Hug ‘Em & Hold ‘Em

This was a talk I shared at Union Church on the apostle John and his message to the churches of Asia Minor in 1 John

Hug ‘Em & Hold ‘Em / Union Church / Oct 13 2019

The Apostle John

John was there at the very beginning with Jesus. He was the youngest disciple. He had walked with Jesus, saw him teach, confront, love, and heal. He had seen Jesus at the height of his fame, and at the lowest point of his earthly journey. He was there at the Mount of Transfiguration and then at the Cross, where Jesus asked John to watch over his mother in his absence.

John had watched the birth of the church in the fanfare of Pentecost wonder and transformation. He had seen the ministries of Peter, James, Thomas, Matthew, and other disciples. One by one, all those brothers in the faith, men who had walked with Jesus were murdered, crucified, or beheaded for their faith. And yet, here he was still alive.

John had been seen about 50-60 years of the growth and expansion of the church. This spirit-led experiment of Jesus’ kingdom alive and active in this empire-rejecting, alternative community was still ever-strong, but cracks were beginning to show in the family of churches that John directly ministered to.

John was writing this letter to bring these churches in Asia Minor back into unity and clarity of faith, and encourage them to hold fast to the fullness of Jesus. His writing is filled with passion and dripping with familial love, reminding and pushing the church to stay true to the person and work of Jesus.

Coach Pop

John reminds of another grizzled veteran of sorts… Greg Popovich, or Coach Pop as he is known.

Coach Pop is renowned and respected for his approach to coaching. He has this ability to take average basketball players and turn them into above-average, and above-average basketball players and turn them into superstars. His NBA teams have never had the best talent, they’ve never been considered a super-team, but in his own way he is able to mold and shape his team to over-perform relative to their level of talent. 

Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code describes him this way:

“A lot of coaches can yell or be nice, but what Pop does is different,” said assistant coach Chip Engelland. “He delivers two things over and over: he’ll tell you the truth, with no BS, and then he’ll love you to death.”

“Hug ’em and hold ’em” is the way Popovich often puts it to his assistant coaches. “We gotta hug ’em and hold ’em.”

A few years back a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale and Columbia discovered that one particular form of teacher feedback boosted student effort and performance so immensely that they deemed it “magical feedback.” The feedback was not complicated. In fact, it consisted of one simple phrase.

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

That’s it. Just 19 words. None of these words contain any information on how to improve. Yet they are powerful because they deliver a cultural signal:

  1. You are part of this group.
  2. This group is special; we have high standards here.
  3. I believe you can reach those standards.

John is candid, incisive, corrective, and yet overflowing in love. He reminds us that we are a part of God’s family and that God’s family is special. He reminds us that being a daughter or son in this family brings high expectations; and this is asked of you because if you let him, God uniquely equips and empowers you to fulfill that high calling.

Closing Things Out

With all of this as a backdrop, John finishes his letter in the most peculiar way:

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:21 NRSV

When you put it all together, as John ends this magisterial letter to the churches of Asia Minor he is essentially saying, “May your lives continue to orbit around this person and message of Jesus. While the temptation to look elsewhere keeps coming up, guard your minds and hearts, and keep yourselves stayed on this true message. You are God’s beloved children, trust in the One who sustains you.”