Archive for July, 2013

Understanding John 3:16

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Stars 71


Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

What a great song. You have probably sung this song all of your life. Your affection for Jesus Loves Me, may have started as early as infancy when your mother rocked you to sleep. For many, the melody and the words are familiar, but the deep truths of the song have alluded them.

Before reading on, stop and let this phrase flood your soul: Jesus loves me, and Jesus loves you. He loves you with all of your struggles, and issues. He has loved you through the issues and trials, the failures, and the grief. He waits patiently for you to come to him, because He truly loves you.

John 3:16 is the best known verse in the world and like the song, familiarity with the words often mean that its truth can be overlooked:

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

Read it again: “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.” God loves you enough to give his Son for you.

What would it mean for you if you believed this enough to live like someone who is loved by God? And what would living like you are loved look like? How would this reality affect the way you pray?

Study material on John 3:16 excerpted with permission from the NIV Mom’s Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2013).

* * *

Let’s look at the context of John 3:16

Jesus’s conversation with the pharisee Nicodemus – the most famous conversation in the Bible.

John has more to say to us here than to describe God’s love and the matter of our conversion [in John 3:1-21]. The conversation with Nicodemus is a model conversation, a paradigm if you will, of Jesus bringing the light of God to one who is captive in darkness.

John has an interest in how Christ’s work extends to those in darkness even though he is “the light.” He speaks to Nicodemus at night. That is, Jesus must step into darkness itself in order to redeem those captive to it. This notion reminds me of Jesus’ saying in Mark 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”

God is not demanding some moral or religious preparation from us that makes us interesting and acceptable to him. On the contrary, his mission is to enter the darkness and find us…

Of course when Jesus challenges Nicodemus that he must be “born again/from above” [3:3], he is making a fundamental statement about theological anthropology. That is, humanity is broken beyond all repair. God’s work in the world is not a question of fixing the part, but rebuilding the whole. It is described comprehensively as nothing short of another birth… As Augustine once taught, the problem with humanity is not that we sin, but that we are in a state of sin that needs a comprehensive solution. Nicodemus, then, and everyone in Jerusalem (2:23)—as well as everyone in the world (2:25)—lives with this infirmity…

The transformation offered to Nicodemus also opens the question of the nature of true religion. That is, religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. Nor is it inspiring aesthetic qualities that promote society in its finest form. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.

Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief (3:16, 18), and yet it is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped by sin…

Will we step out of the darkness, out of the world, out of death, and place our [trust] on the truth of what Jesus says and who he is?

Study material on John 3:16 excerpted with permission from the NIV Application Commentary: John by Gary Burge (Zondervan, 2009)

Treasures From The Vine—The Cleansing

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Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain (iStockphoto)154397986-652x415_17



Religion is meant to be in everyday life a thing of unspeakable joy.

And why do so many complain that it is not so?  Because they do not

believe that there is no joy like the joy of abiding in Christ and in His love,

and being branches through whom He can pour out His love on a dying world.

-Andrew Murray, The True Vine


And every branch that bears fruit, he purges it,

That it may bring forth more fruit. – John 15:2

There are two remarkable things about the vine.  There is not a plant of which spirit can be so abundantly distilled as the vine.  And there is not a plant that so soon runs into wild wood, that hinders its fruit, and therefore needs the most merciless pruning.  I look out of my window on large vineyards.  The chief care of the vinedresser is the pruning.  You may have a trellis vine rooting so deep in good soil that it needs neither digging, nor manuring, nor watering, but pruning it cannot dispense with, if it is to bear good fruit.  Some trees need occasional pruning; others bear perfect fruit without any; the vine must have it.

And so our Lord tells us here at the very outset of the parable that the one work the Father does to the branch that bears fruit is He prunes it that it may bear more fruit.

Consider a moment what this pruning or cleansing is.  It is not the removal of weeds or thorns or anything from outside that may hinder the growth.  No; it is the cutting off of the long shoots of the previous year, the removal of something that comes from within, that has been produced by the life of the vine itself.  It is the removal of something that is a proof of the vigor of its life.  The more vigorous the growth has been, the greater the need for the pruning.  It is the honest, healthy wood of the vine that has to be cut away.  And why?  Because it would consume too much of the sap to fill all the long shoots of last year’s growth:  The sap must be saved up and used for fruit alone.


He Leads

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Venice Day


Worrying is one job you can’t farm out, but you can overcome it. There’s no better place to begin than in Psalm 23:2  “He leads me beside the still waters,” David declares. “He leads me.”  God isn’t behind me, yelling, “Go!”  He’s ahead of me bidding, “Come!”  He’s in front, clearing the path, cutting the brush. Standing next to the rocks, He warns, “Watch your step there.”

Isn’t this what God gave the children of Israel? He promised to supply them with manna each day. But He told them to collect only one day’s supply at a time. Matthew 6:34 says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

God is leading you! Leave tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow!