“For God so loved the world…” Just by prompting you with those six words, you probably can finish the verse. For those that have even just a few years of church, these are familiar words. But not to everybody. After Tim Tebow wore ‘John 3:16’ on his eye black in the national championship game a few years back, over 90 million people googled it.
It is a powerful verse. It is the gospel message in a nutshell. On a communal level, sometimes the message is hard to fathom. When one sees all of the violence, hatred, abuse, prejudice, injustice… in the world, it is hard to understand how God could love this world so much as to send His only Son into it. But that is just how much He loves this broken world.
Then I think about this verse on a personal level. When I consider how long I have known and been in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and look hard at my life some days, I think, ‘Even me?’ In spite of all the times I fail to do what you lead me to and all of the times I sin, You still love me? Yes He does. God loves all of us this way. Wow!
The reality is that God would send His Son to die for just one of us. He loves each of us that much. But God sent Jesus to all of us – for each and every person who lives or has lived from the time Jesus walked the earth until the time He returns in glory. For God so loved this broken, hurting, fallen world so much that He sent His one and only Son to save this world. He loves the world that much. He loves you and me that much. Thanks be to God for His great love!!
Scripture reference: John 3: 16-17
Nicodemus is drawn to Jesus. He comes in the dark of night though because, although he is drawn, he still has a lot to keep in mind. He is a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader, and his group often clashes with Jesus. And yet he comes – because Jesus has answers.
Isn’t that why we usually come to Jesus too? To seek answers, to understand life, to get guidance or comfort or peace? Our prayers are often not questions, but sometimes we really do question, it is just below the surface. We pray for strength or resolution in a certain situation. But just below the surface we are questioning why God would allow us to even be in the situation.
Nicodemus comes, of course, because he wants answers. He is willing to risk a little to get an answer or two from Jesus. But Jesus’ answers do not make sense to Nicodemus. Be born again? That makes as much sense as dying twice! Jesus tries to explain what being born of the Spirit means, but that does not fit in with Nicodemus’ thinking either. Then and there he cannot assimilate this information. Nicodemus goes away confused, with a lot to ponder, and without any answers he understands yet. But he will.
Can you relate to Nicodemus? Have you ever had a prayer ‘answered’ in a way you do not understand? Ever feel like you did not get an answer at all? Like Nicodemus, at times we too struggle to understand God and His ways. He is a big and complex God. It is okay we do not fully know everything. Even though we do not fully know God, we do know some things. He loves us more than we can ever imagine and He wants the very best for us. Hold onto these truths of God. Keep on seeking and praying.
Scripture reference: John 3: 1-15
Our faith is not something we just suddenly had. We did not just wake up one morning as a Christian. Inside each human being, created by God, is an inherent knowledge of God and a sense of His presence in us and in the created world. But all the stories of Noah, Moses, David, Jesus – they had to be taught to us. We had to learn how to sing and pray and study God’s word.
For many of us we learned these things from our families. Some aspects of faith we learned from our personal families. We saw Mom up early every morning reading her Bible and praying. We said grace before every meal, whether at home or out at a restaurant. Other aspects of our faith we learned from our church families. We heard the stories in Sunday school, we went to church camp or VBS (Vacation Bible School), we were in worship. Both families are so important in the development and growth of our faith.
But what about all the people who did not grow up in a family that practiced the faith? How do they come to know God? Do they even have a chance?
Of course they do. They have us! Just as both of our families have poured into us, so too we can pour into others. Paul writes of being adopted into the family of God and becoming heirs with Christ. There is no birth right. All are invited. Just as much as we want our own children to grow up to have a personal relationship with Christ, we should want this just as much for the stranger we meet. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to God the father and eternal life. Today, share your story of faith. Introduce Jesus to someone He does not know yet!
Scripture reference: Romans 8: 14-17
One thing we all have together is our humanity. God created each human being for a greater purpose than simply living out our earthly years. In the life of every person is also an inner light that comes from our creator. Working within all of us are also the desires of the flesh. Paul often writes of this struggle that wages inside every human being.
All of us live within a human body and therefore face human desires. God and our faith provide us with a framework within which we decide to do or not to do certain things. Some are good and should be pursued. Some are harmful and should be avoided. This same concept is true for the non-believer, except their ‘filter’ is just not at the same place as a Christian’s is.
All of us also have the same inner light that our Creator placed in each us. As with the things of the flesh, if we acknowledge and ‘feed’ the Spirit within us, then it grows. If one chooses to ignore it and push it down, life is lived differently as all one has left is this body. As we feed and allow the Spirit to have more control of our life, our filter shifts. What we did not see as sin before we begin to question. As we grow closer and closer to Christ, we seek His perfectionmore and more. While we will never attain perfection, others come to notice our faith more and more. May our light shine so that God maybe glorified and so that others may come to know our Christ.
Scripture reference: Romans 8: 12-13
God is mighty and powerful. The Psalm tells us His voice is like lightning, that the earth shakes at the sound of His voice. In the power of the lightning we do catch a glimpse of the awesome power of God. It is from this strength that we too can draw strength in time of need.
Sometimes when I think about the vastness of creation it awes me. There are seven billion people on the earth plus countless animals and other creations of God. And He loves each one of us dearly and knows us each by name. Our God is indeed a majestic and amazing God!
To me it is one of the mysteries of faith that God can be so big to create this wonderful, ordered world yet small enough to know me. Sometimes it is hard to begin to comprehend. But in the end one must accept that He knows me because at times He calls my name, He whispers in my ear, He nudges my heart into action.
In these times God certainly makes His presence known. He is right here and tangible. As we respond to the calls, to the whispers, to the nudges, God is offered to another through us. In the helping hand, in the listening ear, in the comforting words, God can flow from us to another. The same voice that shakes the earth is the voice that whispers. May we learn to hear the whispers just as well as the lightning.
Scripture reference: Psalm 29
Most of us do not have a vision experience like Isaiah – winged creatures, smoke filling the room, trembles that shake the foundations. For most of us, our encounters with God tend to be on the quieter side. We do not hear an audible voice asking the question: “Whom shall I send?” But we do often hear the question.
For many of us though, we are adept at acting like we do not hear the question. Like a phone ringing that we choose not to answer or a text message that we choose to ignore, it can be easy to avoid responding to the question. We certainly could not avoid the question if our call experience was like Isaiah’s. And for some, God’s call approaches this scale. But for most it does not.
God continues to actively call each of us. It could be through something we see on TV or read in the paper or observe out in the world. It could be through the words of another who encourage us or ask us to join them. It could be through an encounter with someone that somehow strikes a passion within us. God speaks to us in many ways. He calls for us to minister to His people over and over and over.
The voice never goes away. He never ceases to ask the question. The call never ends. But the more we hear it, the more we have the opportunity to tune in and to hear God. Funny thing though, saying ‘yes’ does not make the call go away. It makes the next call clearer. It helps us say ‘yes’ quicker next time. When God asks “Whom shall I send?”, the answer is clear. In each case, God already knows the answer to the question. May we respond with the answer He longs for: “Here I am. Send me.” For where He leads we are to go. And where we go, He will be there too.
Scripture reference: Isaiah 6: 1-8
In the vision shared in Isaiah 6 we find ourselves in the presence of God. The imagery here is hard to wrap our minds around. There are winged creatures, the foundations tremble at their voice, and the hem of God’s robe is so immense that it fills the space.
Although it is impossible to understand all of God, it is a good thing that God is so big and powerful that we cannot fully understand Him. A god small enough for our human minds to fully comprehend would be a small god. So like Isaiah’s inability to fully describe the vision God placed before him, we too struggle to completely describe God. This is part of God’s mystery.
In pondering the vastness of God, we too see how limited we are. We see clearly that we are human, prone to sin and failure on occasion. As His creatures we are also prone to love, to forgive, to care for one another. In following the example set by Christ, we come to know the Father a bit better, to understand God a little more.
There are, however, things we will never know. There are questions that will never be answered. There will always be aspects of God that we do not understand fully. One of these great mysteries is His grace. I do not understand how God can forgive my sins over and over and over but I am surely very grateful that His love is that big. Living with this blessing of God is also a mystery beyond words. All I can say is thanks be to God!
Scripture reference: Isaiah 6: 1-7
It is a rainy morning here on Pentecost Sunday. Rain and fire don’t usually mix too well. In the end, the rain, if it lasts long enough, usually wins.
The Spirit that descended upon the disciples almost 2,000 years ago continues to burn in the hearts of many Christians. When they were touched by and filled with the Holy Spirit, they were forever changed. They were made bold for their faith and became more than they ever imagined they could be. No amount of earthly ‘rain’ could put out this heavenly fire – not threat or abuse or failure or even death could quench their fire.
In 1738 a fire was kindled in the heart of John Wesley. He was awakened to what God was calling out for – a church that loved all people, a faith that sought personal holiness. The fire led him to preach in the streets, mines, and fields, offering the gospel to any who would come. The fire led him to call people back to a personal holiness through the renewal of spiritual disciplines like study, prayer, and fasting. Many came to have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to find the Holy Spirit burning within them as well. This fire within showed faith as a love of God and neighbor.
Once we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts as well. It can remain a smouldering fire that guides and leads us, helping us to live a Christian life. Or we can fan it into flame and allow it to forever change us. This heavenly fire can meet no match on earth and cannot be defeated. May we too feel Wesley’s burning passion for God and neighbor. May the love of God and neighbor pour forth from within each of us, forever changing all we meet.
Scripture reference: Acts 2: 1-21
Today, a unique angle on Pentecost. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that all of creation groans as it awaits God’s redemption. Just as humanity is, creation is in a constant cycle of life – birth, growth, decay, death. Just as with humans, the Spirit seeks to breathe life into all of the life cycle of the earth and the creatures of the earth.
Parts of our earth are in bad shape. As the people tasked with the stewardship of the earth, sometimes we do not do so well. People who are “connected” to the earth speak of hearing it cry, of feeling the pain of the earth over how we have exploited the earth, its creatures, its resources. All too often we are a part of these processes that have negative impacts upon the earth.
Pentecost is about the way God breathes new life into the believers. It is also about how the Spirit seeks to breathe new life into the earth. The Spirit wants to bring healing to the earth, to heal all of the scars and brokenness. God will never abandon the earth. He seeks to bring redemption and healing to all of creation. God calls for our participation as stewards of this place.
Two main questions. One: can you hear the earth crying? If so, what is our response? If not, how have we gotten so far from the role God called us to? Two: will God save creation from us or with us? Make no mistake, He will redeem all of creation. Are we with Him or against Him?
Scripture references: Psalm 104: 24-35 and Romans 8: 18-23
The person of Jesus has been gone a long time. His presence, brought to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, has been with humankind ever since. Some believers spend a lot of their time looking to heaven through the disciplines of prayer, meditation, worship, and study. To know and understand Jesus more and more is definitely a part of our journey of faith. All of these means of grace develop our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many are comfortable with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives in terms of how it helps them in these pursuits. But our faith life is not all about looking up – it is also about looking in and looking around. Faith is not meant to be lived in isolation or even with just our fellow believers. The Spirit calls into our passions and seeks to use our God-given gifts and talents to be a difference-maker in our world.
As Spirit-filled followers we are called to be the kingdom of God here on earth. The Spirit leads us to wrestle with the things of this world – racial tension, economic injustice, violence, corruption… – the things that cause the heart of God to hurt. We are called as followers of Christ to come alongside folks who struggle with these things and to lead the way for change in helping our world become the place God desires it to be. We are to work for a world where justice and equality and fairness are the norms, not the exceptions. Each of us must ask the Holy Spirit where we are called to minister in this world. The twelve were sent out to make a difference in the world as they spread the message of the gospel. This is our call as well.
Scripture reference: Acts 1: 9-11