For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 MEV)
I’ve heard this scripture a million times as a member of the church for over 30 years. This scripture is usually quoted to promote evangelism or altar calls. Yet there is so much to this scripture. This scripture is God’s plan to win the world.
“For God so loved….”
God who had to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden and His presence, now declares He so loved us.
God who decimated Egypt with plagues declares that He so loved Egypt and us.
God who sent angels and fire on altars to demonstrate His authority, so loved us.
God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because they had long ago destroyed themselves with their perversion and were so corrupt that they wanted to have sex with his angelic emissaries, so loves us.
We are perverted and prone to war and murder when we’re left to our own devices. Yet God so loved us.
We rebel under His authority to the point that He has to send plagues, war or disease to get our attention. Yet God so loved us.
Love is God’s way to deal with our darkness, our perversion and our propensity to murder and go to war. God demonstrates the ultimate act of love by giving. This is no ordinary gift picked up in a last-minute shopping spree at a discount store. You were not an after thought in this gift. You have a gift of His only begotten son.
There is only one model of this only begotten son formed after His glory and perfect image. He didn’t give a substitute. He gave Himself.
He gave “Immanuel,” God with us. God with us who longs to walk and talk with us. “God with us” who desires a relationship with you.
The God of the Universe, the Emperor of the Cosmos, gives His most precious, valuable treasure into the hands of humankind who are bound by darkness. He gave Himself in the most helpless form, a baby. He entrusted Himself to a man who wanted to divorce His teenager mother. He gave the gift of Himself because of love.
God so loved that He gave His only begotten son…
He gave before you asked. He gave before you deserved it. He gave before you realized He exists. He gave because He loved.
We forget in our American church culture consumed by success that His very being is moved by love. Love for a fallen humanity. He loves us. He loves you. He loves me.
His love isn’t conditioned on your perfect, moral performance. He doesn’t reduce His love to a product that’s earned by perfect church attendance, Sunday school awards or scripture memorization. His love is passionate, compelling you to a relationship with Him in your humanity.
He just loves. Love is who He is and everything He does comes from love. This love costs Him everything and offended worldly and religious authorities because you can’t control this love. God’s love for you will not be bound by politics and confined to a movement or denomination. His love upset Pharisees who were offended that he ate with sinners and touch lepers. His love became a pawn of religious politics that crucified Him to appease the people.
The love of the Emperor of the Cosmos that was tortured to death unjustly, broke the grip of death on the planet. Death and torture could not stop the love of God that cries out for humanity to be restored to Him. Love that wants a relationship with the saint and the sinner will not be stopped by death, angels, disease, kings or war. Nothing can separate you from the love of God.
Love is heaven’s act of war on a dark foe that seeks to destroy our humanity. Love is an act of divinity in us that calls to us to do what we can only do by His power – to lay our lives down for one another and put others before our own interests. Love calls you to die to yourself for the sake of someone who can’t pay you back.
The idol of success
As I ponder this love, I’m convicted of my own worldliness in Christianity. I’m convicted by how I’ve acted in His name but I was moved by the standards of the world and not love. I’ve stayed up all night thinking of how much heart and energy I put into chasing success.
I believe that’s why we’re tired and stressed. We’re chasing jobs, businesses, the big houses and worldly success in His name. We want to look like the successful person in the name of God. We bow at the altar of success in our culture.
I know we need houses, clothes and cars but how much energy do we spend chasing those things? American success is a disease in our churches. If we’re truthful with ourselves, love doesn’t move us but the drive to look good or put on appearances of success.
I’ve been challenged and convicted by “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Gregory Boyle. His stories of bringing redemption in a practical way to gangs in L.A. have challenged me to examine whether I really know the love of God and does His love move me. I read the book in one day and stayed up most of the night pondering my own relationship of love with God and people.
Last Friday night I was part of a Highways ministry team that brought Christmas gifts to homeless kids. I talked to the mom of a five-year-old boy who is celebrating his second Christmas in a homeless shelter. He was ecstatic with his gifts and I wanted to scoop him and his mom up and bring them home with me.
The mom was happy that her son received some gifts and got to visit with Santa. Our team then went to the Men’s Homeless Shelter to sing worship songs to 250 to 300 men while they ate. Several of the men responded to receive prayer. The homeless men and the 5-year-old received a respite from the hardness of living in the shadows of being ignored, forgotten or overlooked. Immanuel, “God With Us” brought His hope and peace.
God with us, “Immanuel,” set the example for how to love. You give yourself. You don’t throw a dollar or money at someone. You don’t hand out a tract. You give yourself.
Love is you showing up when you would rather watch TV.
Love is you talking and laughing when you don’t want to.
Love is you being fully you in your divinity and God-likeness bound by your humanity. Love is you being peace, hope, love, joy and rightness with God. Love is you making someone feel like they are worthy of love and attention. Love is giving away dignity.
Love is not a program. Love is not an obligation. Love is not a project. No one ever wants to be an obligation, the product of a program or a charity project.
Love is you giving the most precious part of your heart and humanity to an unbelieving and fallen world. Love is you giving yourself.
Because when you love, you bring a message in your life that…
“Who so ever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life….”
We show His love and people believe. We demonstrate who He is and people believe. We lay our lives down and people believe.
In my untrained, non-leadership viewpoint from being in the church for over 30 years, I think the reason the church isn’t exploding in growth like the early church did is because we need to do more loving. We need to love more starting with the person that sits next to you at church or at work. We need to love more as a culture.
We don’t need another outreach program or 10-steps to reaching the world. We need to love intentionally and purposefully. We need to love unconditionally with passion.
When God so loved, He gave. He didn’t give us a product or a program. He gave a person. He gave Himself.
This act of love shows that you are not a product or a project to Him. You are a person created by Him to be loved. You are a person designed for relationship with Him and others.
Reducing God to a commodity
Jesus, faith and love isn’t a commodity or product to be bought or sold. Jesus is a person who acts and desires to be involved in our life. Have we settled for the nicely, packaged, American-version of this mythical commoditized Jesus formed in our own image within the parameters of our culture? Have we reduced the One who the saints of the early church spilled blood for to a commodity?
Is He a product that we use for personal gain or profit? Or is He the One who deserves our very lives? As Christians, are we ‘pimping’ a Gospel product or proclaiming His government by being ruled by Him who loves through us?
Do we treat each other like a product or a commodity? Do I look at you for personal gain or as a sister or brother in the journey of faith? Do I hang out with people who make good money, live in mini-mansions and look like me? Or do I identify with the outcasts, the lepers and sinners as Jesus did when He gave Himself?
“While Jesus sat at supper in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.” Matthew 9:10
I pray that in 2016 that you would follow Jesus’s example by so loving the world that you give yourself. Give yourself to people that don’t look like you. Give yourself to people that don’t agree with you or live outside of your zip code. Give yourself without conditions. Give yourself like He does every moment we’re given on this planet. Give yourself so they might believe and not perish and experience eternal life, now.
I stayed up all night thinking of this song that we use to sing in our little church in Hawaii known as the “love church.” That church that met in a house grew to almost 300 people in its peak and housed a school of ministry that has trained hundreds of pastors and leaders that serve around the world. This was our song.