Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reach! - God’s Love Reaches the World Through Jesus

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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. John 3:16-21


Without a doubt, this passage is the most familiar piece of Scripture in our world. Shown at sporting events, and political rallies, even worn on t-shirts and painted on faces! Have you ever wondered where this phenomenon came from? It all started with the guy in this picture...

His name is Rollen Stewart. He began wearing his rainbow-colored afro-wig and holding up “John 3:16” signs at major sporting events in the 1970's and 1980's. At first, it was just a publicity stunt for Stewart. Later, however, he became a Christian and he became determined to get this message out. His “off the field” antics quickly got him in trouble, and he eventually disappeared, but the signs have remained.

Next Sunday during the Super Bowl, billions of people worldwide will see these words from John’s gospel plastered across their television sets. I wonder how many folks watching those events ever, just out of curiosity, go to the shelf, pick up a Bible, and look this verse up. Imagine some person, a non-Christian, watching the game, and purely out of curiosity, finding these words…

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.

It is possible that this verse may be the first or only words of the Bible that person has ever read. Wouldn’t that be appropriate! This verse contains the culmination of God’s plan for this entire world. God loves us, so, after we ran away from Him in the Garden of Eden, God reached out first to an individual named Abraham, and God loved him. Then, God reached out to a nation named Israel, and God loved those people. And, finally, God reached out to the entire world through Jesus, and He loved us.

We’ve been talking about “A Love that Reaches” since the New Year began here at Glenwood. “A Love that Reaches” is one of the core values of this church. It is one of our greatest desires to extend the love that was given to us, through God’s acceptance of us in spite of our sin, through this family’s acceptance of us in spite of our shortcomings, it is one of our greatest desires to extend that love as far as we can possibly extend it. But how?

I’ve spent the last three weeks providing a foundation for today’s sermon. I’ve said basically two things. First, I’ve said, “This is how God’s love works…” God reached his love toward an individual, Abraham. Then, God extended the reach of His love to a nation, Israel. Finally, with Jesus, God extended the reach of His love to the entire world. Second, I’ve said, as those made in God’s image, we also should love as God has loved.

But today, I want us to answer the more practical question: How? I had a conversation with a friend this week that is probably a lot like you. He said, I agree we need to love the world; I agree we need to be more intentional in our conversations and interaction with non-Christians. But, he said, to be honest, I’m not sure I know any. Studies show that the longer you are a Christian, the fewer non-Christians you will associate with. In our efforts to create a godly, Christian wholesome environment, we sometimes seal ourselves off from the rest of the world. So, we have Christian schools, Christian radio stations, Christian businesses, and Christian workout facilities. We take our cars to Christian mechanics. We go to Christian bookstores. We eat at restaurants owned by Christians. Listen, brothers and sisters, I’m not saying any of these things is bad. I am a parent of four young children. I understand the desire to place our families in nurturing and supportive and Christian environments. I support Christian businesses and institutions as well. But in our efforts to protect our families, in our efforts to keep our hearts pure, we cannot divorce ourselves from this world. Jesus sure didn’t…and neither should we. We must strive for balance.

So, back to my original question: How? I want to let you know about a couple of ideas the ministers came up with over the last few weeks and months. We came to this conclusion. We have a pretty supportive, loving family here, but we are not making an impact in Tyler with non-churched folks. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we will get the same results. So, how can we even make contact with non-Christians in this town? Most are certainly not going to walk in off the street into a church building. So, we have to find a way to make an impact with them outside these walls. One way we are trying to do that is through radio. This month, we began broadcasting 2-60 second spots on Classic Rock 96.1 FM. Every morning between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 am and every afternoon between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. we are engaging a part of Tyler we’ve not spoken to before. They do extremely detailed studies of listening audiences in radio. This is not an extremely “Christian” audience. The listeners are primarily male, between the ages of 25-54 and the female audience is growing. This is a widely popular station in East Texas, with over 41,000 listeners per week. The messages are not invitations to come to Glenwood. We are trying to engage many common struggles people in our world deal with (busyness, anxiety, money, relationships). Every day, they will hear a brief word on subjects like this from us. Perhaps over time, they will learn to trust us a bit, and maybe they’ll come closer for a better look. But even if they don’t, through these radio spots, we are extending the reach of God’s love. By the way, these radio spots are not cheap. A family at Glenwood heard about this possibility, and out of their generosity, they wrote us a check to cover the cost of this effort for one full year. We are part of a wonderful family!

We asked our children over the last few weeks to help us answer this question as well. Our kids colored these beautiful pictures (that were on the stage Sunday) of what reaching out to others means to them! Let our children serve as models for us in our efforts to participate in “A Love that Reaches.” Church, we want you to be as creative as our children. We want “A Love that Reaches” to become central to the culture of this family, and we want to give you a reminder and an aid in your efforts. We’ve prepared these small cards to give you this morning. Very simple: “A Love that Reaches”, a scriptural reference, our website address. We encourage you to use these cards as you extend God’s Love. You may want to go through the drive through and pay for the meal of the person behind you. When you do…hand this card to the cashier… “Will you give this to the person behind me?” You may want to anonymously clean up someone’s yard in your neighborhood…leave this card behind. You may want to leave a very generous tip at a restaurant to a person who works hard without much recognition…leave this card behind under your tip. You may stop to help a perfect stranger change his/her tire by the side of the road…hand them this card when you finish. You may want to sit down and visit with a person who is seemingly having a difficult time in a coffee shop…When you do, give them this card as you leave.

Some may say, “Why leave a card behind at all?” Listen, we live in a cynical world. We live in a world that is suspicious of God and of God’s people. Here is an effort to show the world that God’s people care about this world. Christians are not just people who say “no” to fun. Christians are not just people who speak out against social issues. Christians are people who love. Christians are people who care for people and go out of their ways to help. Hopefully, this card will remind them that God’s love reaches through God’s people, and if they need help finding God, here is place to go, here is a family who wants to help them. Our world is looking for love…let’s help them find it.

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