Sunday, March 31, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "The Cure for Death"

“The Cure for Death”
Resurrection Sunday
John 11:25-26 :: March 31, 2013

Well, we all know that on a Sunday when we have a baptism, that I’m just the opening act for the main event.  Amen?

In just a few minutes, we’re going to hear from three different people who are going to tell us their stories of faith in Jesus Christ, and then we’re all going to have the privilege of witnessing their baptisms together.

But before we do that, we need to hear a word from God’s Word.

And that word will come from the Gospel of John chapter 11, verses 25 and 26.

It’s a familiar story, one of my favorites, probably yours, too. And it takes place just a little bit of time before the events of Holy Week, the week we have been living in these last seven days.

You probably know the story. I had the privilege of telling it recently at Buggar Orwick’s funeral, and I tucked it away in my mind then to return to here on Resurrection Sunday.

Jesus had a friend named Lazarus who got sick and then died.

And his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was deathly ill, but Jesus did not arrive until after Lazarus had already died.

He had been dead for four days, in fact, when Jesus arrived in Bethany.

Lazarus was dead.

And as you know, medicine has found no cure for death.

We recently introduced our children to the movie, The Princess Bride, where Billy Crystal’s character so memorably says that the hero is only “mostly dead” and gives him a pill that brings him back to life.

But that’s only funny to us because we know the truth.

If you are dead, you are dead.

And Lazarus’ sister, Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming ran out to meet him and said, (v.21), “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

She answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

And here is our verse for today.  What Jesus said to Martha. V.25

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

This week, I was reading an article by David Powlison about hospital visitation.

Dr. Powlison writes, “A pastor friend was talking with me about visiting church members in the hospital. He commented, ‘I have noticed an upswing in how often other visitors treat me with noticeable disdain or suspicion.’ The derision and eye-rolling do not come from the patients he visits or from medical staff. It comes from the family and friends of other patients. He will strike up a friendly conversation in the elevator or waiting room. When the other party finds out that he is a pastor, the room turns chilly, and the person makes some verbal or non-verbal sniff in his direction. In effect, ‘Why on earth are you here? What good can you do? Yeah, right…. Religion is a joke.’”

“But my friend has come up with an effective way to disarm scorn and open up the possibility of a significant conversation. With a twinkle in his eye, he says, ‘You know doctors lose every one of their patients in the long run… but some of my patients live forever.’”

Modern medicine is wonderful thing. I’ve very thankful for it!

But medicine has not discovered a cure for death.

And I don’t think they will.

However, the Lord Jesus says that He is the cure for death.

Listen again to what He said to Martha:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

Jesus claims to be the cure for death.

He actually makes two amazing statements here.

They are part of the seven “I Ams” in the gospel of John.

He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection” and “I am the life.”

And I think he explains what He means by that in the next two sentences.

“I am the resurrection.”  “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

“I am the life.” “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Let’s take those one at a time.


That means that there is no resurrection outside of Him.

He is the personal source of resurrection. He is where resurrection is found.

In other words, He brings the dead back to life!

Jesus is the cure for death.

And on that day, Jesus gave a foretaste of what that means.

He stood weeping before the tomb of his friend and shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

And amazingly, that’s what happened!  V.44 says “The dead man came out.”

And he was alive again.

“I am the resurrection .... He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That’s amazing. That’s breathtaking. That’s almost unbelievably good.

Because you and I are going to die.

All of us. The mortality rate is nearly 100%.

But Jesus says that if you believe in Him, even if you die, you will live.

Because He is the cure for death.

That’s what these baptismal candidates believe. They have put their faith in Jesus and expect to be resurrected even if they die.

In fact, that’s what their baptism illustrates.

As they go back down into the water, they are identifying with Jesus in His death, and as they come up out of the water, they are identifying with Jesus with His resurrection and they are proclaiming that Jesus IS the resurrection and will bring them back to life some day.

“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

Jesus is the cure for death.

And that’s because He is the life.

Jesus didn’t just say that He is the resurrection, but also that He is life.

And by that, He means eternal life, spiritual life, true life, not just physical life.


I think he explains what that means in the verse 26.

“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

I think that “lives” in verse 26 means eternal life.

“Whoever has the ‘life that I offer’ by trusting in me will never die.”

Eternal life. Spiritual life. Abundant life.

“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

He just said that some people will physically die. Most of us will unless we’re part of the generation alive when Christ returns.

But if we live in Christ and believe in Christ, we will have a life that never dies.

Doesn’t that sound good?

That means that Jesus is the cure for eternal death.

So that whoever believes in Him will not perish eternally but have everlasting life.

And the key question is what He asks Martha in verse 26, “Do you believe this?”


And I believe that He is asking us today.

Do you believe?

Because if you don’t believe, the opposite is true.

You have no resurrection (not to eternal joy, at least) and you have no life, no eternal life.

Do you believe?

Do you believe that Jesus is the cure for death?

Both physical death and spiritual death?

You’d think that the people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead would have believed. And some of the did. V.45 says that many put their faith in Him.

But verse 46 says that some went and told on Jesus to try to get Him into trouble.

And because of this, the Jewish religious leaders called a meeting to make plans to do away with Jesus.

And that’s exactly what happened.

When they got their chance, they had Jesus arrested and then judged and then scourged and then mocked and then crucified.

And Jesus died.

The man who claimed to be the cure for death experienced death Himself.

But when He did, He took all of our sins with Him!

And they died, too.

So that if we put our faith in Him, our sins are forgiven, paid for, gone.

And then on the third day, in John chapter 20, Jesus rose again.

Up from the grave, He arose, with a mighty triumph over His foe!

Christ Is Risen!
He Is Risen Indeed!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is the Cure for Death.

For all who believe.

Do you believe?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

What's So Good About Good Friday?

Good Friday was terribly bad--the worst day ever imaginable, but it brought the most good there ever could be.

What's So Good About Good Friday?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Finished "Bound Together"

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bound Together by my online friend Chris Brauns.

It's now my "go to" book for a brief and practical explanation of the doctrines of original sin and union with Christ. Bound Together is a great introduction to those big ideas and also brings them together in eye-opening ways.

I didn't get all of my questions answered about how solidarity works (especially in tension with a healthy individuality), but I'm more convinced than ever of the truth of solidarity and more thankful than ever, as well, because "the rope of the gospel is stronger than the rope of original sin."

Bound Together has helped me to see the world more clearly and make sense of things I feel but can't put into words.  For example, Chris recently posted on how the lottery costs our culture a lot more than $2. That's the "principle of rope" at work.

There's still time to take his quiz and get a free copy for yourself.

Or buy one for yourself and one for your pastor.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage

The purpose of this series on Hope for Holy Sexuality has not been to talk about public policy or politics.  It has been to offer hope for gospel-centered change for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. This series has also been aimed especially at Christians to understand homosexuality in light of Scripture and to respond in a Christlike and God-pleasing manner.

But the news media is FULL of stuff on same-sex marriage this week because the US Supreme Court is reviewing two separate but related cases about the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage. What they decide could radically redefine what "marriage" is in the United States.

So, it makes sense for me to say something about it. Here I go: "Same sex-marriage" is a bad idea.

That shouldn't surprise you. It has been the majority opinion of society for the course of human history. It has been the consistent teaching of the Christian church for all of its history. Those of us who believe that marriage is intended to be a man and a woman united for a lifetime may soon be (now?) in the minority, but I choose to stand on that side of the line because I believe it is right, and true, and good.

I don't say this to perpetuate hate but to perpetuate love.

Love wants what is best for other people, and same-sex marriage is bad for individuals, families, and our society.

Here are some of the best things I have read about this recently, and I commend them to you:

Why the Arguments for Gay Marriage Are Persuasive by Kevin DeYoung.  Kevin is explaining why opinions have changed (for the worse) and explains what thinking Christians need to do next to be faithful to Christ.

Opening Remarks by Sam Crabtree.  Sam was invited to debate on the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota. He very winsomely explains why same-sex marriage is a bad idea and why LOVE requires that he speak against it.  See also his quick and wise responses to gay-marriage advocate's assertions.

God, Marriage, and the Supreme Court by Greg Strand.  Greg succinctly explains what is happening this week and calls us to prayer based upon 1 Timothy 2.

Why the Church Is So Concerned with Same-Sex Marriage and Homosexuality by Timothy Tennant. The president of Asbury explains why we Christians can't help talking about this. It isn't because we want to, or because we are sexually repressed, or haters. It's because it gets to the heart of the gospel.

Read the Fine Print Before Supporting "Marriage Equality" by Trevin Wax.  Trevin soberly gets into what is truly at stake in these matters.  We've all seen the pie-chart that says that nothing of significance will truly change if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land. The only thing will be that "gays" will be able to marry.  But that is not true. Sweeping changes like this will have consequences--some we can see and some that are still hidden.

Life Together at the End of the Age by John Piper.  Piper recently preached on how Christians should live in a time of radical moral upheaval, a time he says of "marginalization, and intimidation and even criminalization of biblical speaking and acting."

Yes, I am concerned for our culture. It seems to me that, barring a surprising work of God, we are headed towards some rough stuff for those who want to be faithful to Christ.

But even this is not the end of the world. It will not be the end of the world until the world ends. And that will be a great thing for then we will enter the kingdom of our Lord and all things will be made right again.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jani Ortlund and "Resisting Gossip"

Jani Ortlund is the wife of Pastor Ray Ortlund of Immanuel Church in Nashville, author of Fearlessly Feminine and His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy, and a speaker with Renewal Ministries.

Today, in a video posted on her husband's blog, she reminded other pastors' wives of how to love others and trust God when their husbands are the objects of slanderous gossip.  I think it was part of a series of invitations to a conference for ministry wives called "Defined by God."

Mrs. Ortlund generously donated her time to serving as a critical reader in the developmental stage of Resisting Gossip, and I was so encouraged to receiver her endorsement:

Matthew Mitchell’s book on resisting gossip helped me greatly, and the timing was perfect. I want to thank him for his wise and godly counsel, straight from our Father’s heart. I can hear the author’s voice, and it doesn’t beat me up. It challenges and exhorts, but shows me we are in this together for much good.” – Jani Ortlund

Monday, March 25, 2013

Commentaries on 1 John

I enjoyed preaching 1 John over the last 19 weeks, but following John's train of thought was not easy. It was more of a race-car-of-thought.

The three commentaries that helped me the most were:

1. Robert W. Yarbrough's 1-3 John in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series.

Yarbrough was thorough, knowledgeable, and irenic yet decisive on interpretation. Very scholarly. Top scholarship.

2. John Stott's The Epistles of John in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series.

Stott is always judicious, thoughtful, learned, and quotable.

3. I.H. Marshall's The Epistles of John in the New International Commentary on the New Testament Series.

I've had this commentary in my possession since 1996. Marshall is a masterful commentator. I don't always agree with him, but I always profit from reading his work.

In audio, my understanding was greatly enlarged by listening to D.A. Carson's overview of 1 John.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Listen Again to 1 John"

“Listen Again to 1 John”
Essential Christianity: 1 John
March 24, 2013
1 John 1:1-5:21


I’ll bet that you thought we were done with 1 John for a while because last week we read and talked about the last paragraph and the last verse.

18 messages in 1 John from October 14th to March 17th.

We called the series “Essential Christianity.”  We were learning together what is essential that we must be and believe to know that we are real Christians.

Remember this?  The first sermon in the Essential Christianity series was called “A Letter Arrived From John.

And we pulled a copy of 1 John out of this envelope, and I read the whole thing to you.  Remember that?

At that point, most of us knew a lot of 1 John from familiar individual verses that we had memorized, but most of us had not studied it in-depth as a letter, connecting the verses together and trying to follow John’s argument.

Now, we’ve done that. Verse by verse through 1 John.

And today, I’d like to read the whole thing to you again.

This time with all of the lights on.

Have you ever walked through an unfamiliar house at night with the lights off?

You can make it from one side of the house to the other in the dark. You follow the walls. You can kind of sense where the big objects are.

But it’s not a lot of fun, and you bump into all kinds of things. Like your shin into a coffee table.

But how about exploring that same house, after the lights get turned on?

That’s a different story.

And that’s why I want to read 1 John to you again this morning.

Now, last time, I told you to close your Bibles and even close your eyes.

And, I remember Nathan Kristofits really enjoyed those instructions.

But today, I encourage you to follow along. Keep your finger on the text. Keep your eyes open.

The first audience probably listened to 1 John as it was read to them and didn’t have their own copies. But we do. Amazingly, we do have our own copies.

So open your copy, and follow along as I read it to you.

I’m going to read it from my printout of it that I have marked up with all kinds of notes and things that I learned along the way.

We’ve spent the last 18 messages turning on the lights in the house. Now, let’s go together from room to room.

What are we going to see?

We’re going to see that John cared deeply about the people to whom he was writing.

They are “dear friends.” Agapatoi. They are loved ones.  They are “dear children.”  His precious children in the faith.

We’re going to see John try to guide them after they have experienced the departure of some false teachers from their fellowship. Teachers who believed a false gospel, an anti-gospel making them anti-christs.

And John wants to encourage the genuine believers that were left behind that they had the Word of Life, they had the truth because the believed in the name of the Son of God (Jesus), they loved each other as brothers, and they obeyed the commands of their Lord.

John will continue to circle the doctrinal, moral, and social themes. 

Truth, obedience, and love. 
Truth, obedience, and love. 
Truth, obedience, and love. 

All three are essential, and they are all intertwined.

As we progress from room to room in this well-lit house we are going to see Who God is.

God is light.
And God is love.

God is perfectly holy and expects holiness from His people.

And God is perfectly loving and expects love from His people.

And this God of light and love sent His Son.

Today is Palm Sunday, when we think about the beginning of that week of Jesus “Passion.”  When Jesus suffered and died for us on the Cross.

1 John tells us why He did that.

It uses words like “blood” and “atoning sacrifice” and “laid down his life for us” and  “The one wh cam by water and blood.”

1 John is Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the Cross.

And it’s all about our enemies.

The World (don’t love it!), the Flesh (don’t trust it), and the Devil (who runs the world now but is not as great as the One who is in us).

And 1 John tells us what to expect in the future.

We know that we live right now in the Last Hour with little antichrists running around doing as much damage as they can.

But we also know that Jesus will return and when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

1 John calls for a response from us.

To live differently than the world.
To resist false teaching. To test the Spirits.
To love our brothers and sisters in Christ, our spiritual siblings.
To obey Jesus in all His commands.

To believe in Jesus and keep on believing so that we know that we have eternal life.

Those are some of the lights we’ve turned on.

Now, let’s go together on a tour of this glorious house.

Listen again to 1 John.

[Prayer.  Read 1 John from the NIV 1984.]

What did you hear today that was different from when you heard it in October?

What have you learned in 1 John?

What questions remain for you?  What do you need to study further?

What is God asking from you today after today’s encounter with God’s Word in 1 John?

Do you have eternal life?  That life is in God’s son. If you have the Son, you have life. If you do not have the Son of God, you do not have eternal life.

I invite you to receive the Son of God today.

Are you walking in the light, as He is in the light?

Or are you stumbling in the darkness?  Confess your sins and walk in the light.

Are you loving the world?  Or are you loving your brothers and sister in Christ?

Are you rejoicing in the great love the Father has lavished on us?

God is love.  We love because he first loved us.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

Messages about Essential Christianity

1. A Letter Arrived from John
2. The Word of Life
3. God Is Light
4. Talk and Walk
5. If You Love, You Live in the Light
6. I Write To You Because
7. Do Not Love the World
8. This Is the Last Hour
9. Children of God (Part One)
10. Children of God (Part Two)
11. Love Your Brother
12. God Is Greater Than Our Hearts
13. Test the Spirits
14. God Is Love (Part One)
15. God Is Love (Part Two)
16. Overcoming the World
17. The Testimony
18. We Know
19. Listen Again to 1 John

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dennis Wadsworth on "Resisting Gossip"

Dennis Wadsworth and I were at seminary together at Trinity, but we really got to know each other when we found ourselves in pastoral ministry in the same district of the EFCA.

Then Dennis got called away to Fertile Minnesota to pastor Hope Evangelical Free Church. (I love that their website is called "Hope 4 Fertile.")

Dennis is an encourager and a prayer warrior.  Often when I send off a prayer-email, Dennis replies, "Got your back."  He's always in your corner, and I love being in his corner, too.

I really appreciated Dennis taking the time to serve as a critical reader for Resisting Gossip back when it was a D.Min project, and when we finished the project he offered this endorsement:
The foundational strength of Resisting Gossip isn’t found in a single chapter. It runs through the whole book. That strength is the good news, the gospel. Not the three point outline that gets a person ‘saved’ but the impact of the gospel that redeems, justifies, propitiates and sanctifies. Too often authors that take on topical issues such as gossip tip their hat to the gospel, assume it as an underlying principle or ignore it altogether. Not so in this material. The gospel is front and center and applied throughout all of the suggestive material in how to deal with resisting gossip. – Dennis W. Wadsworth, Jr
That's exactly what I wanted it to be, Dennis, gospel-centered. Thanks for saying that we achieved that goal!  And thanks for having "my back" in prayer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Do I Think of the New Pope?

I don't think much about the Pope. I am a protestant. I am an evangelical. I am not a Roman Catholic, and I don't feel qualified to have much of an opinion about the Pope.

But, at the same time, I do care about many Catholics--my friends, neighbors, loved ones. And I care about the world we live in which is deeply affected by the Roman Catholic Church and its leadership.  [This article, while not possessing a great title, is the best short explanation of the kind of solidarity I feel with the Pope and why I care so much while still "protesting."]

So, like many others, our family has watched with interest the news surrounding the retirement of Benedict and the election of Francis. I was heartened to read the articles in Christianity Today about those in Argentina who are elated with the choice because they know this man personally and are encouraged by his personal humility and openness. This included even Luis Palau who counts the new pope as an old friend and a man who loves his Bible.

Who knows where this will lead?  I know it doesn't mean that the Reformation is over, but what might God do with these developments? It will be interesting to see.

The best book I've ever read on the relationship between evangelicals and Catholics remains Chris Castaldo's Holy Ground. It's very readable, winsome, balanced, and helpful.  I  read Chris' blog to stay up on current events at the intersection of evangelicalism and Catholicism. He continues love his Catholic heritage but also is unashamedly evangelical and protestant. He posted this week on the challenges that Pope Francis is facing as he begins his role (and how some of his first choices were to pray to Mary). Highly recommended blog.


Interesting to long-term readers, some of the first posts on Hot Orthodoxy were about the election of Pope Benedict. That seems like forever ago now, but it was only 8 years ago.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Last week, I finished reading Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Versus Christians Debate by Justin Lee.  

I'm torn about Torn. I had hoped to like it more because it came highly recommended to me.  But I found myself to be deeply disturbed by it--especially the author's treatment of Scripture and the way he framed the whole discussion--the way he told the story.  [For a very thoughtful, gracefilled, yet critical review of Torn see Christopher Yuan's review on The Gospel Coalition website.]

I expect that in coming weeks I'll write more about my thoughts about Torn. Today, I want to say something that I found both helpful and frustrating--Lee's explanation of the word "gay."

What was so helpful to me was that (for whatever reasons, including my, at times, sheltered life) I didn't know the regular, everyday use of the word gay in our present culture is "someone who is attracted to the same sex."  I had thought that "gay" meant actively pursuing homosexual identity and sexual behavior, even flamboyantly.

I know that words are important, so it was very helpful to me to find out how others use this word.  I want to make sure that I use words correctly, especially for something as emotionally charged as this. Along with that, I was surprised to find out that the word "homosexual" is generally not appreciated by those who experience same-sex attraction. It has become a scare-word, when used of a class of people. I'm glad to know that, as I had thought I was speaking compassionately by using "homosexual" and not "gay."  (That's why this series is now called "Hope for Holy Sexuality" instead of "Hope for Homosexuals.")

At the same time, I am frustrated by "gay." I think the word tells a story that I can't get behind. It's a story of "orientation" and fixed identity. It's a word with a long and checkered history. I'm still not sure when someone uses it what exactly they mean by it and what others hear when it's said.

So, I won't be using it.  Justin Lee has taught me not to make too many assumptions about what someone else means when they use it, but I won't use it myself.

Wesley Hill is another person who uses the word "gay" to describe himself. He calls himself a celibate gay Christian. Greg Strand has a helpful post explaining why Wesley uses that terminology (in his own words) and respectfully registering his (Greg's) own reservations about that terminology. I think it's a helpful dialogue to be having.

I'm learning. Words are important, but they are not everything. We need to not be "the word police" and expect everyone to talk like we do. We need to extend grace to each other. At the same time, whenever we can use words in ways that genuinely help to communicate, we should.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reading "Risen" This Resurrection Season

This year, starting on March 31st, I'm going to be reading Risen: 50 Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything by EFCA pastor Steven D. Mathewson.

It's a short little book with a reading for each day from Resurrection Sunday to Pentecost.

Many Christians devote a month or so to contemplating the Cross during the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday (Easter). Some call that time "Lent" (and some use the time better than others, but that's another post).

Why wouldn't we devote the same amount of time to meditating on what happened after the Cross that validated everything the Cross accomplished and changed everything forever?

Join me?  There is still time to get a copy before the holiday hits.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chew Your Words Before Letting Them Out

"My auntie Chava used to tell me to chew my words before letting them out. 'Seven times, Marjan,' she would say. 'Chew them seven times.' If you let your words go buzzing out of your mouth like bees, she always told me, they will come back and sting you."

From "Shadow Spinner" by Susan Fletcher (pg. 30).  For school, our family is reading this intriguing tale about a Persian queen who saves her life and the lives of many other women by telling stories.

When I read those words, I immediately thought, of course, of gossip.

"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."  Proverbs 10:19

Sunday, March 17, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "We Know"

“We Know”
Essential Christianity: 1 John
March 17, 2013 :: 1 John 5:14-21

Our series has been called “Essential Christianity” because we have been learning together what is essential to be and to believe to be assured that we are, in fact, real Christians.

And, hopefully, we’ve learned a lot over the last 17 messages as we’ve tried to follow the winding path of the apostle John’s thoughts and think them after him.

Last week, we ended with verse 13 of chapter 5 which summarizes the whole point of the letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

“So that you [believers] may know that you have eternal life.”

Do you know that you have eternal life?  I hope so.  

That word “know” becomes very important for John as he brings this epistle to a close.

In fact, he keeps repeating it for emphasis again and again. He says, “We know.” “We know.” “We know.”

He emphasizes what believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, truly know. 

What we can know for certain and bank our lives upon.

We know.

The thing about this passage that was the most difficult for me as I studied to prepare this message was that some of the things that John says we know are not things that I always feel like I know.

There are a couple of these that after I read John say, “We know...” this, I thought, “Oh, do we?”

You might have felt the same was as I just read it to you.

So, it’s important to try to understand what John is saying and what he isn’t saying so that we truly know what it is that we are supposed to know.

And I’d like to summarize this passage with 3 points.


We know that he hears us when we pray. V.14 again.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

That word “confidence” could even be translated “boldness.”  We, Christians, actually have the audacity, the boldness, the confidence to approach God and ask Him for things.

And you know what?  We know that he hears us.

And I think that when John says, “He hears us” that he means that He answers our prayers.

Not just that He can pick up the auditory signals from our prayers.

“What’s that? I think they’re praying.” God says from heaven.

No, God says, “I hear you.”

And John says, “We know it.”  V.15

“And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Isn’t that a wonderful promise?

We know that God hears us and answers our prayers–whatever we ask!

I think it’s important that John emphasizes that word “whatever.” Verse 14 says, “anything.” V. 15 says “whatever.”

I think that means that God invites us to pray about whatever is on our heart and mind–no subject, no theme, no problem is off limits as a possible topic of our prayers.

Our God cares. Even about the little stuff in life. Maybe especially about the little stuff in life!

And John says that we should have the confidence to know that when we pray, God hears us.

The ears of our Good Shepherd are attuned to the cries of His sheep.

Now, I also think that it’s important that John says that our prayers are heard when we pray (v.14) in accordance to his will.

I think that means, at least, that when we pray, we need to pray for the things we think God wants. We need to want what God wants and ask for that.

And therefore it is helpful to use our Bibles when we pray because here is where we have an infallible guide to the kinds of things that God wants.

I don’t think that we should take this promise as a blank check that we are called to fill in with our selfish desires.

“And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

And I just asked for a new Ford Mustang!

And I know that I’m going to get it because He said, “Whatever we ask–we know that we have it!”

Some people think that this verse means that God looks a lot like this:

But we know that God is not a genie in a bottle. He is the all-wise Ruler of the universe.

And we don’t always get what we WISH.

Even our Lord Jesus Christ was told “No” to His request in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup would be taken away from Him.

Does that mean that God did not hear him?

No, the book of Hebrews in chapter 5 says, “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

We know that He hears us.

And so, we should pray.

How are you doing at being a praying Christian?

I know that I tend to pray at set times and set places and when things go badly wrong.

But I’m tempted every day to not pray.

Praying can be hard work.

Praying takes time.
My minds wanders.
I don’t always know what to pray.

I feel like I could be accomplishing something instead of just praying.

So, I need this reminder.

God hears us.
God hears us.
God hears us when we pray.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

We know that He hears us.


In verse 16, John says something more about prayer. And that is that we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them wandering from the path. V.16

“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”

Now, this section can be pretty confusing, and not all biblical scholars agree about what it means.

The difficult thing is to identify what are the sins that lead to death and what are the sins that don’t lead to death.

John is clear in verse 17 that “all wrongdoing is sin.” All sin is sin.

But some sins are different than others sins in that some sins are sins that don’t necessarily lead to death and some are sins that do inevitably lead to death.

Which are which?

Unfortunately, John doesn’t tell us.

My guess is that it was obvious to the original readers, perhaps because John had already taught them about this using this same terminology.

So, we have to guess and use the context of John and the rest of the New Testament to guide us.

What did Jesus say was the sin that could not be forgiven?

And by that, it seems that Jesus meant attributing the work of the Spirit in pointing to the Son of God to Satan himself.

Irrevocably saying that Jesus is not God’s Son, as the Spirit says, but that He is of the devil.

My guess is that this sin is that same sin (since it leads to death).  Perhaps it shows up here in those people who professed to be believers but then walked away from the truth, stopped pretending to love the brothers, stopped obeying the commands of Jesus, and started to deny that Jesus was the Son of God.  Remember that we said (in chapter 2 and chapter 4) that they became antichrists (small a).

My guess is that the sin that leads to death is walking the path of antichrist.

John says that if someone is doing that (v.16), “I am not saying that he should pray about that.”

Now, he doesn’t say that you can’t pray for someone in that situation. He doesn’t forbid prayers for those people. Do what the Spirit tells you to do in those cases.

But what John IS saying is that for most sins that we see our brothers and sisters in Christ stray into, we should be praying for them.

Pray for their repentance. 

Pray for them to see the consequences of their sin.

Pray for them to confess their sins because God is faithful and just and will forgive their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. V.16

“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.”

Because (v.18)... “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”

Now that first part was one of those things that I said, “O we know that do we?” when I read it this week.

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin...”

King James says, “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.”

But we just saw in verse 16 that brothers do sin.

John has been very clear all along that Christians are still people who struggle with sin.

But he’s also been very clear all along that Christians are also people who have victory over sin.

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”

“[T]he one who was born of God keeps him safe.”

Who is that?

Well, it’s possible that it refers to the believer himself. Because we are born of God, we now have a new heart, and that leads us to say no to temptation. 

But I doubt that’s what he was saying.

I think the “one who born of God” is Jesus, the Son of God.

And He keeps us safe.

Jesus keeps us from continuing in sin.

If we belong to Him, He, through His Holy Spirit, will give us no rest until we rest in Him.

V.18 says that He keeps us safe, “and the evil one cannot harm him.”

Literally, the evil one cannot “touch” us. We are safe from Him.

Of course that doesn’t mean that Satan has no effect on us, that’s why the NIV says, “cannot harm him.”

God keeps us safe.

When Satan Tempts Me to Despair and Tells Me Of the Guilt Within
Upward I Look And See Him There Who Made An End to All My Sin
Because the Sinless Savior Died, My Sinful Soul Is Counted Free
For God the Just Is Satisfied To Look on Him and Pardon Me

Satan can’t touch me, because God keeps me safe. Isn’t that reassuring?!

But it is not safe to be outside of Christ. We know that! V.19

“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”

We know it. We know that we are literally “of God” and we are surrounded by a world that is under control of the evil one.

But we also know that God has invaded this world under siege and is performing a  colossal rescue mission. V.20

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”


This is the verse that I shared with the church on Christmas Eve.

“We know also that the Son of God has come [that’s Christmas!] and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.”

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.

So, when He came, He gave us Himself! V.20

“And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Which sounds a lot like the first verse of chapter 1.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

And it sounds like verse 13 of this chapter.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

That you have Jesus! Because knowing Him is what eternal life is all about.

In John 17, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.”

In the gospel, God has given us Himself by giving us Jesus.

Do you have Jesus?

If you have Jesus, you have everything.

He who has the Son has LIFE!

But He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I so much want life for you. That you would know that you have eternal life.

That life is in God’s Son.

I invite you to put your faith in Him.

Because God has given us Himself in giving us Jesus.

He is the true God and eternal life.

So we should accept no substitutes!

I think that’s why John ends his letter what that enigmatic sentence. It’s one of the strangest endings for any of the New Testament letters.

He doesn’t say goodbye. 

He just signs off (v.21), “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

If Jesus is the true God and eternal life, why would we let ourselves worship anybody or anything else?

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

If God has given us HIMSELF, why would we settle for anything less?

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Don’t pray to them.

The Bible makes it clear that idols can’t hear us.

But God hears us!

Don’t trust in them.

The Bible says that idols are empty hope.

But God keeps us!

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

That, of course, means physical idols set up in your home.

But it also means spirituals idols that we can set up in our hearts.

Money, Fame, Popularity, Pleasure, Security, Comfort.

Anything that promises to take God’s place if you will just bow down can be an idol.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Because you have something better. God has given you Himself.

We know it.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Resisting Gossip Live Seminar at Miracle Mountain Ranch

A week from today, I get to teach on resisting gossip at Miracle Mountain Ranch in Spring Creek, PA.

Directed by Matt Cox, MMR is a wonderful Christian ministry of camping, retreats, and character development.

On Thursday night, they are hosting their first ever Church Leadership Dinner which Heather and I get to attend.

Then the next morning, I get to meet with the students in their School of Discipleship.

This event is not open to the public, but I would appreciate your prayers. This will be a great opportunity to hone my skills at leading a seminar on gossip, and I want to be at my best to really help these students to grow in this area of sanctification.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jeremy Walker on Gossip

Over at the Reformation21 Blog, Jeremy Walker has been teaching on a Christian presence in social media with an excellent multi-part series called A Web of Wisdom: Social Media to Glory of God.

The series is up to 4 installments, and each one is very long (Jeremy's friend Paul joked today that "Jeremy's series on Social Media will be available on Twitter in 140 characters, one tweet per day for the next 25 years."), but each one is also very good and worth reading.

In Part Three, Jeremy reminds us:
Even more innocent sites can be used to destroy someone's character or cripple reputations. Digging up and spreading around tales - even true ones, when and where you have no business meddling in it - will bring no honour to the Lord. God abominates such things. Think of how much 'news' on some sites is nothing more than gossip, sometimes simply slander, both in the world and in the church: who has said what about whom, who is linking up with whom, what is rumoured to be going on behind the scenes at such and such a place. Again, consider the need to know and the need to tell. Consider not speaking or waiting to speak if you are not sure. If the matter hangs in the balance, ask yourself with judgement day honesty whether or not you accurately know and are responsible to tell before you open your mouth or press the appropriate button. If you can, let the fire go out.
A web of wisdom indeed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hate Words

The Bible says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."  (Ephesians 4:29-31)

Banish the word "faggot" from your vocabulary.

Don't say, "That's so gay."

Throw away words that express your disdain, animosity, and hate for people who experience same sex attraction. (I won't list some of the awful things I've recently seen said on blogs. It makes me so angry.)

If you talk that way, and you are a Christ-follower, you are bringing shame on the name of Christ.

Cut it out.


For a story of how hate words have pushed people away, see this testimony by a young intern at Harvest USA named Laura: Searching for Safety, Finding a Savior.


P.S. I know that there is another side to "words" when you are talking about homosexuality and that is allowing the true enemies of the gospel set the agenda for what words are acceptable and what words aren't. This is not a call to "play nice," but to put no unnecessary stumbling block in front of those who need Christ and His grace. Don't give in to fear but do give in to love!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Moody Chorale and "Resisting Gossip"

Photo by Kelly Beck
Yesterday, our church had the privilege of hosting the Moody Bible Institute Chorale for an evening of beautiful music and testimony.

What a wonderful experience!  [See the pictures at our church's Facebook album taken by Kelly Beck.]

The choir did an excellent job of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ by using their musical gifts.  And our church families enjoyed having them stay in our homes.

This morning, Dr. Xiangtang Hong, their (very expressive!) director, asked me to address their Chorale on the subject of my upcoming book.  Dr. Hong had heard that I was an expert in gossip (a strange claim to fame!), and wanted me to share from what I've been learning.

It was privilege to talk with these fine students not only about recognizing and resisting sinful gossip, but also about the beauty and glory of biblical unity.  I shared some thoughts from Psalm 133 on the blessing of Aaron's oily beard.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.

It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

- Psalm 133

May the Lord continue to bless the MBI Chorale as they share their gifts and testimony on this tour!

Monday, March 11, 2013


Baby Isaac and I Resting on the Hammock, Circa 2005
I am not real good at resting.

Today is my family day off, and it's always a struggle to know what to do on Mondays that will be truly restful.  Should I be productive in ways that I can't be the rest of the week? Should I try to nap? Should I try to get exercise?  Should we run errands? Should we do this or do that?  It's not always clear. And the answer is different on different days.

I do know that I've been profiting from unplugging on Mondays and from focusing on my kids and their needs and desires. But other than that, I'm not always sure if what I'm choosing for Mondays will be truly restful.

I think rest is important. God rested (not because He had to but) to give us the gift of rest. And He is still giving us that gift which we ignore at our own peril.

Baby Isaac and Me Mugging for the Camera Circa 2005
Here are two resources I've written on rest. Neither of them are amazing but I do think they are helpful (at least, they were to me).

This is a message I delivered back in 2000. It is a fictional letter from God that summarized what I was learning about rest at the time.

This is a sermon I wrote in 2009 on Luke 5:33-6:11.  "The Lord of Rest is Rest Himself."

See how good I am at resting? Maybe I was better at back then?