Shooting the wounded- 1 John Fridays

It’s Friday, so time to jump into 1 John.  Some of these posts will be more textual, others more like riffs or tangents from my studies in this letter. Today is a little introduction, so I don’t know which category that fits in.

Last week I teased you with my concerns about the pastoral handling of a Biblical text like 1 John.  After all, most of us have been taught in pastoral or counseling training to love nuance and treat situations uniquely.  Then we run into some texts in Scripture that apparently have no use for nuance.  Everything is black/white, good/evil, love/hate.  The Johannine literature (1 John is no exception) is full of this, as well as are many Psalms (the Psalmist prays rescuing judgment for the good guys and punitive judgment for the wicked), many of Jesus’ parables (Wise man and the fool), and wisdom literature like Proverbs or James.  Ok, so maybe these types of polarized statements aren’t so strange to students of Scripture.

But, where we run into trouble in 1 John, is that many of the polarities are placed as test cases.  If X, then Y, not X, then not Y.  “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” or “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” Well, what about when I got mad at my spouse the other day (hypothetical of course) or what about someone who was abused by a family member and is struggling with strong feelings that aren’t warm and fuzzy love in reaction to that?  See, nuance would be nice, we think. At least it would make us feel better in most of these test questions.  After all, it would be easy to read through the polarities of 1 John and see ourselves on the negative side of most of those.  And of course it is easy for us to preach or teach this letter in such a way that our feelings of failure as followers of Jesus are shared by those within earshot.  Misery loves company.

But that doesn’t seem to be John’s goal in writing this letter (or transcribed sermon).  In fact, the love and attention he shows towards the audience (terms of affection and familiarity like “little children” are easy to find) makes us think he does not want them to come out of this hearing with the weight of failed Christianity hanging over them.  We don’t know much about the situation, but apparently a significant group had recently deserted this Christian community (2:19), were teaching false doctrine (2:26, the doctrinal tests of chapters 4-5), and apparently were causing these believers who stayed behind to have some doubts (1 John 5:13 assumes a congregation in need of re-assurance of their faith.)  There are a lot of polarized statements, but these are aimed at those who left, perhaps who are still seeing the faithful Christians at the marketplace or homes and are pressuring them to leave as well.  John’s readers may have been wondering, “Were those who left really wrong, or were we wrong to stay? Does the fact so many left undermine all we have now believed?  How can we even tell who the true followers of Jesus are when we have been taught 1 thing by John but a pretty convincing teacher has managed to persuade our friends, people we called “brother’ and “sister”?”

1 John is meant to be an answer of comfort and assurance to these questions. His tests are designed to assure those who stayed that this is the real deal, they are truly “Christian”, assured by one who saw and spoke with and touched the incarnate “Word of life”.  They can see these tests not as measures of their perfection, but as signposts of the change the Spirit of God is working in their lives.

So we should preach and teach 1 John accordingly.  It is not a text for raising more doubt for our people or scaring them out of what we might perceive as complacent Christianity (there are such texts…Hebrews or Mark’s Gospel, for example).  Rather it is a text to build up, to strengthen faith and provide assurance.  We should not hold John’s tests over their heads as pass/fail exams, but as hopeful signposts that change has happened.  Even in the hard cases mentioned above, perhaps hate has given way to thoughtful wrestling over the implications and applications of forgiveness and justice.

1 John is meant to be an infirmary for Christians wounded in the battles of faith, perhaps by what looked like friendly fire even. Don’t use it as boot camp for whipping your church into shape or as a place to shoot the wounded.

1 John Fridays…

Well, to get myself back into this writing stuff,  I will be starting a weekly series of posts on 1 John (and 2nd and 3rd), which I studied some last year. (This year I’m going through Luke’s Gospel. I felt a lot better about my Greek when I was in 1 John, I will admit!)

So next week, look forward to an introductory discussion on how the message of 1 John can be abused.  After all, this letter is filled with polarities between good/evil, light/dark, love/hate.  John rarely has a phrase that “dies the death of 10,000 qualifications.” That makes it difficult for us, especially as pastors, to apply its message to the deeply nuanced situations of our own hearts and people. And of course, the irony there is that John (I’m using the traditional author’s name for shorthand) has a Pastor’s heart, clearly loves his people, and in fact seeks to encourage and strengthen their faith in this writing.  So how do we reconcile his absolutism with his intended pastoral concerns?  (And by extension, how can we appropriate it as well?)

May Monthly Update

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, it’s been a few months since we last updated you guys via email on our lives. Hopefully, many of you have kept up with us in person or on Facebook since then! We’ll do our best to make these a little more regular (monthly?) in the future. We were planning on writing sooner and then kept thinking, “Well, our daughter is going to be born sometime soon, so we could just wait until after that…” It’s amazing how creative people can be when they are procrastinating!

That said, on April 23, 2011 at 7:49 PM, we were overjoyed to welcome little Eowyn Ruth Collins into the world! She decided to show up 2 weeks early, so I (Josh) got to experience all the joys that Saturday morning of trying to get the hospital bags finally packed and the house somewhat cleaned up while we timed contractions and tried our best to keep Steph distracted! Somehow we made it to the hospital where they told us we were definitely having a baby that day, and about 6 hours later, little Eowyn arrived, weighing in at 6 lbs. 7 oz.

So now we’ve enjoyed our first sleep-deprived month with our amazing little daughter. We thank God for keeping her and Steph healthy and safe throughout the pregnancy and in the weeks since. It’s amazing when you look in the eyes of your little child and know that you could never earn such a moment like this and just basking in the grace God shows!

Please keep us in your prayers as we are making some major life decisions in these next few months. Since the pregnancy, we’ve realized that with Steph’s blood-clotting disorder, life overseas in the next years of life would be not only difficult but nearly impossible, especially during a pregnancy as Steph needed constant medication and doctor oversight. We still have a heart for the unreached people groups of the world and for doing cross-cultural missions. Because of that, we have now begun the process of application through the North American Mission Board and the Metro New York Baptist Association/Baptist convention of New York of doing cross-cultural church planting among immigrant peoples in New York City. Because of my background having served among the Bengali people of West Bengal, India in 2005, we are specifically looking at engaging Bangladeshi immigrants in New York City. There are still a lot of questions we are trying to figure out, as well as several months of application and assessment in our future. We hope to keep you all informed in the process, specifically so you can be praying for 2 things for us specifically: 1) that we would listen to God’s wisdom, both from His Word and from the people he has put into our lives and 2) that God would grant us his courage to take any risks he may call us to. Having originally planned to go with the International Mission Board, where fundraising is all taken care of through the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, it can be a daunting task to consider what it will take to move to one of the most expensive areas of the country and how we will be supported.

In the meantime, pray for us as we continue to adjust to life with Eowyn, specifically with Steph no longer working full time at the VA but now as a mom. We are excited to be volunteering each Tuesday this summer at Mission Adelante in Kansas City, KS, as ESL conversation partners for Bhutanese refugees living here. Pray for Josh’s work relationships, as many of his co-workers are Hindu and he has been trying to befriend them more and engage them in spiritual conversation about Jesus. Now that I’ve written such a lengthy letter, I know why I should be updating this monthly! Thank you for taking interest in our lives and for your continued prayers for us!

In Christ,

Josh, Stephanie, and Eowyn Collins

*If you would like to receive what will now be a “monthly” update email, just contact me through a comment or an email…

Back…

Yea, I’m coming back. Aiming for like 2 posts a week.  We will see.

Why I’m Quitting Blogging…

Yep, it’s official.  I started posting online “Web logs” back in the days of Xanga in college, had some good times, decent laughs, mediocre observations, etc.  Writing has always been a good outlet for me, but blogging is no longer a good or effective way for me to write.  A couple brief thoughts on why I’m quitting (and yes, quitting blogging by blogging about it is full of irony–I got that.)

1) Not currently working where writing can be a helpful part of my job duties.  There’s a pretty good reason.

2) My post tracker reveals I’m more vain than I wish to be.  There’s a little too much narcissism in this blogging cup and I drink it up too easily.

3) It also reveals that the stuff I work on most is least viewed or cared about.

4) The stuff that I need to write about most for the sake of my own heart and life (Scripture meditations, personal ventings, prayers) aren’t really the things that blogging leads me to write nor the things people care about reading on a blog.  So why keep putting it out there?

5) There’s too many good blogs out there doing things I can only do mediocre.  like linking to other great articles.  or detailed Biblical studies stuff.  or movie/book reviews.

6) The kinds of conversations (more commenting on other blogs than on my own) I can have by blogging I can easily have by going outside or talking to my wife or emailing a friend.  I honestly would like to spend more time with my wife than on a computer. and all of those things are better forums for having conversations than blogging seems to be.

7) People on the internet are by and large uninformed, inconsiderate, and stubborn.  I don’t want to be one of them anymore. at least not on the internet. 🙂

Peace, internet.

I’m not dead yet…

Seriously, I was all like “i’m off my july blogging break” and then i posted like twice and disappeared again.  Steph and I are moving from Blue Springs into Kansas City to the Valentine neighborhood.  We know that if we are going to live overseas someday, it will most likely be in an urban context and with the waiting time we were just given we felt why not go now and learn.  So that’s our goal.  We’re excited about the opportunities to live as missionaries in a new area and are making plans to do a better job of it.

One thing we are going to try out is keeping a neighborhood map.  This map will basically help us record the houses and apartments around us and keep track of the NAMES of people we meet who live there.  In our current complex, we were frustrated by our inability to remember names, etc. of our neighbors especially since it seemed like people were moving in and out every month or so.  so we’re going to try and keep a written “cheat sheet” of the names, etc. of our neighbors in order to be able to have better conversations and interactions with them.

Lessons learned from my first church “job”- part 1

I just finished my first church position as an “interim” youth pastor which I had done for the last 3 years or so.  There were a lot of positives, some negatives during that time, but I figure for my own benefit (I’m forgetful) and for anyone else’s, I would post a few lessons I learned from that experience.

1. Always focus on who’s there.

One of the biggest temptations for anyone in ministry is focusing on all the people who don’t show up and their reasons for it.  Heck, it’s not really even a ministry issue.  It happens at get-togethers and parties and what-not.  It can be easy to mentally engage in figuring out why certain people aren’t there, how to get them there, etc.  But one of the realities of any social activity and of ministry especially, is that some people are there.  They show up each week perhaps.  They listen to your same dumb jokes and announcements.  They are living, breathing, images of God who just showed up in the room.  And to do ministry, you have to engage them.  Ask them questions, take an interest in their lives, pray for their hurts, etc.  You may never have that same opportunity to engage that particular human being in the same way ever again.  So do it.  Pastors have to focus on the group in general, but groups are always made up with individuals.  So make sure whatever event is going on, how big or how small that you are connecting with someone.  If you do, then a ministry event has occurred, even if it wasn’t on the calendar.