There are things our parents say so often we don’t even hear it anymore. They might to totally right, and what they’re saying could be something worth listening to… but you’ve heard it so many times you’ve tuned it out.
What if your parent is saying it so often because they’ve learned it the hard way?
I think that’s what happens with John 3:16. Unfortunately, it’s so well known that many people miss out on the glorious truth it simply proclaims. It’s an incredible verse to summarize the gospel-message.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This is the third message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Other messages in the series include “It’s Not My Gift” and “Let Go, Let God.”
I used to go to a Christian camp every summer when I was a kid. Almost every year I would be encouraged to “let Jesus into my heart.” I was already a Christian, so this invitation confused me. I know others who always felt pressured and guilty that maybe they sent the invitation to the wrong place or forgot the stamp? Maybe Jesus only visited their heart last year, and this year they hope he chooses to stay. It’s a confusing invitation: letting Jesus into your heart.
What’s that even mean, really? Is it a one-time invitation, and then we’re set for life? Or is it a habitual invitation that we need to keep on issueing so he doesn’t leave?
I’ve been thinking about tolerance quite a bit over the last few weeks. Last week I attempted to provide a clear definition of What Tolerance Is (and Isn’t). My hope was to simply clarify what tolerance is without getting into what it looks like for the Christian to be tolerant in an unChristian world. I believe tolerance is a good thing and we need more of it.
In a tolerant world, would Christians still evangelize and send missionaries? Is evangelism inherently intolerant?
Some people believe evangelism is inherently anti-tolerant. Here are a few reasons I answer, “No, evangelism is not inherently intolerant.”
“Dad, which is more important: Christmas or Easter?”
“Umm… well.. both are important. They need each other buddy. Without Christmas, Jesus couldn’t have died to forgive us of our sin. But without Easter we wouldn’t be able to be forgiven.”
“I think Christmas is more important, Dad. If Jesus wasn’t born then he couldn’t have died on the cross for us.”
This is a conversation I had with my seven-year-old son the other day. (He’s a pretty sharp kid. Plus, there’s the whole presents thing going for Christmas!) It’s a debate I know many have had before, and I’m not going to settle the debate, because Christmas and Easter need each other.
Have you ever been asked a question and immediately thought, “That’s a stupid question!” Then you realized that you actually had to give an answer, and it suddenly becomes a really hard question. In those situations we often answer and then walk away thinking, “Ugh! I have a way better answer now. I want a re-do!” I wonder how many of us would feel that way if we were asked the questions in the video below.
A few years ago one of the other pastors at church gave me a short book called, “How to Really Love your Teenager” by D. Ross Campbell. Honestly, I didn’t love the book as a whole, but there is one thing from the book that has really impacted me (and that alone make the book easily worth the recommendation!). Campbell talks about the many teenagers he has seen for counseling and drives the point home that there is a difference between knowing that you are loved and feeling loved.
Parents, our kids need to know they are loved. But if they only know that as a fact it isn’t enough. Our kids need to feel loved too.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not much of a feeler. This does not come naturally to me. But I am committed that my kids feel loved. You may be tempted to say, “Mike, your kids are young. Just wait until they’re teenagers!” It will get more difficult as they become teens, I know that… but it’s never easy. The sooner you start, the better. The later you start nurturing your kids feelings, the harder it will become.
I think this issue boils down to two things: love and trust.
When we get to the root of it all, I suspect that these two issues are simply two sides of the same question: “Are you for me?”
This might sound like a ridiculous question until we consider our sinful nature. We are all naturally prone to living for ourselves and it is a work of the Holy Spirit to truly and genuinely put others first.
As parents, we need to die to ourselves daily, thus providing a faithful example of the call of the gospel to our kids. It is by dying to ourselves that we find our life in Christ, and it is through Christ that we find the love our kids truly need. When we are living in the love of God, our kids (no matter how old or young they are) will be blessed by knowing and feeling loved.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person
one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us
in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Imagine if “at just the right time” was at a time when the Sermon on the Mount could have been live-streamed across the world. People from all nations would have been able to see and hear Jesus, witness his miracles, and invite him to fly to their nation. God could have made “at just the right time” to be a technological age. But he didn’t.
Instead, God’s “at just the right time” was a time when travel was difficult and slow and dangerous. It proves that God is inefficient. Not inefficient because he lacks ability, and not because he is disorganized. This is no excuse to be wasteful, after all, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It is precisely because the “how” matters that “the right time” was during an age when technology consisted of papyri and cargo ships which would spread knowledge, wealth and culture beyond anything previously imaginable. God’s inefficiency challenges our understanding of what “progress” really is.
As we consider our technologically advanced culture, let us remember that God chose dirty paths over well maintained highways as the road for the Son of God to walk upon. He chose personal face-to-face relationships over video-conferencing. He chose a group of men who consistently failed to understand what he was saying instead of the religious pace-setters. He chose an approach that many today would consider incredibly inefficient.
As you look at your life, consider the people who have had the greatest impact on you. I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess they were people who went out of their way to nurture and invest in you. Maybe it’s time for each of us to look at our busy lives and reconsider where we are spending our time and how we’re trying to get the word out about who God is and what he’s done for us through Jesus Christ.
If you’re anything like me, technology has a way of making us feel more productive than we really are. It convinces us that we have cultivated more relationships than we really have. It has a way of sucking us in and chewing up our time, ironically creating distance between us and the people who are right next to us. Let’s not fear technology, but let’s make sure it is serving us instead of the other way around.
The gospel is inherently personal and relational. May our commitment to spreading it reflect those characteristics.