Why Do You Ask?

Seems these days we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. We anxiously await the rest of the story, the results of the investigation. But in our salvation, we can rest assured.

John’s whole purpose for writing this letter was to assure his audience of their grasp on eternal life by virtue of their belief.

13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

Based on this assurance, they could ask whatever was in sync with God’s will and he’d grant it. But there lies the rub. The only way I get my way is if I ask for exactly what God wants!

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 1 John 5:14-15

What kind of incentive is that? How do I know?

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

Well, Jesus operated in such a fashion. He said, not my will but his. (Matthew 26:39) The question is, would there be a better way? It’s not a matter of hitting the bullseye but couching every prayer with that caveat. What he’s going to do is answer the prayer, not according to our will, but his, and we’ll see his wisdom, maybe, at some point. One thing we know for sure is that he hears us. In this, we can be confident. And if we ask him to align our thinking with his, he’ll most assuredly do that too!

That’s where we want to be. Many times we look back and see that our requests would have resulted in disaster. We prayed fervently and didn’t get it and we were upset and disappointed, but he knew better.

…we ask to be overridden…

When we pray “Father, take this cup from me,” always follow-up with, “But not my will but yours.” We ask for what we think we want, but we ask to be overridden. So we’re not only confident he hears us, but we know he’ll right the situation according to his perfect will.

It is also important to point out that he may very well have answered your prayer but on a different timetable. I was wanting the perfect wife at 22 but got her at 28. Don’t throw up your hands. He’s got this under control.

One final note. Hezekiah asked to be healed from his sickness and got 15 extra years on earth. The thief on the cross asked to be saved and was that very moment. We can’t give up on prayer out of frustration that God will do whatever he wants anyway. There are two sides to this coin.

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It’s Just That Simple

My professor used to say all the time after pronouncing some truth, “It’s just that simple.” Well, salvation and eternal life and the assurance thereof boils down to whether or not you have the Son. Now you may wonder if you’ve got the Son. John has been trying throughout this letter to provide convincing proof to the children of God that indeed they have him. Mostly this comes from the desire to do God’s will, as evidenced by keeping his commandments.

2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 1 John 5:2

Who would desire to do them without possessing the spirit of God? This desire to please God is why God proclaimed his pleasure in his son upon his baptism on earth.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

Practically, we can testify to all that we believe through our baptism, and remember why our salvation is possible by taking the sacraments. But apart from these the spirit continually breathes into us the assurance that we are his, and tells us regularly that we have the Son, and therefore we have the life. He has convincing proof in pointing to our spirit-motivated actions. But even more so our deep-down desire to please God.

It’s just that simple.

6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 1 John 5:6-12

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Hanging Hat on Faith

I like to apply logic when reading and studying God’s word. Not that I dispense with taking it on faith, but as a tool to a keener understanding. There are certainly paradoxes in the Bible, but that only means that two lines of reasoning are equally true. That’s where the faith comes in.

Paul was a master logician. If-then was his hat tree always. John takes a page from that book here.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and observe His commandments.For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.4  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (NASB)

He starts with “whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ [or Messiah] is born of God.” That’s a declarative statement on its own, certainly one you can hang your hat on. But then here comes another, “Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of him.” So if I love the Father, I love Jesus. Then we read “whatever [and I change this to whoever, since a whatever can’t be born of God] born of God overcomes the world.” Then we read, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Circular reasoning I would say, but absolutely true. Further, the overcomer is victorious, and that victory is described as “faith,” which is obtained by faith.

By the way, logic is an upper-level course.

As a corollary to all this, John discusses the outcome of our familial relationship to God, and that’s our love for the children of God, which is compelled by our love of God and exhibited practically by our obedience to his commandments. That begs the question that shouldn’t our new love life be unshackled from commandment keeping? Well, by God’s definition, keeping his commandments is love, and by the way, his commandments aren’t hard to keep.

I set out attempting to make some logical sense out of this passage. It’s logical for sure, but faith is the victory, and I’ll have to hang my hat on that!

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Scattered for Now

Yesterday, we memorialized a man of God, Dr. Richard Allen Williams, former pastor of Christ Community Church in Tampa and president of Trinity College in Clearwater. It struck me that here we all were, together in the building that most of us had a hand in constructing, as a church–actually a fellowship–once again.

Sadly, over time, many of us scattered in all directions for many reasons. The structure in which we congregated yesterday is now owned by a church of a mainline denomination–we prided ourselves in being non-denominational–and the surviving CCC now meets in a Seventh Day Adventist Church. Ironically, in the 1960s, CCC in its infancy also began meeting in a Seventh Day Adventist Church!

Now if one looks at the fruits of Dr. Williams’ ministry, the scattering was obviously for higher purposes. We may yearn for the Camelot we once had, but God had other ideas. We may grieve for the fact that we no longer congregate regularly together, and it took the passing of a great man to reunite us, but we can clearly see the hand of God at work, just as in the early church.

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Acts 4:4

Over time, CCC spawned and sent out many missionaries into our community and nation, and all over kingdom come. And Lord knows, our congregation knew all about the “kingdom,” and wanted it to come soon! At one time, regional heads of most of the national parachurch ministries hung out with us, and a veritable “who’s who” filled our pulpit in guest appearances, J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Swindoll, J. Dwight Pentecost, Bill Bright, John Walvoord, Howard Hendricks, and others I can’t remember. Basically, the faculty of Dallas Seminary. Our associate pastor, Dr. L.P. McClenny, also a graduate of Dallas Seminary, even bounced little Billy Graham on his knee back in his church in North Carolina. You get the gist. We could name-drop all day long.

Our people were not only sent to the remotest parts of the earth, what we misconstrued as attrition, was actually the population of area churches with needed and remarkably gifted people, some of whom went on to plan and build the area’s largest church, and its pastor knows full well what I mean!

CCC was also on the cutting edge of worship, incorporating a praise team and worship band in 1993, before its time really. Truth be known there was a good deal of discussion on mothballing the organ and buying a set of drums, a projector, big screen, theater lights, and suitable PA. The original players of this ministry went on to become integral members of four other local worship ministries, and there were many more generations of musicians to come after them. Also, in our heyday, we wrote and produced full-scale dramatic plays. It was extraordinary what was accomplished with God’s help.

But more than anything else though, true to Dr. Williams’ teaching, former and present CCC members will always have the highest regard and fervent love for the truth and accuracy of God’s word. Dr. Williams made sure of that. I still remember the first full sermon I heard him preach, on Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse. He cleared up so many misunderstandings that night, and yes, it was about the “kingdom.”

Because of his teaching, I’m absolutely certain that I’ll again share a meal and a thought with him. You see, every Thursday afternoon for a good long stretch, we’d meet for lunch at an Arby’s restaurant in South Tampa (because he loved their roast beef sandwiches with that oozing cheddar cheese). I was a 20-something professional single man and he sought me out to disciple me, and who would turn that opportunity down? A few years later he took care of my singleness, by officiating my wedding. Glory be to God!

Anyway, now that he’s on the inside, I’m sure he’s negotiating for our quick release! That was probably his plan all along. Lord knows he’s got a lot of good reasons for it, provided he can get them all out of his mouth! This is an inside joke, but you all know what I’m talking about!

Richard Allen Williams, 1930-2018

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The Essence of Love

God sent his only son into the world. God sent his only son into the world that we might live through him. God sent his only son into the world that we might live through him by the sacrifice of himself for our sins. God sent his only son into the world that we might live through him by the sacrifice of himself for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This is the essence of love, to sacrifice that which is the most precious to us for another.

Jesus bore gruesome torture, carried a rugged cross in a contemptible trudge up to Golgotha, allowed himself to be nailed to it and hung from it, and lifted his body up from it enough times to breathe life into a sinner hanging next to him (Luke 23:43), and to ask forgiveness for the bloodthirsty mob who knew not what they were doing (Luke 23:34). This act was the essence of love.

Now we are asked to simply love our neighbor, starting with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10), and reaching out to “those who know not what they are doing.” By his spirit we can, in fact, now be the Father and Son’s exact radiance on earth (Hebrews 1:3). They will know us by our love, and the epitome of that love is a little self-sacrifice on our part for the needs of others. In this act the world will see the essence of love.

9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:9-11

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They Can’t Handle the Truth

4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:1-6

From God or not from God? That is the question.

There are many out there preaching these days. They’re cool. They’re cajoling. They’re compelling. They’re convincing. But are they from God?

John gives us guidance on knowing for sure. Do you hear the name of Jesus in those captivating stories? Have they found room to tell us that Jesus came from God and walked among us? This may be a simple account, but someone with the spirit of the antichrist can’t bring himself to confess this. He’ll change the subject.

As the famous line says, the antichrists “can’t handle the truth.” But we can, and we know it when we hear it, because the spirit of truth is in us!

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Standing Our Ground

And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:3

You can’t ponder the hope of seeing the savior face to face and not be pure. Somehow we must be in such a state that we can stand our ground. That only happens with our being just as pure as he is. He has seen to that.

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