We Believe: God Loves Us

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” John 3: 16-17.

We are going to begin today with a trust exercise.  This has been a practice at Meet in the Middle each Wednesday night with our youth as we continue to be formed in what God is doing in our community.  It is in building trust, teamwork, discipline, creativity, and faith that we grow.  So for today’s exercise, I am going to ask each of you to raise your purse or your wallet.  Hold them up high.  Now, if each of you could exchange it with a neighbor.  Do you trust them?  Now, if the ushers would please come forward and may we give like we have never given before.

Here we are in our fourth week of our ‘we believe’ series.  Exploring, we come trying to see, asking God to help our unbelief, together seeking to be generous, and today—we believe because God so loves us.  The same evangelist who wrote “For God so loved” shares in 1 John 4:19, ‘We love God because God first loved us.’  So I ask, how much does God love us?  And we enter into today’s text.  We enter into God, the originator of the never ending game we play with our kids asking, ‘How much do I love you?’ So let us ask God, how much? 

How much?  John 3:16 is easily the most familiar passage in all of our Scripture.  If there is one that we have memorized from Sunday School, I would bet it is this.  I can remember vividly memorizing this Scripture.  I was in Jr. high.  Jr. high and memorizing Bible verses—yeah—I could comfortably venture to say this was not at the top of our list of where our mind was in Jr. high.  Funny how God works.  

I loved seminary.  I absorbed everything I could.  Loved reading, listening, theological discussions, languages, community.  And I did well.  While this was not without its challenges, sacrifices of family, many miles every week—school, working in churches, chaplaincy—the change from running from, to finding that I turned towards God was life giving.  Hard work was fun.  And I will boast—I was good at it.  My grades were good, internships went well, and my confidence soared.  I was approaching the home stretch, ready and confident to take the ordination exams.  The most difficult exam is exegesis—an exam where you are assigned a Scripture passage to study, translate, analyze, and support with solid Reformed understanding as our final assessment to gauge our readiness for ministry.  As luck had it, when I opened the exam with great anticipation as to what text we were assigned, I beamed as my eyes focused on the page to John 3: 16.  Of all the texts—what could be easier than the one we can all recite? 

For five days, I dug in—with focus on the meaning of the Greek word for belief, pisteu/w.  After turning it in, the waiting is the hardest part.  My whole class was abuzz as word we were anticipating the week we would get our results.  And the notice came, I clicked on the link, and I focused in.  Of all things—I couldn’t believe it—and my heart sunk.  Of all the texts, I failed John 3: 16.  That is just wrong.  Dejected, embarrassed, and let down—I couldn’t escape it.  Lisa tried to encourage me, my pastor tried to find some bright spots—but I couldn’t see it.  I failed John 3:16.  I failed John 3:16???

Luke had a soccer game that night.  I needed to hide my disappointment and go watch the game.  This was actually a good distraction—until I saw that perfect little religious kid on the opposing team.  Every other kid in all of sports-dom has their last name on the back of their jersey, but no this kid.  Instead of his name, his jersey read John 3:16.  God was mocking me.  And then everywhere I looked—there it was.  I open a gift from my pastor-friend who shares my love of coffee—only to be a mug with John 3:16.  I am serious when I say it took a long time before I could even drink out of it.  And I saw it in the funniest places.  Driving with Lisa the next day, I couldn’t believe the number of places.  And I turn on the Broncos game—mind you—my favorite team, and there it is on Tim Tebow’s eye paint—John 3:16.

In my disappointment, my shame, I became hyperaware of the sign of John 3:16 all around me.  It was as if God were sending a message.  But in all reality, this sensitivity was about me.  My confidence—my ego, my ability to fit a theological argument in my own eyes, my excuses I had made about the readers—was about me.  My strength, my intelligence, and my path.  As I met with the pastor to students that following week with my well crafted argument of how I was wronged, she lovingly admonished my ego and turned this around.  She helped me see that the paradox of John 3:16-that God so loved the world—is around us all the time, and while it is about God’s love for us—it is more about God and less about me.  That this foundational Scripture that is comforting can make us instead comfortable in ourselves.  While seeing God in the mirror dimly, I was focused on myself.  Humbly, and ironically, failing John 3:16 is one of the most significant areas of growth preparing me for being here today.  This was significant for helping remind me that when it becomes about us, it is easy to fall into the trap of manipulating the symbols rather than participating in the realities.  The reality that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  And this is why we believe.  This is the source, the strength, the purpose of our belief.  For God to become more, we must become less. 

So what does this have to do with Stewardship?  Everything.  We Believe—because God loves us.  So how do we respond to this belief?  Fully entering humanity, God gives everything.  Dying on a cross—how much more can God give?  Fully human, fully God, God’s sacrifice for the sake of restoring our relationship has everything to do with how we are called to respond. 

As we have been sharing throughout this month, we are reframing our approach to giving.  Rather than presenting and asking how we can meet a budget, we are asking you to prayerfully consider giving to support the mission of what God has called us to be  We all have stories that we can share of how God is working in our lives through Spirit of Life.  We have heard some great testimonies over the last month.  God is working, transforming, and making something new. 

To summarize: We are called.  Central from incarnation to resurrection, the blessing we have in Christ is one who fully gave.  Our calling is one where our joy is in giving our lives.  

 

To quote a faith led and great coach, Vince Lombardi,  “There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.”  Like the point of our opening exercise, it is easy to give when it is someone else’s treasure.  It is easy to wait for another to step up.  For God so loved us that he gave everything, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And to paraphrase Lombardi once more, “There are three things that are important to every [person] in this locker room. Our God, our family, and our church home—Spirit of Life.”  In that order.”

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