FamilyLife Today® Podcast

For God So Loved the World: Insights into John 3:16

with Barbara Rainey | December 1, 2008
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Join us as Barbara Rainey delves into God's Word and reveals what's really at the core of John 3:16.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Join us as Barbara Rainey delves into God's Word and reveals what's really at the core of John 3:16.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Join us as Barbara Rainey delves into God’s Word and reveals what’s really at the core of John 3:16.

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For God So Loved the World: Insights into John 3:16

With Barbara Rainey
December 01, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

[Christmas music]

Bob: It may be the best-known verse in all of the Bible.

Barbara: We don't typically think of that verse, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" – we don't usually think of that verse when we think of Christmas.  We think of Luke 2, we think of the shepherds, but we don't typically think of that verse in relation to Christmas.  It has all of the elements of the Christmas story contained in that one verse.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Before you spend too much time this week thinking about who is on your gift-giving list, spend some time thinking about the gift that God has already given you.

[musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Dennis?

Dennis: Bob, when is the last really A+ date you took Mary Ann on?  Just – you know, a real A+ date, where you knew you'd really hit a homerun, you spoke her love language, you know, you just kind of took her out, and it was kind of sweet?

Bob: I would say, yeah, it was – back when we were dating …


You know, as you bring it up, it's pretty sad.

Dennis: If you are any of the Lepine children, would you please call in at this moment and help Bob remember, because you undoubtedly have seen your parents scoot out the back door for a date.

Bob: You know, it's been …

Dennis: Has it been a while?

Bob: It's been a looooong – I was going to say year, but it's been a long – longer than a year.


Dennis: Well, you may be making this into a little bit bigger than maybe I was thinking about, but I took Barbara on a fun creative date, and I knew this was going to be a homerun, I mean, I just – I knew she was going to like this …

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: … there was no risk in this.  It was something I knew she was going to love to do, but I did a great job of keeping it a secret.

Bob: If you do say so yourself.

Dennis: Well, it was, you know?

Barbara: He did, I have to agree.

Dennis: You just know when you've got it, you know?  You know when you've got it.  So I picked her up, I took her a back way, and she knew when we went this back way, because it's out in the country where this gentleman lives who is one of Barbara's favorite artists.

Bob: Really?

Dennis: Oh, yeah, and I'd lined it up where he was freshly back from a trip to Idaho, where he had been painting aspen.  We spent the next hour hearing stories about how he had painted all these pictures.

Bob: A little private audience with a …

Barbara: Yeah.

Bob: … with an artist in his studio?   That's pretty cool.

Barbara: Yeah, a great artist.  It really was, because once we turned on the road, and he started looking a certain direction, I went, "Oh, I wonder if we're going to Barry's house?"  Because I had taken a workshop from him last winter, and so I knew where his studio was and, sure enough, we turned in there.

His name is Barry Thomas, and he is a Little Rock artist, but he is known all over the country and even internationally some.  And I had taken a workshop from him back in the winter, and it was a really highlight for me.  So just the thought of getting to go by ourselves and look at some of his new paintings was really fun.

Dennis: And I have to say it was fun to listen to two artists, because Barbara is a watercolor artist …

Bob: Right.

Dennis: … and it was interesting to listen to the two of them talk about beauty.

Bob: Could you follow the conversation at all?

Dennis: Thank you, Bob, I could.


I've been married to my bride now since '72, so I've picked up a few things along the way.

Barbara: He has, he has.

Bob: And she has helped define beauty for you, right?

Dennis: The treatment of light, and just to listen to them and, I mean, they're going back and forth, and you could just see – I mean, I knew it was a great date, Bob.  It was a point!  Worth one point right there!

But here's the thing – I've seen this sparkle in Barbara's eyes come alive in the past couple of years as she's been working on a project that is about to become a reality here at Christmas.

Bob: How much time do you get to spend in an average week with your easel and your watercolors and doing what you love to do?

Barbara: Not enough.


Dennis: I knew that was the answer, too.

Barbara: No, I really don't.  It was interesting, after we came home, I just kept thinking about all these paintings we'd looked at, and think, "Oh, I've got to do this again, I've just got to do this again."  But, no, I don't get to do it near often enough.

Bob: Do you spend two or three hours a week?

Barbara: No.

Bob: Not that often?

Barbara: I tend to do it more in spurts.  If I have a project that I'm working on, or something that I need to get done and, frankly, what we're talking about today, this book was one of them.  I spent many hours when I was working on this, because I had a deadline, and I had something that needed to be done, and I stayed after it.

But since the project is finished and off to the printer, I haven't touched it.

Bob: In fact, it's back from the printer, and it's magnificent.  It really looks terrific.

Dennis: I'm glad you said that, Bob, that saves me from saying it and having all the listeners go, "Oh, he's just looking for another point."

Bob: No, this really is, it's a beautiful book, and explain to our listeners what's at the heart of the book – it's called "When Christmas Came," right?

Barbara: It is.  The heart of the book is the verse, John 3:16.  John 3:16 is a verse we typically see printed on a poster board in center field at a baseball game or perhaps at a football game.  People hold that verse up as a way of giving testimony when, in truth, many people may not know even what it is.

But we don't typically think of that verse, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  We don't usually think of that verse when we think of Christmas.  We think of Luke 2, we think of the shepherds, we think of verses that talk about Bethlehem, but we don't typically think of that verse in relation to Christmas.

But I started thinking about how it has all of the elements of the Christmas story contained in that one verse.  And so what I did is I took that verse and took each phrase of that verse and wrote some meditations on it, and then painted some of the images that are contained in those individual phrases, and tied it all together around the story of Christmas.

Dennis: Yeah, in fact, let me just read one of these meditations.  This is the first one – "Christmas is all about God.  It was His stunning idea.  In the beginning before time began, no one had seen the Father, the all-seeing one, the three-in-one, the Almighty, the alpha and the omega who sees and hears and knows all yet loves His children.

With God, nothing is impossible – a virgin birth, God of the universe in infant form, a perfect life – nothing is too difficult for God."

Bob: Now, did this come just from personal meditation on John 3:16?  Was it just spending time kind of turning that verse and looking at it from all its different facets?

Barbara: Well, yes and no.  It's not the kind of thing where I sat down and looked at it one day and meditated on it and thought, "I wonder what I can find in there?"  It really is a process of having done a lot of Bible study through the years and realizing that there is so much more wrapped up in each of those phrases than what we think.

Dennis: Yeah, and as I watched Barbara do the watercolors for each of these and meditate on John 3:16 and begin to really think about bringing Christmas alive in fresh ways, I began to be captured by her imagination, because as she was writing these things, she was forcing me to think, as you talk about God's love, that it's really more than we kind of compartmentalize it in just a simple word called "love."

It has to do with His kindness, His compassion, His attitude toward us, and, really, that's what she's done as she's put this together both in art form and in her meditations that she has written.  She brings it alive with words that force us to think about Christmas in a totally different way.

Bob: You know, it's interesting – all Scripture is inspired and profitable, we know that, but there are certain verses, or passages, that have stood out; that have become prominent, over time.  You think of Psalm 23 – out of all of the Psalms here is one that people who don't even know Jesus know Psalm 23.  And John 3:16 is one of those verses, maybe one of the most prominent addresses in the Bible – why do you think that is?  Why this verse popping out, out of hundreds, thousands, of verses in the Bible?

Barbara: You know, I'm not sure I have an answer for that, but I think it's interesting that as well-known as the verse is, that we don't associate it with Christmas.  And yet it talks about God giving a gift, and it talks about why He did that, and it was because of His love.

And so, basically, what I did is wrote an amplification of each of those key elements, an amplification of what His love means, an amplification of what the essence of the world is in that verse.  And I borrowed phrases from other places in Scripture because there are certain phrases – like one of my very, very favorite phrases in Scripture comes out of Hebrews, and it's the phrase "Once for all."  Jesus paid the penalty for us "once for all."  And so I took phrases like that, and that phrase is in one of these sections, because they're such powerful, potent phrases, and we tend to read over them quickly as a part of the verse that they're in, but if you focus on the phrase by itself, perhaps in another context, you might understand it better or appreciate it in a way that you might not have just reading it in the context that we're used to seeing it in.

Bob: I heard someone describe the whole process of meditation one time, kind of like looking at a gemstone.  As you turn the stone and see its different cuts and facets; different parts of light shine through differently.  They said meditating on a verse or a passage is like taking it and turning it and looking at it from all different perspectives.  That's, in essence, what you did with John 3:16 over a period of several months, right?

Barbara: Yeah, it was just pulling it together and looking at that verse from a different angle, and, you know, there's an old hymn that says, "I love to tell the story, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love."

[musical transition]

And I realized that, as believers, one of the things God wants us to do is always be telling the story but always telling the Gospel story in new and different, fresh, creative ways that might speak to someone in a way that the story they previously heard didn't speak to them.

So it was fun to do this; it was exciting to do this – to take a verse that's not usually associated with Christmas and yet contains the heart of the Gospel and to sort of retell it, or amplify it, so that perhaps someone who might know John 3:16 really well might see it in a new light and might understand the Gospel in a way that they hadn't understood before.

Bob: And someone who doesn't know John 3:16 very well can see the Gospel in how you've amplified it here.

Dennis: Yeah, in fact, one of the things I think is going to happen is I think a lot of folks are going to get this book not merely for themselves, but they're going to purchase extra books for their neighbors or for an associate at work or for a family member who maybe they're wanting to reach out to spiritually, and just as we've seen people use our resource, Resurrection Eggs or Barbara's other book she created, "Thanksgiving, a Time to Remember."  They've used these books, which are art pieces in and of themselves or in the case of Resurrection Eggs, it just tells a simple story, and I think this book does both. 

It both tells a simple story of the Gospel, but it does it in a fresh, compelling visual way that is pleasant.  And I think if you took this next door to a neighbor, they're going to go, "Wow, thank you," because it's really, as you said, magnificent.  It's a masterpiece done around John 3:16, which is, frankly, one of the great masterpieces in all of Scripture – not that any passage of Scripture is better than another, but it just seems like nothing really gives us the essence of what God is doing on the planet more than that verse.

Bob: Barbara, a number of the watercolors that you painted are incorporated into this book.  How many different paintings or illustrations did you do that wound up being worked into the whole text of this book, do you know?

Barbara: I'll have to count – shall I count?  There were some throwaways, however, if that's sort of what you're getting at, because it was a good exercise for me to decide that I wanted to do a heart, for instance, to represent God's love.  Well, that's pretty ordinary, and that's pretty commonly understood – that hearts represent God's love, but how could I do a heart so that it was unique and not just a plain red heart?  Because a plain red heart also makes us think of Valentine's.

Bob: Right.

Barbara: So I had to really kind of stretch my brain and my vision to come up with some creative ways to draw a heart that didn't look like Valentine's but still communicated the love of God.

Bob: What you came up with for the heart kind of combines a heart and a snowflake – at least in one spot in the book, right?

Barbara: Mm-hm.  And one of them is a red heart with some snowflakes.  Another one is much more intricate, and it has some – I tried to capture some biblical themes in one of these hearts so that it wasn't just a plain, solid red heart.  So it has a red cord that made me think of Rahab's scarlet cord that she let out, and that theme of the red thread is woven through Scripture, and there's a star and a stalk of wheat. 

And, anyway, some other things that I wanted to try to represent – biblical themes – there are some Christmas lights, and Jesus is the light of the world.  So I tried to incorporate some things in one of these designs that would …

Dennis: It's my favorite.

Barbara: … speak more than just a plain heart.

Bob: That's a flower petal.  I was thinking it was a bird.  I thought that was a partridge in a pear tree right there at the …

Dennis: Bob, you can't speak in demeaning terms …

Bob: I tried to be demeaning …

Dennis: … to an artist about what she's created.

Barbara: Well, he's looking at it from a distance.  He should look at it up closer.

Bob: See, it looked like two turtle doves or something right there at the top of the heart.

Dennis: A turtle dove?  Bob!

Barbara: Okay, so you look at it straight on now …

Bob: Oh, yeah, okay, that's goes away.

Dennis: Bob, you need to go to a couple of art galleries, Bob.  You need some help.

Bob: You know, it's interesting, because this past year Max Lucado wrote a whole book called "3:16" that was all about John 3:16, and it sold a lot of copies.  There is something that resonates in the heart of people when they read that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Barbara: Yeah, it's the essence of why we give.  Christmas sometimes can feel very depressing to people because we feel obligated, and we feel under so much stress to come up with gifts for people and to give, and yet we forget that the whole motivation for giving in the first place is love and that God is the first one who gave, and He is the one who taught us to give, He is the one who initiated giving at Christmas.  And we forget that sometimes, and so I'm hoping that this will remind people that giving is biblical, and giving is what Christmas really is all about, and it's a good thing to give at Christmas.

Dennis: And to do it around what Christmas is about.  I mean, to give someone a book that points them back to the gift that was given on their behalf so that they should not perish.  You know, even listening – you recite the verse, Bob, I mean, it really is one of the most powerful promises in all of Scripture.  Think about it – what could be any more important than where a person is going to spend eternity, and that really is what Christmas is all about.

Barbara: Is all about, mm-hm.

Dennis: Because without God dwelling among us in the person of Jesus Christ, our destiny was sealed, we had no hope.  To those who don't know Christ, they had no assurance of heaven.  And that's what you've written about here and how you point people back to that gift.

Barbara: And what I really hope is that people will see this as something that they can give to people that they would like to reach out to.  I mean, one of the great dilemmas for mothers every year is we've got teachers we have to give to, we have neighbors we want to give to, we have people in our Bible study or our Bible study leader, we might want to give something to the pastor and his family, we may be helping our husband think of a gift for co-workers, or we may have our own co-workers that we want to give a gift to, or clients, or – it just goes on and on and on, and every year, especially women, feel this dilemma of what are we going to get for this group of people or that group of people.

And so we're really hoping that this book will provide a solution for many of those people groups that so many of us want to give something meaningful to every year at Christmas.

Bob: Is this globe, this picture of the world, some of your artwork as well?

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: We've talked many times on FamilyLife Today about how special days, holidays, whether it's Thanksgiving or Easter or Christmas, gives each one of us an opportunity to express our faith in a way that's culturally acceptable and appropriate, and people are open – they don't take a gift like this and go, "Oh, you're just trying to proselytize."

Dennis: This is a safe gift, this is a safe gift.  I think God – one of the reasons why God has given us holidays is to build a sense of tradition into our families that we celebrate, and we go back and revisit, and also gives us a place that's safe in the culture to be able to connect with people around some of the great messages of the Bible – Easter is a great time to talk about Christ; Thanksgiving is one of the great biblical themes in all of Scripture; and now Christmas – talk about gift-giving – how can you talk about gift-giving if you don't talk about gift with a capital "G." 

The Gift who became flesh and Who lived out a perfect life and Who taught us how to live and, you know, I would just encourage people in your neighborhoods and at work and with your family – be a light.  You know, point people back – and I hate to be trite here – but point people back to the reason for the season.  Christ came for a purpose – to redeem those people, and I think we need to make that known.

Bob: Our team here at FamilyLife thought there might be a lot of our listeners who would want to do exactly what you talked about, Barbara, and that is to get multiple copies of your book and give it out as a gift to friends or relatives, co-workers, neighbors, whoever.

So they have put together bundles of these books so that people can buy them at a discounted price in quantity and give them as gifts.  You can go to our website, which is for more information about how you can get multiple copies of Barbara's book, "When Christmas Came."  Again, the website is, and when you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen, you'll see a button that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," it will take you right to an area of the site where there is more information about how to get copies of Barbara's book.

Again, the website is  You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team can let you know how you can have copies of the book sent to you.  Let me also encourage you – if your family does not already have the interactive Nativity Scene that we've created called "What God Wants for Christmas," when you go online or when you contact us, find out how you can get a copy of that as well.  This is a great tool for helping children understand the Gospel message at Christmastime.

Again, it's called "What God Wants for Christmas," and there is information about this interactive Nativity Scene on our website at or when you call 1-800-FLTODAY.

Now, I need to let you know about some exciting news that we've just received here at FamilyLife.  We have some friends of the ministry who have come together this year, and they have said that they would like to make a matching gift available to FamilyLife Today supporters so that between now and the end of the month any donation that we receive would be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $425,000.  Now, we really appreciate their generosity, particularly in the challenging economic climate we've all been living in over the last several months, and we recognize that, for many of our listeners, making any kind of a donation to FamilyLife Today may be a challenge here at year-end.

But we do want to come to you this year and ask you if you can do anything to help us with a year-end contribution, please know that it is needed, and your generosity will be greatly appreciated.  For a lot ministries, ours included, this has been a particularly challenging year, and I know for many of you it's been a challenging year as well.

We're just hoping here at year-end, those of you who are able to help with a donation will do what you can and, again, whatever donation you are able to make, just know that the donation is going to be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $425,000, and we really hope we can take full advantage of that matching gift.  If we're going to be able to do that, we need to hear from you.

So – go online at or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY – make a generous donation, if you are able to, to help support the ministry of FamilyLife so that we can continue on this station and on other stations into the new year, and let me just say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do – we really do appreciate your generosity and your support of this ministry.

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about John 3:16 and the great gift that God gave us at Christmas.  Barbara Rainey is going to be back with us; hope you can be with us tomorrow as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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