Scripture Reading: 1 John 3:11-24
The past few weeks, I don’t know about you, but I can’t watch the news right now. It’s hard on the heart to see everything that’s been happening in the world, and in particular the United States.
First there were fires. Then there were hurricanes and floods. There are still more fires going on. Mass shootings. It is completely heart-breaking watching the news these days.
But on top of all that, at a time when we look for help and hope from the government… we look to Trump. I’m sorry if this offends anyone who might support this guy, but he guts me of any hope.
People have died violently at the hands of a mad man in Las Vegas. People are suffering without the basic necessities of life in Puerto Rico: food, water, electricity. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed by fire in California, and dozens of people have lost their lives.
It’s hard to watch as some of the deadliest hurricanes ever hit populated areas. It’s hard to watch one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. It’s hard to watch the deadliest wildfires in California history.
It’s hard to watch as the government, and not just Trump, but other men and women elected to represent the people, vote against releasing funds for those in desperate need of help.
Is this how Jesus would respond in a crisis?
Yes, there have been incredible stories come out of these disasters of people doing amazing things in order to help strangers and neighbours. And what powerful stories they are of people giving sacrificially in order to help someone else in need, sometimes even at risk to their own lives. We must not forget these amazing feats.
But we also must not forget the response of those who are speaking on behalf of their country and their people.
Even in Canada, we are not without failure to care for others as we should as our government has identified our shortcomings in dealing with, for instance, the native community. Yet, what has been done to work to improve their living conditions, including giving them access to clean water? It is a huge issue even here in Cape Breton. Nothing has been done.
We are not an insular society. How we live our lives impacts others. Where we shop. What we buy. What we throw out as garbage. It all has an impact as part of the global economy.
We don’t tend to think a lot about it, but it’s there none the less.
This is what our reading from 1 John got me thinking about. It’s right there in the very first verse we read, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 John 3:11)
This message is not new to us. Jesus himself commanded us to love. We can look at the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and read what Jesus taught.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
This is what he taught very early on in his ministry.
The message doesn’t change at the end of his ministry either. Look at John 21:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-17, 19b)
How do we care for others? We love them! And we love them as Jesus loves us. Which is without condemnation and the invitation to follow him and live lives worthy of God. Or as Jesus put it a number of times, “Go and sin no more.”
I’ve been to a number of events lately that have had a similar recurring theme. When this happens, it’s good to take notice, because there may be a message God is trying to speak into your life.
I’m not going to get into a lot of detail about the events, but what struck me as I was listening to a friend’s testimony the other evening, a woman my age who recently gave her life to Christ… what struck me was how all of these stories I’ve been hearing lately are about people who thought they were right with God by simply believing in him, have been experiencing so much more when they remove sin from their lives and give their whole lives to him.
These people all believed in God in some way. Some more than others. But they also all had significant sin in their lives, which they had attributed to the normal state of their lives. Sins, of various types, which they had decided was simply who they were and nothing was going to change it.
But as they were drawn to God, he showed them their sin was not how he created them, but instead things they either had pushed on them, or were the results of choices they had made in their lives. Once they realized this, their lives have been forever changed as they turned away from their sin and embraced the love of God, their Father in heaven.
These are powerful stories we would never hear if they had not turned their hearts to God. And in every case I heard over the last month, it was someone who had reached out to them in a time of need and offered to pray with them and would share God’s love with them.
However, it’s is not an easy thing to overcome. For some of these people, they have been ostracized by friends who did not like the change in their lives. Some have been supported, but not in all cases.
Being the light of Christ in a world of darkness and sin is not easy. Think about it, if we are being light in darkness, then we are going to stand out, we are going to be exposed.
The devil doesn’t like that. He would be very happy if we would just happily sing our songs and say our prayers here on Sunday mornings. The devil has no problem with what we do here, as long as it stays here. But once we step out of this building and start to let Christ’s light shine through us, then we will become a target of those who prefer to remain in the dark.
John even acknowledges this in verses 13 and 14 when he says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”
This may sound intimidating, or even daunting to think that if we stand up for our faith that we will be under attack. But here’s the good news, when we submit ourselves to God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we are protected. It doesn’t mean we won’t take a shot now and again, because we will. But we will not lose the battle with God on our side.
How do we know that God is on our side? Because Jesus gave his life for our’s. On the cross, Jesus breathed his last breath and died so we may live. That’s how we know God is on our side.
There’s going to be times when we doubt our ability, when we might even doubt God’s presence. In these times of struggle, maybe we’re feeling down, unsure of ourselves, unsure of just how we could possibly have the strength to face another day.
What does John have to say about these times?
Let’s go back to verses 19 and 20:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)
God is greater than our heart. What powerful words for us to consider today.
I know some people who said they’ve been feeling under spiritual attack lately. They aren’t sleeping well. They’ve been having nightmares. People have spoken out against them. All sorts of real world struggles being battled in their spirits. But they have not given up. Some of them even feel strengthened because they know that if this is a spiritual battle, then they must be doing something right for the enemy to want to target them.
Yes, they get frustrated. Yes they’re tired from sleepless nights. Yet they continue with confidence because they understand that God knows far more than they know. They know God is greater than their hearts, and will carry them through it.
John finishes our reading today with this:
… we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:21b-24)
This is the result of submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and letting God speak into our lives as the authoritative voice above all others.
We let him abide in us, live in us.
We have confidence, we have God, because we follow his commands for us.
We take what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for our sin, and we live as children of God.
I think back to the discussions and presentations I’ve heard over the last few weeks about people who found a life-changing God who loves them more than they love themselves. People who thought they could never, ever change because of who they saw themselves as. To the point where some of them were even unsure they wanted to live another day.
Yet God came to them and showed them they were so much more than what they had been led to believe about themselves.
They felt unloved, even after looking for love in all sorts of places. God showed them he loved them more than all others.
They felt useless. God showed them they have incredible value to offer, and even are using them to inspire others to change as well.
They felt ashamed of who they were. God showed them to rejoice because he did not see them as who they had become, but as how he created them to live, a way of life they had never known because they had chosen other paths. God is showing them how he would have them live, and the shame is gone as they embrace their new life in him.
How did they come to know these things? Because someone stepped out and offered them God’s love first. Someone they knew, or even just met, offered words of hope as a representative of Jesus Christ, and prayed with them. Loved them. Gave them hope.
I don’t know if any of you have your own stories like these. If you don’t, that’s ok. Not everyone has these struggles. These stories are to inspire us to consider our own relationship with God, to help us grow in our own faith.
I know I have grown myself by hearing these stories over the last few weeks. Like I said, a repetitive message is one we need to pay attention to. It could be God trying to get our attention. So we need to listen to what he might be trying to say.
God is greater than our hearts. God is bigger than we could ever fully know while we are living our lives on this earth.
We do our best to live as he asks us to live, seeking to keep his commands, seeking to let him live in us as we seek to live in him through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour.
What is God trying to say to you today? Is he trying to get your attention to tell you he loves you? Is he asking you to share his love with someone else? Whatever he’s trying to tell you, it is bathed in love for you.
He is greater than our hearts. He is God almighty, the creator of all things, including you as his precious child.
Let us pray,
Thank you for loving us. Thank you God for the abundant blessings you give us.
We sometimes get a taste of what you have for us, and we want more. We want to feast with you and so we ask you to make yourself known. Help us to follow your commands in our lives, and give us the confidence to speak in love to those who need you too.
Father, we ask to know your love even more as we need to avoid our sin and our temptations so we can walk ever closer to you.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen and amen.