Friday, May 31, 2024


Right from the beginning of this short letter John links LOVE with TRUTH. Just look at the word's frequency. Whom I love in the truth - and not I only but also all who know the truth - because of the truth which lies in us and will be with us forever (vv1,2)   It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth. (v4). But it's only some who are walking in the truth. That deeply concerns him.

There are truths with a capital T and the biggest is who Jesus is, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Scripture reveals the extraordinary truth that God has revealed himself to us in flesh.  That Jesus is born in Bethlehem. He is God incarnates, identifying with us. Yet at the same time he is God's Son. 100% divine and 100% human. To sensible people this belief is nonsense! Ever since the church began sensible people have taught either he is more God than man or man that God.

For this new young church some have come with a particular teaching: 'Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world' (v7) This church is clearly in danger of listening to false teaching. This Gnostic thinking with many variations likes behind several New Testament letters. It seem this particular teaching refused to accept that God who is spirit and utterly pure and good could be mixed up with the material, impure and evil world.  So, if Jesus is truly God it’s nonsense to claim that he was born in flesh and that he actually died. No, Jesus became God at his baptism and left the man before the crucifixion.  

There has always been controversy about who Jesus is. Always.  Someone came up to me at church a couple of weeks ago:  'We have a group of Christians who meet at work and we have this bloke who is a Christadelphian.  And don’t they have strange teaching about Jesus? ' Well, their approach is to say that because there is one God, Jesus is not divine with the Father. There's no Trinity. I happened to be preaching this last Sunday which to many in the world church is set apart as Trinity Sunday. After the Spirit has come at Pentecost the fullness of God's three persons is revealed. New disciples will be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday always pushes us to think beyond human wisdom and ask for spiritual wisdom which is truth beyond reaston - transrational.  It's spiritual truth which God wants us to open our hearts and minds to in wondering faith that  accepts God's thoughts are not ours. 

One radio programme when the Archbishop talked with various people about Christianity involved the comedian John Cleese who expressed interest. . But then he said: 'What I don't understand is wh yJesus had to die!'  That's raw human wisdom declaring how something makes no sense. It is foolishness (1 Cor 2:13). It's only by spiritual wisdom which opens up to the possibility that Jesus truly is the Son of God  that the Cross begins to make spiritual sense.   

John writes to this church about being careful about who you have to teach and challenge you. It means keeping alert.  Don’t let minor byways distract you from the major truths of the gospel and Jesus as Lord, Son of the Father, with the Holy Spirt as Trinity is as major as they come.

Monday, May 27, 2024


It’s tough love. Tough love is the practice of being very strict with someone to help them correct their behaviour.  Jesus as Lord commands us to love in his ways. He commands us to walk together in love.

Nicky Gumbel, the inspiration behind the Alpha programme, has recently posted a couple of quotes on Facebook from Alice Cooper, the American rock singer. Almost as old as me (!) Cooper used to plaster his face with lurid black make-up. An old picture of him accompanies the quote: Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian is a tough call. That’s real rebellion.  Yes, real rebellion.

Doing stuff that Jesus calls us to do is tough There’s an act of compassion, someone who could really benefit from us giving them some time. We just don't feel like doing it. Jesus says: 'Do it for me.' There’s a commitment that I know Jesus would like but I don’t feel like doing it. Jesus says: 'Do it for me.' When my home group discussed keeping commitments recently (I mentioned this in a post) we saw the challenge between the practical commitments that are required in our daily lives - paying bills, keeping appointments, doing jobs and the voluntary commitments that Jesus requires.  Those commitments reveal our willingness to obey with tough love. Jesus love. Agape.

Local churches work by tough love - when their congregations make commitments to each other and their neighbours that Jesus requires, commands.  And I know it as an itinerant preacher.  When you visit a church for the first time, sadly, sometimes you can feel the tensions where people are working an organization rather than working at love. Sometimes it has almost seemed that aliens had come and sucked out life spirit from people and left soulless bodies.  

It's obvious that the formula for a spiritual strong church needs LOVE. X.  And in this letter John keenly links love with one other vital requirement. Y.  It's mentioned five times in the first four verses.....

Friday, May 24, 2024


The first word in the formula X + Y = a spiritually strong church is so obvious, and it is especially a John, the apostle, word. There’s an old story (which means you have probably already heard it) of John preaching his last sermon.  He was so old, his voice was weak and he was frail. Because they so revered him the crowds squeezed in tight to hear this apostle who’d actually been with Jesus. |What would his last words be?  With a quavering voice he said: Little children love one another. Little children love one another. Little children love one another. And then again, and again, the same words. People became restless. Some said it was such a shame. Was it a sign of dementia?  Was this all he was going to say?  Some people understood. It really was the most important thing of all for them to hear. And some, in their shame, knew John was probing deeply about what mattered most about their own behaviour.  

You can hear John's love for these people  It says 'the chosen lady and her children' and it could be a family group whom he loves  v1.  Or it could be his way of speaking to a local church a sister church full of brothers and sisters . In fact, it’s suggested that the details are left vague so that in those  days of persecution disciples couldn’t be identified. But I think he knew their names and he loves them. He cannot wait to see them face-to-face v12. To belong to a group of people who love and care for each other is the greatest gift.

Love  is such a warm, popular yet elastic word. It extends over a wide spectrum from the superficial at its lowest end. Carol and I happen to love Lentil and Bacon soup which at the moment means we have a small store. And we say we love it.  We can say that with meaning about favourite food, football clubs, pop stars and the a heap of things. Moving along the spectrum love becomes heavier and more engaging.  We can fall in love - love of partners, family, friends, It can be highly emotional. Of course we can also fall out of love. But at its highest, and it really is the highest form of love, is Jesus love, Agape. That's the word in John 2.  It's never highly emotional. It cost Jesus everything to love us and it costs us everything to love him back.  We have to make him Lord and say in the power of the Spirit that we want to love other people like Jesus loves us.  It’s a commanded love, that needs our hearts, souls, minds and will.  John says it often: it’s not a new command but one we had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another and this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (vv5,6).

It's a tough love. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

A church formula

Keeping commitments (to follow a recent theme) involves me preaching a couple of times in the next few weeks. Back at Bluntisham, still in awaiting a new minister, I am hooked into their current preaching series -‘Overlooked books of the Bible.’ My two dates coincide with John 2 and Jude. My records (not necessarily hyper-accurate you understand) suggest that I have never preached on John 2 though I have intensively focused on John 1.  Jude has only one outing.  That's in over 60 plus years of preaching. So, overlooked they certainly are!

I was reminded of the old green Baptist Hymn Book, published in 1954. My father as Baptist minister set his heart on making sure that none of the nearly 800 hymns were overlooked. As a teenager I got to know the hymn book – some golden oldies and new ones. Not new as in Kendricks, Gettys, Redmon, Hillsong etc...but new for the 50's.. In the tune book on the piano he began to write the dates against the days he chose particular hymns.  If he felt the tune was a barrier he’d find a another tune with the same metre. And some had to be introduced tune and all. He said he wanted to make sure we didn’t stay with the popular ones but sang ones we didn’t know. I guess some people might have been fed up. 'Look at the words carefully' he would say. ' We shouldn’t miss this one out.  It’s chosen because it says something that matters'.  

Now, with Scripture it’s different because big choices were taken as to which books were important for telling out God's story, but a similar principle applies. Look at the words carefully. We shouldn't miss this one out.  It's here because it says something important. So, what matters in John 2?   

Certainly something mattered to the apostle John when he wrote this.  He’s the elder and as he addresses this young church two issues really matter.  Which of course means they matter for any church, like ours. I think that together these two themes almost amount to a formula for a spiritually strong church.. X plus Y equals....

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Keeping Commitments 3)

Our group meeting always ends in group prayer but I wanted every member to be able to share from the beginning. So I split our study session into two parts.  Part 1 asked members to name a commitment they have to keep and, as I mentioned two posts ago, I began with my foot exercises. Certainly no one else named that issue (though two group members have suffered in the past).  As we went round the room people particularly identified commitments to family, especially grandchildren. One highlighted their belonging to a church choir, another referred to their list of friends with whom to keep in contact. Someone spoke about their commitment to a weekly church outreach programme involving young families in the village. And yes, there was honest disclosure. Someone described how their desire to move from couch to 5K run was a failed commitment!

|We reflected on these and many other kinds of commitments and placed them in four categories.        

First - our vows to God  

Second - vows in marriage, to family, to friends 

Third - required practical commitments like paying bills, maintaining contracts, getting to work on time, projects keeping appointments.

Fourth - voluntary commitments - involvement with others offering help, showing compassion, mercy, which are extra to duties of daily life.

Part 2 reviewed some set questions about Hosea's marriage modelling God's broken relationship with Israel yet his enduring love, and with this in mind focused on the list above.  Because God's love for us calls for our commitment to him to be so serious that it affects every level of commitment.  As one group member said: 'It really challenges me to think that everything that we do matters to God - all commitments at every level! '.

As we prepared to pray together one person shared how they were particularly burdened with a decision about further leadership involvement in the church.  About how difficult it is to discern at the fourth level how much more we should do in busy lives. 

We always value time together. I know this challenge about keeping commitments has a sharper edge as I plan my diary ahead. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Keep Commitments 2)

My home group date is tomorrow and I admit I have been exercised about how best to approach the evening. Truthfully, the choice of Hosea as the set Scripture was a great surprise.  It's not the obvious choice when thinking about biblical help on keeping commitments! 

The prophets were an extraordinary group of people, inspired by God to challenge the people by word and sometimes in action. These actions were like action symbols where prophets vividly lived out the message. And Hosea ranks as one of providing the most unusual symbol - his marriage and children!  His message is a judgment on Israel which is in the throes of the last tragic years before Assyria overthrows the kingdom.  It's hard to believe how far the leaders and people have drifted from God's love and authority. All six kings in succession are disasters with 4 murdered, 1 captured in battle and only one succeeded by his son. The whole Northern kingdom has failed God in the great sin of  unfaithfulness. 

To demonstrate the message of their unfaithfulness, Hosea is told to marry Gomer. We have many questions about her because it's clear that whether she began as a good wife or not she became adulterous.  Some even suggest, a prostitute. The story of love, and one commentator calls this 'a love story that went wrong,' shows Hosea naming three children (perhaps two of them not his own) with symbolic names - all dire pronouncements on the future of Israel.  Incredible to think of naming children 'No Longer Love' and 'You are not my people'!  As you read on you see how his marriage and his words illustrate the rejection God feels as his people reject his love for them. 

The study guide sets questions about Hosea's marriage and how it demonstrated God's unfailing love in spite of hurtful rejection and asks  us how we might begin to imitate God in one of our commitments.  I shall report on how the group responds!

Monday, May 6, 2024

Keep Commitments

A brief follow-up to the last post.  It's not much to boast about but I can report that, so far, I have been disciplined in following my foot exercises. Are they making much difference to the pain? Well, not as much as I hoped but I have a long way to complete 12 weeks.  And the exercise plan emphasizes that I must not give up even when I feel better.

Yesterday, I saw the lady at church who first uttered the words Plantar fasciitis.  I told her that I too was suffering and had been given this action plan of exercises.  'Oh', she pulled a face. 'They're awful!'  'Like the one where you have to stand on tiptoe on a step and then lower your heel to the floor,' I replied, grateful for a fellow pilgrim along the way. ' Oh, I'm afraid I haven't done much of that stuff!' she said. 'I am just hoping that it will get better eventually.  I think it is!' 

So not a fellow pilgrim!  Part of me is not surprised she's given up because I have known several people who found the sheer slog of following physio exercises is not much fun.  And it really isn't!  It's also true that maintaining a pattern of discipline when there's little evidence of improvement demands real effort of will.

I was amused by a connection this makes with the next home group Bible study I am leading.  It's called 'Keep Commitments'.  In the study booklet leaders are told to begin the session by asking group members to name different commitments in their lives. Like: marriage vows, projects, appointment, bill-paying, due dates, getting to work on time, promises to children.  Encouraging a wide range of commitments, with some of them light-hearted, is intended to prod the group's thinking about the wide array of commitments in normal life and the way we handle these. In fact, group members should name commitments that are not named by anyone else in the group.

I shall name my plantar fasciitis exercises!  I think I shall be the only person with that commitment.  But I guess it will be a surprise to discover that the Scripture chosen for this study is Hosea 1:1-2:1,3.  Really? Next time.