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?

 

Long Journey Home

“We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God- which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but His descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace” (Os Guinness, Long Journey Home).

That’s it.

It’s not that I found Jesus. As one pastor I know always puts it, it’s not Jesus who was lost. I was. Jesus found me.

It may sound like semantics to you, but I think it’s important to know the difference.

Salvation is all God. It’s not like I was smart enough to figure it out or brave enough to seek it out. If God hadn’t sought me out first, I never would have sought Him in the first place.

That’s humbling. I can take no credit whatsoever for my being saved. It is all of grace.

That’s also good news. It means that if it’s not up to human efforts or human goodness, then anyone can find it (or better yet, anyone can be found). There’s no such thing as too lost, too far gone, too out of reach for God.

That helps when you’re praying for a son or a daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father who seems hopelessly unreachable. It helps when you have a friend who seems bent on self-destructing and won’t let you help.

There are countless stories of those whom the world had basically given up on that God saved. The best example is the Apostle Paul. Maybe the next one will be someone you love. Maybe the next one will be you.

 

The Winning Side

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“So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty” verdict is already declared. Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing. As the psalm says, On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly; we are like sheep awaiting slaughter. But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, The Voice)

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I love how Pastor Mike described salvation this morning. He said it was like when you played at recess. The team captain, who also happened to be the best player, picked you. Suddenly, you went from a nobody to being on the winning team, because this guy’s (or gal’s) teams always won.

Jesus picked you. Don’t ever miss that. He intentionally chose you because He wanted you on His team, not because you were the only one left and somebody had to take you.

Jesus set His heart on you from day one. Actually, before then. He chose you before you were born, before your parents were born, before any of creation. He saw you at your darkest moment and said, “This one’s mine.”

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If He loved you like that at your very worst, what makes you think He won’t love you just as much or more now? If God is for you, does it really matter who or what comes up against you? Can anything ever really for a moment come between you and Jesus’s love for you?

One word: nope.

Nothing gets in the way of Jesus loving you. Not your past, not your bad habits, not your fears, not your failures, not your abandonment, not your anxiety, and not even you.

A movie or sporting event becomes way less stressful once you know the outcome. If you know in advance your team won, then you don’t get overly worked up when your team fumbles or misses a shot or strikes out. You can handle the main character in a movie getting in trouble if you know he ends up alright in the end.

Have you read the last page of the Bible? Guess what? Your side wins. Overwhelming victory is yours through Christ. You don’t fight for victory but FROM it. That’s a huge relief (at least for me it is).

That’s some very good news.

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Joy in the Midst of Sadness

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I celebrated with the rest of the family as my niece turned 2. Finally, I can stop counting in months. I was seriously running out of fingers and toes to count on.

I loved seeing the pure unadulterated joy on her face when she saw her presents and the complete love and trust she has for her mommy and daddy and two big brothers. It did my heart good.

But I also remembered Adrian Peterson’s 2-year old son who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. My heart hurts and I have questions I can’t answer.

Who does that to a 2-year old? For what possible reason?

I know we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Creation groans for deliverance and for everything to be made right. Too many defenseless and helpless children suffer, too many people go to bed hungry, too many marriages fall apart, and too many die way too young.

Then I remember how this story ends. I cheated and read the last page. It’s about God wiping away every tear from our eyes. It’s about a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth where lambs lie safely next to lions, where others is no need for sun, moon, or stars because God is there.

I love what the guest pastor said. God didn’t want an only child, so He chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus and become heirs with Jesus to all the promises of God.

I love this version of Romans 8:29-30: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.”

That’s what keeps me going in the midst of so much suffering and sadness. That’s why I can find joy in everything. Because ultimately Love does win.

Fathers And All That

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I can imagine Joseph on a break from his carpentry job, hanging around the water cooler that just happens to be on the construction site. Go with me on this.

He’s listening to the other guys brag about their sons:

“My son made the honor roll again. That boy is just plain smart.”

“Yeah? Well, my boy is All-State in both football and basketball. He’ll be getting a free ride to any college he wants.”

“My boy is going into the ROTC and into the Army after he graduates from college. He wants to dedicate his life to defending freedom.”

Then Joseph can’t resist any longer. “My boy is Savior of the World.”

They all roll their eyes. One of them says, “Yeah, yeah. We know. Jesus is soooo great. He can walk on water. He’s the perfect Man, God incarnate, yada, yada, yada. You don’t have to keep reminding us of how great your son is.”

OK. That probably never happened. But I do think Joseph is a good example of a good father.

He’s the one who raised a child he didn’t father. Sure, it was a miraculous event, but still, Jesus was not his biological child. But he was man enough to take responsibility. He did the best thing any good father can do by loving his wife, Mary, day in and day out.

Also, he raised Jesus in the right way. Jesus knew how to work hard with his hands and was taught the importance of integrity and honesty. When the Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, Joseph had a part in that.

Actually, the Bible never records any of Joseph’s actual words. It merely says that when Joseph heard what the angel said, he obeyed. Jesus learned obedience from a human perspective by watching his earthly father. Joseph knew that most of the most important life lessons are caught rather than taught, so he lived out his faith and his integrity and back up what he said by what he did.

Fathers, take a few notes from Joseph. Learn to lead by example and to be the man you want your son to become and your daughter to marry.

What If?

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I went running today for the first time in over two weeks after I tweaked my knee. I felt great. My knee felt great. And I found out that I’m not the world’s slowest runner after all. There’s at least one person out there slower than me, and I know because I passed her.

But then I got to thinking. What if my knee had been messed up to the point where I couldn’t ever run again? Would I still be thankful?

Or what if I lost my health? Would I still be able to wake up in the morning with gratitude for another day of being alive?

What if I lost my friends and family? Would I still be able to worship with a sincere heart and sing about the goodness of God?

What if God took away from me everything and everyone that I daily take for granted? What and who would I have left? Would I have anything at all left?

Would I still be able to praise Jesus for saving me if he never did one more thing for me?

Could I live a life of thanksgiving to my God for who he is if I never saw another visible sign of his presence?

Is God and God alone truly enough for me?

I wish I could say yes, but I find myself leaning on other crutches when I get tired or stressed or upset. I find myself thinking more about other things and people than about God. Sometimes God feels like a last resort after all my other planning has failed.

The truth I need to remember today (and maybe you do, too) is that God is the only one able to save me. He’s the only one strong enough to hold my life together and to hold me when I’m falling to pieces. He’s the only absolute constant that I can count on who won’t ever leave or forsake me.

So all of this to say that I need to be more thankful for what and who I have in my life. I need to remember where it all comes from, too.

I’m thankful most of all that God is still working on me, making me a better man, son, brother, friend, husband (possibly one day), father (also possibly one day), friend, and follower of Jesus.

For The Ones You Can’t Save

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“Each one of here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

That’s from one of my favorite movies, A River Runs Through It, where a pastor is eulogizing the son he couldn’t help. That son kept making bad choices and one bad choice proved to be fatal. But it was not for a lack of people trying to help him.

I have known people like that. No matter how much you try to help, nothing ever gets better. That person, as lovable and kind as they might be, keeps making bad choices. You think anything you do for that person is a waste. It’s not.

Anything done out of love is never wasted. Generous selfless love is never in vain. I really truly believe that person who seems to blow off your kind efforts and fight your efforts to help deep down knows that you love him or her. They may not be able to express it or acknowledge it, but they know.

God knows, too. He sees the smallest act of charity done to the least of these as done to Him. When you try to help someone close to you who’s down and out, you’re serving Jesus.

When you are loving those who can’t love you back, you are most like Jesus. When you give freely, expecting nothing in return, you show the very best qualities of the Father. When your love is spurned time and time again and thrown back in your face and you still choose to love, that is the Spirit of God really loving through you.

I don’t know what prompted this blog, except that movie quote popped in my head today. Maybe it was for me, to remind me that what to me seems hopeless and impossible is not even remotely difficult to God (thanks to Pastor Pete for that one). And yes, love does win in the end.