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.

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.
IMG_2883
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”.

Knitting Your Life

I was on an emotional “high” after the If:Gathering. I feel as though I fell off a cliff. Someone important in my life pushed me off when I wasn’t prepared. I have always been a “Miss fix-it.” Not that I am that good with power tools, although I am learning. No, I have always tried to fix other people’s’ problems. That sounds foolish. When I write it down I feel foolish, but it is the truth. I think I learned to be a person who fixes problems for the people I care about because my mother taught me. She was an amazing mother. She loved so deeply and cared about everyone. She modeled Christian discipleship so beautifully. She was human, though, and in hindsight I realize she tended to fix problems that were brought to her. If you couldn’t fix your problem yourself, you took it to my mother and she did her best to fix it for you. Some problems must be fixed or borne by the bearer. Some people in my life never learned to do this.

After my mother died her “responsibilities” were unconsciously divided up by the family. I become the “fixer.” I love to knit. It releases endorphins and makes me feel good to knit. I work out my problems on yarn. I untangle and rewind if the yarn has a tendency knot. I make center-pull balls to knit with. I learned to use a wooden spoon in place of a nostepinne and if you are a yarn person and want to know more just look it up on YouTube and you can make them also.

Some skeins make many tangles

Some skeins make many tangles

To work out the insensitive remarks that knocked me off the cliff I bought a skein of yarn and decided to take time for spiritual whitespace to knit. As I faced tangle after tangle my frustration grew and after cutting knots out of the yarn (something I never do, I patiently untangle) I recognized that I need to cut the thoughts of the hurtful remarks out of my life. This person has told me in the past that they cannot filter their words and simply say everything they think. I was instructed to let the hurtful words, “Go in one ear and out the other.”

The difficulty is that my thoughts are like a skein of yarn. I don’t have a setting for ignoring some of what someone says to me. I don’t know what statements reflect their real intentions and when they are just venting. I feel like I am trying to knit with a lot of loose ends. How do I weave this person into my life if I must keep cutting out the statements that cut me deeply? I am dealing with an important person who is hurting. They are begging me to fix problems for them. They are desperate for help,but other than to demand that I drop everything to help them, they don’t know what to do. My suggestions of ways to work on the problems themselves falls on deaf ears. How do you stop acting like the “fixer” when adults are trained to come to you with all their challenges?

In a recent post Amber Haines wrote for (in)Courage about being in her words a “burden bearer.” This resonated deeply for me. This morning fighting with my skein of yarn, with time I do not have to spare, I recognized this in myself. Life really is like yarn. We do not know exactly what the finished project will look like at the end, but we usually have a pattern and an idea. We can change our mind, unknit, unravel, and alter our fiber, but the fun is in the journey. We are creating a one-of-a-kind piece of art. We need Gods’ help to do our best and we never quit learning, but the feel of the fiber through our fingers both soothes and invigorates. We are incomplete, but beautiful. We are knitting with our lives, His handiwork. God is the spinner who put just the right amount of twist in our yarn to create what He wants from us. No one has the same tension, we don’t even use the same technique,but all of us are works of art spun by His loving hand.

I cannot knit anther persons’ life for them. I can sometimes help them unravel, but usually an extra pair of hands is in the way. I need to learn to get my hand off others yarn and work on my own. I am in a period of winding an uncooperative skein into a useful ball of yarn. If I continually drop my own nostepinne and try to unravel others’ work none of us will make progress. Wind, Amy, just wind your own yarn!