What’s the Big Deal with John 3:16?

There are things our parents say so often we reaction-pic-eye-rolldon’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.”
John 3:16

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What Does it Mean to Invite Jesus Into Your Heart?

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?

 

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Is Evangelism Intolerant?

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.”

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Christmas is War

“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.

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I’m Christian But I’m not…

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.

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One of the Most Important Things a Parent Can Remember

Featured imageA 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.

God’s Inefficiency

“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.”
Romans 5:6-8

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.

What is the Gospel?

Do you know the gospel? Ok, great! Let’s hear it. Right now, in under a minute. What if you had three minutes to explain the gospel to someone in a way that was understandable, biblical, and compelling? Could you do that?

Christians talk about the gospel a lot, but I think most of us are unprepared to actually share the gospel with people. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised. Here are three things that I am absolutely convinced need to be in any presentation of the gospel (whether you’re talking with a friend or preaching from a pulpit).

1. Sin & Judgment
Without talking about sin, there’s simply no need for a savior. If I’m fine and can handle life on my own by being better than the next guy, then I don’t really need God.

But if sin is real and judgment is coming, then sin is a big deal. We shouldn’t talk about judgment in a way that we are the ones doing the judging, but simply to ask the question, “What if there is a God and you’re called to stand before him to answer for your sin? What would you have to say for yourself?” Because, as much as we may argue against Christ, I think most people know that they’re more sinful than they would admit.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24

The reality is we will all need to answer before God. The bad news is that we’re all guilty; the good news is Jesus came to declare us innocent.

2. Jesus’s Death and Resurrection
If Jesus is the doorway through which we enter, the cross and the empty tomb are the hinges. Much to my frustration, I have heard many “gospel presentations” at large evangelistic youth events where the cross and resurrection have been either completely absent or so briefly mentioned they merely got a head-nod.

Read through the book of Acts and see how the Apostles preached the gospel. They always emphasized the Person of Christ (who Jesus is) and the Work of Christ (what he did: especially on the cross and through the resurrection).

The gospel is not shared by merely asking, “Do you want to be a child of God” or “Do you want to be forgiven?” Those are great questions, and they may pave the road towards sharing the good news about who Jesus is and what he did, but they are not the gospel.

Our faith needs to be placed in Jesus Christ, for he alone is the giver of good news (which is what the word “gospel” means… “good news”). The gospel is the message of what Jesus did: he died as our substitute on the cross, taking upon himself the judgment that we deserve, and we claim his resurrection victory as our own by faith. Because of Jesus we have been reconciled, redeemed, and reunited with God. The rift that was torn between God and humanity has been restored. The wrath of God, which we earned because of our sinful rebellion against his sovereign reign, has been quenched by the cross. The sting of death has been defeated and given the death-sentence because of the resurrection.

The message of the gospel completely hinges upon who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he did (took away the sin of the world through his death and resurrection). If you do not focus on Jesus you simply are not talking about the gospel.

3. Repentance
The only appropriate response to the gospel is repentance. When we recognize our sin, we see our need for a savior. When we believe in Jesus and place our faith in what he has done for us, we proclaim that our eternal destiny is completely dependent on him. If those two things are true of us, we need to understand repentance. Again, we look at the Apostles’ preaching to see the necessity of repentance,

I… declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Acts 26:20

Technically, to “repent” means “to change your mind,” or “to turn around.” I like to explain it as doing an about-face. For more about repentance you can go here.

There are two main steps to repentance:

  1. Confessing that you are a sinner. Not just in a general sense, but to actually name your sins before God. “God, I’m proud. I want people to think I’m important and impressive and I tend to care more about their opinion than I care about your opinion.” Naming your sins before God doesn’t surprise him. Confession weakens your sin by staring it straight in the eye instead of playing pretend that you don’t have issues. If you can’t confess your sin, you cannot repent.
  2. Professing that God is better than your sin… and living like it. If you confess your pride but continue to live in it, then have you really admitted that it was wrong or did you simply pay lip-service to what you think was the “right thing” to pray? Confession leads to profession… saying that the joy of following God is greater than the happiness offered by sin. Simply put, this second step of repentance is “living it!” So you want to stop sinning? Great. Will you live differently?

Without repentance, faith is hollow and empty. We can claim to be Christians, and we can say that we believe in Jesus, but we are saying by our lives that we want eternal life with God but we want our independence right now.

Reminder: Jesus Wants to Make You New
If you are sharing the gospel with someone, be sure they realize that Jesus wants to make them new. New hope. New faith. New destiny. New freedom. New life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Forgiveness is “free” in the sense that we can’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. Becoming a Christian will cost you something. Obviously, we don’t give up all our sinful habits in the moment we give ourselves to Jesus. The Christian life is a lifelong habit of repentance because we’re always finding something new to confess and because we routinely slip into our old habits of believing that sin can bring more joy than Jesus.

I love to remind people that Jesus wants to make them new. Not new in a way that is completely different from the old; but new in a way that is more complete than what was there before.

A Final Encouragement: Remember the Holy Spirit
Remember that you are not alone. God cares more about the lost than you do, the Holy Spirit is actively working in that persons life. Salvation is never the result of human effort, it is always the work of God. He will use you to accomplish that work, but do not go about it in a way that puts the results in your own hands. If the person believes, then praise God for his faithfulness! If the person still doubts, then pray that God would continue to work in his or her life in such a way that they would come to see the joy and hope and newness of life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Our Need, the Cross, & the Empty Tomb

(Note: This is my manuscript from this EBC’s Sunrise Service. If it sounds a bit different from most of the writing on this blog, it’s because it was written for spoken communication.)

It is early, and we gather to remember the powerful but simple message of the gospel: Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose from the grave in order that we might be reconciled to God and share in his victory over sin and death. For a few minutes this morning, I want us to turn our brains on to think about our need, the cross, and the empty tomb.

I have read that Martin Luther often hosted Easter Egg Hunts where the men hid eggs for the women and children to find. He believed this to be a beautiful reminder about the excitement the women felt when they found the empty tomb. May we all remember that joy not only today, but whenever we consider the resurrection.

Our Need
In Romans 5 the Apostle Paul compares Jesus with Adam. He even calls Jesus “the second Adam,” and says that Adam was really a “type” and foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.

Rom. 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

In Adam, we all sinned, we all fell, and became guilty before a holy God. Indeed, none of us can think, “Oh man, Adam, what a failure. I would’ve done better! I wouldn’t have messed it all up like he did.” Yes, yes you would have!

The fruit of sin is death, that’s why they are always paired together in Scripture. Wherever you see sin, death is soon to follow; wherever you see death, sin is not absent. Because of sin, our relationship with God was broken. Our relationship with each other was broken. And our relationship with creation was broken. If you need any proof that these relationships (with God, with others, and with creation) are broken, just consider the winter we’ve had!

The Cross: The Love and Wrath of God
But Paul continues in verses 18-21, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What’s this all mean? It means that just as all creation fell in the first Adam, so all creation will be restored and redeemed in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s death, sin and death were satisfied; through his resurrection they were conquered and given a death-sentence.

Because of the cross, the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus on our behalf. He was our substitute, in our place he hung. When we consider the love of God to us, we have no need to look any further than the cross. When we consider his wrath, again, the cross is where we should look. It was on the cross that the fullness of God’s love and the fullness of his wrath were simultaneously poured out in order to redeem his people.

The Empty Tomb: The Power and Hope of God
Good Friday would not be “good” without Easter Sunday. It would have been as tragic and devastating as it felt to the disciples on Saturday. If Christ died as our substitute but didn’t rise from the dead then our faith would be useless and we would still be under the curse of sin. Because of the resurrection, death is no longer an undefeated champion over humanity. Instead, the empty tomb gave death itself a death sentence.

The cross and the empty tomb must never be separated in our understanding of the gospel. So how shall we live in response to the cross and the empty tomb?

Paul writes that since we are in Christ, we have been brought from death to life, and we should live like it. Sin brings death… and so we walk away from sin and we present ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness.

Because Jesus lives, we have new life and forgiveness of sins and an eternal hope.

It is important for us to always remember our need and God’s provision through Jesus Christ. Praise be to God who gave us Jesus, who died in our place and who rose in victory over sin and death so that we could be forgiven and restored before a holy God.

Was Jesus Judgmental?

“Jesus wouldn’t judge someone, why should we?!” This is something we’ve all heard, and something we may have even said. But is it true?

In Matthew 7:1-6 when Jesus says, “Do not Judge” is he really saying we should be completely accepting of everyone? On another occasion (John 8:1-11), the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, and instead of condemning her he replied, “If anyone is without sin let him cast the first stone.”

Since these are the two most strongest and most popular examples, these will be the two we’ll look at below.

“Do Not Judge” (Matthew 7:1-6)
Jesus was constantly battling the Pharisees, who were known for their righteousness and strict study of God’s Word. They were also known for adding extra burdens on people, just to make sure they don’t fall into sin. They were so focused on preventing sin, it seemed that sin was always on their minds.

Instead of focusing on other people’s sin, Jesus told them to look at themselves first. “Take the plank out of your own eye.” Sometimes we point out other people’s sin because it’s so much more comfortable than paying attention to the sin in our own lives. Ironically, we even notice the very sin we are blind to in ourselves as what is most repulsive and off-putting when we see it in others. Jesus’ reminder to look in the mirror is something everyone needs to follow.

It is important, however, to notice that Jesus says, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Jesus does not say, “Only worry about yourself, accept others just as they are.” Instead, he reminds us that if we’re going to do surgery, we need to make sure we can see clearly. If we are going to help others walk faithfully with God then we should be faithful too!

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus is talking about helping a “brother.” Christian, you cannot expect nonChristians to follow God’s Word. We are to encourage and rebuke others to claim to be Christians, to direct them towards godliness. Those who are not Christians need the Gospel more than they need the Law, they need to know who God is and how to get right before a holy God before they can be expected to live rightly.

Jesus and the Adulterous Woman (John 8:1-11)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. Leviticus 20:10 says that both the woman and the man should be stoned to death. Curiously, the man is absent from court before Jesus, further showing that the Pharisees aren’t truly interested in justice but only in trapping Jesus between Scripture and popularity. Will Jesus choose to condemn the woman who is obviously guilty of adultery, or will let her free and show that he values the people’s opinion over what the Bible says?

Instead, Jesus turns the tables. He tells them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw the stone at her.” Everyone slowly walks away… except for Jesus. The sinless judge remains. But instead of throwing a stone, he acknowledges her sin while showing grace. “Go, and sin no more.” That simple statement is Jesus telling her, “Yes, you sinned. You are guilty. But I will show you grace. Go, and let that grace change you so that you aren’t found guilty again.”

Jesus is THE Judge
Jesus wasn’t only judgmental, he is THE Judge (John 5:22John 9:39, Acts 10:42, Romans 2:16, Revelation 19:11-21). Jesus will be the one who separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13:24-20, 36-43), the good fish and the bad fish (Matthew 13:47-50). Not only would Jesus judge someone… one day he will judge everyone. Judgement is real, and God’s judgment is eternal. It is not pleasant to talk about. If you truly believe in any kind of judgment before God, warning others would be the kind and merciful thing to do. We are not the judge, but shouldn’t we warn others if we are persuaded they would be found guilty?

Bring us to the Cross
Unfortunately, Christians today are known by the way they have judged others and shown themselves to still be sinners in need of grace. Yes, we have judged others in ways we should not. But some of that “judging” is right. For we are called to call sin “sin” and bad “bad.” When we accept with is sinful and say that it is fine and good, then we have lost our saltiness and we our light has been snuffed out (Matthew 5:13-16).

Jesus frequently issued warnings about judgment and the wrath of God, and he called people to repentance so that they would stop sinning and start doing what is right. He did so with love and mercy, because he never wrote anyone off as “too far gone.” As we follow Jesus’ example, let’s be sure to remember the two examples above.

In the midst of trying to discern how to show love and grace and humility while acknowledging the reality of sin in our own lives and in the lives of others, may we continually point people to the love of God poured out for us on the cross. For it is on the cross where the wrath of God was poured out against all sin, even while the love of God was fully displayed, because he took that wrath upon himself so that we could “go, and sin no more.”