John 1

Children, Abide

1 John 3:1-7 (NLT)
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous.


This is the second sermon in a six-part series, “Children of God.” It is written in conjunction with Life Group Bible studies held through Luminary United Methodist Church in Ten Mile, Tenn.


As we’ve already discovered in our opening sermon and first Life Group study, God is relational. Most of us have heard the assertion “God is love,” but we sometimes fail to make the connection that God’s love implies a desire for a close relationship.

Thinking God wants us near him is hardly a leap of imagination, though. “I have loved you from afar” is a poignant statement, not a happy one. We automatically understand a long-distance romance to be a difficult situation for lovers. Loving parents do not want to be separated from their children indefinitely; there may be no greater pain for a parent. God’s love for us is no different.

Created in God’s image, we also are very capable of love, although our ability to love is hampered by sin. As we understand how much we are loved by God—as we experience how love was expressed in action on the cross, feel that love through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and grow in that love by being in community—we should find ourselves able to love more freely. And as we grow in love, we also see the reason for pursuing holiness, an act of love that has so often been misunderstood.

Love in Action

Holiness is just a churchy word meaning we behave as God would have us behave. It’s a difficult concept for people who resist or reject Christianity because they perceive conversations about holiness as evidence of God’s authoritarianism, or worse, a church’s attempt to control society at large.

By the way, this is why I don’t like to see Christian behavior forced on people through government legislation—such tactics simply reinforce the idea that churches exist to impose rules rather than offer a loving relationship.

But the call to holiness you hear from God in Scripture and through Holy Spirit-inspired churches has nothing to do with such negative motives. We simply are being reminded to live in a way that should be a natural response to God’s overwhelming love.

Children of God-Communion LookhalfsizeJohn goes so far as to make a bold, flat statement: “Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin.” That’s from the New Living Translation; older or more formal translations use that wonderful but slightly anachronistic word “abide.”

John is talking about people who stay so spiritually close to Jesus that it is as if they were pressed against him, like the beloved disciple in the dinner scene in John’s gospel, or the woman who knelt to anoint the Savior’s feet and wash them with her hair.

Abiding is much more than being in the building with Jesus, or even the same room with Jesus. When we find ourselves asking, “Why am I still trapped in sin,” a good follow-up question might be, “How far have I strayed from Jesus lately?” Odds are, we’re not truly abiding, gazing at him through our study of Scripture or leaning against him in prayer and worship.

Little Children

Let me switch back to the image of a loving parent and child. Where are children the safest? Well, when they are near a loving parent, of course. It’s hard to get into trouble when you’re holding a parent’s hand.

In the wrong setting, even the slightest distance between child and parent can mean potential trouble. As good parents, we’re always trying to manage that distance, sometimes literally keeping our children on a short leash.

When my oldest child was beginning to move from toddling to real walking and running, we bought a springy little wrist tether so she would have more freedom to move when we were out in public. I still remember attaching the adult end to my left wrist and the complicated system of velcro and watchband-style straps to her right wrist.

Being spatially gifted, she studied it for about five seconds and had it undone, proudly handing it back to me. I did the only thing I could do—I went back to holding her hand.

It’s good for children to have that desire to be independent from us. Ultimately, their instinct to go it alone makes it possible for them to grow into independent adults, although parents certainly have to manage those impulses over a couple of decades.

Acting like independent-minded children in our relationship with God is a bad idea, though. We are not little gods, needing to pull away in order to grow. We instead are part of God’s creation, designed to abide in our Creator for all eternity. We grow by remaining close to the Father.

In fact, the author of 1 John makes an interesting promise: Abide long enough, and we not only will see Christ, we one day will be surprised at how much we resemble the one who has shown the greatest love of all. We will not be gods, but we will bear the same purity and speak the same glorious truth as our Savior.

Those of you in Life Groups will learn more this week about how we can help each other live into our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In the meantime, stay close to God every moment of every day, and if you fail in some way, run back to the one who loves you perfectly.


The featured image is a depiction of Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus’ feet. It is a detail from an altar in Saint Vincent Church in Heiligenblut, Austria.

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The Glory of His Work

Sixth in the Advent/Christmas series, “What Has God Wrought?”

Hebrews 1:1-13 (NRSV)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
   and he will be my Son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
   and his servants flames of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
   and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
   with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,

“In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
   and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
   they will all wear out like clothing;
like a cloak you will roll them up,
   and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
   and your years will never end.”

But to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
   until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?


God came down. That is the essence of the Christmas story—God came down among us from an infinite place and situation we can barely imagine to save his creation from sin.

It’s a beautiful story. Do you want to hear the Christmas story one more time this Christmas Day? It’s always worth hearing, even if you heard it last night, on Christmas Eve.

The author of our Hebrews text this morning evoked that Christmas story, and he wanted us to remember God came down in all his glory, despite God voluntarily reducing himself to be among us. By glory, we simply mean that his perfect holiness was shining through, even at moments when human beings dulled by sin could not always see the glory.

The Hebrews author reminds us that yes, this Jesus is God among us. Through him, all things were made, an assertion echoed in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Yes, this Jesus is eternal, and life is rooted in him.

Yes, this Jesus is worthy of worship. This expression of God as Son shares the throne in heaven with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, three in one. Even the angels in heaven bow down to the Christ, and when he was born to a human mother in this world, the angels came down, too, visible to shepherds as God’s divine messengers.

God’s glory shines all around us even today. We simply have to remember to look for it, to ask God to remove the scales from our sin-dulled eyes, and the glory is there.

There is the glory of creation. We like to cite creation as evidence of God’s presence here in Ten Mile, particularly when I ask during prayer time where we’ve seen God. There’s nothing wrong with pointing to nature, even though it often continues to be red in tooth and claw. We’re just echoing Romans 1:20:

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

We see God’s glory in each other, too. You hear people from other religions talk about the “divine spark” within humans. We have notions along those lines in Christianity, too. We know from the creation story that we were made in God’s image, although we quickly became cracked, distorted reflections because of sin.

Jesus came among us to be the perfect reflection, the exact imprint, and when we accept that truth and profess our belief in him as Savior, we begin to do a better job day by day of reflecting God’s glory to others. As Jesus rose from the dead, resurrected, we rise above our own dying each day and are transformed, knowing that we also will be resurrected in full.

In our worship services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Luminary UMC, we have had the joy of taking some of our brothers and sisters through baptisms, confirmations and reaffirmations of faith. We believe the “divine spark” was visible at those moments. As each formally accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we believe the Holy Spirit began to work in the person in new ways.

Who knows what God will do through them? An act of re-creation, I am sure. These new Christians are being remade, just as the world is being remade, and as the church of believers grows, God’s glory should become more evident.

Let’s pause now and once again glorify God.

Like your angels, Lord, we bow our heads to you. We lift our hands and voices in praise. And yes, we even dare to look upon your beauty and majesty, our hearts filled with hope and joy, knowing you accept our praise and rejoin us to you despite our sin.

Inspire us this day with a new sense of your glory. Let us reflect your glory to others, that they may know the truth of who you are, and your kingdom may grow.

Thank you for the birth of Jesus Christ. Thank you for his life perfectly lived, and his perfectly obedient death. Thank you for the glory of the resurrection.

May the hope and glory of Christmas sustain us throughout the year.

Amen.


The featured image is “Glory of the Newborn Christ,” ceiling painting by Daniel Gran, 1694-1757.