By the way… Do you know what John 3:16 really means?

Jn316WhatLet’s look at a very familiar verse for a moment. It’s probably the most familiar verse in the Bible, but have you really thought about what it means?

John 3:16 – God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

  • What God did (gave his only Son), he did out of love.
  • He gave his Son to die the death that we all deserve.
  • Those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Who does this include?

Well, it includes everyone! Those who believe will not perish. By necessary contrast, those who do not believe will perish. Easy enough, right?

Easy, but a bit terrifying. Let’s take a look at what is says just 2 verses later:

John 3:18 – Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

  • Anyone who believes in Jesus avoids condemnation.
  • Anyone who does not believe faces condemnation.

Is belief all it takes?

So, to avoid condemnation all you have to do is believe! That’s pretty easy for most. But what does it mean to believe in this context? Same passage, but a few verses later:

John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

  • Again, whoever believes has eternal life.
  • Whoever does not obey suffers the wrath of God.

The biblical term used here for “believe” is synonymous with “obey.” So, it’s not just an intellectual assent to the fact that Jesus exists, or even that Jesus died for sins; it’s belief with a view to obedience; it’s belief that results in obedience. Now we have a much more difficult proposition, don’t we?

This is where most people fall short, get tripped up, or simply choose to ignore what is very plain in Scripture.

How do we avoid this problem?

Jesus said that whoever would follow him (another way of saying “believe in him” or “obey him”) must leave everything else behind and follow him (i.e., seek to become like him, turning away from everything else).

Luke 9:23–26 – Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father.”

These are very strict conditions, it seems to me. Only followers of Jesus, as defined here, will have the eternal life promised in John 3:16. It’s a lot different than just believing (assenting to a fact) that Jesus died for sins. If you are trusting your eternal destiny to the type of easy-believism that says all you have to do is say a prayer or ask Jesus into your heart, you are still under the wrath of the Father. And if you are under the wrath of the Father, you have no hope of being saved from it unless you turn your life over to Christ, forsaking all other beliefs and lifestyles.

You cannot continue in your own chosen way of life and expect that God is going to approve of you. God does not weigh your good deeds with your bad. He does not wink at your decisions to crusade for those things that are a violation of his Word and of his character. He does not grade on a scale. He does not yield to the demands of the current culture.

Are you a follower of Jesus?

So, what about you? Are you a follower of Jesus? I submit that this question is the most important question you will ever answer. Answer it honestly. Are you a follower of Jesus? If you answered “yes,” are you sure? If not, I implore you to be decisive today on this issue. You have no guarantee of having until tomorrow to make this decision.

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

— Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:16-21)

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Even 1 School Shooting is Too Many! Something is Wrong!

If you’ve been spreading the claim that there have now been 18 school shootings this year, stop it! There have NOT been 18 school shootings. This USA Today article and video explain.

But even 1 is too many!

shooting

In a perfect world there would be no murder or violence or evil, but that’s not the world we live in. I think we can all agree that something is wrong with this world. What is wrong and the answer to that wrong have been given to us.

What is wrong with this world? And What is the Solution?

Whether or not you accept it, God claims the rightful place of King of the universe. He is King by right of creation. When someone rebels against a rightful king, that person can expect no peace. Same goes on the universal scale. The entire human race has rebelled against the rightful King of the universe and we are suffering for it. But there’s much more to it than just that.

God has promised that he will ultimately deal with the rebellion. He has offered complete pardon for anyone who would surrender to him and place themselves back under his rule. All who return to the King, turning away from their rebellion, and allow the true King to rule their lives will receive a full pardon and be declared full citizens of his kingdom.

Those who refuse this one-time-only offer will be declared permanent enemies of the King and will eventually be cast out into permanent incarceration and will be subjected to never-ending suffering for their crimes, a punishment that perfectly fits the crime of such rebellion.

The terms of the pardon, for all who would decide to receive it, are simple: complete surrender to the rule of the King.

But keep in mind that you will not be surrendering yourself to the harsh rule of some tyrant of a king. This King is perfectly just (bad news for us rebels, as we all deserve to be punished for our crimes against him), but also merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, eager to forgive our crimes against him.

But he will by no means clear the guilty, and we are all guilty. Someone must be punished for our crimes. The primary choice, of course, is ourselves. After all, who is more fitted to take the punishment for crimes than the one who committed them, right? That presents a serious problem; it puts us all in a very bad position. The crimes we commit against the eternal holiness of an eternal King is eternal punishment, something we can’t possibly afford.

Only a perfect human being would be able to pay for our crimes. Jesus, being God, left heaven and became that perfect human being for the purpose of living the perfect life we could never live and to suffer the punishment that we fully deserve. He died horribly for our crimes; he had none of his own. And after he died, the King of the universe raised him back from the dead to show that he accepted Jesus’ payment on behalf of all who would surrender themselves to his rule.

So, the question is:

Who will suffer the punishment for your crimes against the rightful King?

There are only two choices:

You or Jesus.

If you decide to continue in your rebellion and take on the punishment yourself, you will suffer for all eternity, which is right and fitting.

If, however, you decide that you want to accept the offered pardon and accept Jesus’ punishment on your behalf, all you have to do is to humble yourself, confess that you are part of the human rebellion, and give your life over to the rightful King.

If you surrender your life to the rightful King of the universe, turning away from your rebellion in such humble submission, he will apply Jesus’ payment to your account; he will grant you the pardon. You will immediately become his ambassador in this life, doing his bidding and joining his cause of sharing the good news of the pardon to others. And when your time on this earth is over, you will spend all of eternity in his heavenly kingdom with him.

Will you do that today? Talk to him in prayer and tell him of your desire to surrender. Ask him for the pardon. Then start learning about him and what he wants you to do in this life for him, all of which can be found in the Bible. You should also join a Bible-teaching church where you can learn more precisely and get help with living the life that he commands you to live.

I hope you will do that. As we’re seeing all too often these days, none of us is promised a long life and it’s only during this life that the offer of the pardon is presented. Once you leave this life, the offer expires.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

A Hastily-Written Recantation of the Rare Political Post

YourVoteCounts-480x480Well, here I am writing a recantation of an earlier post regarding how I think American Christians should vote in the upcoming presidential election. I mentioned in that post how I very rarely write about politics. Now, the one time I do write about it, I end up just a few months later writing this recantation. The truth is I never in my most vivid nightmares thought we’d end up where we are, with Trump and Clinton, most likely, as the two candidates for the US presidency. Wow!

So, the question I have to ask myself is, “OK, Jono, how do you apply what you wrote to this horrible mess?”

If you recall, I mentioned that I think we should vote for the candidate who will provide the least hindrance to Christians practicing what our Lord commanded, worship and evangelism. I also said that it would be useless to vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning, like any third-party candidate. I basically advocated for the lesser of two evils.

So, how would I apply that to this election cycle?

Um…I, uh… don’t really know. You see, we’re most likely looking at Trump or Clinton, though Sanders still has a chance. How would you rank those three from best for our country to worst? Allow me to ask an equally difficult question that I believe illustrates the situation in which we find ourselves. How would you rank the following items in terms of which would be best to mold into a sculpture with your bare hands: a titanium wedding ring, the Hope Diamond, or my mother’s generations-old cast-iron frying pan. That’s seems to be the options we’re given. It would take a miracle of God to mold any of those items into a sculpture with our bare hands. It would take a miracle of God for any of the possible candidates from the two primary parties to be effective at benefiting America or the Kingdom.

So, where does that leave me and my embarrassing post? Well, it leaves me a little red-faced. It leaves me with this recantation of that previous post, which is always embarrassing for a blogger.

Fortunately, fixing my mess here is a lot easier than fixing the mess in which America finds herself, and even easier yet than fixing the mess in which America will be after November. I have to appeal to conscience at this point. I still believe that the Christians of America should be concerned with the Kingdom of God more than with America, but we also must be concerned with conscience. It’s a horrible situation in which we find ourselves. If nothing else, I want to be able to say that I kept my conscience clear in my voting; I would feel very sullied if I cast my vote for Trump, Clinton, or Sanders.

Regardless of the outcome or how little initial impact it may make on the elections this year, I have decided that I can do no better than to vote my conscience, which means voting third party. I cannot, in good conscience, vote for any of the three remaining possible candidates running for the two major parties.

Here I stand, embarrassed but resolved.

By the way… Which Nation’s Well-being Will Guide Your US Presidential Vote?

That seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Of course, as a US citizen in a US presidential vote, my concern should be the well-being of the United States of America, right? I mean, what else?vote

Well…

We’re deep in what has been called the “Silly Season,” the campaigning time leading up to a presidential election. I very rarely post about politics, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what should be guiding your vote (if you’re a Christian and a US citizen) in the US presidential election in November, and in any votes leading up to it, if you participate in those.

First, let me say that I think Christians need to stop believing that there is the possibility that a godly person will be in the US presidency. If that ever happens again, it will be only by the grace of God and I will welcome it, but it seems so incredibly unlikely. Take a look at the elections over the last several decades. It’s been a long time since we’ve had someone decent to vote for in a presidential election. It always seems to be the choice, on a scale of 1 to 10, between a 2 and a 2½ at best—a choice between the lesser of two evils, as the saying goes.

Also, I believe it’s useless to vote for a candidate in a party that has no possible chance of winning, so that almost always leaves only the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate. As sad as that reality is, it’s reality in this country nonetheless.

I believe, for the Christian, the focus should be on the well-being of God’s Kingdom rather than on the well-being of America. I believe Christians should vote for the candidate that will allow the Kingdom of God to grow and expand the most. Of course, the new president will know nothing of these things—he won’t be a Christian after all—but we should vote for the candidate that will ignore us the most in terms of governmental restriction on Christian practice and activity.

In my opinion, it’s the healthiest strategy to vote for whichever candidate you think will provide the longest lasting freedom for Christians to continue to worship, preach, and evangelize. We are under the mandate of God to worship, preach truth, and share the Gospel message everywhere. I want a president that will hinder that the least, and that’s who I’ll be voting for.

Update & Recantation (May 5, 2016)
When I originally wrote this post, I never actually thought we’d end up with Trump and Clinton (maybe Sanders) as the choices for US president. In that light, a recantation, while embarrassing, was necessary.

Is God Speaking to Me Directly?

godspeaking
This issue comes up more and more in these days of biblically illiterate churches. (I have written about this before.) It used to simply be the statement, “I think God is trying to tell me/you something,” in response to a certain set of life circumstances. Now, with the increase in false teachers claiming to hear from God on a daily basis, it has become the expectation that if you are not receiving direct messages or revelation from God, there’s something wrong with your faith, you’re not listening correctly, or you simply haven’t learned the correct technique yet.

There’s one huge problem with that, however: Nowhere does the Bible teach that God communicates with us in that way.

First off, let’s go back to the statement above: “I think God is trying to tell me/you something.” Do you think it’s possible for God to fail? Is it possible for God to try to do something—in this case, speak directly to you—and somehow fail in that attempt? I don’t think so; he is perfect, after all.

What does the Bible tell us about God speaking to people? I don’t recall a single instance of God trying to speak to someone and failing to do so. In fact, when God spoke it was usually overwhelming and terrifying. There was no way the recipient of God’s message could have possibly missed it.

If you have to wonder or try to figure out whether or not God is speaking to you directly, he’s not. If God speaks to you directly, it will be shocking and unmistakable; you won’t have to put the clues together.

Here’s how Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason has described it:

How often can we expect God to speak directly to us?
– For almost everyone, God will never speak directly to us.
– For the rest (extremely few, if any), it will be exceedingly rare.

God has spoken to us fully in his Word! If you want to hear what God has to say to you, read the Bible! There is no biblical mandate or example that we are to follow that tells us to seek direct messages or revelation from God.

Study the Bible instead. There is nothing more rewarding or more worth the effort.

Christmas Bells — A Poem

I think this is a wonderful poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that reveals the real struggles and pain that this life brings, but also the ever-present promise of God to sustain his children during it. It also reminds us that this life is not all there is. God is still carrying out his plan of redemption and judgment.

This video does a good job of briefly explaining where Longfellow was emotionally when he wrote this poem. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Here’s the full poem as written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Our Journey to Europe — Debi’s Journal

Europe 2015Last month my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a ministry trip to four of the SEND International fields in Central Europe. It was a great trip, however exhausting, where we were able to see what the missionaries of SEND (and Teach Beyond in Hungary) are doing on the ground in these four areas.

Debi is posting about our trip on her blog with descriptions and pictures, so I’ll direct you over there for that. It’s in four parts, one for each of the countries we visited: Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, and Macedonia.

The only thing I’d like to add to what she’s already said is a personal note. There were two times over there that I started to feel overwhelmed at the need in these areas. I don’t mean the physical need, though there was a lot of that also; I mean the massive level of spiritual darkness that is so pervasive in these places. The people in these locations, indeed all over Europe and the world, are truly and profoundly lost. It seems that the mandate given by Christ to take the Gospel to the world is so huge, and the number of Christians who are serious about taking up that mandate is so small, as to make the job seem impossible. Hopelessness in the face of such an impossible task can easily take over one’s soul. Twice during the trip I felt that sense of hopelessness.

But God is a very big God. The task is not ours, at least not in the sense that we are on our own to complete it. The task, ultimately, is God’s. He planned it from beginning to end, and he will see it through. Though all true Christians are called by God to take the wonderful Good News to the world, it is God who causes the growth. The responsibility for that belongs only to him. Our responsibility is to tell the Good News of Christ to the lost everywhere. The job is impossible for us, but nothing is impossible for God!

In Romans chapter 10 Paul quoted the Old Testament when he proclaimed, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He then followed that up with these four questions:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

He concluded the thought by quoting Scripture again: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Will you consider your part in the mandate to take the Gospel to the world? If it seems impossible to you, that’s not a bad thing. It is impossible apart from God. But God is in the business of accomplishing the impossible and inspiring awe in the hearts of his people along the way.

Here are a few ways you can obey that mandate:

  1. Pray – Everyone who knows Christ can pray. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Here are some ways you can pray every day (here, here, and here).
  2. Give – Though God is ultimately in control of his work, he commands that his people be personally involved. That includes doing what we can to use his money to finance the work. I believe most Christians can give a lot more to missions than they give currently. Will you consider and pray about how you can give more to the work of God? What are some things that you can give up in order to increase your giving to a missionary or missions organization?
  3. Go – I would ask that you not dismiss this too quickly. Please ask God if he would have you and your family go to the mission field yourselves. The needs are many:

    Are you a teacher?
    Are you tech-savvy?
    Are you a sound engineer?
    Are you good with kids?
    Are you talented in logistics or organization?
    Do you have leadership skills?
    Do you know music?
    Are you good with cars?
    Do you have skills with electrical circuits or electronics?
    Do you have legal training?

    If you answered yes to any of these (or any other skills you can imagine), there is need for your skill set in missions. Please pray about it. Research needs around the world. Look for missions agencies that serve the places in which you are most interested. If nothing else, you’ll gain a lot of new understanding of the world and missions in general.

Thank you for considering how you can be a part of God’s work around the world. If you have any questions at all about this, including where you might find resources or information about any area of missions, please let me know. I’d be glad to help you in any way I can.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
— Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:18-20)