For God So Loved The World

For God So Loved The World

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

John tells the story of a man named Nicodemus.

The Bible says he was a ruler of the Jews, which means he was the kind of guy that was always in church. In fact, he wasn’t just in church, he was the head honcho of the church. Very religious. Always reading the Bible.

And yet, the irony of Jesus’ life is that it was the church-goers that didn’t feel a need to know Him at all. Jesus once said that He didn’t come to call the healthy, but the sick. He didn’t come to hang out with the self-righteous church goers, but the messy street people. And that’s exactly what He did.

And yet Nicodemus was curious. John tells us that he approached Jesus by night. He was too embarrassed to admit his desire to know Jesus in front of all of his church buddies, and so he tracked Him down after the sun had set.

“Teacher, we know that you come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus said, surely recounting the conversations his church friends had had in the tabernacle earlier that day or week, pondering who this guy Jesus was and how He was turning water into wine.

I don’t know what Nicodemus was expecting Jesus to say, but like always Jesus blows him away by the words that come out of his mouth:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God… For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

John doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus reacted, but there is no doubt that he was surprised. He had to have been. He was a religious man, and his whole life he had studied the Law – what he should or shouldn’t do, and yet Jesus says nothing of the sort. He doesn’t meet Nicodemus with a list of rules or a pep talk to “do better”.

Instead, Jesus talks about rebirth. And sacrificial love. And life.

And that’s the gospel. It’s the fact that when each and every one of us approaches Jesus in our secret heart, in the comfort of the night, hidden from everyone waiting to judge us, we aren’t given condemnation. John doesn’t tell us that Jesus told Nicodemus off for hiding from his friends, or not knowing what to say. It only tells us that Jesus told him the extent of His love, and that he can be born again. He can start anew.

Because we need to know that. Each and every one of us. God loves us so much that He would send His Son on a rescue mission to find us in our darkest nights.

And later we will learn that Jesus, God’s very Son, would die to prove His love. He would die to take our death, so that we would never doubt how much God loves us.

(scripture taken from John chapter 3)

The Beginning of Belief

The Beginning of Belief

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

1 John 4:16

One of the very first stories John writes about Jesus takes place at a wedding.

We know from yesterday that this man named Jesus started walking around and asking people to follow Him, and that John was a fisherman when he himself was called. I don’t know about you, but if some random person I had never met came by my office one day and told me to drop everything and follow him… well, I wouldn’t.

And yet John did. And the Bible tells us that 11 other guys were also chosen and called by Jesus. I can imagine them all meeting each other for the first time, having no idea what they were getting themselves into. I can only assume that they perceived that it was something great.

John says that the next day they were all invited to a wedding, along with Jesus’ mother, Mary. I don’t know exactly what weddings looked like back then, but I can imagine these 12 guys mingling, getting to know each other, taking a seat at a table adjacent to Jesus and His mom.

And then the party ran out of wine. I can see John watching it all unfold, as Mary walked right up to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”

“What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus said.

And yet Mary walked over to the master of the feast and told him to do whatever Jesus said. And John watched as Jesus complied, walked over to the servants and told them to fill the stone water jars they had with water, all of the way to the brim.

After they had done this, Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”

And when the master of the feast drank the “water” from the jars, it was wine. He called the (surely baffled) bridegroom and gushed about how great the wine was.

And the 12 disciples, these guys that had just met each other, that had just embarked on this new adventure, probably looked at each other and marveled. Who was this guy? Did he just turn water into wine? John recounts that they believed in Jesus that day. They began to believe that Jesus was more than just a normal man, that He was something magnificent.

 

At the end of his gospel, John describes Jesus as doing so many incredible acts that “were every one of them to be written, the world itself could not contain the books” (John 21:25).

Jesus made a lot of incredible claims when He walked the earth. He claimed that He was the light of the world, that He was the way and truth and life, that God loved the world so much that He sent His very son to die so that we don’t have to. And John heard Him make every claim. He was walking beside Jesus, listening to what He had to say.

But anyone can claim things about themselves. Jesus knew people wouldn’t believe that He really was God unless He proved His legitimacy in front of them. And so He did things in front of everyone who crossed His path, things that were miraculous, things we will talk about more later.

But this was His first sign, His first miracle. And the disciples had no idea at the time how much Jesus would do, and how turning water into wine would pale in comparison to everything they would see.

But John recounts this story, this first time He recognized Jesus as something special, the first time he believed that there was something miraculous in his midst.

The loving God Himself.

(scripture taken from John chapter 2)

 

 

That One Guy Named John

That One Guy Named John

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

1 John 4:16

Sometimes when I read the Bible my mind likes to pretend that it was written by a ghost or a robot or, I don’t know, some disconnected monk somewhere. And I forget that it was written by normal people, just talking about everything they experienced, and how they met God in a way they never planned.

This verse was written by a guy named John, and talks about how somewhere, somehow, he came to know and believe the love that God had for him. I find this intriguing because, well, want to come to know and believe that God loves me. I want to sit down with John and look him in the eye and ask him the entire story, because surely he was just like me. Surely he doubted his lovability, surely he faced hardships, surely the world around him absolutely screamed the opposite claim – that love is earned, not given. That love is conditional. That there is fear in love.

But that’s not what John says. A few sentences after this claim, he then goes on to say that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. Ok, scoop that up on a plate and serve me dinner please, because I want that. (Whoops… is it showing that I live in the South now…?)

What in John’s life convinced him so thoroughly that it’s true?

 

I don’t know much about John, and Biblical scholars surely know way more than me, but the Bible tells us that he was a fisherman. And one day, he was sitting in his fishing boat with his brother, James, and their dad. They were mending their nets, as I’m sure they did often, when a man named Jesus walked by and he told them,

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Which, honestly, is kind of a weird statement. But the Bible says that John and James left their father immediately to follow Jesus. They vacated their fishing boat and profession and started a brand new life. Just like that.

What was it about Jesus that made them do that?

It must have been the same “thing” about Jesus that caused John, years and years later, to write about how convinced he was that God loved him. The things he experienced while following Jesus changed him forever, and what I believe he experienced above all else is love. He became convinced of the love Jesus had for him, and consequently, the love God had for him because Jesus is God.

And so I believe that the only way to understand how loved we are by God is to understand who Jesus was. Not who our minds make Him out to be, because our minds often lie. But who was Jesus really? What did John see Him do and hear Him say that convinced him of His love? Maybe you’ve read the gospels before, and you assume you know who Jesus is, but I know I need a closer look.

So this month I am going to use John’s gospel as a tool to finding God’s love. Every day, together, we will crack open the stories John tells and look at them from new angles. Not as people sitting in our living rooms reading about them, but as the people who were really there.

And I pray that, by the end of the month, you and I can both come to know and believe the love that God has for us.

Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

I’ve been told that as a writer it’s my job to tell the truth.

Which, of course, I rarely do because it’s terrifying. I can only hope I’m not alone in that. Because I can’t write what somebody else finds true. I can’t transcribe thoughts out of somebody else’s mind. And with every word I type I become more naked in front of you because you know that there is only one way for me to draw emotion on a page. It’s because I’ve felt it, because I’ve been there.

I haven’t written a lot this fall and that’s why. If emotions were an animal then mine would be those bulls that they ride for 8 seconds and then get bucked off. Most days I hardly recognize my own name so how could I possibly fashion 900 words into something comprehensible enough to post on the internet? I’m the young adult who, until a few weeks ago, left her spare car key in her car. And who spent an ungodly amount of money on Tropical Smoothie Cafe in the month of October. And who read an entire Captain Underpants book the other day because my brain can’t seem to handle anything heftier.

But alas, here we are. And you’re reading what I’m writing, so I’m going to try to be honest.

I am terrified of being an adult. Like, can’t see straight most of the time kind of terrified. I was just figuring out how to be a child and next thing I know I’m at my old college buddy’s house and we’re discussing budgeting. Budgeting. Also, I have “old college buddies”. Because I’m done with college.

It seems like a cruel joke sometimes. All our lives, we’re in school. And when we finish at one school, we go to another school. 5th grade to 6th grade. 8th to 9th. Then we’re in college. Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. And then you’re done. And then next thing you know you’re sitting on your friend’s couch talking about budgeting and you have this powerful urge to either curl up into a ball and cry or run into the front yard and do cartwheels and pretend that none of this “growing up” nonsense exists.

And yet, despite all efforts, two days later you find yourself googling budgeting websites because you really do have to buy a car. And save up for rent on the apartment you’re getting soon. And you sit on your couch, wearing a bath robe and drinking a smoothie, typing numbers and pretending like you have any hint of an idea what you’re doing.

 

A month ago I was in one of my best friend’s wedding. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. And it gathered together all of my favorite people at my favorite place, in my old college town.

The entire gig was over by 2:00. Reception and all. The new bride and her husband ran out the door and drove off and the day was still young for us un-married folk. Me and two of my best girl-friends ended up across the street from the church, warming seats in one of our favorite old coffee shops.

We had been there a million times. Doing homework on a Sunday afternoon. Grabbing cinnamon rolls with our hallways. That one time I sang at an open mic night freshman year. Just being anywhere near that coffee shop makes me feel like I’m home and that everything really is going to be ok. And in that moment, I was so glad to be back in Ohio, if only for a weekend.

My friends and I currently occupy three different states, but for an hour or so we simply occupied the same table. Together again. These faces that filled my college years. Every day, for 1,000 days, eating dinner together, walking the sidewalks of campus and filling each other in on what boy we liked that week. Treating each other’s rooms like our own.

Until, of course, we graduated and were sent off to budget.

But for an hour, we were together again. And I wish I could tell you we laughed and reminisced and tucked our good ole’ college days into convenient pockets of memory in the plushiest parts of our brain. I wish I could say we all confidently left that day in pursuit of our new endeavors, excited and ready to tread our new paths and kick down some doors.

But instead, we cried.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic. But honestly, you guys, these have been the hardest 6 months of my life.”

They were the first words to come out of my friend’s mouth as we grabbed our seats. And I felt myself lean into them. Finally, some honesty. I thought, maybe all this time, I was the only one who had no idea how to do this whole post-college thing. That maybe I was the only one who cried for two months when I started off in my big-new-city because I have never tackled something like this before.

That maybe I was the only one who missed my college friends so much it hurts like a cruel joke that should be over right about now.

But I realized that day. I’m not the only one. We didn’t have any answers for each other. We still have absolutely no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. But we’re not the only ones who have no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. And, in a powerful way, that changes things.

 

I’m back in my South Carolina town for the spring. Pretty much everything about that sentence terrifies me. But, I’m realizing, it terrifies me less than it did in the fall. And that’s pretty cool, I’d say.

It’s not a straight line, this stage of life. It’s a roller coaster, a zig-zag, a house of mirrors, a wrestling match. It’s figuring out a million things about yourself. It’s deciding to read your Bible not because somebody told you to but because you realize you don’t actually get along that well without it. Even though you have a billion questions. It’s about asking those questions and then putting them to bed. It’s about looking yourself in the mirror and not being sure what you see, and just letting that be what it is. You’ll know, in time.

At least, that’s my prayer. For myself. Because these days I’m not always so sure.

But for now, college-grad, just know you’re not alone. Whatever you’re feeling, be sure that I’m feeling it too from my basement bedroom in my new South Carolina town. And I guess that’s the most honest thing I can say right now.

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

Is there really anything better than a good novel?

I mean, really.

I just, love stories. I love stupid stories, I love sappy stories, I love sad stories. When I was in middle school, I would read at least a book a week, always caught up in a story. Granted, they were all about vampires and 12 year-olds falling in love, but all the best books are, right?

For some reason, in the season, I stopped reading. I didn’t mean to. I guess I figured I didn’t have time for it. And, to be fair, when you spend 98% of your day worrying and freaking out about the future, you don’t have time for ridiculous things like having fun or doing something you love.

But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I picked up a book, and it kind of felt like coming home. Books have so often been my home, and my closest friend. There was a time when I wouldn’t leave home without my novel, and I was never not in one. Ever. I felt naked without having a story to fantasize about and characters to root for. And every chance I got, I would jump back into the story, nose in the book, completely oblivious to the things around me.

I like thinking about how God wrote the story of my life, like the very best novel. And I like to think about how He reads it from Heaven, every day, and He smiles because He knows the good parts and the ending and He’s not afraid of it the way I am. Hard seasons seem pointless until I remember that any author worth their salt writes conflict into the story. No one would read a book where nothing ever changes, and no character development ever happens. And God’s worth His salt. So He writes those things into my story.

What makes it hard is that we can’t flip the the last page. We can only live the one we’re on, and we simply have to trust the One who knows things that we don’t. But, really, all we have to trust is that our Author wrote a good story. One made especially for you and for me. I think celebration, in its essence, is just realizing that. It’s being thankful to be in the story.

Just like the characters in your favorite novel. You read on because you want to see what happens next. Why don’t we live our stories with that same eager expectation? I really think it’s because we don’t trust that anyone good is writing it.

But the Bible says that every day of our lives were written in God’s book before one of them happened. Man, if I could actually grasp that in my heart. Would’t that be something. Wouldn’t that change the way I saw everything?