The Greatest Ever

John 3:16 by Holly Rhodes

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, NIV)

John 3:16 is a Bible verse so familiar as to be cliché. But when Jesus originally said these words, they were both tremendously freeing and incredibly scandalous. When something is familiar, we tend not to explore it any further. We need a closer look at the message of John 3:16 so we can not only see why some people embrace its light, but why others remain in darkness.

Perhaps another examination the gospel will dispel dullness and impel us toward praise, as well as to share its life-giving message not because we must, but because we want to. John 3:16 contains nine of the greatest spiritual realities we could ever experience.

1.“God” is the greatest subject ever.

The Bible contains lots of messages, promises, and commands. However, those are not the primary purpose for having the Holy Scriptures. The Bible has been given to us as a revelation of God to us so that we might know God. Every time the Scriptures are used, read, quoted, prayed, taught, learned, and heard – we know God a bit better. Anything short of knowing God falls short of the Bible’s intended purpose.

I constantly encourage a regular daily regimen of Bible-reading because it is the primary means of knowing God. Yes, we get to know God in creation and through experience, yet one of the best ways of experiencing God is through taking time for reading, meditating, memorizing, and praying of the Scriptures. Some of my most encouraging times are when I hear what people are learning about the Lord in God’s Word. With the Holy Spirit being our teacher, we discover more and more that God is the greatest subject we could ever learn about, talk about, and give our lives to.

2. “So” is the greatest extent ever.

There is a great wideness to God. God is a huge Being! Nothing is outside of God’s reach. So, when God decides to do something, nothing can stop it. We might be limited in our strength and abilities to accomplish things. But God’s extent is limitless. Knowing God means becoming familiar with an all-knowing and all-powerful Being. Prayer, then, becomes a response to God. God speaks to us through the Word, and we speak back with prayer so that the Word and prayer go like a hand in a glove. Our extent is temporary and small. Yet God takes our human prayers and uses them to accomplish divine purposes on this earth.

3. “Loved” is the greatest demonstration ever.

There is no greater demonstration of love than our triune God loving us with a sacrificial self-emptying love that saw our great need for deliverance and went to the greatest lengths possible to accomplish it. Our own love for God, each other, and the world is a direct result of God’s love for us.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters…. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 3:16; 4:9-11, NIV)

Where there is a lack of love there is an absence of God. Every human on planet earth needs the love of God in Christ. Without it we are lost. You are loved with sacrificial love. The greatest thing that can be said of you is that you are “loved.” Whatever has happened, is happening, and will happen that breaks you down, belittles you, hurts you, or causes you to feel like the north end of a southbound cow, is not what defines you. All may be going to hell around you, but nothing will change the unalterable reality that in Christ you are “loved!”

4. “The world” is the greatest object ever.

Up to this point you might not have sensed anything scandalous about this message of God’s grace and love. But this was the game-changing term for the original hearers of Christ’s words: God so loved the world. Many of Christ’s listeners could easily understand God loved the nation of Israel. But to say that God loved the world was going too far. It meant God loved Gentiles, specifically, Romans who occupied their land and oppressed them.

To capture the punch of this, it would be like Jesus showing up in our world today and saying that God so loved whomever we despise or hate. We often tend to assume that God hates who we hate. Right? Wrong. Yes, God hates evil and is opposed to all that destroys. Yet, God loves people for whom is placed the divine image within. For God to love the world is an incredible because there are so many unlovely people in the world.

Since God loves the world and demonstrated it in through Jesus, Christ’s Church is to reflect and embody this same love for the world. This has enormous implications for followers of Jesus. The Church is must embrace the same pejorative title as given its leader, Jesus: “Friend of Sinners.”  People come to know Jesus through the love given us in Christ. Since this is our title, Christian ministry then becomes not about my personal preferences but about what will most effectively love the world to Jesus.

5. “That he gave his one and only Son” is the greatest gift ever.

 

John 3:16 by an 11 year old

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NIV)

We do not get God’s leftovers or second-hand items. God gave the dearest, best, and most beloved gift he could ever give: his Son. Therefore, the greatest and dearest gift we can give to another person is Jesus. Sharing such a gift Jesus must come freely from the depths of divine love. Apart from love we are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If it takes cajoling and exhortation for us to give the gift of the gospel, then the problem lies in our hearts. It takes coming back to God’s Word and knowing the love of God in Christ through the Scriptures.

6. “That whoever” is the greatest opportunity ever.

If the greatest gift a person can receive is Jesus, then the best opportunity one could take advantage of is Jesus. We are all at differing places in our relationship with Jesus. Yet no matter the person, the opportunity for grace and love is more than anything you could hope or ask for. 

We are fortunate to have such a grace to know Jesus as Lord, Savior, teacher, healer, and friend. Those familiar with the name of Jesus all their lives but it has not gone much further than that, then the next point is vitally important….

7. “Believes in him” is the greatest commitment ever.

Jesus wants more than our acknowledgment of him; he wants us. Whenever I go home, my dog, Max Power, gets extremely excited. Honestly, I don’t really get excited about him. My typical response to him is, “Yes, Max, I acknowledge your existence.” I say it in hopes he will just kind of leave me alone and let me go about my business. But Max wants more. He wants my affection, my love, and my commitment. He wants a pet, a walk, food, and water.

God does not want to be treated like an annoying puppy. God wants our commitment. The Lord desires more than the tepid response, “I acknowledge your existence.”  The most common response I get from people when sharing the gift of Jesus is “Yes, I believe in Jesus.”  It is their way of saying they acknowledge his existence but are not much interested in giving their lives to him because they want to go about their business without God pestering them about anything. But God does demand something from us – our very souls. If we gain a view of God as gracious and loving, then we willingly desire an intimate commitment.

8. “Shall not perish” is the greatest rescue ever.

People perish not because God is unloving but because their theology is twisted – not to mention that we like our sin, and we don’t want to accommodate a holy God. The Titanic lost hundreds of people not for a lack of lifeboats. In fact, most of the lifeboats went into the water about three-fourths capacity. Many people simply did not believe they were perishing. They trusted in the ship’s reputation as being “unsinkable.” Jesus is our lifeboat.

9. “But have eternal life” is the greatest promise ever.

The promise begins now, not someday. Everlasting life means experiencing a life-saving and life-giving relationship with Jesus today.

Conclusion

If you ever had the feeling there is something more to life than what you are experiencing; if you ever wished you could start over; if you ever felt you cannot do this on your own; then, I have the greatest news ever. God has made a way to handle all your guilt, shame, and darkness. God loves you deeply in the person of Jesus Christ. There is new life in Jesus.

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from heaven!
    Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
    Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
    All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
    Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because God gave the command and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
    God made a law that will not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
    stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
    fruit trees, and every single cedar!
Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
    you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
    you princes and every single ruler on earth!
Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
    you who are old together with you who are young!

Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because only God’s name is high over all.
    Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
God raised the strength of his people,
    the praise of all his faithful ones—
        that’s the Israelites,
        the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord! (Psalm 148, CEB)

This is the Christmas season.  We are in the third day of the twelve days of Christmas.  This time in the Church Calendar gives focus to declare along with the angels and all of God’s creation:  Glory to God in the highest; praise the Lord!  Everything in all creation points to a creator who cares for us. 

These days between December 25 and January 5 are to be a great celebration because King Jesus has come and is the rightful Sovereign over all creation.  We are to grasp the meaning of Christ’s incarnation; and affirm the identity of Jesus as both full human and fully divine.  Beginning with Christ’s birth, we enter a reflection on the meaning of Christ’s life and prepare for the journey toward the cross and the empty tomb.

Today, however, we simply praise the Lord along with all creation.  This is what the psalmist calls us all to do.  The entire universe is called to praise the Lord.  Everything outside our earth is to give God glory.  Everything in the universe points to a God who is worthy to be praised.

Let us assume the distance between the earth and the sun (ninety-two million miles) was reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper. If that is the case, then the distance between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high. And the diameter of the galaxy would be a stack of papers three-hundred-ten miles high. Our galaxy is just a speck of dust in the universe, yet Jesus holds the universe together by the word of his power.

We serve a big God who is worthy to be praised, not only out there in the universe but here on earth.  The psalmist calls on all the earth to echo the adoration of God.  That means everything and everyone on earth – fish, animals, birds, even trees as well as people. 

Research in the field of bioacoustics has revealed that every day we are surrounded by millions of ultrasonic songs. For example, the electron shell of the carbon atom produces the same harmonic scale as a Gregorian chant.  Whale songs can travel thousands of miles underwater.  Meadowlarks have a range of three hundred notes. Supersensitive sound instruments have discovered that even earthworms make faint staccato sounds!

Arnold Summerfield, a German physicist, and pianist observed that a single hydrogen atom, which emits one hundred frequencies, is more musical than a grand piano, which only emits eighty-eight frequencies.  Science writer Lewis Thomas summed it up it this way: “If we had better hearing, and could discern the singing of sea birds, the rhythmic drumming of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of flies hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.”

Praise the Lord.  We have a vision in this psalm of all creation praising God as one great big choir. Praise is to occur with both words and actions.  With words, praise is an expression of gratitude to God for who she is and what he has done.  With actions, praise is a posture of submission and an acknowledgement of dependence.

Therefore, through testimony we declare what God has done in our lives and how he is worthy to be praised and obeyed.  With the emphasis on praise in a season dedicated to joy, we must also recognize that for many people Christmas is difficult.  Loneliness, thin finances, unemployment, illness, strained relationships, and bittersweet memories can all be a discouraging contrast to the celebration going on around them.

Praise, however, is not just for the joyful; it can happen no matter the circumstances because the Christian’s happiness is not dependent upon positive situations but rather upon the person and work of Jesus.  It may not be easy to find our voice of praise along with everyone else, but we are not alone.  We can choose to join with all creation to praise the name of the Lord. 

A dear parishioner of mine shared this a few years ago after experiencing multiple surgeries in the year:

“I am thankful for a chance to get out of the house. Of course, my walker was with me.  I am amazed how quickly folks move over, slow down, and give me space when I am out with that thing….  At church it feels like I am parting the Red Sea! The reason I hate the walker is because it says to the whole world, ‘Hey, I’m broken!’  I realize we all have areas that we are broken, most of them we can hide or cover up. Why are we so ashamed to confess the truth? Who really has it all together? I know we love our privacy and shun pity. However, I have been shown so much grace, kindness, and compassion as I push this piece of aluminum around that I hope this experience continues to change me for the better. I hope in the future I will be sensitive to those who are broken on the inside as well as the outside. May the love of Christ give me eyes to see people as he does, precious and accepted, just as they are.”

That, my friends, is the reasonable and logical end of praising the Lord – to connect what God has done and is doing with what he can do through us as we glorify his name. By simply being who we are created to be, we praise the Lord along with all creation.  When we as people in God’s image, reflect that image in how we talk and how we live, we participate with the universe in declaring God is good. 

Praise is to be the glue that binds us all together. Let us praise the name of the Lord. To be more specific, let the church praise the Lord!  Let leaders everywhere praise the Lord!  Let healthcare workers praise the Lord!  Let salespersons and factory workers praise the Lord!  Let police and lawyers praise the Lord! Let the trees, mountains, and all living things praise the Lord!  Let engineers and educators praise the Lord!  Let the little children praise the Lord!  Let clerks and cashiers, waiters and waitresses, janitors and housekeepers praise the Lord!  Let the lost and the lonely praise the Lord along with the happy and satisfied. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!

Whether you are bursting to proclaim it, or struggle to say it and live it, praise the Lord along with everything in the universe because we serve a God who keeps us close to heart.  Praise the Lord!

What do you have to praise the Lord for today?

How do you express your praise, both personally and publicly?

Where is your favorite place to praise the Lord?

When does praise to God come easily for you, and when it is difficult?

Who do you like praising the Lord with?

May your life become a paeon of praise to the God who is worthy to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Amen

Acts 7:44-53 – God is God, and I Am Not

throne of heaven

The tent of testimony was with our ancestors in the wilderness. Moses built it just as he had been instructed by the one who spoke to him and according to the pattern he had seen. In time, when they had received the tent, our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua’s leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled. This tent remained in the land until the time of David. God approved of David, who asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for God. However, the Most High does not live in houses built by human hands. As the prophet says,

Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
‘What kind of house will you build for me,’ says the Lord,
‘or where is my resting place?
Didn’t I make all these things with my own hand?’

“You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. Was there a single prophet your ancestors did not harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you have betrayed and murdered him! You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.” (CEB)

In the doldrums of summer’s heat and humidity and the uncertainties of what is to come in the autumn season, it is a good time to remind ourselves of where we are in the Christian Year. When a long and difficult season comes upon us, whether in secular or sacred time, it may be far too easy to lose sight of what is important.  We have come through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, as well as Pentecost.  With the giving of the Spirit, we have entered Ordinary Time.  A healthy way of remembering this period in time is that, in this longest season of the Church Calendar, it is the ordinary vocation of each Christian and every Church to grow in Christ and share the good news of Jesus with the world.

Yet, we forget. The vicissitudes of this life and a penchant for hand wringing can easily take our eyes off our calling from the sovereign God.  Like the ancient Israelites for whom Stephen railed against in our New Testament lesson for today, we might become stubborn, hard-headed, and inflexible. We get lost in doing things our own way to the neglect of what God wants. When that happens, there is damage to God’s people, God’s name, and God’s law. Rather than tongues being used for praising the Lord and encouraging others, God’s prophets who are calling us to holiness are verbally decapitated. Ironically, those who speak and act in the name of the Lord are resisting him.

Every time individuals and groups of people believe they have piously figured everything out, they will soon find themselves fighting against God. The Lord of All has not called us to figure out every mystery and nail down each uncertainty. Those who claim to have done it are living in a delusional world. Perhaps they will eventually discover how large and immense God really is – much bigger than our puny thoughts and misguided practices.

Village Church

How then shall we live? What are we to do?  Let go of our illusions of power and privilege. Submit afresh to the Lord for whom we must bow in all things. If we can do that, then we are well on our way to seeing the only true God in all his immensity. Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and set aside self-righteous pride so that he may exalt and honor us at the appropriate time of his choosing, not ours (1 Peter 5:6). Take up our holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors, having become new people and knowing the reconciling power of the cross, through the proper spiritual tools of faith, hope, and love (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 Corinthians 13).

The following practices can help us become more spiritually flexible and open to the Spirit’s work:

  • Stretch your faith muscle. Physical muscles which get little to no use will atrophy – which is why people who are confined to bed or with limitations need physical therapists to help work the muscles. Spiritually, if we are rarely or never in positions which work our faith muscle, then that faith will diminish and eventually atrophy. Faith is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be worked.
  • Breathe deeply. Proper breathing is essential in using our bodies. The same is true spiritually. Fear, worry, and anxiety cause us to have shallow breathing and unable to think straight. When we are amped-up about something, focus on doing some breath prayers, i.e. breathing in saying, “More of you,” and breathing out saying, “Less of me.”
  • Avoid extreme positions. A hyper-extended muscle will tear and cause a lot of damage. An acceptance of limitations and an awareness of our body’s true capacity prevents us from trying to do something our body simply cannot do. Our faith will not support extreme positions which alienate people and put God to the test.
  • Move more. Getting in bodily shape does not have to be dramatic and involve triathlons (but, hey, if you can work your way up to it, more power to you!). Most of us simply need to get out of our chairs and move a bit more and we would be a lot healthier. Faith is mostly lived in the mundane daily decisions of life. Consistently taking small steps of faith each day will go a long way toward our spiritual health and vitality – not to mention helping us see a big God at work.
  • Listen, do not ignore. It is always best to listen to your body— only push it as far as it can handle, even if it is little by little. Many people would be better served if they would just listen to their gut and the spirit God put within them – rather than pushing themselves and others beyond what they can handle. Behind the attempt at doing too much is typically an issue of wanting the kind of control God possesses.

To do the will of God, we must have a growing awareness and knowledge of a huge unlimited God and a small limited self. This will take loosening up on the stubbornness and opening to greater flexibility. In doing so, we bless both God and the world, while discovering our true calling. And, we might just discover the largeness of grace operating in our lives.

Holy God, heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool.  You cannot be kept within any one church or any single place.  You are much too big for that!  Forgive me for my small thoughts of you and my weak faith.  I humble myself before you so that you can live in and through me for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

Ezekiel 1:26-2:1

            Our view of God determines our view of life.  A small view of God limits our lives in what we can be and do. Seeing God as little more than wishing for people’s obedience through paltry sacrificial oblations only makes one wonder if God is really able to do much in this world.  But if we have a very large view of God, then there is nothing he cannot do or accomplish in his great big world.  So huge is God that the earth is merely his footstool.
 
            The prophet Ezekiel was given a very grand, majestic, and large vision of God in his majesty and royalty.  The glimpse of God which Ezekiel received was so immense that the prophet struggled to put it into words.  Indeed, God is so huge that he cannot be contained or even described by mere words or language.  Now this is the kind of God which Christians serve:  a God so colossal that, like the prophet, it causes us to fall prostrate in the face of such enormous glory and holiness.  Although we must seem very small in God’s eyes, yet he still notices us.  “Stand on your feet, and I will speak with you,” said God to Ezekiel.
 
            Unless we have a staggering and realistic sense of God’s towering massiveness we will wallow in life’s vicissitudes as if they are giants we cannot overcome.  It was Jesus who said that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed in such a God to command mountains to move, and they will obey.  It is not the size of our belief that matters, but where that faith is located.  And if it placed rightly, in the gargantuan God of the entire universe, then we can ask anything in his Name and it shall be done. 
 

 

            Holy God, you are grand and worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.  Who am I that you should notice me?  Yet, you have called me and spoken to me.  I only want to be found full of faith and obedience each and every day you give to me through the power of your Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.