In case you missed the June devotions Pastor Thomas posted on Facebook and Instagram through June, we have collected them here for you.
1 June 2022
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
“A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theater…”
So begins one of comedy’s oldest, most reliable set-ups. This morning, I’d like for us to zero in on “to me.” Certainly, comedians can–and do–tell jokes and funny stories about things that have happened to other people. Their best material, though, tends to be what hits closest to home: jokes and stories about things that have happened to them.
Why should their personal involvement make a difference? To my mind, it’s what makes the joke or story more than just a joke or story. It becomes an account, an account of an experience that somebody actually had. When we tell or hear a story of which the storyteller can say, “it happened to me…,” it has the sound of authenticity. It rings true.
The author of Second Peter makes this point about being an “eyewitness” to the majesty of Christ for the same reason. To talk about the God revealed in Jesus Christ as somebody that the author encountered is to insist that the Gospel isn’t just a story we hear. It is also something that happens to us.
Help us, O Lord, to open our hearts to you, so that we may be first-hand witnesses to your love. Amen.
2 June 2022
For [Christ] received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:17-18)
My high school choir director understood the difference that a public setting makes. Public acts, he’d say only half-jokingly, happen “in front of God and everybody.”
In these two verses, the author of Second Peter quotes the Gospel of Matthew, chapter three, verse 17, which recounts the climactic moment of Jesus’s baptism. John the Baptist, the one doing the baptizing, knew who Jesus was, but as far as anyone else gathered along the banks of the Jordan River was concerned, the man being plunged into the water was nothing more than a carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
All of that changed, though, the moment he reemerged. The heavens were rent asunder, the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove”–there was no way to describe it except by analogy–and the voice of God made it absolutely clear to all within earshot exactly who this Jesus fellow was.
It was one of the defining moments of the Christian faith, and it happened “in front of God and everybody.” Thank God.
Help us, O God, to follow you, even when all eyes are upon us, so that others may see you at work in us. Amen.
3 June 2022
No prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).
On the surface, this verse from the Second Epistle of Peter seems like an easy, straightforward teaching: only God can reveal God’s self and God’s purposes. The moral of the story: don’t go around talking about a god that you made up all by yourself.
Linger on these instructions any longer, though, and they become far less straightforward. The fact of the matter is that all manner of people claim to be prophets. Some clearly aren’t, but even those who might seem to be the genuine article can’t help but convey God’s word imperfectly. We’re only human, after all.
So, what are we to do? How are we to tell the true prophets from the false prophets? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer–surprise, surprise–but I’ve found the following principle to hold true in most cases: false prophets are usually only too eager to foist their supposed divine ruminations upon the world, while true prophets would usually rather do anything else.
True prophecy isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t rack up social media followers or get you booked on cable news shows. It’s God’s word, delivered–often reluctantly–in hopes that somebody will listen.
Help us, O God, to listen for–and to speak–your words. Amen.
4 June 2022
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions…many will follow their debaucheries, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned (2 Peter 2:1-2).
Prophesy, which we started talking about yesterday, looms large in this chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter.
Writing to a burgeoning Christian community that’s too far away to reach regularly except by letter, the author is concerned that these isolated newbies will be taken advantage of by charismatic “false teachers” with wonky theologies, destructive teachings, and selfish motives.
The trouble is that there are lots of knock-off gospels that really sell. “Many will follow” because many will like what they’re hearing, often despite themselves. False gospels are loaded with shortcuts, quick fixes, and fulsome promises of security, things that can be rationalized with the greatest of ease. Shortcuts are clever. Quick fixes are efficient. Security is prudent. Why bother with what John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, called “the more excellent way?”
Unlike yesterday, I do have a definitive answer to that question: because for all its lack of cleverness, efficiency, and material guarantees, the true Gospel does something that the false gospels don’t: it calls us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbor, which is what we are made to do.
Create in us, O God, a desire for what’s true, a desire for you. Amen.
5 June 2022
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial and to keep the unrighteous until the day of judgment, when they will be punished—especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:9-10).
I quite like the collection of epistles that make up the back half of the New Testament, but some of their teachings can land us in all kinds of trouble if not handled responsibly.
This verse, for instance. Its vivid description of what makes somebody unrighteous–“depraved lust” and contempt for “authority” has been used to buttress all manner of flimsy theology over the years:
A fixation upon sexual “purity” that ignores Jesus’s words to the woman who’d been caught in adultery and the crowd intent upon killing her: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her;” “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Perhaps integrity is more important than purity.
An equation of power with justice–might makes right–that ignores Jesus’s words to Pontius Pilate, the government official who’d shortly have him executed, though he’d committed no crime: “My Kingdom does not belong to this world…Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Perhaps faithfulness is more important than obedience.
There’s always more going on. There’s always more to discover. That’s the challenge–and the delight–of Scripture.
Help us, O God, in our pursuit of your Holy Word. Amen.
[No Devotions June 6th-9th]
10 June 2022
[False prophets and their followers] slander what they do not understand, and as [irrational animals] are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, suffering the wages of doing wrong (2 Peter 2:12-13).
Here we have another example of a Bible verse whose wisdom we might miss if we don’t check our presumptions at the door. It describes the fate of “false prophets” and those who follow them, and it sounds very portentous indeed, but who will be doing the destroying? Who will be inflicting the suffering?
It’s easy to presume that the “who” is God, and earlier in the chapter the author of Second Peter writes that God does indeed exercise a final judgment over all people. It’s all too apparent, though, that we humans don’t need God to inflict suffering and bring about destruction. We can handle that just fine on our own.
But it’s not supposed to be that way, and that’s why those who inflict suffering upon others–who keep them from flourishing as they ought–are bound for destruction. We’ve been created to love God and, in turn, to love others as God loves us; when we do the opposite, the very fabric of our being is rent asunder. With every step we take to try and destroy others, we’re also destroying ourselves.
Help us, O god, to trade in the wages of doing right, so that others may know your love. Amen.
11 June 2022
[False prophets and their followers] have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness (2 Peter 2:15-16).
I love a good callback. When I’m making my way through a book series or a TV show and I pick up on a sly reference to something that happened many novels or episodes ago, it’s incredibly satisfying. It feels like the author is rewarding me for paying attention.
In this verse, the author of First Peter gives us one heck of a callback: to a story from the Old Testament book of Numbers that involves the Israelites, a King of Moab, an angel of the Lord, and–of all things–a talking donkey.
Why should that story get a callback here? Because it’s about a false prophet: Balaam, who at the very outset of the story shows his true colors by abusing his donkey, who God then endows with the power of speech so that Balaam’s rebuke can come–almost literally–from the horse’s mouth.
It’s a comical story with a serious message: God is in the business of giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, and we should be, too.
Help us, O God, to seek out the voices that we don’t hear, and to listen. Amen.
12 June 2022
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, for people are slaves to whatever masters them (2 Peter 2:19).
As you’ve likely picked up on by now, the Second Epistle of Peter is largely about making distinctions: between true and false, good and bad, right and wrong; between authentic, Gospel-centric faith and its many dime-store knockoffs.
Here, we come upon another important distinction: between real freedom and slavery that mascarades as freedom. What’s the difference? Answering that question is easier said than done, especially if freedom can be so easily faked–and it can.
Second Peter suggests that one way to tell pretend freedom from the genuine article is by asking what we’re being freed to do. Pretend freedom is merely an insulator, a freedom from, which allows us to go about doing what we will regardless of whether it is right or wrong, regardless of who it hurts.
Authentic freedom, Gospel freedom, isn’t that. Instead, it’s a freedom for, a freedom that allows us to move beyond self-defeating acts of idolatry and vainglory and flourish as beloved children of God; and, just as importantly, to do so in ways that help others to flourish, too. Authentic freedom isn’t an insulator; it’s a newly opened doorway into a larger, more hopeful vision of ourselves and the world around us.
Free us, O God, to love you, to love ourselves, and to love others, so that all may flourish as you intend. Amen.
13 June 2022
It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was handed on to them (2 Peter 2:21).
I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of messing up, then instantly realizing not only that you’ve messed up in the first place, but also why you messed up and how you could’ve prevented it by acting differently. In other words, you know exactly what went wrong and what you ought to have done, only now it’s too late. Frustrating, no?
That, I suppose, is the price of knowing ourselves. We don’t help anyone–including ourselves–if we carry on in blissful ignorance of our faults, but once we’ve opened that can of worms, it can often feel like life has become one giant, endless game of “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.”
And yet, there is still a way in which, paradoxically, our frustration with ourselves can provide fertile ground for hope. We may feel like Charlie Brown, trying to kick that football over and over again, but the truth is that if we carry on pursuing a closer relationship with God, those moments of frustration will help us to learn and grow, even if the progress is often too incremental for us to see.
Help us, O God, to know ourselves better, so that even our most maddening faults and neuroses might be transformed by the grace and power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
14 June 2022
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2).
Even if you’ve never uttered the phrase “How many times do I have to tell you…?,” I’m willing to bet you’ve felt the exasperation which lies behind that phrase.
Annoyance about matters that remain stubbornly unsettled despite our best efforts is a familiar feeling. Sometimes, it’s the repeated slip-ups of others that bother us most. Sometimes, it’s the unwanted patterns we observe within ourselves. Either way, our frustration comes from our sense that a lesson, once learned, ought to stay that way.
We know better, of course, and so does the author of Second Peter. They know that when it comes to altering the patterns of our lives in any meaningful way–something the Gospel routinely asks us to do–the answer to the question “How many times do I have to tell you…?” is “As many times as it takes.”
In these two verses, the author is reminding their readers that there’s nothing in this letter that they haven’t heard before; still, they–like us–could probably stand to hear it again.
Fill our hearts anew with your Spirit, Lord God, so that we may remember your call upon our lives. Amen.
15 June 2022
First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation (2 Peter 3:3-4)!”
“All things continue as they were.” When said in a certain tone of voice, it can be as damning a phrase as any other.
“Things need changin’ everywhere ya go,” observed Johnny Cash in his poignant protest song, “The Man in Black,” and it can be demoralizing to think how that lyric, which was written in 1971, could be truthfully applied to any year before or since.
As Christians, we believe in a God who’s making all things new, who has redeemed creation and is reconciling all things unto God’s self. As a result, the charge that nothing has, in fact, changed for the better–whether we hear it from a “scoffer” or feel it well up within our own hearts–stings.
And yet, one need only look beyond the most dire, attention-grabbing headlines to see that that isn’t true. The truth is more nuanced: much has changed for the better, and there’s still much to be done. The response to such a truth is neither resigned defeatism nor passive optimism, but an active, hopeful, Spirit-led participation.
Help us, O God, to take part in the transformative change which you are bringing about, so that we, too, may be transformed. Amen.
16 June 2022
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Here, the author of Second Peter gives their answer to the “scoffers” mentioned in yesterday’s verse, and their charge that the promise of Christ’s coming is an empty one–that if God was truly redeeming the world, the work would’ve been done by now.
First, the author paraphrases Psalm 90 (“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is passed…) to remind us that God isn’t bound by time as we are. It makes no sense to say that something is taking God too long because God doesn’t need time to do anything. If God’s taking time to do something, it’s because God wants to.
If that’s the case, though, then there must be some purpose behind what we might perceive as God’s “slowness.” For the author of Second Peter, that purpose is patience. It can take us human folk an awfully long time to get over ourselves, yet God is willing to wait, to grace, and to guide, because God thinks that we’re worth waiting for.
Help us, O God, to love others patiently, as you do with us. Amen.
17 June 2022
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed (2 Peter 3:10).
When reading a verse like this, it can be easy to fixate on the dramatic details: loud noises, fiery destruction, et cetera. What really grabbed me this time, though, was the end to which each of those sensational happenings point: “and the earth and everything that is done in it will be disclosed.”
Everything? Disclosed? Now that’s a scary thought. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got plenty that I’d just as soon not have disclosed: embarrassing moments, words and actions I’ve lived to regret, bad habits I hoped I’d have grown out of by now. Does God really need to see all of that?
The truth of the matter, though, is that God already can, and loves us all the same–enough to help us reckon with what we’d rather not disclose. We worship a God to whom we reveal ourselves not out of fear or shame, but in the hope of forgiveness and healing.
Help us, O God, to trust you with the fullness of ourselves, confident that you’ll respond with a love that transforms. Amen.
18 June 2022
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:14-15).
In the verse we looked at yesterday, the author of Second Peter likens the coming of “the day of the Lord” to the coming of a thief. This metaphor crops up all over the place–Matthew, Luke, 1 Thessalonians, and Revelation. Clearly, conveying that the timeframe of Christ’s second coming was known only to God and couldn’t be predicted was important to the New Testament authors.
Why was this so important to them? I’d say it’s because those authors knew how the human brain works: they knew that if we thought we could guess when Christ would return, we’d make like a college student with a big test to study for and procrastinate. In this case, “the big test” is holy living, and “waiting to study until the night before” is only bothering about such things in the run-up to the big day.
The message of today’s verse is that God’s call upon our lives doesn’t work like that. We’re meant to strive to live as people of God consistently, not because the big test might be tomorrow, but because it’s what we’re called to do our whole lives long–not just the night before.
Help us, O God, to be found living as people of God always, by the grace and power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
19 June 2022
So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Shout-out to our man Paul! Scripture quotes Scripture all the time, but instances of one Biblical author explicitly referring to the writings of another is less common, and it always delights me. It’s the ancient equivalent of two writers running into each other at a convention and both exclaiming at once: “I love your work!”
Biblical scholars love details like this because they provide tantalizing clues about the timeframe in which the letter was written (If the author of Second Peter is aware of Paul and his letters, then it must’ve been written after the authority of Paul’s writings were widely recognized), as well as the state of the early Christian communities to whom it was addressed (Clearly, people misconstruing or outright manipulating Paul’s theology was a major problem).
I love details like this for those reasons, too, and for one more: it reminds me that even in those vaunted early days of the Church, reading, interpreting, and living out the words of Scripture in community was a challenge. When we struggle with such things today, we do so in good company.
Help us, O God, to live according to your Word, together. Amen.
20 June 2022
Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:17-18).
So ends the Second Epistle of Peter. The pastoral epistles tend to wrap up by offering praise to God and good wishes to the letter’s intended recipients, and while Second Peter does get there, it waits until the last possible moment to pivot in that direction.
Right up to the very end, the author is reiterating the main thrust of the letter: don’t be deceived by purveyors of knock-off gospels; keep and live out the true faith. The urgency of their request is plain for all to see.
These closing verses remind us that Second Peter and the rest of the New Testament letters weren’t composed in mahogany-framed drawing rooms by learned aesthetes who pondered the vagaries of religion at their leisure. They were dashed off in haste by folks with much to say and little time in which to say it, apostles on a learning curve doing their best to hold the Church together. In other words, they were much more like us than we sometimes allow ourselves to imagine.
Thank you, O God, for the witness of the Biblical authors. May they remind us that we are not alone. Amen.
21 June 2022
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life (1 John 1:1).
We continue our post-Pentacostal journey through the pastoral epistles with the First Epistle of John. The name on this letter ties it to the Gospel of John, and while the two books likely don’t share the same author, First John might be seen as a kind of “epilogue” to its Gospel forebear, tying up some of its loose ends, clarifying some points of its theology, and suggesting what it means to live in the conviction that the story told in John’s Gospel is true.
We see this kinship immediately here, with the first verse. Mirroring the opening verses of the Gospel of John (In the beginning was the Word…), the author of First John gets right to the heart of what the Gospel writer was talking about. The Gospel, the Word, what we have heard, is something that’s cosmic and eternal, from the beginning, and yet also something intimate that we can see with our own eyes and touch with our hands.
It’s the Incarnate Christ who bridges that chasm. The Word…made flesh. The source of all life…living with us.
Train the eyes of our hearts, O God, so that we may behold the revelation of your saving love. Amen.
22 June 2022
This life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us (1 John 1:2).
What does it mean to have something revealed to us? Too often, I think, we confine our definition to the realm of knowledge. By this rationale, we may consider something to be fully revealed to us if we can define and categorize it, if we’ve “learned it.”
Think longer on it, though, and it soon becomes clear that for something to be fully revealed to us, more than just the intellect is involved. It’s not enough to know what’s in an ice cream sundae and how to make it. Until you’ve tasted one on a hot summer’s day, its full deliciousness hasn’t been revealed to you.
This verse from First John is making a similar point about the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What God reveals to us by God’s Son isn’t, at its core, a system of belief or an ethic for living well. Those things follow after what God is principally revealing: life itself, abundant and eternal. And if God is looking to reveal this to us, we’re meant to do more than learn what that means. We’re meant to taste it. We’re meant to have it. We’re meant to live it.
Remind us, O Lord, that you mean not only to stimulate our minds, but to warm and enliven our hearts. Amen.
23 June 2022
What we have seen and heard we also declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).
What is it about someone that makes you want to draw closer to them? Maybe you share certain personality traits and “love language” preferences, so you understand them and feel understood by them. Maybe you like the way they think–either because they think like you and you enjoy the affirmation, or because they think differently than you and you enjoy the challenge.
In short, there’s something you see in them that you’d like to see more of.
Today’s verse from First John considers what the motivation to draw closer to others ought to look like for a follower of Jesus Christ. Its conclusion: the thing we see in others that we’d like to see more of is God. To look faithfully for God is to see God in others. Unlike the attractive qualities described above, however, God can’t be found only in people who think like us or share our love language. God calls us to draw closer to all people, so that all may know what it is to love, and to be loved.
Help us, O God, to see you in everyone, so that we may love everyone as we love you. Amen.
24 June 2022
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
“Yours is the day, O Lord, and yours also is the night,” goes verse 16 of Psalm 74. It’s an affirmation that God is with us always, even when “shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed,” to quote one of my favorite evening prayers. Like New York City, God never sleeps, presiding over day and night alike.
This vision of God is true, but it also illustrates the limitations of using metaphors to define who God is. Because, broadly speaking, we tend to associate daylight with invigorating goodness and nighttime with threatening badness, we might easily infer that a god of daylight and nighttime is both good and bad, simultaneously the source of what helps us and what hurts us.
Today’s verse from First John offers an important correction: day and night alike may belong to God, but the perils of nighttime aren’t extensions of God’s nature. God is all light–all goodness–and so is always working against the spiritual forces of wickedness and the evil powers of this world which we so often associate with the “changes and chances” of nighttime.
Light the way before us, O God, so that even when night falls, we may journey on, guided by your gracious love. Amen.
25 June 2022
If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true […] If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:6, 8).
The author of First John riffs on the dual theme of light and darkness for a bit, using it to describe the nature of sin. They do so in a rather clever way, capitalizing on the reality that the term “darkness,” then as now, could refer to a number of things.
On the one hand, “darkness” functions as a signifier of evil, which here refers to sin. The author of First John is contrasting us with God, who–as we talked about yesterday–is all light, all goodness. We, on the other hand, “walk in darkness,” and have grown so comfortable doing so that we’re often able to convince ourselves that the darkness around us is, in fact, the light of God.
On the other hand, “darkness” can equally mean ignorance, which here refers to our genuinely mistaken belief that we’re without sin and thus have no need of God or God’s love. We need not be lying; only restating what we mistakenly believe to be true.
Help us, O God, to cherish your light, and in doing so acknowledge that we need it. Amen.
26 June 2022
But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7, 9).
We’ve seen what darkness means to the author of First John. Now on to light. Just as the author uses darkness to describe the nature of sin, they use light to describe the nature of a life lived in pursuit of the knowledge and love of God. Here, too, the metaphor benefits from “light” denoting a number of things.
On the one hand, light allows us to see, just as living in the light of God reveals what we’ve been missing. Picking up on the theme of fellowship we talked about a few days ago, the author argues that while “walking in darkness” often makes us feel alone, the light of God reveals to us a whole new world of company, united in Christ’s sacrifice.
On the other hand, light dispels darkness, just as our embrace of God’s love dispels our “unrighteousness.” We all know that as humans, we’re in pretty constant need of being forgiven and accepting calls to grow, and the author of First John argues here that the light of God shows us the way for both.
Illumine our hearts, O God, with your forgiving, healing love. Amen.
27 June 2022
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
Years ago, I went whitewater rafting in the Ocoee River in North Carolina. As we bussed up to the rapids’ entry point, the lead rafting guide began her safety briefing.
The guide explained how to avoid falling out of our rafts as we careened down the river. Then, she smiled a knowing smile and said “but some of you will fall out of your rafts today, and when you do, don’t worry. Your guide will be there to pull you back in. Just stay with the boat and follow their directions.”
Today’s verse from First John strikes me as the work of a seasoned rafting guide. The author would prefer that their readers not sin, but knows that’s not really an option. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be. When we fall out of the boat, God doesn’t leave us to drift away. The head rafting guide will always be there to hoist us back up. Water is no great bother for him. He walked atop it, after all.
Help us, O God, never to be ashamed, so that we can ask for your help when we need it most. Amen.
28 June 2022
Now by this we know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist (1 John 2:3-4).
This verse of First John digs into the interplay between revelation and obedience, between our experience of God’s abiding love for us and the standards by which we’re expected to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
The relationship between these two aspects of the Christian life has long been fraught. Since the Church’s beginnings, our efforts to formulate a precise answer have brought forth fractious debate, schism, and ill feeling that’s often left simmering for centuries.
Does obedience bring about revelation? Does revelation bring about obedience? Which ought to come first? Churches have split over these questions, and to anyone who’s still in the trenches on all of this, First John might seem maddening in its refusal to give a clear answer.
But perhaps that’s the point. The author of First John contributes to this conversation not by championing obedience over revelation or vice versa, but by insisting that both are a part of what it means to be a Christian. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “those who believe are obedient, and those who are obedient believe.” Confused? Fear not! We shall talk of this more tomorrow.
Help us, O God, both to know you and to do your will. Amen.
29 June 2022
But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we know that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk in the same way as he walked (1 John 2:5-6).
“Abide” is a tricky word. If you look it up in the dictionary, it comes off as a contractual term: “to accept or act in accordance with…,” or “to tolerate.” It screams “strictly professional.”
But that’s not how it’s meant to be read in Scripture. When the author of First John writes of “abiding in God,” they mean something more than just acting in accordance with God’s wishes or tolerating God’s presence. Here, “abide” means something more like “dwell” or “live.” It means to make our home in God.
That’s why First John makes such a fuss about how knowing and obeying God are equally important to the Christian life. For a place to become our home, it’s not enough to simply own property there. We must become residents. Decorate the house. Paint our name on the mailbox. Get to know our neighbors. Only then can we be said to “abide” there.
This verse teaches us that the same goes for God. Living a life of faith isn’t like owning a time-share. It’s a commitment to abide in God morning, noon, and night. It’s a commitment to making a home.
You, O God, live in us. Help us to live in you. Amen.
30 June 2022
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard (1 John 2:7).
There are times in each of our lives when the idea of “starting over” is almost irresistible. In troubled and troubling times, the prospect of being able to rid ourselves of all that has gotten too complicated, painful, or unwieldy can be an exciting one indeed.
I’ve often heard coming to faith described as an act of “starting over,” and in some ways, it is. John Wesley characterized Baptism as an act of “adoption and grace…by which we are made children of God,” and what is adoption if not a new beginning?
As this verse from First John indicates, though, that’s only half the story. Being a Christian isn’t just about embracing a new future. It’s also about looking back and reexamining our lives up to this point in light of God’s guiding, forgiving, and redeeming love.
When we do so, we find that God was, in fact, always with us, that the climactic moment of our “coming to faith” was actually quite a long time coming, that we’ve come to see more clearly what has always been true.
You, O God, are the author of all things. Help us to see you in both past and present, old and new. Amen.