Joe’s notes on the First Epistle of John

That which was from the beginning….we declare to you….  (I John 1:1ff)

(For my suggestions on introducing this Bible study for your people, see #7 below.) 

I confess.  I read scriptures looking for gold.  Some of it is found in nuggets on top of the ground, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Others are in veins which need to be mined and worked and treated carefully and faithfully.

The opening of the First Epistle of John is pure gold and for good reason….

That which was from the beginning…which we have heard… which we have seen with our eyes…which we have looked upon and our hands have handled…. And we have seen and bear witness and declare to you…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you….

Get the point?  John, the old apostle–the last one standing–is saying, “I was there.  I know.  This is not hearsay.  This is not something I thought up.  This is the Truth; it’s what I know.”

There is no substitute for a personal experience.  “The person with an experience is never at the mercy of someone with an argument.”  Consider…

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Some things the New Testament does not tell us

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable….that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Those who demand a Scripture verse for everything they do place an intolerable burden on the Christian life never intended by the Heavenly Father.

Some among us have all the answers about the Christian life and have solved all the mysteries of doctrine and theology.

Is there a verse of Scripture on that?

Stay tuned.

These “super-apostles” write me, taking issue with many of the positions we hold in these articles.  They have it all worked out and find it incredulous that we do not see matters their way. The only explanation, they conclude, is that I must be a) unsaved or b) willfully blind.

I wrote something about tithing for this website.

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Well, if the dictionary says it, it must be so! (Not!!)

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident provides an excellent lesson for all of us, particularly church folk.

But first, the context.

Skinner’s book traces the development of dictionaries in this country and their struggles to determine what goes in and what stays out. Then it chronicles the work of G. and C. Merriam Company to produce a new kind of dictionary, one unlike all the others.

The editors had arrived at the interesting conclusion that no one had made them the authority over the English language.  No one had put them in charge of English as spoken and written in America.  In fact, they decided there is no authority.

Imagine that.

This must have come as a shock to every teacher I ever had in elementary and high school.  Invariably, they would fault students for some breach of the language and add, “Check the dictionary.”  Yep, there it was, in black and white.

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How God fooled Satan at Christmas

“….the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” –I Corinthians 2:8

There is more going on in this universe–above us, underneath us, in the spirit world surrounding us–than we can imagine.

God is always at work. The hosts of Heaven are constantly serving Him in ways unknown to us.  But so is His arch-enemy at work, as well as his minions.  We see this throughout Scripture.

Satan is the enemy is all that is good.  Anything that would honor God, benefit humanity, and spread the gospel, Satan hates and works to sabotage.

But God is not stymied by Satan. The Heavenly Father loses no sleep worrying about him.  Satan’s doom is settled, his fate is sealed, his days are numbered.

“On earth is not his equal,” said Martin Luther about the devil in His majestic anthem “A Mighty Fortress.”  Granted, you and I are no match for Satan.  But in Christ we are more than conquerors.  This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith in Christ. (Romans 8:37 and I John 5:4)

God is constantly handing the devil defeat after defeat. We see it in life, we observe it in the world about us, and we see it demonstrated in Scripture.

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Revelation, fabrication, and making things up as you go

“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses….”  “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16,21).

I’ve been reading books again.

That explains a lot of things.  It explains where my mind is these days, what’s been bugging me, and where I’ve been searching the Word.

I’ve been reading “The Story of Ain’t.”  This is mostly the story of struggles to decide what goes into dictionaries, culminating in Webster’s Third Edition.  Author David Skinner brings us into the inner offices of G. and C. Merriam Company and tells how decisions are made concerning the English language.  If you like that, you’d love watching sausage being made.  (It’s a difficult book to read and only the wordsmiths among us should “rush out and buy this book.”)

I’ve been reading “The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.”  Author John L. Brooke takes us back into the context of the birth of this American-made religion to show that almost everything about it was the product, not of revelation, but of ideas floating around when Joseph Smith was a young man.

I’ve been reading the Bible.

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Christmas wondering

“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them….” (Luke 2:8ff.)

I wonder a lot about that first Christmas.

I wonder about the shepherds Luke told us about, the men tending their sheep throughout the night in the field outside Bethlehem.

What a magical moment this must have been for them.  I wonder what that was like.

As a farm boy, I can imagine myself outside in that field with them. I’ve kept the calves and cattle, the pigs and the mules and horses. I could keep sheep. It’s basically unskilled labor, we’re told. I’ve heard that shepherds in Judea ranked on the social scale one notch above lepers.  I could be a shepherd.  What would that have been like that night?

–I wonder what they were talking about in the few minutes prior to the angels’ visit.  Did they have a fire going?  Were they talking or dozing or joshing with one another?  Were they friends or even brothers?

–And when the Angel of the Lord arrived and filled the sky with Heaven’s glory, I wonder if anyone else could have seen what they saw and heard what they heard.  Could someone in an adjoining field have been dazzled by that same display? Or would it have been dark over there and they would have seen nothing?

I am almost willing to bet they would not have seen a thing, that the angelic host that evening was sent to the shepherds and for no other eyes.  Over in Matthew chapter 2, we’re not told of anyone else noticing the wandering star. No one else seemed to have been transfixed by a star that seemed to have a specific direction in mind.

So maybe this was just for them.

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Word Wrangling: Not for this rodeo

Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.

A scholar friend says, “Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost.”  One side is called liberalism, the other legalism.  Rigid fundamentalism on the right, worldly compromise on the left.  In between is the road.  The way.  It’s narrow.

Truth always is.

It’s one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that yields a well-spring of insights and applications, but a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.

Somewhere I encountered a translation of I Timothy 6:5 that warns God’s leaders about “word-wrangling.” This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as “constant striving” and “chronic disagreement.” (The Greek word—ahem, here we go now–is disparatribai, a double compound word which according to Thayer, means “constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.”)

“Thayer” refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word “wrangling”. Maybe I got it from him.

The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.

Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer’s original intention.

And since our audiences–that would be the men and women of our congregations–are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don’t have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we’re talking about since we use phrases like “the original Greek says” and “my Hebrew professor used to say this word means.”

Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.

They shouldn’t.

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The pastor said, “No, we don’t believe the Bible.”

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)  “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

Show us what you do and we can decide for ourselves whether you believe the Bible.

My friend Kristin was commenting on meaningless questions some of our Facebook friends suggested should be put before pastor search committees (our previous article). Most, she said, are useless because they presuppose the answer.

Asking a search committee “Does your church believe the Bible?” is meaningless, because they’re all going to answer in the affirmative, and you’re no better off than had you not asked it.

“Wait a minute,” Kristin said, interrupting herself. “I just remembered a time when my pastor answered that differently.”

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Let us not add to the Word of God

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy City, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). 

Someone says, “I’ve had a revelation from the Lord, something Scripture doesn’t address.”

Run, as fast as you can.

Scripture calls it “adding to the Word,” and it’s clearly verboten throughout the Bible, off limits to all who take seriously their devotion to the Lord and His Word. Deuteronomy 4:2 reads, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Need more?  Try these: Deuteronomy 12:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6. The Father is consistent on this point.)

Let’s not go beyond what the Lord says through His Word.  After all, Scripture teaches that Scripture is sufficient.  Some would call that circular reasoning.   That’s a possibility, but a better plan is that Scripture is Holy Spirit inspired. God knew what He was doing.

The church down the street was having some kind of special meeting.  The eminent speaker, a professor or something, preached that we should add an additional book to the Bible, this one addressing the subject of nuclear weapons.  If anyone objected, I never heard.  But I could not help thinking, “Oh yeah.  In the Middle Ages, they would have addressed gunpowder.  In the mid-19th century, it would have been gatling guns. And the process would never end.”  So foolish.

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Fifteen lies Satan tells you about Scripture

“(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

If I were the devil, I would do everything in my power to keep you from the Word of God.  I would say anything I could think of, anything I thought you would believe, anything that works, to get you to read other things.

As Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  We know how he works.  And here are some of the lies we have noticed pouring out of his factory, all geared toward destroying confidence in God’s Word.

One. “You already know it, so don’t read it.”

He’s lying to you. You do not know it. I’ve studied the Bible all my life and in no way could I say I “know” it. I know a great deal about it, but there is so much more.  For the typical church member to shun the Bible because “I’ve been there and done that” is laughable.

Two: “No one can understand it, so don’t read it.”

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