eluding our idols: twenty questions on 3 John

This coming Sunday (Feb. 15) at 9:00 a.m. some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue in a study entitled Eluding Our Idols. It’s a close look at what’s commonly known as John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John). To help you get ready for this encounter with Scripture and our discussion of it, you’ll find the following here: (a) the text of 3 John and (b) twenty questions and exercises to go along with this reading.

receiving the word

The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. (3 John NIV)

wrestling with this word

1. Who is “the elder” (vs.1a)?

2. How would your bodily health be doing if it was based on your spiritual health (vs. 2)?

3. Circle every occurrence in 3 John of the phrase “the truth.”

4. When you hear the phrase “the truth” among disciples today, what is typically discussed?

5. To what does “the elder” have reference in 3 John when he uses the phrase “the truth?”

6. Make a comprehensive list of all the people (or groups of people) mentioned in 3 John.

7. According to 3 John, how can you tell if one is walking in the truth (vs. 4)? Make a list.

8. A person’s character is just as important as the content of what they teach. T or F? Explain.

9. Which is discussed most in 3 John: one’s actions toward others or one’s beliefs about God?

10. Who speaks well of Gaius (vs. 1-4)? Who speaks well of Demetrius (vs. 12)?

11. That some abuse hospitality mustn’t cause us to become inhospitable (vs. 5-8). Discuss.

12. Travelers must be treated in a God-honoring way (vs. 6b). What might that look like?

13. “… for the sake of the Name they went out …” (vs. 7a)? What does that mean?

14. Vs. 7b could mean “And so, if you don’t help them, who will?” And, perhaps what else?

15. Of whom does Diotrophes speak and what does he have to say about them (vs. 9-10)?

16. Drink in vs. 10’s drama. What can happen to a church if intolerable behavior is tolerated?

17. Why might Gaius need encouragement not to imitate Diotrophes (vs. 11a)?

18. What role does Demetrius play in this letter? (vs. 11-12)

19. Have believers seen God? How do you know (vs. 11b)?

20. What significance is there in greeting the friends “by name?” (vs. 14).

this went thru my mind


Christian perception & persecution: * The Difference Between Persecution and Being Corrected by Robert Cargill; * Christians and Persecution, Then and Now by James McGrath [required reading]

* “Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that you are ‘persecuted.’ It means you can’t have everything.”

* “American Christians have no idea what they are talking about when they cry persecution. And as someone married to a Romanian, and thus who experienced something which, if still not like Nero’s time, was far more truly persecution than what most Americans have ever experienced, I do not find it merely inaccurate. I find it offensive. It is cheapening the term and thereby minimizing the plight of those who really do face persecution.”

Confrontation, courage & fear: Courage is Not the Absence of Fear by Michael Hyatt

“Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.”

Facebook: Facebook’s Privacy Settings

“With the latest privacy update, however, Facebook has made it easier to find some of the most important privacy settings. When you’re logged into Facebook, you’ll notice a new lock icon with three horizontal lines in the top toolbar.”

Noise, silence, silent retreats & stress: The Buzz on Silent Retreats

“If you feel bombarded by emails, phone calls, text messages and the daily stress that comes with them, there could be a solution for you. Some people have found relief in perfect silence.”

Prayer: Why Some Prayers are Answered and Some Aren’t?

“If every petitionary prayer were answered on the time specified by the petitioner, God might even be thought of as an instrument or tool for earthly benefits.”

this went thru my mind


Attitude: What Every Hard Week Needs to Know by Ann Voskamp [required reading]

“No one knows but you do war every single day with the slanderous voices in your head and you wrestle a bit with the death dark that encroaches around the edges of everything and you’re never the only one: anyone who gets up has to push back the dark.”

Bible reading: * How to Keep a Dogged Devotion to Bible Reading by Wayne Stiles [required reading]; * Richard Foster on Lectio Divina, “Reading [Scripture] for Formation”

* “Don’t misunderstand. By “daily” I don’t mean a legalistic box to check. (Even the Pharisees did that.) No, I mean a daily, dogged devotion that listens to, watches for, and waits upon God’s wisdom as found in the Bible. Bible reading gives us that benefit.”

* “What does lectio divina mean? Well, it means listening to the text of Scripture—really listening, listening yielded and still.”

Books & reading: Leaders are Readers: 9 Tips for Picking Good Books by Rick Warren

” … how can you recognize jewels from junk when you’re looking for a book? Here are a few tips.”

Church & closing the back door: Closing the Back Door in Churches: Four Keys by Thom Rainer

“So how do we close the back door? What do we do to keep people from leaving our church or just becoming inactive?”

Confrontation: A Generous Confrontation by Jonathan Storment

“… Christian love, really Jesus-like love assumes a generous explanation. … And this is what the world needs desperately to see.  Not a group of people who are just pretending to live in community, and gossip about what’s wrong with the other people around them. They already know how that looks. What they need to see is a group of people who care enough to try and help each other be the persons God made them to be. The world needs to see, and we need to be, the kinds of people who can speak into and receive a kind word of correction. The world needs to see a people who know how to have a Generous Confrontation.”

Grace: Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Grace

“What Lucado does is give one of the greatest pictures of what God’s grace is, how far it reaches, the goal that it has and that it always accomplishes what it sets out to do.”

Grammar: Blogging Grammar Tips [3 infographics in 1]

“You can proofread to your hearts content, but if you don’t know the rules of grammar, you’re doomed to break them. Here are some solid grammar tips.”

Jesus/wife manuscript: * Coptic Scholars Doubt and Hail a Reference to Jesus’ Wife; * Response to Holladay Comment in the New York Times by Darrell Bock; * Was Jesus Married? The Latest Coptic Papyrus Won’t Tell Us by Stanley Porter; * BW3 on Jesus’ Wife? by Ben Witherington [6 1/2 min. video; the one to watch/read, if you read only one of these four links]

* “When Karen L. King, a historian of early Christianity, announced this week that she had identified a fragment of ancient Coptic text in which Jesus utters the words “my wife,” she said she was making the finding public — despite many unresolved questions — so that her academic colleagues could weigh in. And weigh in, they have.”

* “A story appeared today in the New York Times updating the discussion on the Jesus wife fragment. It quoted me. Carl Holladay of Emory commented on my view that this text could be metaphorical and challenged that reading. Here is my response.”

* “At the end of the day, this papyrus looks like it is heading in the same direction as many other similar, previous finds—a lot of hoopla over nothing (remember the Gospel of Judas?).”

Ministry: One Way to De-stress Your Pastor or Leader… by Ron Edmonson

“Tell us what the conversation is about…before the meeting.”

Mystery: Grow in Mystery by Terry Rush

“The Word speaks of mystery. My earlier years didn’t include mystery. They included many answers, explanations, and facts.  But mysteries were avoided because these didn’t contain touchable/tangible rationalization. Yet as we grow to accept mystery in this vast kingdom called God’s, there seems to be a surprising peace which had yet been experienced.  That seems odd to the control freak; me.”

Work: Work With Your Hands: A Theology of Work in 1 Thessalonians 4 by John Byron

“As the church we need to find a way to balance between helping others and not being taken advantage of. And I suspect that is the one aspect of brotherly love that is the most difficult for those who practice it; there is always the chance that we will be taken advantage of.”

how to do your preacher a favor


The next time your preacher preaches on …

  • God’s great, matchless love,
  • continually forgiving all others,
  • repenting of all forms of idolatry,
  • pursuing self-control in all things,
  • pondering the amazing grace of God,
  • nurturing a grateful and thankful spirit,
  • considering others better than yourself,
  • practicing the presence of God continually,
  • sanctifying your speech to the glory of God,
  • seeking the lowest, rather the highest, place,
  • growing a heart that’s hungry to worship God,
  • feeding on the word of God each daily and deeply,
  • developing a vocabulary and lifestyle of encouragement,
  • ridding yourself of all ways that compromise our holiness,
  • training yourself in the attainment of a Christ-like attitude,
  • being quite deliberate in your development of discernment,
  • striving to keep the unity of believers in the Spirit of Christ,
  • extending mercy to those who have treated you mercilessly,
  • how backbiting, complaining, gossip, and slander are all evil,
  • building and deepening the experience of Christian community,
  • trusting God no matter how difficult the times or circumstances,
  • being sensitive to those among us who are burdened or grieving,
  • talking with God in prayer with sincerity, faith, and transparency,
  • seeing yourself as Christ’s servant in every setting and to live as such,
  • distancing yourself from participation in all forms of violence and abuse,
  • the right responsibility and role of those who serve in church government,
  • parenting your children as they deserve to be parented, as gifts from God,
  • attempting to be ever open with, and accountable to, God and Christ’s kin,
  • turning away from consumerism, materialism, and the love of money and things,
  • purging from your heart and habits all forms of arrogance, selfishness, and pride,
  • making an effort to show genuine care to all you encounter who are weak or poor,
  • giving generously with a cheerful heart, looking for or expecting nothing in return,
  • how you should work doubly hard on the health of your marriage and closest relationships,

… and you overhear a fellow Christian sigh and say:

Why can’t that preacher ever just preach the gospel?” …

… take their hands in yours, look them straight in the eye with abundant, genuine love, and gently, but firmly, say …

“What you heard is God’s gospel. Christ’s cross and empty tomb both call us to take up our own cross, die to ourselves and live for him. God’s good news is that he’s not just about setting us right with him with, but about growing us in his grace and likeness for all of our days. The gospel is about so much more than our receiving forgiveness of our sins. The gospel is also about bringing God’s kingdom fully into our life and extending it in every way to all the world. This is why God gifts us with his Spirit as he forgives us. God’s gospel and kingdom are far, far bigger, broader, and deeper than you currently imagine. I must remind myself of this daily and I encourage you to remind yourself of the same.”

Rest assured, if you do so, you won’t be doing just your preacher a favor.

you have refreshed others

From Paul, who is a prisoner for the cause of Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy.

To Philemon our beloved coworker, Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church that meets in your house.

May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Philemon, I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers because I’ve heard of your love and faithfulness, which you have both for the Lord Jesus and for all God’s people. I pray that your partnership in the faith might become effective by an understanding of all that is good among us in Christ. I have great joy and encouragement because of your love, since the hearts of God’s people are refreshed by your actions, my brother. (Philemon 1-7 CEB)

This most personal of the recorded letters of Paul deals with Paul’s encouragement of a fellow Christian (Philemon) to do right by another brother in Christ (Onesimus), even though the former has experienced some loss through the actions of the latter in time past. Though most of the details of what all transpired between Philemon and Onesimus are somewhat obscure, the heart and soul of the letter could not be more – the way of true Christian life and love together is paved with mutual, constant forgiveness. The real quality of life of every Christian community is only so good as the forgiveness extended within that church family.

Forgiveness, if it is to be a present reality in our lives, often depends in large part on a good remembrance of things past. That is, forgiveness keeps the present wrongs in perspective by diligently keeping, as it were, a “record of rights” (cf. 1 Cor. 13:5).

How does Paul remember Philemon? As a Christian brother who, among other things, has been a lover of all sorts of God’s people, a man of genuine trust in the Lord, a helper of him personally (probably financially or with other material resources) and as someone who has just generally been a positive source of goodness for other Christians.

And so, in his letter to Philemon, Paul appeals for Onesimus’ forgiveness on the basis of his, that is Paul’s, remembrance of the good in Philemon’s heart in times past. Paul is saying, “I know what a good man you are for I remember the good I’ve seen in you again and again. That’s why I’m appealing to you to do this good thing as well; it’s what would be consistent with God’s will and your character.”

There come times in the lives of us all when the best thing that could happen to us is for a good brother or sister in Christ to take us aside and give us a good, though it be difficult, word we really need to hear. How can we help insure that someone will be emboldened to confront us in those times when we need a bit of mid-course correction and not be left to our own self-destructive habits? By building habits of goodness in every big and small way each day, when loving each other comes easily and doing right by each other happens gladly. It is in so doing that we not only take good care of our heart for the hard times that will inevitably come, but also fortify our brothers and sisters hearts to help us watch out for us.

Heavenly Father, my prayer to you this morning is that I might be found today to be faithful in the small and easy things of my relationships with others. As you give me days, I know I am forging a reputation for myself, whether for good or for ill. May it be for good, for You, Father, not only that it may be well with my soul, but well for the souls of all those around me. Amen.

defeating deception

To appreciate this devotional, you’ll need to read Acts 8:4-25. Go ahead; I’ll be waiting for you right here when you get back.

This past Monday I was walking down the hospital hallway when he stepped out of the room I had just visited. He spoke to get my attention, grabbed me by the arm, and began to ply me with religious questions. This went on for quite some time; probably not much shy of a full hour.

He was in his mid-60’s and he was very concerned over the spiritual condition of his mother-in-law who is slowly, certainly dying of heart disease. The story he told was of a woman who is by all outward appearances a person intensely devoted in faith to Christ, but who has alienated herself from virtually all of her family due to legalistic and overly strict ways. For decades she has used her faith as something of a club with which to beat others. Now she is dying, but doing so virtually alone, for precious few of her large family want anything to do with her anymore. That’s what legalism does: deceive our spirit and destroy relationships.

Even so, that great pain was overshadowed by his grave concern for her eternal destiny. It was obvious he is convinced that she is in as hopeless a condition spiritually as she is physically. The great tragedy of it all, as he put it, is that she was utterly and completely deceived; she is oblivious to any of her wrongdoing.

As he told the story, he also wove his own life story into the account. He had become a Christian in his youth, but from his late teens until just a few years ago he had lived his life with hardly a thought for God. Wine, women, and, well, probably not much song, was what he had spent the strength of his life on for decades. However, he has come to make an about face in his ways in recent years, has gotten married, is faithful to his wife, is stone-cold sober, and is now living a life of dedication to Christ. His past habits are just that, past; they’re dead and gone.

The most remarkable thing of it all to me, though, was the way he spoke of his standing before God while his ways reflected anything but God’s values. It was clear that even though he deeply regretted his having “chased every skirt” and “drunk every beer” he could hold for all those years, he doubted not one bit that he had been right with the Lord all that time. His reformation of ways had not come because of concern for God and his spirit, but simply because it “wasn’t a good life.” It was amazing to me, and to no small degree troubling, to hear someone so deeply concerned over another’s self-deception, all the while being completely oblivious to their own for most of their life. But that’s what deception does: desensitize our mind and corrupt our heart and life.

It’s a serious question that is often posed to me: “Is it possible for a Christian to so sin that they can lose their salvation?” If there is anything to be learned at all from the account of Simon and the words of Peter in Acts 8, it is that the answer is terribly and unquestionably, “Of course.” According to Luke, Simon had become a Christian and any of the other Samaritans who had believed and been baptized, responding sincerely to the “good news about God’s kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ.” He had witnessed the powerful working of God, was astonished at the power of the Lord, and had helped support Philip and his ministry.

But old ways die hard and even though we turn our back on them as Christians, that doesn’t mean we become deaf to their alluring song. It’s quite possible, as was the case with Simon, to become self-deceived and to allow ourselves to be sucked back into selfishness, greed, and ungodliness, all the while convinced that “it’s all okay.”

Such a mind and life must not be ignored, but be confronted. There is no room for deception in our life as a disciple of him who is True. Just because we’ve been set free from sin doesn’t mean we can’t be deceived again and so shackle ourselves anew. If that happens, we, like Simon, will need to completely change our heart and life. And when Peter confronted Simon with his self-deception and sin, Simon responded precisely as we would hope any Christian would who finds themself in a similar position: with great humility, pleading for intercession be made to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.

Heavenly Father, deliver me from any and all self-deception within me. Re-sensitize me to the incongruence of your holiness and my sinfulness, never allowing me to rely on presuming your tolerance and mercy. Ever show me the error of my ways that I may turn from them. Grant to me your grace, patience, and strength that I might do just that. Build up in me great confidence in the rescue your Son works for me, but never allow me to become complacent or careless in the way I think about you and the way I live before you. This I pray in the name of him who alone can save me, Jesus. Amen.