Take Heart! I have overcome the world.

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 35-36 & 1 Corinthians 1

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

You might wonder why our focus verse for today is from John when the daily readings are in Chronicles and Corinthians. This week is FUEL, a National Youth Camp in which young people from all over the country gather to learn and grow in their faith. And the theme for the camp this week is ‘hupernikao’ … a Greek word that means ‘overwhelmingly conquer’.

Every day this week, except for today, we will pull from the daily readings as well as the daily FUEL themes, to explore this theme of overcoming or conquering.

Today, I want to focus on the big picture a bit. Overcome what? How?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

This verse in John is rich in helping to answer those questions. We might think that Jesus, who is the speaker here, is being kind of a downer if we just look at part of the verse. In this world you will have trouble? Not much of a pep talk, Jesus.

But if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the kind of pep talk you need.

The truth.

A little aside: A pet peeve of mine is people who sell things who won’t admit that their products have flaws. Their company is the best thing ever, producing the best products ever, which will of course give me the best results ever…Every. Single. Time. Am I the only one who would always be more likely to believe someone who is honest about the limitations of their product line or who is able to admit that while there are great options, there are also some weaker products to avoid? Rant over.

Jesus is laying out the truth here. “You’re a human person living in this world? Yup, you’ll have trouble. Pain. Sorrow. Heartache. Difficulty. Expect that too.”

But he doesn’t leave us there. “Yes, life is hard. Really hard sometimes. … BUT … hold on! You can make it because I have overcome all of it!”

Do you know that in other places in Scripture we’re given specific assurances of overcoming the hard stuff Jesus warned us we would face? Here are a couple of examples:

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will provide us the means to overcome temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

And Romans 8:31-39 paints a beautiful and poetic word picture of overcoming a variety of troubles. Spend some time while you read this thinking about what you could use some overcoming in… Are you feeling separated from God’s love? Do you feel pain, even anguish that feels unbearable? Persecuted? Hungry for something but you don’t even know what so you keep going after the wrong thing? Are you in need, bare before Him? Or even feel in danger of slipping out of His grip?

Take heart.

What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 1

Defined by Love

John 12-13

john13_34-votdTuesday, May 30

How do you know who somebody is? Not just what his or her name is but who they are, on the inside? Well, they may tell you. When introducing myself at Pine Grove to visitors or guests, I always say “I’m Jake, I’m one of the pastors here.” That way people know a little something about me; namely, they know I am employed as a clergyman (whatever they may think I do.) If we talk about my hobbies, quickly board games, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and video games come up. Each one of these shape a person’s perspective of who I am. BUT, if someone could watch over my shoulder for a day, imagine what they would know about me? They would see how I treat my family in our home, they would know what I read and what I write, they would know all sorts of things. And in the end, if they were to make a decision on who is Jake, really, it would be wise of them to define me NOT by my words but by my actions. If I describe myself as a quiet-spoken, shy introvert, my actions would CRUSH that description.
Jesus also knows that we show who we are by our actions. That is why he leaves us with a powerful and difficult commandment in John 13:34-35. A new commandment I give to you: love one another. Is there really anything new about this commandment? Yes and no. Is it new that we are supposed to love others and care for them? No, because that is what the Old Testament Law (remember that?) is all about. Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a new thing that he made up, it comes out of the second half of Leviticus 19:18. But then how is this command new? It is new because Jesus points to a new example of this kind of love. We have to love each other as Christ loved us.
Why does he make us do this? Because it answers the question of who we are. When we tell someone who we are, that we are a follower of Christ, what do those outside the church normally think? Do they think close-minded, dogmatic “truth”-deniers? Do they think racist, sexist, homophobic bigots? Do they think arrogant, hypocritical jerks? There are some who may! There are many who would say something similar to Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This does not mean that Gandhi had the true picture of Christ, nor does it mean that everyone who critiques Christianity is right! There are many who would make the claims that “Christians are X” who don’t know why Christians believe what the believe. However, there is something wrong if many people know us for something more akin to hate, than to love? After all, Jesus tells us “By this ALL PEOPLE  will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christianity is a way of life that should be drenched, dripping, overflowing with love.
But what does this mean for us?
First, love the Christians you are around. If you are not part of a church, you should be. There are many who critique Christianity from INSIDE as well as out. But the fact of the matter is that we were never made to live this faith alone. We were always to have a community of committed disciples around us. Also, this may be very difficult. The church is a place where broken people gather. Of course we are hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are just like every other humans. The fact of the matter is that Christians admit to it, which makes us the only ones who aren’t hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are blind and because we know we are, we can see. (See Sunday’s devotion.)
Secondly, love the world. While the starting point for our love is of course the “one another” of other disciples, if we want to be like God and Christ (and we do want that) it means that our love has to be for “the world”. Just quote John 3:16. God loved the world, not just his Church, not just his sons and daughters, but the whole big messy of humanity. Love for this world is the defining characteristic of God, because “God is love.” (1 John 4, you’ll get there!) However, love can be tough to pin down. Surely love doesn’t mean accepting someone’s sin, because God doesn’t do that, but it does love the person. Love doesn’t mean allowing someone to remain in sin and call themselves a believer, but that we help them come to a better understanding of the harms of sin. It also means that we allow ourselves to be connected to and friends with those outside the church who need to hear the gospel message of Christ. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 for an interesting comment by Paul.)
This isn’t easy, but you can love others. However, it will only happen if you have experienced the love God has for you. God loves ugly, horrid, wretched sinners and CONGRATULATIONS! YOU QUALIFY! But seriously, it means that he does love you. The love of God, if you have truly experienced it, can’t help but flow out of you and into the people and the world around you. May people know the God you serve and the Messiah you follow by the love that you show. May those who don’t know Christ give praise and glory to God through your loving deeds. (1 Peter 2:12)
In Christ,
Jake Ballard