Posts tagged ‘John 3:16’

God’s Dream Come True

Isaiah 46:9-10 (TLV) – “For I am God—there is no other.  I am God, and there is none like Me—declaring the end from the beginning, from ancient time, what is yet to come, saying, “My purpose will stand, and I will accomplish all that I please.”

Have you ever wondered why if God knows everything—past, present, future—why did He create the earth in the first place?  He had to know that Satan would rebel, that Adam and Eve would fail the test, and He would have to take the form of His own creation in order to sacrifice Himself for our salvation.

When Cain killed Abel, why didn’t God stop there?  Why did He provide another son, Seth, through whom salvation would eventually come?

When the world had rejected Him so completely that every thought and intent of the heart was evil, why did He go through the trouble to destroy every living creature…except for Noah, his family, and enough animals to start over again?  Why didn’t He just wipe the whole thing out and just say, “Forget it!”

The painstaking care God took to create, and then ensure the continued existence of His creation insists that there is a purpose beyond plain sight.  He spent thousands of years preparing for, and then establishing a nation through whom He would send His salvation.  At the same time, He used that nation to demonstrate to the world, both then and now, how very much we need Him and just how far He was willing to go to for us.

Story after story in the Bible shows us the character of God.  He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He shared His plans with Abraham.  He called Moses friend.  He adopts anyone who chooses to receive His salvation and calls us His children, and the brothers of His Son, Yeshua (Jesus).

The answer to the “why” is in God’s character, and what He showed us about Himself in the Bible.  Why did He bother with this enormous, elaborate plan to create a world that would reject Him, and turn against Him?  Because He loves us, and He wants a relationship with us.  But not a forced relationship.  God wants a relationship that is based on truth, faith, trust, love, and choice.  God built a world that would hate Him for a time, so that He could have an eternity with those who chose to love Him.

Before God said, “Let there be light,” He saw the pain and death of sin.  Before he breathed life into the nostrils of man, He saw the hands that would drive the spikes into His wrists.  But when He closed the door of the Ark, with only eight people and a bunch of animals inside, He saw eternity with those who would faithfully choose Him over the world, and love Him with all their hearts, minds, and souls.

God didn’t give up.  He didn’t quit before He began, and He didn’t scrap the lot of us to start over from scratch…because He loves us that much.  Every single tiny detail of His plan must be fulfilled so that, in the end, we will be together with Him.  He planned for us, worked for us, and sacrificed for us.  We are God’s dream come true.  We are what He has worked and longed for from before the very beginning.  How profound, and how humbling is that?

Why does He love us that much?  That is beyond me, but it is enough to know that He does.  With a heart, overflowing with His love, I sing:

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me. He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Copyright: 

1975 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

“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 TLV)

How To Clean Coal

An illustration for you today:

I was born with a piece of coal in my hand – filthy, dirty coal.   I held on to it and carried it with me everywhere I went.  Even as a babe, it was with me in my cradle, and when in my mother’s arms.  I never let it go.  As I grew, so did the coal.  Bigger and heavier and dirtier it became.  Yet I continued to carry it with me.  Never once did I consider leaving it behind or getting rid of it in any way.  It was a part of me, in a sense.

As a young teen, I wondered once what would happen if I left it at home when I walked out the door.  Out of mere curiosity I tried it.  But when my foot stepped across the threshold of my door, I found the coal was still with me.  I shrugged and went on.

The coal seemed to grow with me.  By the time I was full grown, the coal was nearly as big as I.  It weighed me down and was becoming burdensome.  It’s filth rubbed off on everything I touched.  I thought more and more of being rid of it.  One day, feeling especially labored by its presence, I determined to leave it behind.  I recalled my attempt as a youth, so decided that I would lock the coal inside a closet in the house, and lock the house door behind me.  Alas, when I turned to leave, I discovered the coal still clung to me.  I heaved it higher on my back, and went on my way.

Years went by.  The coal stood like a bastion between myself and anyone I would have a relationship with.  I got in the way of my work, and prevented me from enjoying any part of life.  It had now grown to twice my size.  Still, I carried it.  My body could not bear the strain much longer, I knew.  The blackened dust was continually filling my lungs, leaving me coughing in fits and unable to breath.  My heart pounded in my chest from the exertion.  My muscles cramped and my joints throbbed with the pain.  Finally I drove to the edge of a cliff, the highest one I could find.  I couldn’t live like this any longer.  I had to be rid of this unbearable weight.   I turned my back to the cliff and let go of the coal.  I held my breath, straining to hear the crash as it hit the ground far below.  But it never came, and I realized with horror that the coal would not fall.  I hung my head and lumbered home, resigned to living with this burden until it would eventually over-take me, and my life would be over.

One day as I walked in the country, gasping for fresh air, back buckling under my now enormous piece of coal, I heard a voice in the distance.  “Come to me,” it said.  Something in it drew me.  I turned toward the voice and trudged on.

“Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened,” the voice said, and a single tear rolled down my face.  I fell to my knees and crawled on.

A third time, I heard the voice, “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  I collapsed at the crest of a hill, unable to move one inch more.

“Take my yolk upon you and learn from me,” the voice, who was just before me now, spoke.  But I cried, “I cannot bear anymore weight!”

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  

“Oh, to have your burden rather than mine,”  I wept, with my face on the ground.  “But how can I when I have never been able to rid myself of this foul mass?”

“I will deliver you, if you trust me.  It is my gift to you.  You need do nothing save give up your coal to me.  I will take it as my own,” the voice gently coaxed.

Sobbing now, and unable to believe someone would take my burden from me only to carry it himself, I asked, “But why?  Why would you do that?”

And he replied, “Because I love you.”

Slowly I pushed myself up to my hands and knees.  My head hung low.  I couldn’t understand this offer, but I couldn’t continue to live if I did not accept it.  I had not choice but to believe he would do as he said, and take the chance, a leap of faith greater than I knew I had strength for, I pushed the weight from my back, and it fell to the ground.  As I felt freedom for the first time in my life, I rose to my feet.  My body was completely renewed.  I stood tall, stretched my back and reached my arms to the sky.  I felt strength I had never known.  I inhaled deeply of the air free of soot, and opened my eyes.  There before me, suspended high above my filthy load hung a man, severely beaten, bruised and bloodied.  Large nails had been driven through his wrists and his feet and held him to this wooden cross.  A crown made of long, piercing thorns had been pressed onto his head.  Streams of blood flowed down his body and began to drip onto my coal which lay at his feet.  I was horrified that this was the man who had taken my burden, but I could not take it back.   In spite of the scene before me, my soul was being filled with unspeakable peace and even joy.  I knew that it must be from him.

I fell back to me knees, but this time looked up to the man on the cross and thanked him over and over.  Then I said, “You have taken my weight, and given me your peace and joy instead.  What can I do to repay you?”

The man replied, “Your debt cannot be repaid, however, do this for me.  In everything you do or say, do it in my name, Yeshua*, and give thanks to my father, who is God. Love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love the people around you like you love yourself.  If you make this the basis for how you live, you will bring honor to me.”

I bowed my head.  “I understand,” I said, “I will honor you in this way for the rest of my life.”

I looked again at the coal heaped at Yeshua’s feet.  It was covered with his blood, except for one tiny spot.  As a fresh drop of his blood fell to cover it, Yeshua said, “It is finished.”  Then he hung his head and died.  I wept.

Soon some men came to remove his body and bury it.  I followed, not wanting to be far from him, even in death.  I mourned for this man who had taken my own burden and made it is, then covered it with his blood.  I noticed that my burden had followed him into the tomb.  It was buried with him.

I prepared to remain vigilant at his tomb for days.  Waiting for what, I did not know.  I just knew that I could not leave.  But on the third morning after his death, something strange and wonderful happened.  The large stone that stood in front of the grave was rolled away, and Yeshua walked out, alive as ever!  I ran past him into the tomb.  What I expected to find, I don’t know, for Yeshua was not there.  As I turned to go back out, I realized that my blood-covered burden was gone.  Completely vanished.

I knelt at Yeshua’s feet and praised him!  He smiled and gently placed his hand on my head, and said, “No go.  Go into all the world.  Tell everyone about what I have done for you.  I will do the same for them.  And I will always be with you.”

*Yeshua is the original Hebrew name of Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30 (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible) –  “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 (CJB) – For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God’s gift.  You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast.

1 Peter 2:24 (CJB) – He himself bore our sins in his body on the stake, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness by his wounds you were healed.

John 3:16 (CJB) –  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.”

Colossians 3:17 (CJB) – That is, everything you do or say, do in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV) – Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV) –  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

 

Predestination

Christmas Eve found me visiting at the church of a family member this year.  While the message was not about predestination, the topic was raised.  I had never heard of the doctrine of predestination until my teen years when my parents began attending a church that adhered to it.  What a disturbing thought!  The idea that God handpicks a certain few people out of the world to be his children, and tosses the others aside really bothered me.  It left me with this terrible uncertainty…how could I know if I was one of those chosen people?  There was no guarantee!  Even though I had asked Jesus in my heart as a four year old, I might not know if I was actually going to Heaven until I got there…or didn’t.  It was an awful feeling, and a weight that I carried until someone outside of that church described it to me this way:  God calls all people outside of the gates of Heaven to Him.  A sign above the gate says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden.”  Those who chose to come to God enter the gates.  When they turn to look back where they came from, they see a sign above the inside of the gate that says, “You were chosen before the foundation of the world.”  As a teenager, that was enough to settle the matter for me.

On Christmas Eve I sat in church with my four boys, and several nieces and nephews, and cringed when the pastor made it plain that the doctrine of predestination was still alive and well in that church.  I missed the rest of the sermon because I was busy researching my Bible.  As the Lord has taken me through the past few years of my walk with Him, I have learned a very important lesson…read the Bible!  The context of verses is so important to understanding their true meaning, as is researching what the Bible says in other places about the same topic.  I have said this before in more than one post, but it is so important!  I don’t think I can emphasize it enough!  As I researched the predestination topic, I also prayed…the other vital part of learning what God says in His Word.  If you don’t have the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you read and study, you cannot understand the Word (1 Cor. 2:14).  There is my sidebar soapbox:-)

Let me show you the verses the pastor read.  Ephesians 1:4-5 (NKJV) – just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

The predestination doctrine is the view that God picks those whom He chooses, as He pleases, to be those who are called sons of God.  The first verse that came to mind in rebuttal to this was John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

“That whoever believes in Him….”  Doesn’t it bug the bajeebies out of you when the Bible appears to contradict itself?!  How can it be both ways?  Does salvation come to anyone who believes, as Jesus said in John 3:16, or is salvation given only to those favorites chosen by God, as some understand Paul to say in Ephesians?  Allow me to mix things up a little bit more for you.  John 1:12-13 – But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

If you read those verses just right, you might be able to see the messages of both Jesus and Paul!  But I didn’t put that verse in here to confuse you, I put it in to clear things up.  Lets take a moment to break this down.

John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Jesus would have eternal life.  That means the door is open to anyone and everyone, so long as they believe.  The call to salvation is to the world, the whole world…also stated in the same verse.  John 1:12-13 also states that anyone who receives Jesus has the right to become a child of God.

John 1:13 seems to indicate that becoming a child of God is through the will of God only, and could be seen as God choosing.  Put that together with Ephesians 1:4-5 and the idea that people are predestined to adoption as God’s children, and it appears that indeed only an elite few chosen by God will be His children.

Here is the problem.  John 3:16 is a direct quote of Jesus Himself…and the words of John 1:12-13, and Ephesians 1:4-5 are words written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of the same Jesus through John and Paul.  And yet, none of these three lied, or were wrong.

Salvation, adoption as children of God, is available to anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus (Jo 3:16, Jo. 1:12.  That is the plain fact of the gospel.  That salvation/adoption is offered and provided by the will of God, as opposed to the will of man (Jo. 1:13).  It is not something man can do for himself in any way, shape, or form.  So God chooses to adopt those who believe.  He doesn’t chose who will believe.  This is true.  It is established in the Scriptures, and it is our base.

Consider for a moment the audience.  Jesus’, and John’s audience in the book of John, are people who have not heard the gospel message.  The intent was to share the path to salvation.  This is what it is, this is how you get it…believe.  Paul’s audience, however, is a church of already-believers.  Their salvation has already been established.  So why talk about predestination, unless it is not their salvation that is predestined, but rather what comes with the salvation that is predestined for those who chose to believe.

God decided, from the foundation of the world, that those who would accept His plan of salvation (the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for their sins), would be predestined to adoption as His children.  First you believe.  Once you believe, then it has already been predetermined that you would be adopted as God’s child, but you, and every person to ever live, is first given the opportunity to chose whether or not to believe.  Conversely, those who do not chose to believe would then, by a natural assumption, be predestined to not become children of God.  But it always starts with the personal choice of each human.

In the beginning God knew that sin would enter the world that He had created, and that He would need to have a plan to save it from the natural course of destruction that came with it.  He also knew that not everyone would chose to accept His plan, no matter who much He loved them and wanted them to.  And He would not force them to.   So He decided, then and there, before any of us were here, pre-decided…predestined, that those who did accept His plan, who chose Him (not the other way around), He would adopt as His children, to be holy and without blame.

So going back to the illustration of the heavenly gates…God calls all people to Him.  The sign above the gate saying “Come to me…” is accurate.  Some turn away and choose not to enter.  But those who do enter turn to see, this:  I decided long ago that, if you entered these gates, I would adopt you…welcome my child.

 

So What is God’s Story, Really? Pt. 1

A while back we were talking about creation and the fall into sin in our adult Sunday School class.  During the discussion, one woman spoke up and said something that stuck with me…”God set us up.”  Heh?  Come again?  Oh, she wasn’t saying it with any kind of malicious attitude or anything.  She was just saying that, by putting the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, it appeared that God was setting mankind up for a fall.  He put the tree there, knowing it would be a temptation to eat from it.

Did God really set us up for a fall?  Did He put that tree there as a test to see if we could pass it up?  How fair is that?  That just goes against the unspoken rules of decency.  Everyone knows it just isn’t right to set someone up just so that they will fail.  It’s plain old cruel.

So does that make God cruel?  Can’t be.  He is love.  He is just.  And He is truth.  Those things alone do not add up to cruel.  Since God is not cruel, then we must ask the question:  Did God really set us up for a fall?  The answer is yes and no.

We know from the Bible that God is all-knowing.  Romans 11:33-36 (ESV) – Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Since God is all-knowing, then, yes, He knew when He put that tree in the garden that Adam and Eve would eat from it.  But we need to back up further.  God knew before He created the world and everything in it that when He created the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and put it in the Garden of Eden, and made Adam and Eve, and told them not to eat of it, that Satan would tempt Eve, she would eat, and give to Adam, who would also eat.  God knew before He created any of it, that man would need a savior, that He would have to provide that sacrificial Lamb, in the form of His own Son, and that, even after sending Jesus to die in place of the sinful humans He created, that many, many would reject Him, hate Him, and chose to live as His enemies.  Why in the world did God bother??

In the words of my 10-year-old son, “Why didn’t God just click something and make everyone love Him?”  I believe that in that question lies the answer.  Why in the world did God bother with creating a world that would reject Him?  Why didn’t He just make us follow Him and love Him?  Because that is not what He wanted, or wants!  Even from the very beginning…before the beginning of the world, God wanted to have a relationship with us, His creation.  But He didn’t want a forced relationship.  God knew that forcing people to love Him would only lead to a false love.  It wouldn’t be real.  Even if it prevented sin from entering the world, and the forced love did not lead to bitterness and resentment.  It would still be a hollow love.  Love without meaning.  That is not what God wants.  He wants a love that brings with it deep devotion, abiding love that lasts for eternity, and is willing to give to Him everything that we have, because He has given to us everything we have.

This kind of love cannot be created or forced.  The love that God wants from you and me is a love that chooses Him.  When we give Him that kind of love, when we make a conscious decision to love God, He, in turn, promises us the reward of living in eternity with Him.

Now I want to put this in a very large nutshell for you.  Picture this:  God’s real story, a book from beginning to end.  God wanted a people with whom He could have a true relationship, based on a love that was chosen, not forced.  Knowing this, He set about creating a world for people to live in.  He placed a temptation before the people, knowing that they would choose to take it, and separate themselves from Him.  He already had a plan to restore that relationship once the ball was rolling.  It was a plan that was going to take a lot of time, and cost Him a lot of pain in a very personal way.  But He knew that, along the way, there would be those who would choose to love Him.  He planned to let the whole scenario play out as long as possible.  He loved each person that He created and put into the story of the world, even before they were created, and He desired to give each and every one of them the opportunity to love Him.  Eventually, He will close the book on this world, this place that He has built to cultivate people who will love Him and live with Him for eternity.  This earth was never intended to be a forever place.  It was always a time and a place on the way to eternity.  The middle step in God’s plan to create a family who could be with Him, and love Him, and talk with Him, and whom He could love and care for for all of eternity.

For those of us who are Christians, followers of Jesus, people who have chosen to love God, this is cause to praise and rejoice.  If you are reading this, and you have not made that conscious decision to love God, you still can.  God is going to close the back cover to this book very soon.  Most of the story has been written.  The final chapters are being playing out in our lifetimes.  Won’t you chose the God who went through all this trouble, sacrificed His only Son, and has waited so patiently for thousands of years so that you can share in His glory?  He loves you so much.  Chose to love Him.

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.”  John 3:16.

 

walking on the narrow path.

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