A Nicodemus Moment

Nicodemus was a Jewish leader, teacher and member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He came to meet Jesus under cover of darkness. The life-altering and life-affirming conversation that followed has changed the rest of human history. Nicodemus wanted to know how one could be saved. When Jesus told him that we must be born from above, Nicodemus replied with words that really hit a nerve for me.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4

In a Bible study that I led on John’s Gospel many years ago we talked of how very human Nicodemus’ response was. Most of us under the same circumstances would ask or at least wonder a similar question. For those of us who have already buried our Mother it rings even more powerfully. How can we be born a second time?

Jesus was teaching a new thing. John the Baptist was baptizing with water alone for repentance.  Jesus was beginning to introduce the Holy Spirit.  The rebirth that Jesus was ushering in is different in character from what had existed before.

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. ’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5b-6

By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made new. The water with the Spirit becomes a force that offers eternal life. The water and Spirit washes clean souls. It is miraculous. Baptism is beyond the ordinary even though it uses something as ordinary as
water.

church-window-1016443_960_720I often respond to challenges by planning my response. I create a plan. I strategize. I prioritize. I make back-up plans and worry. Nothing I do will guarantee success. When I first rely upon my own problem-solving ability I deny God the chance to guide me from the start. Only through the assistance of the Holy Spirit is real success to be expected. On far too many occasions I have resorted to prayer at the end of a planning session to ask God to bless my efforts. It galls me to admit how arrogantly I have acted.

What I do or plan is not what is important. I am not the one in control. God doesn’t exist to do what I want or to bless my endeavors.

When I try to be the source of all the answers I begin to play God. Only when I step back and allow God to exercise His rightful authority do I make room for His plans to take shape in my life.

Nicodemus recognized the problem of death. His practical question was for each one of us. Jesus told him that the Spirit is the answer. The ideas borne of the flesh are of finite value. The solutions born by the power of the Spirit lead to eternal life.

As I confessed to my Bible study friends I have had many a “Nicodemus moment.” Ever after when I find myself looking for human solutions to spiritual problems I call the problem what it is, a “Nicodemus moment.” That helps me to course-correct and make room for the Holy Spirit to have a place in the solution. I pray first and plan second. It is astounding what keeping things in the proper order will do.

This post is one for the If:Gathering study on the Nicene Creed. As we reflect on what it means when we say that we believe in,”One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Nicodemus teaches us some of what that means. We must move out-of-the-way and let God accomplish our salvation because under our own power we cannot hope to win our salvation.

How to find Truth

Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary
and became man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,*
 with the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified, He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*In the original creed agreed to in 325 A. D in Nicaea it merely stated that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. The “and the Son” was added by the western churches to help combat a heresy that was prevalent at the time. The inclusion of the phrase, “and the Son” in the west is used today to refer to the fact that God is One God, triune consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the eastern churches the addition is seen to upset the nature of “procession” and is unacceptable. The following is not an article on the “filoque controversy” as it is known. For more information on the conflict please see a more informed source. I am merely noting the discrepancy so that whichever tradition you follow you will know that I cited my version here and made note of the conflict out of respect to both opinions.

imageIn the If:Gathering online Bible Study the theme for today is, I believe the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us. Our culture defines truth as relative. For those who cannot define truth it becomes impossible to know if you are living in the truth. As Christians we recognize the need for a higher truth, a definitive Truth that can withstand the effect of societies’ redefining values over time. The search for truth can occupy a lifetime. In the Nicene Creed we say, in effect, that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us.

How do we know if we belong to God? How can we know if we are His children? In Romans 8:14-17 we are told that’ “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” The way that we can find peace in knowing that we are loved by God is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to Truth. In John 16: 13 Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would reveal the truth to them.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever He hears, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

When we study and read the Bible we are reading the Word of God. However, if we read without asking the Holy Spirit to guide us we are vulnerable to mistaken understanding. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand the Truth. Even the devil quoted scripture to Jesus during the 40 day of temptation in the desert. Simply learning the worlds without the Holy Spirit will not suffice. But to all who call upon the Holy Spirit to help them the words are living and active the Truth that we crave. We have not been left to uncertainty and continued doubt. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us as ‘orphans”, but left us the Holy Spirit to live with us, in us and guide us.
We pray…
Holy Spirit come and enliven our minds and guide our hearts. Help us to learn from your Word. Lead us in our thoughts, conversations with others, prayers and concerns. Help us to have the courage to turn all of our lives over to you. Make us vessels that you can use. In Jesus Holy Name we pray to The Father of Glory and Might through the Power of the Holy Spirit, One God through the Ages. Amen.

Do you know what Love is?

Love is such a popular word. People light up when hearing it spoken. Some people get flustered, defensive, or curmudgeonly when love is discussed. Few words illicit such powerful, emotional responses. Being newly engaged I am made aware of how the awareness of love affects even total strangers.

As I struggle across the room in the blinding throb of a series of monster migraines, I stop to smooth the skirt of my wedding gown. It is newly acquired and hanging in my study so I can admire its beauty. Besides, who has closet space for a wedding gown! The glimpse of tulle and lace lighten my heart and I am transported from a state of pain to happy thoughts of the future when I get to marry my Beloved! Thoughts of the wedding lift my spirit because love breaks through the ugly of today.
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Our world is ugly. Countless souls are slugging through today just trying to endure the pain. There is too much brokenness all around. Love shines like a shaft of warm sunlight through a cold-winter night. It cuts through the hurt, pain, doubt, and best of all death!

We can deny or misunderstand the meaning of what love actually is. It is almost easier to define what love is not than what it is. St. Paul eloquently defined love in 1 Corinthians 13. But even if we confuse love for a feeling, the feeling love gives us is an effect not a cause. We cannot confuse the two. What Jesus Christ did for us on the cross is the greatest example of love that anyone can imagine.

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant of rude. Love does not insist on its own way…rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

When I am hit by a long series of migraines, I drift further behind each day that I am sick. The pressure that I feel inside my spirit is second only to the pressure in my head. Rest comes when I surrender to Love. I don’t need to do more, have more, or be more ____ to find rest for my soul! What I actually need is less. I need to surrender not only control of my life to Jesus, but I need also to release management of my schedule to Jesus! His mission reveals the true nature of love. There is no “earning” in love. Jesus redefined what it means to be a successful human being in the cross. He, God, poured Himself out to become one of us! He fully embraced us. He freely accepted all the lies and suffering so that by letting go of Himself, He might save us.

Jesus, who was God and could not by nature stay dead, died so that He could reach past the great abyss that existed between man and God. He saved us. We did nothing but spit in His face and nail Him to the cross. He arose Easter Sunday that we might have everlasting life. For perfectionists like me it is a terrible reality to face, but we can never be enough, complete enough, people pleasing enough, God-pleasing enough. But Jesus said, “Enough…It is finished.”

What does Christ’s mission reveal about God’s love for us?

The truths packed into this little line of the Nicene Creed are strong enough to pull us through pain, misfortune, loss and make us happy enough to, “dance at our wedding.” How can I write a blog post and comment on the greatness of Christ’s mission revealing God’s love for us during a week-long series of severe migraines? Grace. What is the central theme of His mission? Self-sacrificing love. Real love. It is the kind of love my fiancé demonstrated last evening when he looked deeply into my slit-eyes, migraine-cooling-patch covered forehead and told me I was beautiful. Love. Thanks to Jesus we know what it is. It is an action verb full of might and gentle as a whisper. Love is not a feeling-but it creates a glorious feeling to those who surrender themselves to receive it.

This post is shared with If:Gathering in the wonderful ongoing study of the Nicene Creed. No prior knowledge is required. A heart that is open is the door to truth. Join the Gathering at If:Equip.com and find this post under “Jesus Came to Bring Salvation to Us”.