November 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – John 3:16 (NRSV)
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.
The season of Advent and Christmas is an annual, repetitive reminder of God’s love for this world and its inhabitants.
2020 has been a rough year for all of us. While the end of the year is still a month away on our regular calendars, the Church’s liturgical calendar starts a new year as of tomorrow, with the first Sunday of Advent. So, if you are like me and would like to begin 2021 early, here’s a chance to take the liturgical calendar seriously!
I like the fact that the liturgical year begins roughly a month ahead of our regular calendars. After all, the Church is supposed to be a signpost of hope to the world around us. The season of Advent and Christmas is an annual, repetitive reminder (which is part of the reason for the liturgical calendar) of God’s love for this world and its inhabitants. What a gift that is to us in this most difficult of years.
So, I want to end the current liturgical year by reflecting on perhaps the most hopeful text in Scripture, John 3:16. And I want to do so by focusing on three words to see how they might speak to our current situation.
First there is the word “world.” As in, “God so loved the world.” A couple of things strike me as significant about it. For one, that word translates a Greek word from which we get our word “cosmos.” This should remind us that the world God loves is more than just human beings. God cares for and delights in all his creation (Psalm 104:31). And so should we. Indeed, God created human beings to be stewards of the world God loves. Creation care is not just for environmentally conscious Christians, but it is God’s mandate for all of us who follow Jesus – progressive, conservative, or middle-of-the-road alike.
For another, even when we understand “world” as being about human beings, it is a comprehensive word. The writer David Brooks has noted that our highly individualistic culture has led to an increasingly exclusive tribalism. Our world becomes defined, ever more narrowly, only by those who are part of our tribe. John 3:16 reminds us that God loves and cares about all the people on this planet and is at work creating an inclusive new human community: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white” (Revelation 7:9a, NRSV).
Second, there is the word, “gave.” As in, “he gave his only Son.” In our generation, there’s considerable suspicion and cynicism about God. Even in Christian circles (and even when we repeat, “God is good all the time; all the time God is good”), I get the feeling that many of us are not entirely convinced. This is not surprising. Human beings have always been tempted to doubt God’s generosity and goodness. That is after all at the root of the serpent’s argument in Genesis 3: “God is holding out on you; God really doesn’t want what’s best for you.” John 3:16 reminds us, as does the Advent and Christmas season, that God gave the ultimate, most costly gift imaginable for our good.
In the story of Abraham’s life, Abraham’s greatest test of faithfulness was his willingness to offer up his beloved son, Isaac. The story of Jesus reveals that God the Father demonstrates his own faithfulness by not only offering up but actually sacrificing “his only Son” for all our sake. No wonder the Apostle Paul writes, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:31b-32, NRSV).
Finally, there is the word, “life.” As in, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The temptation in the Genesis Garden reminds us that the fundamental question of human existence is whether we choose to trust in God’s goodness or not. If not, we choose a lie. If not, we choose an illusion. Since God alone is the source of all good, we cannot turn from God and expect to find something better. If we turn from the source of life, we are left with death. If we turn from the source of light, we find only darkness. If we turn from the source of love, we will know only fear. The most awesome aspect of human existence is that we have been given the freedom to make that choice.
If we do trust in God’s goodness, supremely demonstrated in Jesus Christ, life as it was intended inevitably follows. As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NRSV). In that, Jesus echoes and fulfills what Moses said much earlier, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19, NRSV).
As Jesus’ followers, how can we be signposts of that life and hope in our generation? We will reflect on that tomorrow.
In what ways are you tempted to doubt God’s goodness? What might it mean for you to “choose life”?
Do something today that is an expression of you “choosing life.”
God our Father,
Some of us who are parents know what it means to see our children suffer. We would do anything to keep them from harm and to spare them from suffering. We are stunned into silence by your sacrifice of your only beloved Son in bearing the incomprehensible suffering of the cross.
You really do SO love the world that you would ask him to do this for our sake. Forgive us for doubting your good intentions towards us and the world in which we live. In this darkest of seasons, when we are tempted to doubt again, remind us of your love. Sustain our faith and hope in you.
We ask in the name of Jesus, your beloved Son,
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: For God So Loved…
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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