John 3:14 Christianity

A life of faith is truly lived when we refuse the glass bottom bridges and look right into the face of what terrifies us most – we are not in control of our lives and our world; we aren’t strong enough or smart enough or faithful enough to fix it all. But even when the storms of life are raging, God invites us to boldly step out and walk upon the water.

God invites to look over the edge, without a net, and learn to trust in the Lord. Look upon the cross of Christ, look right into that sign of all our fears and failures, and live! 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.

John 3:14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“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. 17“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.18Those 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. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.21But 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.”

 

As we get older, something happens that enables our brains to start saying “Hey, jumping off this roof into the pool is a REALLY stupid idea.” The younger we are, the more invincible we usually feel. In college, I helped lead a week long mountain biking camp in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. It was me, the guy in charge who knew what he was doing, and 4 junior high boys – out on the trails, up and down the mountain side, 8 hours a day, for a whole week. I can assure you, I had a much healthier fear of injury than any of the junior high boys.

The climax of the week came when I followed the group down a 1 foot wide trail that dumped us out onto the paved road. The last 10 feet was about as steep a hill as I’d ever been on and the trail made an ever so slight turn to the right as it met the ditch on the side of the road. One by one our leader went down, then each of the 4 boys. I brought up the rear to ensure no one got hurt. I took my turn, riding the back break the whole time, down the last 10 feet, to the small jog to right where the trail met the roadside ditch. And somehow I didn’t make the right.

I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but as I reached the height of my jump, staring straight ahead into the blue sky above, no longer attached to my bike……. I remember thinking for just a split second – It’s OK. I had a good run. 20 years was a good life. For the record, I landed flat on my back, arms flailed out and not trying to break the fall, which was the best possible outcome. Nothing broke, and I was able to get right back on the bike and finish out the week. But that was a defining point in my life – after that moment,  I never again had trouble understanding why so many adults had such a healthy fear of doing stupid stuff.

In high school, I remember multiple rock climbing trips and rappelling walls. Rappelling is where you stand on the edge of a mountain or a tall tower, rope and harness attached, and let yourself fall backwards, often straight down, with just the rope in your hand to keep it from being a free fall. It was so awesome in high school. And my feet are tingling right now just talking about it. My father in law has had a healthy fear of heights at least since I’ve known him. In elevators with a glass wall, he always stares straight ahead at the metal doors. I used to tease him about it, but the older I get, the more I understand.

Gazing over the edge is a morbid curiosity for me now – I feel the fear inside, but can’t help wanting to look. The desire to look over the edge of the cliff, or the hotel railing, is at least exhilarating, and sometimes crosses the line into terrifying. There are countless tourist attractions that play on this tension inside of us. Glass bottom bridges at the Grand canyon. Observatories on the roof of the tallest buildings in the world. Amusement park rides. All giving the illusion that we are in immense danger, while also being some of the safest structures ever built. We are hard wired to love the excitement of being in danger, while at the same time making sure we are as safe as humanly possible.

We do the same kind of thing with the Christian faith all the time. Faced with the terrifying reality that there are problems in the world and that we cannot quickly solve them all, we make up simple moral codes, clear lines in the sand that act like a glass bottom bridge. We say things like Christians don’t drink, smoke, or cuss. We say being good means never doing all those things that all those other people do. We say just trust in the Lord and life is all sunshine and roses. Or we say what happens on the outside doesn’t matter – faith is just between me and Jesus.

We do just enough to feel like we’re making a difference, just enough to acknowledge that we feel like we’re not good enough, that we feel the need for something more in life. And as long as I’m trying to fix the little things – to be nicer, to stop getting angry, to never lie – as long as I try at these things and repent when I fail, that’s all that is asked of me. But when the problems seem too big, when we don’t have a simple solution or black and white moral requirement beforehand, we stay far away from the edge. What if I’m really not enough? What if pain or struggle or poverty or hunger can’t ever end? What’s the point of facing such huge questions if I may not ever get to an answer?

Rather than face our deepest fears or confront our limitations, we build glass bottom bridges. We get just close enough to the edge to feel like we’re making a difference, but we always keep our safety nets in place, we resist ever facing the dangerous conclusion that we might not know how to fix our lives or world. We offer simple moral guidelines and refuse to look too far beyond ourselves so that we never have to look over the edge, never stare into the reality that we don’t have all the answers and there are no quick fixes to all that’s wrong in the world.

One of my greatest personal fears is that I’m not good enough. I like to be able to fix problems and finish projects. I struggle a great deal when I can’t get my head all the way around the outcome before beginning. Marriage has been a wake-up call and a profound blessing. It has broken me of the lie that I can fix everything in an instant. Just one example – I have this habit of holding on to anything that goes wrong. I’ll beat myself up for it and work and press and try until I finally make things better. I used to think beating myself up means I care; I thought the greatest sign of love is the refusal to cut myself slack until everything is perfect. What I’ve discovered time and again is that I’m really just terrified to give up control.

The tighter I hold on to my mistakes the less I have to look at the reality that I have hurt someone I love. Refusing to let go until I have fixed the problem is my own kind of glass bottom bridge. I would get just close enough to confronting my fear that I’m not good enough that I feel like I’m making progress. But I would never leave open the possibility that I really am not perfect. I could not bear the fact that no matter how hard I try, from time to time I really will hurt even the people I love the most.

Recognizing my need for control has been one of the hardest and most profound blessings of our marriage. I don’t remember the first time it happened, but somewhere along the way I finally had a moment in which I let go of my need to control the outcome of a mistake I made. I usually beat myself up internally so much that I forced Sallie to forgive. But this time I apologized and let go of the outcome. That was the moment I felt what it is like to stare over the edge of the cliff, to face my deepest fear that I am not good enough – and to be caught and held all the more for it.

These are the moments, when there is no glass bridge to pretend like I’m still in control, but I simply look over the edge, look into the heart of my greatest fear that I’m not good enough, and I find Sallie waiting for me there; more than willing to forgive, even if it takes a little time; more than wanting to remind me that I am loved no matter how many times or how far I fall short. These are the moments when everything changes. What makes our marriage work is not that everything goes right. What makes it work is that we are always standing at the edge for each other, ready to catch each other when we fall.

It is terrifying to look over the edge without a net. It feels like all that I am and all that I have is on the line. But looking over the edge is the only way to open ourselves to love and relationship. Giving up control is the only way to know what it feels like to trust. And giving up control is exactly what we are invited to do each time we look upon the cross of Christ.

“just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life…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.”

Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness is an obscure reference to a scene from the exodus story. God’s people, recently freed from slavery, were complaining as usual. But this time, it seemed like God had enough of their complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among the people and each time someone was bit, they died. God’s people realized their mistake in complaining against Moses and against God and repented. So God told Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and put it on top of a pole. And when a serpent bit someone, they would look upon the serpent of bronze and live.

There isn’t nearly enough time to explore what we’re supposed to do with a strange story like this. Poisonous serpents sent by God? Looking at a bronze serpent provides healing? What? For now, I’ll simply say this – assuming the bible is a simple, clear, specific set of obvious, spiritual, moral instructions requires that we ignore a huge portion of what actually happens in the bible. The bible is not a pristine, clear cut justification for all that you already think and feel. The bible is way more than that. The bible is our invitation to let go of the white knuckle control we like to hold on our lives; and learn to trust in the Lord.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. The serpent in the wilderness was the very sign of the people’s failure. The serpents were a constant reminder that they had sinned and fallen short, time and time again. They were not good enough, strong enough, holy enough, trusting enough, and the consequences could not be more awful.  The cure was as strange as it was simple. Look upon the serpent and live. Stare right into the face of death, look upon the most terrifying reminder of their fear and failure…. and live. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whoever looks upon the cross may have eternal life. Whoever steps right up to the edge of the cliff and stares into the heart of our deepest fears and most shameful failures, receives new life.

The cross of Christ is God’s clear and unmistakable statement that a life of faith is not lived on glass bottom bridges. Faith and life are found when we are willing to come before God and one another, bearing our deepest wounds, admitting our worst mistakes, embracing that we will never be good enough to fix every problem on our own – and for that we are loved all the more.

I wish there was a formula I could offer – maybe a simple prayer to say that would guarantee that you experience the overwhelming power of trust in the Lord. But any formula or words I could offer would just be a glass bottom bridge. Christians are quite often some of the most risk averse people in the world. When life doesn’t fit inside the neat and tidy boxes we’ve drawn, we’re like the dad shaking his head at the stupid things his teenager did on a mountain bike. God invites us to stand at the edge; to give up our need to control the outcome…. to look upon the cross, and take the risk of trusting in the Lord.

A life of faith is truly lived when we refuse the glass bottom bridges and look right into the face of what terrifies us most – we are not in control of our lives and our world. We aren’t strong enough or smart enough or faithful enough to fix it all. But even when the storms of life are raging, God invites us to boldly step out and walk upon the water.

God invites to look over the edge, without a net, and learn to trust in the Lord. Look upon the cross of Christ, look right into that sign of all our fears and failures, and live! 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. In Him, everything will be alright. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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