Service Project home repair ministry. For five days–with two days of travel on both ends–I, along with 60 youth and adult volunteers, helped make some homes in Floyd County, Kentucky, warmer, safer, and drier.

I also fell through the floor, but that’s another story.

I miss it already. It makes me wish that some things didn’t end, but the truth of the matter is that all things do–almost. As the author of First John points out here, everything in the world has an expiration date. Only God is eternal.

And yet that’s not the end of the story, because God isn’t interested in hoarding eternal and abundant life for God’s self. We’re all invited to share in God’s eternity, and to work for the coming of a Kingdom that never ends, even if the work to which we’re called changed from time to time.

ASP may be over–for now–but our lives in God aren’t.

Help us, O God, to ground our love for all which is passing away in your eternal love, so that temporary things may yet contain a glimmer of your blessed permanence. Amen.

16 July 2022
I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth (1 John 2:21).

When I was in college, I had a professor who seemed intent upon finding every last flaw in the papers I wrote for his class. Graded copies would come back to me practically dripping with red ink, and as I read through his comments, it was hard not to feel like I’d screwed up.

Then, one day, there was a note on the last page of one of my papers–just above the grade, which was a higher one than I’d ever gotten before. “I nitpick,” the note read, “because that’s what you need right now. You’re good. You can get better.”

When I read verses like the one above, I often think back to that professor. For the early Christians to whom First John and the other Pastoral Epistles were addressed, it must’ve occasionally been discouraging to receive letters from revered, far-flung siblings in Christ, only for those letters to be filled with rules, difficult truths, and admonitions to do better.

And yet, as the author of First John makes clear, the letters aren’t meant to be punishments–quite the reverse, in fact. They’re invitations: addressed to those who’ve already grown in the knowledge and love of God, inviting them–inviting us–to grow further still.

Help us, O God, never to stop growing in the knowledge of your truth. Amen.

17 July 2022
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:24).

One of my favorite prayers comes courtesy of a man named Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid-16th century, and one of the chief architects of the English Reformation. He wrote quite a few prayers, including this prayer for the reading of Scripture:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

“Inwardly digest.” There’s a phrase you don’t hear every day. But it gets at what the author of First John means when they exhort readers to let God’s word “abide” in them, in us. When we digest something, we absorb it into ourselves. It becomes a part of us. It helps us to live.

God’s Word can do the same, if we allow it to live in us.

After all, you are what you eat.

18 July 2022
And this is what he has promised us, eternal life (1 John 2:25).

Yesterday’s devotion about making God’s Word a part of who we are might’ve left you wondering, “yes, but what does that look like? What does it really mean to have “inwardly digested” God’s Word? What’s the effect of such an act?”

The author of First John is glad you asked. They follow right up with the answer: eternal life.

That tracks in light of the last few verses we’ve looked at. The letter was just covering the topic of God’s eternal nature, contrasting it with the impermanence of the world. Each of us is defined by that same impermanence, and yet, this chapter argues, when we invite God’s Word to abide in us, we’re letting something permanent into our system, and not only that: we’re opening ourselves up to be transformed so that we, too, might share in God’s permanence.

Eternity is only the half of it, though. To stand on God’s promise of eternal life is to live as God would have us to live, to love even the impermanent things of this world as reflections of a God who’s drawing all things into God’s self, into a Kingdom that has no end.

Help us, O God, to live as people who share in your eternal and perfect love. Amen.

19 July 2022
As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him (1 John 2:27).

Does it ever happen to you that, when reading Scripture, you come across a paragraph, phrase, or even a single word that doesn’t make sense to you? You try to compartmentalize it and keep reading, but find that you’re hopelessly stuck on the problem passage no matter what you do.

That happened to me with this verse, and my problem was with the author of First John’s assertion that the early Christians to whom they’re writing “do not need anyone to teach them.” As a lifelong lover of learning whose most revered mentors have almost all been teachers, the idea that anyone can ever grow beyond the need for teaching is bound to raise my hackles. When you stop learning you die, I say!

The thing to remember here, though, is that this epistle is addressed to a church with a contingent of folks who see no problem with worshiping a God of light and love while simultaneously allowing darkness and hate to rule unchecked in their hearts. That’s an unneeded teaching if ever there was one.

Teach us, O God, to abide only in your love, so that we may learn your ways. Amen.

20 July 2022
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

In the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, prickly paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant is forced to conduct two young children, Lex and Tim, across an island full of ravenous dinosaurs to safety. The kids are terrified–of the dinosaurs, and of adults like Grant, many of whom have been quick to abandon them in the past.

“He left us,” a quivering Lex says to Grant, referring to one such adult. Grant responds by looking her straight in the eye and saying firmly: “but that’s not what I’m gonna do.”

It’s one of my all-time favorite movie moments because it strikes at the heart of what we all need most of all–from God and from one another. Grant responds to Lex’s fear with an act of commitment: he won’t abandon her or her brother for convenience’s sake. No matter what happens, he’s with them.

Like Lex, Tim, and Dr. Grant, we don’t know what awaits us on the journey ahead. Our future “has not yet been revealed.” What we do know is that God, our loving parent, will be with us no matter what happens.

Thank you, O God, for your commitment to be with us. Help us to commit to you, and to all of your children. Amen.

21 July 2022
And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:3).

I love a Bible verse that invites me to question whether I really know what a word means.

This verse has done just that for the word “pure.” The concept of purity, in my experience, often denotes exclusivity.

Sometimes, it’s positive exclusivity, like when a label boasts that the bottle to which it’s affixed contains only “pure drinking water,” or when we celebrate a person’s innocence and kindness by declaring them “too pure for this world.”

Sometimes, it’s negative exclusivity, like when folks are forced to remain outside of certain groups and organizations in the name of maintaining “purity” within, or when exclusion, division, and destruction are justified by the instance that “purity” of some sort must be restored.

Either way, the presumption here is that purification begins with the act of exclusion. First John’s account of purification, though, doesn’t begin there. It begins with hope: hope that God will transform each of us–and indeed all of creation–by God’s grace, power, and love.

The next time you think about purity, I invite you to begin with hope, too. I’m willing to bet that’ll take you much farther discerning God’s call upon your life than starting with what–or who–we ought to leave out.

Help us, O Lord, to pursue the purity to which you call us, the purity that calls us first to hope. Amen.

22 July 2022
You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5).

Does this verse sound familiar? Its construction recalls a verse we came across earlier in First John. Chapter one, verse five, to be exact: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”

Today’s verse contains a similar phrase, only now the “darkness” has another name: “sin.” The impulse to put aside love of God and one another in favor of self-interest and hatred is no longer being talked about metaphorically. “Light” and “darkness” are age-old literary stand-ins for “good” and “bad,” so it makes sense that the author of First John would start there, explaining God’s absolute goodness in terms that would resonate with most anyone.

Now, however, the nature of God’s goodness is given a more concrete definition. It means, among other things, the absence of the inclination toward sin with which the rest of creation must contend. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is good, and only good, which is what makes Christ just the man for the job when it comes to releasing sin’s hold on creation.

The question that First John will be wrestling with for the next little bit is this: what does it look like when we begin to reclaim God’s goodness in our own hearts?

You, O Lord, don’t hoard your goodness, but offer it to us. Give us the courage to accept it. Amen.

23 July 2022
No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him (1 John 3:6).

After you were baptized, I’ll bet no one approached you and said something like “Congratulations! Now you’ll never sin again.” It’s understood–or should be, at any rate–that professing Christians sin as surely everybody else. We don’t pray a prayer of confession together on Sunday mornings just to hear ourselves talk, after all. We trust God with our mistakes on the presumption that we’ve made some.

At first glance, that can make a verse like this–and many of the verses that follow here in First John, chapter three–a bit of a head-scratcher. It seems to be saying that to know God is to be free of sin, full stop, which seems to me to be an invitation into a tailspin of self-doubt:

“I think I know God, but I sin, so do I really?”

“If I can’t know God until I no longer sin, will I ever get to know God?”

The truth is a bit more complex. God’s grace abounds to such a degree that we can know God even though we continue to be dogged by sin, but the force of today’s verse reminds us that when grace is responsibly received, it doesn’t just compensate for our shortcomings. It transforms and perfects them, too.

Help us, O Lord, to abide in you, so that our sin may decrease and your love may increase. Amen.

24 July 2022
Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as [Christ] is righteous (1 John 3:7).

Here again, we come upon a verse which at first seems too simplistic for its own good. The author of First John appears to be telling us that we can tell whether a person is righteous or not by looking at their deeds. If they’re doing “what is right,” it’s a pretty sure bet that they’re righteous by nature.

The obvious counterargument is that there are plenty of folks who do the right thing for the “wrong” reasons: wind up doing good essentially by accident, enjoy being seen doing good more than the act itself, or do good to distract from the bad they do with far greater joy. If this is the system by which we’re expected to discern somebody’s righteousness or lack thereof, it’s a hopelessly easy one to beat.

Look at the verse again, though. Doing “what is right” might seem like a low bar to clear, but being “righteous just as [Christ] is righteous” is a very high bar indeed. Christ does good on purpose, often invisibly, and–as we talked about yesterday–has no sin from which he needs to distract others. None of us possess Christ’s perfect righteousness, of course, but if we pursue it with any kind of effort, we might just be that easy to spot.

Help us, O God, to show your righteousness through our deeds. Amen.

25 July 2022
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 John 3:11-12).

Here, the author of First John returns to one of the epistle’s dominant themes: that living as children of God entails loving one another. This time, though, they define such love by contrasting it with an example of hatred: the story of Cain, son of Adam and Eve, who murders his brother Abel out of jealousy.

At first glance, the choice of that story out of all Bible stories might seem overly dramatic. Surely the gulf between the love to which God calls us and the hatred required to murder one’s own brother in cold blood is a wide one, with many gradations of feeling inbetween. Why, then, does First John deal in such extremes?

Partly to dispel the notion that hatred is a feeling known to only a select group of particularly depraved people. Cain’s act was certainly heinous, but the hatred that motivated him had its beginnings in the same petty resentments that fuel countless sibling rivalries, resentments which were then allowed to fester. First John is reminding us that it’s important to choose love even–or especially–when the stakes seem low.

Help us, O God, to choose love, even when it doesn’t seem important. Amen.

26 July 2022
Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brothers and sisters. Whoever does not love abides in death (1 John 3:13-14).

Here again, we see the author of First John dealing in extremes. “Whoever does not love abides in death.” Well, they’re certainly on the wrong track, that’s for sure, but love or death? Why must the choice be such a stark one?

In 1651, an English cleric named Jeremy Taylor published a book called The Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying. If that title conjures up images of deathbed conversions and pious last words in your mind as it first did in mine, then you–like me–are in for a surprise.

Very little of Taylor’s book is about dying as we tend to think about it. Most of it is about living, or what we’re often content to call “living,” and that’s exactly Taylor’s point.

To use First John’s words, a person may “abide in death” while walking, talking, and giving every outward evidence of living. To live without loving God and neighbor is to inhabit what Taylor calls a “walking death,” which can begin long before our bodies start to fail us.

To “abide in death” doesn’t mean getting smote by divine lightning where we stand. It means going through life without experiencing what it means to truly live.

Help us, O God, by your grace, to live. Amen.

27 July 2022
All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters (1 John 3:15-16).

With these verses, the author of First John ties together the two ideas we’ve been exploring for the past couple of days: the importance of always abiding in the love of God and the corrosive, deadening effect of hatred.

Verse 15 sets this up by revisiting verse 11’s example of Cain and Abel, reiterating the conviction that there’s no prudent middle ground between love and hatred. It’s either-or. We must choose.

Then comes verse 16 with the big pay-off. There’s another reason why First John uses a story of murder to unpack the difference between hatred and love. The opposite of taking another’s life for one’s own sake is giving up one’s life for the sake of others, which brings us back to the cross.

For the author of First John, Jesus’s act of loving self-sacrifice stands as God’s answer to every act of hatred that we humans have ever meted out. Above the din of souls jockeying for temporary security at others’ expense, the crucified and risen Christ proclaims: “I am the way.”

Help us, O God, to love others as you love us, by the grace and power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

28 July 2022
Little children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything (1 John 3:18-20).

This is neither the first time nor the last time that the author of First John will insist that true love–the love of God abiding in each of us–consists of more than words alone. These verses are special, though, because they go right to the heart of why words aren’t enough, and what more is required.

Why words aren’t enough we’ve already seen. First John’s many warnings about folks who claim to love God but don’t love their neighbor remind us–as if we needed reminding–that we can say one thing and then do just the opposite. Words can mislead; we all know that.

With that in mind, First John identifies two other ways in which we’re called to express the love of God. First, we’re called to love “in deed,” to make sure that what we do and what we say match up, which sounds easy enough until the next time we’d find it convenient to keep them separate.

Second, we’re called to love “in truth,” which requires a post all its own. Stay tuned.

What you say, O Lord, you also do. Help us to be like you. Amen.

29 July 2022
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God, and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 21-22).

Now, where was I? Ah yes: loving “in truth.” What on earth is that about? The notion of loving in “word and deed,” though difficult to live out, is easy enough to grasp. But what does it mean to love “in truth?”

“What is truth?” Pontious Pilate famously asked Jesus before condemning him to death. Jesus said nothing in reply, which at first seems maddeningly unhelpful to anybody who might be asking the same question. Remember First John’s point here, though, about love being more than words. Truth is, too. Pilate didn’t realize that, which is why he didn’t pick up on what Jesus’s silence really meant.

Jesus, in fact, had replied to Pilate’s question long before he asked it–indeed, before the foundation of the world. Jesus is the reply. The truth is a person, who by his life, death, and resurrection, has both revealed to us the depth of God’s love and empowered us to love God, ourselves, and others ever more fully.

This, finally, is what it means to love in truth: to know where our strength to love comes from and to know that it’ll never run out.

Help us, O God, to share your love with boldness, confident in the truth that there’s plenty to go around. Amen.

30 July 2022
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us (1 John 3:23-24).

At the close of this chapter, the author of First John reiterates that God commands us to love one another, and that to do so fully–in word, deed, and truth–is to “abide in God,” to live as citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom here on earth.

Then, the twist: not only do we abide in God, First John argues, but God abides in us. How, exactly? “By the Spirit that he has given to us.”

Ah, the Holy Spirit. The most chronically underrated Person of the Holy Trinity. Barely mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed, nowhere near as popular the object of our prayers as God the Father or God the Son, overlooked on most Sundays that aren’t Pentecost.

The Spirit almost goes unmentioned in this chapter, too, but the author of First John knows better. They know it’s by God’s Holy Spirit that we overcome our inclination to hate and instead love one another with the love of God, a love which is poured into our hearts by that same Spirit.

May your Spirit, O God, live in each of us, so that we may live in you. Amen.

31 July 2022
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

Have you ever encountered somebody who claimed to be saying or doing something on God’s instructions, took one look at what that “something” was, and thought “I doubt it.”

False prophets driven by spirits who’re anything but Holy are nothing new, but distinguishing God’s Word from those of pretenders isn’t as easy as we often suppose. Oily televangelists, end-of-days cult leaders, and opportunistic politicians are easy to spot–most of the time.

Not every unholy spirit has a mustache-twirling cable news villain for a spokesman, though. In fact, most of the spirits the author of First John is talking about are ones that we seldom, if ever, think to test, and therein lies the challenge.

Over the next couple of days, we’ll be unpacking what the author of First John is talking about when they implore us to “test the spirits,” but the first and in some ways most important step, laid out in today’s verse, is to think twice, even–or especially–when we’re inclined to presume we don’t need to.

It’s the thinking twice that allows the testing to begin.

Help us, O God, to continually ask how we can do your will more perfectly, so that your Spirit may be revealed through us. Amen.