John 3:16

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

Anybody remember that guy with the rainbow colored afro who used to hold up the John 3:16 signs at sporting events? I do.

Some of you reading this may not be old enough to remember him, but you’re at least familiar with the verse. Perhaps too familiar. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve heard these words so many times that you’ve almost stopped listening to them.

I think I heard them in a fresh new way today at Room in the Inn when the guest speaker chose that as the theme of his message to the homeless men.

“For God . . .” Every great story begins with God. Every story of hope and redemption, every story where good overcomes evil, begins with God.

“For God loved . . .” If your God is known more for what He hates and what He is against rather than what He loves and what He is for, perhaps you’re serving a god instead of God. The defining verse about the God of the bible starts out with “For God so loved . . .”

“For God loved the world . . .” God doesn’t just love white Republicans. God doesn’t just love Americans. God doesn’t just love religious people. God doesn’t just love “successful” people with the perfect resumes and perfect lives.

“For God loved the world  so much that He gave . . .” True love always involves sacrifice. The epitome and the ultimate example of sacrificial love is God giving us Jesus both to live and to die for us.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone . . .” Salvation is for everyone. Not just a select few. Not just for some. Not for those who deserve it (because none of us do). It’s for anyone who asks for it. It’s for you and me.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes . . .” Sometimes, faith gets overcomplicated. Sometimes faith gets reduced to pithy bumper sticker slogans. Faith is simple yet profound. It costs nothing yet it is priceless. Faith means believing not just with your heart or your mind but with your whole life.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s it. You don’t have to perish. You have the choice of eternal life. Not just a future pie in the sky by and by kind of life, but real and robust life to the full right here and now. God will always respect the decision you make, whether for Him or not.

The choice is yours. What will you do with it?

 

This Extraordinary Message

“It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives'” (Romans 1:16, The Message).

Yes. Just yes.

The just shall live by faith. That’s how the old-school version of this verse goes.

But I really like “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

Who is really living?

Is it the ones with the most money, the most awards, the most prestige?

Is it the ones you read about in Forbes or Time or GQ?

Or maybe is it the ones you never hear about on the mainstream media outlets?

Maybe it’s the ones who are living simply out of a pure joy that comes from being forgiven.

Maybe it’s the ones who have quit trying to be beautiful and are instead choosing to boast in a brokenness through which the light of Christ shines most brightly.

Maybe it’s the ones who don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t compromise, don’t ever stop trusting that in the end everything will be fine.

Maybe those are the ones really living.

Lord, help me to really live and really love and really experience all that You have for me in this life.

Keep my eyes open to all that You are doing in and around me.

Keep my faith childlike so that I never cease to be amazed at what you can do in someone who says the most hesitant yes to You.

Keep my gaze straight ahead on the cross and what lies beyond instead of temporal pleasures that turn sour in the mouth and that rust in the hand.

Keep me holding onto You and let me know that You’ll always be holding on to me.

Amen.

 

What Is Your Second Mile?

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41, NIV)

The gist of the passage is that back in ye olden Bible times, a Roman soldier could conscript anyone to carry his gear for up to one mile. Many Jewish people would put a marker exactly one mile from their houses so they would know precisely how much they were required to do.

Remember Simon of Cyrene? The Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross, probably based on this idea.

But pay attention to Jesus’ own words.

If anyone asks you to go one mile, go two. In other words, do above and beyond what is expected of you.

So the question that I heard today is the one I now pose to you: what is your second mile?

How can you serve where you’re planted in a way that goes beyond the minimum requirement?

It’s not necessarily about doing more, but about how you do what you’re doing. It’s all about your attitude.

Where you are, what you are doing, is your ministry, whether it’s in a church building or a seminary or a classroom or in a grocery store or in your own home.

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it when he said this: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (Colossians 3:22-25, The Message).

That goes for any sphere of life for wherever you live,work, play, and serve.

Do it all as if you were doing it directly for Jesus Himself.

See everyone you meet as possibly Jesus in disguise and treat them like you would treat Him if you knew He was standing right in front of you.

Going Home

winding road

“Going home is a lifelong journey. There are always parts of ourselves that wander off in dissipation or get stuck in resentment. Before we know it we are lost in lustful fantasies or angry ruminations. Our night dreams and daydreams often remind us of our lostness.

Spiritual disciplines such as praying, fasting and caring are ways to help us return home. As we walk home we often realise how long the way is. But let us not be discouraged. Jesus walks with us and speaks to us on the road. When we listen carefully we discover that we are already home while on the way” (Henri Nouwen).

That’s what really matters in the end.

I’m headed toward my real home and Jesus is the one who’ll help me get there.

This journey is where Jesus walks with us and speaks to us. In fact, Jesus Himself said that knowing Him is the journey. He said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

He didn’t say that He knew the way.

He didn’t even say that He was an expert in the knowledge about the way.

He said He is THE way.

There is no other way because no other god ever took on human flesh and became one of us. No other god willingly laid down his life for us in order that we might escape the punishment we deserved.

Sometimes, the way seems long and hard. Many of us sometimes feel like we will never get to the place we want to be or become the persons we feel we should have been all along.

Rest easy, my friends.

Jesus promised that even though the road was narrow and few find it, He would be there.

Jesus promised that His yoke would be easy and His burden light.

Jesus promised that He would finish that great work He started in you.

He promised to never leave or forsake you.

When Jesus is with you, you truly are already home while you’re on the road home.

 

What’s It Worth?

“Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?'” (Mark 8:34-37).

God is not your co-pilot. If He is, it’s time to switch seats.

But enough of cliches. This is the gospel. It’s not about prosperity and happiness. It’s about following Jesus, no matter what, even if it hurts.

Sometimes where Jesus leads is pleasant, but not always.

Sometimes, it feels good to follow Jesus, but sometimes it feels like swimming against the current.

Sometimes, you’ll really feel like saying yes to whatever Jesus asks of you, but sometimes you will have to say yes when your feelings are saying no.

It’s about letting Jesus lead, wherever He takes you and through whatever He brings you.

As much as I love my comfort and convenience, that’s not the road that Jesus took.

His road was marked with suffering and pain.

His road was definitely the road less traveled, the narrow road that few find that leads to life eternal.

His road was the road that led to you and me in our worst moments, where He invited us to follow and find out what a different and better life could look like.

What good would it do me to get everything I’ve ever wanted and dreamed about, everything on my Amazon wish list, everything on my bucket list, and lose my soul in the process?

If I have everything else and no Jesus, I have nothing. If I have nothing else but Jesus, I have everything.

The end.

 

Four Gardens

I heard something new today, so I can’t take credit for any of what follows. It all involves four gardens.

The first garden was the Garden of Eden where it all went horribly wrong for all of us. Adam and Eve both ate of that dratted fruit. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit it was or who ate first. The simple fact that out of every tree in that garden (and there must have been plenty), they chose the one tree God asked them not to eat from.

We’ve been like that ever since. Ever see a “Don’t step on the grass” sign? What’s the first impulse you have when you see that? I rest my case.

The second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus chose the cross. I know it was His destiny from the beginning and He knew all along that Calvary was His destination, but here is where the temptation to bail was strongest and here is where Jesus prevailed against such a temptation.

The third garden was the Garden of the Tomb. When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. So it follows there was a garden. Here is where everything wrong was made right. Here is where Jesus’ victory was confirmed and forever validated.

The final garden is in Revelation 22. There you find a very familiar tree, the tree of life, planted by a river and located in the City of God. Here instead of a forbidding commandment is an invitation to come and partake.

Oh, and there’s the whole fruit of the Spirit thing, too.

I love how God doesn’t miss any details. Everything that was lost in the first garden gets found in the last one. Nothing that is good and pure and true is ever truly lost, but God finds a way to redeem it back.

Going Public

“God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness” Titus‬ ‭2‬:‭11-14‬ MSG).

I think that pretty much covers it.

Just Ask

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” (Luke 11:13 MSG).

I wonder how many times I’ve used prayer as a last resort.

How many times have I obsessively worried about something and tried to figure out ways of handling it myself and it never even dawned on me to pray about it?

You’d think for as long as I’ve been a believer that I’d be quicker to prayer than I am.

I’m guessing you feel the same way.

I think it points to a lack of faith. It says that I really don’t believe that God can handle my problem. Oh sure, He can deal with everyone else’s issues but for some reason in my own mind, my circumstances are different.

I look at it this way. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He can handle pretty much anything I’m ever going to throw at Him. He’s not going to be shocked or surprised at the needs I lay before Him.

I keep up with Ann Voskamp, a fantastic writer who also happens to put some of the best posts out there on social media. She usually ends them with the hashtag #preachingthegospeltomyself. For those who are unskilled in reading hashtag-ese, that means “preaching the gospel to myself.”

A lot of what I write is me reminding myself of what I already know. Scratch that. Nearly all of what I write is me preaching to myself and stirring memories of times before when God was faithful.

All it takes is the tiniest yielding, the most hesitant agreements, and God can show up and do what He does best– amaze.

 

Peter, Peter, Peter

 “As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. ‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.’

Peter, suddenly bold, said, ‘Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.’

He said, ‘Come ahead.’

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me!’

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, ‘Faint-heart, what got into you?’

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!'” (Matthew 14:22-33, The Message).

I’ve been thinking about Peter, the disciple with the chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. He got into trouble by saying things and acting out without really thinking it through. Not that any of us can relate, right?

He often gets a bad rap for the whole sinking bit. After Jesus calls him to walk on water, he gets so far out and sees the waves and panics and . . . . down he goes. Only a fast-acting Jesus keeps Peter from sleeping with the fishes. Literally.

But for a moment or two, Peter walked on water. Other than Jesus Himself, Peter is the only other in history who can make that claim.

While it’s easy to chide Peter for taking his eyes off Jesus, you have to give him kudos for getting out of the boat in the first place. After all, there were eleven other disciples who stayed put.

Peter left everything he knew, everything that was comfortable, and everything that made sense in that moment to come to where Jesus was. To me, failure would have been Peter staying in the boat and saying, “No thanks, Jesus. I’m fine. Really.”

I can relate to the other disciples. It’s easy to stay in the boat and criticize the ones who try to get out and do something. It’s easy to sit where you have something tangible to hold onto in the middle of raging waves.

But that kind of faith never gets you anywhere. It’s the faith that takes risks, that takes that step of faith out into the scary unknown, that leads us to where Jesus is. That’s the faith that takes us to places where we see the impossible becoming reality.

Lord, I want that kind of faith that Peter had in that moment. I want to step out of the boat, get my feet wet, and make fool of myself if it will help get me a little closer to You.

Amen.

 

What I want (what we should all want)

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

I don’t want people to know me for being smart or funny or clever or nice or gentle. I want people to see me and be astonished and say “That man has been with Jesus.” I hope that is your prayer, too. That outsiders will look at us and recognize Jesus in us, and see that we, like Moses, are radiant from having been face-to-face with the King of the Universe. Because when we have been with Jesus, we are never the same. We can never again settle. We are “ruined for the ordinary.”

Which brings up a convicting point for me. I NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH JESUS. If I only give Him 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there, I doubt that people will know that I have been with Him. It’s got to be more. If I am to love with the love of Jesus and be His hands and feet to the world, I have to know His heart much more fully than I do now.

Here’s a question that nailed me today. If your witness for Christ was limited to your facebook posts and replies and comments, what kind of testimony would that be? Would it be the kind that would make people want to know Jesus more or would it drive people away? Would people think that we were different or would they think we are just like them and therefore they have no use for what we have to say about our faith.

If we have been with Jesus, our words will match our walk and what comes out of our lips (and from our keyboards) will match our lifestyle.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.