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For God So Loved The World… July 2, 2006

Posted by fajita in Christianity, emerging church/emergent, Grad School Life, Philosophy/Religion, Post-restoration/Restoration Movement.
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This is long post where I go on and on about a Bible verse because I can’t sleep and I don’t know what else to do.  

The very famous Bible verse (John 3:16) begins, “For God so loved the world…” This is a very important verse for many Christians today and throughout the ages. For many Christians this verse is the crux of their faith. Some Christians believe it is THE STORY of the entire Christian religion. 

What I want to focus on here in this post is the part of the verse that says, “the world.”

Growing up a conservative evangelical, I learned to avoid “the world.” The world was evil and I was not to become like the world. The world was that which God condemned and would eternally condemn one day – the Last Day. The world was contaminated with all kinds of evil, wickedness, and unholiness. The world was so hopelessly bad that it needed to be avoided and condemned, for my own good of course.

All people who were not of my denomination were of “the world.” It didn’t matter if they wore the name Christian, if they were not of my tribe, they were of the world. The world had somehow infiltrated their ranks and deceived them into believing that they were truly Christian when they were not. So, not only were non-Christians suspect, the wrong kind of Christians were suspect as well.

I went to a high school of 2,200 students. Only three people from my denomination (including myself) attended that high school. You know what that meant? 2,197 students were of the world. I had my work cut out for me from an evangelistic point of view. But more than that, there were 2,197 agents of the world out there from which I needed to keep my distance, who I needed to condemn, who I needed to inform that they were wrong and their only sensible move was to be like me – right.

The mental association in my mind for “the world” was negative.

Now, there are certain repsonses a person can have when “the world” is defined like it was for me in my formative years (do those years ever end?). Let’s explore some of those potential responses to “the world.”

One option is to completely insulate yourself from the world. Go Amish and make sure that contamination is held to an absolute minimum. All people and things “not us” are the Devil’s handywork. Make specific distinctions between “us” and “them” and hold to them without fail. Build spiritual, relational, and social hedges such that the world cannot creep in.

Another repsonse is to attack the world. Bring them loads of righteous condemnation. Be a “prophetic voice” and rail against every sinful thing the world does. Threaten the world with Hell and use lots of carefully selected Bible verses to accomplish this task. And when the world does not respond and change its ways, shake the dust off your feet and find another part of the world to condemn.

Still another repsonse is the give up hope. The world is a hopeless place with hopeless people who are never going to change, so what is the point in trying to convince the world of anything? This is still condemnation, but more of a passive condemnation that does not involve at lot of verbalization of the condemning, but it resides in the heart nonetheless.

OK, let’s swing back around to John 3:16.    

For God so loved that world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  

God seems to take a different approach to the world in this very important verse. Rather than insulate himself from the world, God engages the world. Rather then heap condemnation onthe world, he offers a way of rescue. Rather than give up on the world, he invests the absolute most important asset he has in order to accomplish this rescue.

Engage. Rescue. Invest.

God does not seem to delight in the destruction of the world here. In fact, God seems to be so troubled by the fact that something has gone so wrong that he will do whatever it takes, no matter the risk, in order to provide a way out of the mess.

God loves the world. For some reason, as a child, I completely missed the point. I learned to do the opposite. Avoid, condemn, and give up hope. That’s not love. Yes, I know that there is evil in the world (and other places), I know that there are dangers that can ruin a child, I know that there is cause for discernment and wisdom. But there is a difference between a discerning heart and a condemning one. I learned a protectionist reponse to the world. What I see in John 3:16 is an engaging response. What I see God doing is recognizing that the world has got a problem, but also that world is so important, so valuable, so worthy of his love, that he holds absolutely nothing back from the world. God does not throw up his hands at the abuse, the murder, the oppression, and the litany of incivilities that occur in the world. Rather, God wants to redeem this world from these horrific things.

I am sad to say that such a response is foreign to my religious and spiritual upbringing. How could I go to church and learn to be and do the opposite of what has been right there in the Bible the whole time?   

What I am having to learn as an adult is a way to engage the world, share a story of rescue with the world, and invest in the world. I have to come to believe that “the world” is worth it. I have to enter the world and the specific worlds of individuals with the full intnetion of blessing them in their world. What I mean by that is I am going to have to conduct my life such that when I enter someone’s world, they are genuinely glad they ever met me.

This Fall I am entering doctoral studies at a major state university in the Midwest. This will be my first step into “the world” with the hopes of actually blessing it rather than condmening it. I place the “the world” in quotes here because I anticipate quite a diverse collection of students and professors, many who will have such different backgrounds and experiences from my own that they would have been labeled, “the world” by the criteria issued me in my youth.

What I want is for every student, every professor, every staff member I meet over the next 4 years to experience my presence in their life as a blessing. To the extent that I enter their world, I want that little part of their world to be better because I was there. I do not want to avoid, condemn, or get hopeless. I want to engage, invest, and if rescue is in order, be a part of that rescue.

This will be new ground for me. Take a look at my history and you’ll see that this is new gorund for me: After high school, when I avoided the 2,197 agents of the world, I went to a private Christian college – insulated from “the world”. After that I was a youth minister – again, insulated from “the world.” I spent 2 years as a public school teacher in Houston – I must have driven the other teachers nuts with my religious blather. Then I went to another Christian university and was again surrounded by Christians. Then I was a youth minister and now I am a counselor at a Christian counseling center.

I am going to be given the opportunity this Fall to see if I really have love in my heart, the kind of love God has for the world. If I avoid, condemn, or get hopeless about the people I meet, I have failed. No more of that. I have spent so much effort trying to unlearn the contaminated portions of my faith and replace them with a healthier faith that this Fall has just got to be a great experience.

Oh God, I have always tried my best to do what is right. On many counts I have failed. I have learned that your love runs deeper than simplistic measures of right and wrong. I want to learn how to love with the generosity, the passion, and the mission you have. Please, take my moldy bread and little fish and make something of value from it.  

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