Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Testimony

            Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
            This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
(1 John 5:1-12 ESV)

John’s rather repetitive writing style (probably made so because his native language was Hebrew, and he’s attempting to write in Greek) actually has a great deal of logic to it.  He isn’t a person trained in rhetoric, like Paul.  But he is writing to interpret Jesus to a second-generation audience. 

In the first paragraph he lays out the natural process of what we modern self-professed theologians today call discipleship.   He starts by saying, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”  The process from this point is: 

Believing leads to loving
Loving leads to knowing
Knowing leads to obeying
Obeying leads to overcoming
Overcoming begins with believing

It may be that John’s original statement was going to be “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.”   But then he realized that if he didn’t explain what that faith is he would be making it impossible for anyone who hadn’t been part of the first-generation witness to Christ to believe. 

Much of the teaching the Evangelical church in the West has offered in the past hundred years or so skips the process that faith is normally a sweep of believing Jesus and coming to love him as we love others.   The church generally starts with a series of “truths”:  man is sinful.  Man is separated from God because of his sin.  God sent Jesus to make a bridge between God and man, etc., etc.  That’s why we have placed such a huge emphasis on the hour and the moment at which you were saved.  

Today, the process tends to look like this:

Knowing leads to obeying
Obeying leads to overcoming
Overcoming begins with knowing

If that is the normal way people are saved from their sins, knowing the Law would have been sufficient. But John knows the law isn’t able to produce that kind of response in our hearts.  But love can.  That’s why he goes on to explain that the greatest thing God ever said was to testify about his son: “This is my beloved son.  Listen to him.”  (Mark 9:7) 

If you need a starting point, start there. 

John does go on to give what, on the surface, looks like a legal argument.  I had chalked it up to that for years.  But what I noticed as I approached it this time was that he isn’t so much trying to say that the testimony about Christ would stand up in a Jewish court of law.  He is saying that the testimony is always the same.   The testimony can be the Holy Spirit testifying in your heart, quietly whispering, “Jesus Christ is the son of God,” until you begin to believe.  The testimony is also God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my son.”  That’s what he calls the testimony of the “water.”  It is also the same thing God said at Jesus’ birth, “he shall be called the son of the most high,” (Luke 1:32).  That’s the testimony of “the blood.” 

These three agree.  The Baby born of blood in Bethlehem is the same as the man who was baptized with water is the same as the Christ who was Transfigured is the same as the man who died on the Cross is the same as the Christ who ascended into heaven who lives in the hearts of believers.  He is not Jesus only (the blood of one born of a woman), nor is he the Christ only (the water of baptism).  He is both at once, and the two designations are eternally inseparable.  And the only way to “get” what I’m talking about is to experience it. 

The starting point is always experiencing Jesus Christ himself.  You can begin anywhere in the narrative you want.  Start with the experience of believers today if you like.  The raw power of Jesus to change lives is persuasive testimony.  I have seen it. I have known it.  I have handled it.  Start with the narrative of Jesus’ birth.  It is a story of God breaking into people’s lives and building love and trust with them to the point where they could receive Jesus Christ into their world.  Or start somewhere in the middle of the story and you will hear the Father telling John the Baptist to pay attention to his Son. 

Believing leads to loving
Loving leads to knowing
Knowing leads to obeying
Obeying leads to overcoming
Overcoming begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. “ (1 John 1:1-4)


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