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.

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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”.

Good Fathers

baby-203048__340What is a father? The variety of answers that this question elicits are almost unlimited. The possible replies are limited only by the number of human fathers that have existed. The description may incite joy or fear, hope or despair depending upon your personal experience. I have been blessed to have been raised by a loving human father. My concept of a father is one of unconditional love. This has made my relationship with our Heavenly Father easy to learn.

Despite this there are pronounced differences between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, and I recognized many of them early. My earthly father could build anything, but he could not make other people do what he asked. My Heavenly Father could make people do what He wanted but chose to let us have free will.
Good fathers sometimes allow children to experience difficult things if it is needed to help them grow. Fathers who bail their kids out of every problem and buy their kids every gadget raise kids who have no ability to care for themselves. They become selfish, needy adults who take rather than give.

france-85871_960_720My Heavenly Father has been teaching me about humility and trust quite a bit lately. If God did what I wanted He would simply heal me. But, God knows far more than I do, and He clearly believes that I need to learn to submit to His will sometimes without fretting. I am reasonably good at giving my worries to God. I have a great deal of difficulty in letting go of the problems that I have given to God. I continue to fret and worry. Wisely, God my Heavenly Father is putting me through a training course on humility and submission. The world calls this course chronic illness; God calls it teaching His child.

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I faint, and nearly faint. The nearly comes from the fact that after many years I figured out that it is much less embarrassing to put your head between your knees in public than it is to fall on the floor unconscious. After a good blood test at the doctor, who is treating my anemia, I nearly fainted while standing in line to make my follow-up appointment. This could be the definitive description of embarrassing. They had to move another patient out of a treatment room to get me into a room with a recliner so that I could lie down with my feet up to recover. That is only a piece of the inconvenience that I inadvertently caused. All of the ordeal was only to find out that my anemia is still under control! I told my fiancé that it felt humiliating. He wisely told me it was a gift.
God, my Heavenly Father, is teaching me humility. That is what my fiancé pointed out. Humility comes from the same root as humiliating.

All too often we ask why God allows suffering and difficulty in the world if He is good. The question assumes that we know what the good is.

Often we know good, sometime we miss the point. Some hardship exists to teach us how to grow up into the kind of people we are made to be. We are made in the image of God. That fact usually causes us to expect greatness and power, but Jesus is God’s Son and true God. What we are trying to grow up into is Christ-like. Our Father knows that we will never become who we were made to be as long as we call good only the things that feel good to us.

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Good fathers don’t give us whatever we ask for. They do not solve all our problems, nor do they remove all our challenges. They would if it actually made our lives better. They would lay down their own lives for us if it would really help us.

The truth is they sometimes are required to love us through the hard places. Good fathers want us to learn and grow. Helping us grow means that they may walk through a fear or embarrassment with us rather than for us.

Our God is a Good Father. We see the evidence in all the blessings we so easily call good. If we look carefully we can also see the traces in the gifts that don’t look good at first. Then we may trace the trail of Jesus’ suffering through the tears or feel the Holy Spirit’s groans that are too deep for words and then the Father’s seeming inaction may make sense–good sense.

 

This post is a reflection on God as our Heavenly Father from the Nicene Creed. It is linked to If:Gathering app and the study on the Nicene Creed.