Monthly Archives: August 2019

John 3:16: The Unexpected and Amazing

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-17)

Here it is.  The red letter passage that everyone sees everywhere.

So I want to try something different in studying it.  I’m going to tie it in with what we know about God from the first part of Bible history.

Let me give you a synopsis of what happened.  God made the earth, and mankind, and pronounced that it was good.  As the years went on, his heart was grieved because man was so wicked.  So the Lord destroyed the world in a flood.  Yet, God wasn’t giving up on man. He found a reason for hope in Noah.  God preserved this righteous man, along with his family.

Then came Abraham.  Once again, God found a righteous man who could be the focus of his love and purpose.  God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as stars, and that all nations would be blessed through them.  He also promised to give them a land of their own.

But how would this take place?  The crazy thing is that it would be a very long time until God gave Abraham’s descendants this land.  God told Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” (Gen 15:16)  Abraham would father Isaac, and Isaac would father Jacob.  Jacob would father 12 sons, including Joseph.  All of Jacob’s progeny would go to Egypt, and end up in bondage for 400 years.

Then, Moses would lead them out of Egypt, back to the land God promised them.  In the process, Egypt would experience consequences for how they had treated the Israelites.  All of their first born sons would die.  Their army would be wiped out as they tried to cross the Red Sea.

Even after all of that, the Hebrews who came out of Egypt would not receive the Promise Land until they were ready to believe that God was with them and they could conquer the inhabitants of the land.  It was actually their children, led by Joshua, who battled and drove the tribes out of Canaan and made that their home. They carried out the destruction of the Amorites that God promised in Genesis 15.

So here are some themes in these stories that we can also see in John 3:16 and 17.  First, that God loves the people he created.  It breaks his heart when the world is wicked.  He wants to find a way to save people.  In Genesis he saves them by preserving Noah and his family.  In Exodus he saves them by bringing them out of Egypt.  In John 3, he saves them by giving them Jesus.

Second, that God wants to bless all people.  In Genesis, he promises to bless all people through Abraham.  In John 3, he promises to bless all people with heaven. (If they believe in Jesus.)

Third, that God looks for righteous people.  In Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Joshua, God found individuals who would do his will.  In John 3, God seeks individuals who will do his will by believing in his son.

Fourth, that there is judgement for those who are not righteous.  God destroyed the wicked in a flood.  He wiped out many of the Egyptians through the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.  He helped the Hebrews defeat and drive out the inhabitants of the Promise Land.  In John 3, he declared that all who do not believe in his son will be condemned.

In conclusion, John 3:16 is thought of as the ultimate warm, fuzzy passage.   But it’s so much more.  It’s the culmination of who God has been throughout the ages. From the beginning, he showed how he loved the world.  Although it broke his heart, there were also times that he brought about judgement on the world.

When God sent his son, it was the same song, with different verse.  And what a powerful verse!

What’s really cool to realize is that we are a part of that verse.  We are a part of God’s plan to bless all nations.  It wasn’t just that the Jews of the time could believe in Jesus and have eternal life.  John 3:16 says, everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

How will everyone know about Jesus, so they can receive their blessing?  Through us. That’s our purpose.

How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?  Romans 10:14b NLT

John 3:16 has probably impacted more people than any other Bible verse.  But the initial reaction to it is just the tip of the iceberg.  With the understanding of all that has gone before, and all that will come to be, comes the realization that this is completely and utterly epic.

Let this thrill our hearts!  We’re the fruition of what God set in motion through the ages.  We’re the blessing bringers!  We reflect God’s love and goodness.

And then let us find one way that we will live differently today because of it.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, John, Love, Red Letter

August Melancholy

august (2)

Weighed down by August melancholy

As heavy as the humidity

Summer is slipping out of grasp

The roller coaster of the year poised on top of the track

To rush into autumn and holidays

And I’m not ready.

I want to savor the moments more

To redeem them, prove they weren’t worthless

The remnants of my dreams and projects surround me

Like the dried-out stalks and clinging blooms of my garden

I spent myself with so much hope

Bright days bursting with energy and ideas

I made great memories

But I’m also surrounded by shortcomings

The weeds out of control

The gullies left by summer downpours

My efforts feel small and ineffective.

Still, at times

When clouds block the sun

I garden in the coolness, and peace settles over me

The wind whips up, with prickles of rain

I sit on the sun porch watching hummingbirds thread the banana plant

And birds balance on the feeder

For a while

It’s enough.

My soul, let me go out

And dig my fingers deeply into the baked soil

To find the water, despite my fears it is gone

To reach through my disappointment for God’s goodness

That thriving, raw power of rebirth

To hear the whisper that the August is necessary

Part of the cycle

And hope is coming again.

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Filed under Poetry

When It’s Hard to Have Faith

“Truly, truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, and yet you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.   (John 3:11)

This is a longer red letter passage than usual.  But the individual verses are connected in totally cool ways, so I’m going to go through it piece by piece.

One thing that is puzzling about this passage is that Jesus speaks in the plural.  So the first thing I want to explore is who is “we?”  There’s no knowing for sure, but I think one possibility could be that Jesus was including himself in the company of all of the prophets who came before him.  They spoke what they received from God, yet got no love from their hearers.  It was as Ezekiel said about the Jews, “They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ez 12:2b)

Jesus also might have been referring to the disciples who were following him.  From the other gospels, we know that they were going about healing, telling people to repent, and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  They were testifying, yet many did not believe them.

In summary, I think Jesus was saying, “What is it with you folk?  You’ve had direct witnesses to God telling you his will, but you never paid them any mind.”

Then I want to look at is what Jesus said next, “You can’t even believe when I talk about earthly things.  How are you going to believe when I talk about heavenly ones?” (Paraphrased.)

What did Jesus mean by “earthly things?”  It probably refers to what he said and did while he was on earth.

  • So the Jews gathered around Him and demanded, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”   “I already told you,” Jesus replied, “but you did not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify on My behalf.”  (John 10:24-25)
  • “But I have testimony more substantial than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish–the very works I am doing–testify about Me that the Father has sent Me.”  (John 5:36)

Like the prophets of old, like the disciples, Jesus gave a sort of testimony, but people didn’t believe.  And Jesus was saying, “If you can’t believe in this testimony which is physical evidence that you can see, how are you going to believe in what you can’t see, which is heaven?”

The third thing I want to discuss is Jesus’s statement about. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven.”  It’s just my take,  but I think Jesus is playing loose with the time frame here. He includes his coming from heaven, which happened when he was born (John 1:4), and his future return to heaven (Acts 1:9) in the same sentence.  He defines himself as the one who came from heaven and will return to heaven.  He’s trying to get people to see that as the only actual witness to heaven, he’s the only one qualified to give testimony about it.

Lastly, Jesus asserts, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. ‘”

This statement follows perfectly from what preceded it.  Jesus said people didn’t accept the testimony that they’d been given.  And if they couldn’t believe in the testimony of him on earth, they wouldn’t able to believe in heaven.  And he was the one who could authentically testify about heaven.  And he was the perfect one to provide a way for them to get to heaven.

Let me break this last part down a little more.  When Jesus was lifted up, which happened with the events of the cross, that became the catalyst for the Jews to finally be able to believe.   As Jesus stated later in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   Jesus’s death and resurrection would capture people’s attention like no testimony of the past.  It was the game changer. It was the faith bringer.

And what would people have faith in?  Not only Jesus, but the eternal life he brought.  They would believe in heavenly things.

Our gracious God, through his Son, in one fell swoop, made a way for those who heard the testimony to completely believe.

What does this mean for us?

Can we relate to the Jews of old?  I certainly can.  Lately, my life feels like the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.  Some fundamental parts of my landscape have changed.  And now there are times that I just can’t seem to have faith.  I can’t believe that things will work out.  Even after all of the “testimony” God’s given me in the past, all the ways he’s worked in my life, I keep slipping back into the swamp of thinking, “It’s going to stink.”

I’ve been reading a nonfiction book about people whose faith is the very opposite.  It’s written by a man named Surprise, who tells the story of when he was a teenager in Mozambique and heard God’s voice in the middle of the night, telling him to leave his village.  Surprise obeyed the voice, even though he had never heard about God or Jesus.  After wandering in the jungle for two weeks, he came upon a clearing and saw an aged man who had been told in a dream to wait for him. This man took care of him and shared a very simple version of the gospel with him.  Surprise believed, and over time, began to go into the surrounding villages and tell the people there the good news about Jesus.  At first he didn’t have a Bible.  He only knew that people were sinning and God loved them and had sent his son to die for them.  But he shared what he knew, and everywhere he went, the people believed.  They didn’t have to have lengthy studies or explanations.  They had simple faith.  Surprise started hundreds of churches.

Maybe, in the Western world, we make faith too complicated sometimes.  Maybe there’s something about our cultural mindset that makes it difficult to believe.

Maybe we all just all need the cross.  The simple message of the cross is what impacted the villagers in Africa.  It impacted the people at the time of Christ.  It’s our lifeline when we’re pulled every which way by the world and our troubles.

I recently came across this blog by Julia Martin on “How do You Remain Faithful to God When Life is Terrible?”  She writes,”When we suffer we must run and collapse at the foot of the cross. It is there that we look up to see His hair blowing in the wind, His blood dripping on the rocky ground. It is there that we lift our face to see that this Man, the One in the center, is staring at us, not with eyes that condemn but with eyes of love.”

Isn’t that picture compelling?  Does it work on your heart? Can you see how cherished and valued you are, in spite of your perceived flaws?  Can you see that there’s someone who experienced the depths of despair, and can relate to what you’re going through?  Can you know that there’s hope, because, by the power of God, this man’s story ended in triumph?

I know that the foot of the cross can be the only place where I find healing and peace.

But thinking of heaven also helps.  As I remember that my citizenship is in heaven, my perspective changes.  I’m fortified by the realization that my place is with the almighty and all-loving God, wrapped in his safe, comforting presence, not with all of the worries and dysfunction of the world.  One day I’ll be there in reality.  In the meantime, it helps to remind myself that I don’t belong to all this angst.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Heb. 12:22

In conclusion, the passage we’re looking at today was a part of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was perplexed.  He didn’t get it.

Neither did many of his peers.

And even today, I can struggle to get it.  But if I walk with God through my dark valley, he holds my hand and guides me until the shadows dissipate and I find a glimmer of hope.

If you’re struggling to have faith, reach out for God’s hand and let him walk through that dark valley with you.  Know that Jesus came and was lifted up to make a way for you to believe.  Remember the cross.  Remember heaven.  With a simple faith, knowing these is enough.

I wrote this blog over a period of days, and I’m feeling better now.  God has worked in amazing ways to bring light to my soul.

I know the same will be true for you, if you persevere.

All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true.  You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.  II Peter 1:19 (CEV, NLT)

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Filed under Faith, John, Red Letter