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Monday, September 24, 2012

You listening?

When I took my business classes in school, one of the things I was taught was how to write a formal business letter all the way through an informal memorandum.  You learned the various components of each because you never knew what you'd be called upon to draft.  In a formal letter, there is a structure to it - the heading, inside address, salutation or greeting, introduction (or purpose), the body, the conclusion or complimentary close, and the signature line.  In essence, the introduction gave you a synopsis of what the body would elaborate upon.  The complimentary close was just a short ending to the letter, often thanking the reader for their consideration, and driving to some action.  One of the things I have observed in the epistles (or letters to the believers at the churches of the First Century) which make up our New Testament is the opening comments which outline the purpose of writing and the concluding comments which summarize the information outlined.  

My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening. And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours.  (I John 5:13-15 The Message)

John is concluding his epistle to the churches.  He opened the letter with an introduction which outlined several things:

- We were witnesses of the great stuff that happened while Christ walked this earth.  We saw it with our own eyes and verified it with our own hands.  Now, this is speaks to the reliability of the testimony which we are about to receive in the body of the letter.

- God took shape right before our eyes.  Their testimony will confirm the fact Christ was indeed God made flesh.  No doubts, arguments, or contradictions - he was the real deal!

- We want our testimony of what we saw and heard to affect our readers.  The purpose for writing is very evident in this introductory statement.  The hope of the witness was to persuade the readers to experience all they have experienced by being touched by the life of Christ.  

Now, John is concluding his letter.  In a short synopsis, he lays out the purpose for his having written these short five chapters.  His intention has been to give us enough evidence of the reality of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection so we come to the place of absolute certainty in our own belief that Christ was made flesh, dwelt among us, died for our sins, rose on the third day, and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.  No bones about it - - Christ is real!  

In fact, he wants his readers to be assured of what this means for them.  It secured forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God the Father.  No more is there a barrier between us and God.  No longer is there a need for an atoning sacrifice - it has been offered and fully accepted by the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.  

As he concludes this letter, several points are left with us - to assure us, challenge us to take a stand, and to open us to the possibilities we have in our position IN Christ.

*  We have eternal life - not eternal hell, but eternal life.  All will experience some type of eternal life - but not all will experience it at the feet of Jesus.  This eternal existence with Christ is based upon his redemptive work on the cross - his overcoming work over death, hell, and the grave.  Hell no longer beckons us.  The grave no longer can hold us bound.  Death has no sting or victory.  Christ has seen to this!

*  There is a freedom and a boldness in God's presence because of the work of Christ.  Let me begin with the idea of freedom.  When a person feels "free", they behave differently than they might when their "freedom" is questionable. For example, a wild animal may be "caged" inside a habitat created by man as a "display" within a zoo.  The animal would normally "run free", but even in the wild, they have certain "territorial markings" which act as boundaries for them.  They stay within these boundaries, knowing full well they might not fair well when they leave those boundaries.  Sometimes these boundaries are because of the provision within them - such as a watering hole and a source of food.  Sometimes they are imposed by others, such as when a male marks the boundaries of their territory so no other male takes control of the herd.

Freedom is both a belief and a fact.  It is a belief as it applies to as much as what we "feel" about our boundaries influences our actions.  We stay within boundaries we "feel" are safe for us.  We avoid boundaries which we "feel" may not be as "safe".  The facts of our freedom have to be understood in order for them to influence our feelings.  Once the facts and feelings coexist on the same plane, there is a liberty which is produced.  It is this liberty that John turns our attention to today.  We have a liberty to enter freely into the presence of God.  This liberty gives us the boldly ask of God the tough things we do.  

*  We can be assured he is listening.  No amount of exerted effort on our part gets him to listen any better!  I know I only "half-listen" sometimes to what is being said in conversation with others.  If something catches my attention, I focus in a little harder.  We all do this.  Yet, God acts differently - he is an "all-the-time" listener!  

*  When we realize he is listening, we ask differently, don't we?  If we know we have the ear of someone, we might just ask for something we might not have been bold enough to ask for otherwise, right?  The good news is - we ALWAYS have God's ear!  The liberty we enjoy is evident in his listening ear!

Just a few final thoughts from the epistle of I John.  Hope you were listening!