From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' ---except by the Holy Spirit" 1 Corinthians 12:3b
"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined." Daniel 9:25-26 "...abomination causing desolation..." - the Most Difficult Chapter to Understand in the Bible.
"...in you, O Lord, I have taken refuge... let me never be put to shame...rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness...turn your ear to me and save me..." Psalm 71:1,2
"...and now I will show you the most excellent way..." 1 Corinthians 12:31
"...they got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff...but Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on His way..." Luke 4:28-30
Gracious, loving God, father of our Lord Jesus, we want to praise you and show our love for teaching us how to live. We'd ask that you'd give us the faith, and as well, the evidence of Jesus' authority and power over the darkness of this world, to make our lives shine like the brightness of the sun.
Forgive us our sins--- and our inability to show up for you...reveal your heart, that we know and feel your presence, and, in so doing, have deep inner peace within; and that being, so we may serve you with wholeness of heart and represent you by our daily witness as we sincerely reach out to others and serve them. In Jesus' name. Amen
Although I'm absolutely fascinated by the material in the fourth chapter of Luke's gospel for today, I'm going to focus in on Saint Paul's first letter to the folks at the church in Corinth. These are Greeks receiving instruction from a Turkish Jew. The letter was written in 55 A.D., only twenty-six years after Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Paul was addressing a group of people who had never known much about the traditions of the religion of Israel and they struggled with many of the same problems churches have today with new Christians who come into the organizational church and discover, once being saved, they have to make some significant personal moral changes in life, as well as to clean up the ways they normally treat other people in their daily lives.
A little background here. Saint Paul at one time was Rabbi Saul, a true "young lion" of Judaism, a Pharisee of the first order, and, indeed a radical enemy of Jesus Christ and the Christian Church.
Paul was a Jew without parallel in terms of his personal conduct and spiritual discipline. There was no one in Israel who could compare with Paul's intellect and total response to his religion. I would imagine he could hold up against any renowned person on earth at that time in an intellectual discussion about philosophy, religion, or morality.
However, his zeal caused him to hate early Christians and persecute them. He was present to witness the stoning of the very first martyr, Stephen, and rejoice in it. Acts 8:1 suggests, "And Saul was there, giving approval to his death."
When I think of a saying of Jesus that would apply to Rabbi Paul it'd be found in Matthew 6:23b: "...if then, the light within you is darkness, how profound is that darkness..."
We don't know how far Paul went in persecuting the Church, but we do know it was very shameful. Yet, God saw something in this vicious religious sinner that was worthy of redemption, something that was so essential for the survival of the Church and also for its propagation throughout the world.
(You see, there's never been any human being quite like Paul and his God-given abilities. No one person has ever written such important and essential Spiritual guidance as Paul. God needed this quintessential Jewish man to extend the Gospel throughout the world, even though He was "radically elsewhere" in his religious focus.)
On his way to persecute Christians in Damascus - "...breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples..." (Acts 9:1-6) - Paul was forced to the ground...mysteriously...forcefully...
"...Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'...I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting...Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do..."
We are reading here about Paul's conversion to the Christian faith...over twenty years later he would write his magnificent text on the way we can love others in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is preceded by the comment to his readers...[1 Corinthians 12:31b]
"...and now I will show you the excellent way..."
Paul begins with..."...if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I'm only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal..."
In other words, even having a multitude of personal gifts, we'd only be making a lot of noise having having nothing substantial to back it up without genuine loving concern and care. Somehow or other, this matter of "heart knowledge" in service to Christ in reaching out to others has been slipping through the cracks. How about---getting back to "heart knowledge" as we reach out to serve the Lord
Furthermore, Paul makes a great point in suggesting that we could do all sorts of "good works", that is, nice things for people, but if we do it without tender care and compassionate love, it is worthless. What a point! Doing charity without having an open, compassionate heart does no good according to Paul.
He goes on---a real expression of love is being patient. This is something to think about when we consider caring for ourselves and other folks we live with.
The other day I heard a woman behind me in the market, standing in line, shouting out, "Come on, for God's sake, I hate to wait!" In family matters, Mark Twain said, "...why have enemies, when you can have family..." A bit sarcastic, for sure, but we have a tendency at times, waiting for family members and others to make changes for the better, and we think it's all for naught, when, within a reasonable amount of time, they don't change. Please remember that God's timing is always perfect.
Come on, let's really come to terms with God's way of bringing about real and permanent change...
What's wrong with taking the Lord Jesus at His word? "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father...you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it..." (John 14:13,14)
Suggestion: practice patience with total assurance
As expressed in Paul's letter, this idea of loving the way Jesus did (and does) includes:
Often in our relationships with others (especially couples) one partner will keep score, that is, keeping the other person at bay in the knowledge they've goofed in the past and using that as ammunition for interpersonal battle.
It's not easy to protect others who have done us wrong. It's so tempting to "stick a knife" in another person, behind their back (figuratively), when you hold a grudge against them. It's hard to trust someone who's proved to be less than trustworthy. It's difficult to be hopeful, when the odds are against you. I've been there many times. When the failure of a marriage relationship seems imminent, the Holy Spirit would then encourage us to reflect on our own shortcomings and know that it's not easy, often seemingly impossible to carry on. Don't ever think you are the only person or couple who have experienced the potentiality a break-up. No matter how holy or perfect, all of us have been there. Trust me, you're not alone. Christ's love is there to sustain you.
You know, I could go on writing about this magnificent passage, but I want to be brief today. However, I want to share one more portion of this text with you.
It is so important.
It is life-changing in terms of being assured of doing the right thing and taking the "higher road" in all situations and circumstances of life.
It is the short -- 8th verse -- of the passage -- "...love never fails..." (Greek: "agape") .
Either this text is the absolute truth for you and me and every person who will receive it, or it is a lie and unworthy of our consideration.
Which will it be for you today --- the truth or a lie?
It may not be made complete within your sense of what should happen in time. Often God's way may seem inconvenient for you, even totally unlike the way you had planned, but the Lord comes through for us.
I can't tell you how happy I am to share this material with you.
Have a wonderful, satisfying day!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11-12
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
When I began to write this week's meditation, I dated it July 27, not January. I laughed when I spotted my error. I think most of us are really, really ready for Covid to be a thing of the past.
The prophet Jeremiah was speaking to a people in exile. His message that God wanted them to take root right where they were was not popular. The people wanted to go home. However, Jeremiah wanted them to know that God was still with them and still making plans for them. In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet tells them, "Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile."
Holy One, teach us your ways. We are ready to listen. We know that too often we want you to do things our way. However, in our hearts we also know that we humans can be quite shortsighted. Help us to keep our eyes on the horizon that is your love. Help us to keep going, trusting the path that you have set before us. Remind us, O God, to also help those who journey with us. May we never forget that we are all your children and we are in this life together.
In gratitude we pray, Amen
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"I didn't come to teach you---I came to love you--- love will teach you." (Anonymous)
"...they read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving meaning so that the people could understand what was being read..." (Nehemiah 8:8)
"...as it is, there are many parts, but one body... the eye cannot say to the hand--- 'I don't need you!' and the head cannot say to the feet--- 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable... and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor...and the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty..." (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)
"...then He rolled up the scroll... gave it back to the attendant and sat down... the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him and He began by saying to them... 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'..." (Luke 4:14-21)
Gracious Lord and Master,
As we turn to you in prayer today, at this very moment, we find ourselves, focusing directly upon you as we pray, in the here and now. What a delight! It is as though we were there when Jesus opened the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth. How magnificent it is to reside in your presence--- Yes, to dwell---allowing you to speak to us as we open our hearts to receive you in this direct line of communication. Lord, as we proceed through this day, and those following, allow our dialogue with you, and the world we live in, to be in communion, a form of natural, supernatural conversation. Allow us to hear you speak to us, direct us, guide us...so our lives may be pleasing to us...and that...sometimes seeming or feeling simple...we may become wise...and sanctified...
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Today we find ourselves in the fourth chapter of Luke's gospel. I can identify five different components found in this remarkable chapter. First of all, we have the "Temptation of Christ" down there next to the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. Second of all, Jesus is back up north in His hometown of Nazareth, over one hundred miles from the Jordan. He is in the synagogue at Nazareth and makes a remarkable declaration taken from the Prophet Isaiah, from seven hundred years prior. Third, Jesus' claim based on the Isaiah passage is rejected by his neighbors; He comments, "...no prophet is accepted in his hometown..." They literally drove Jesus out of town. Fourthly, in Capernaum, down the road, He drives out an evil spirit in a man, and finally, fifth, Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Simon Peter, and as well, a host of others. With this, the chapter ends...
He stood up to read. The scroll from the prophet Isaiah, the sixty-first chapter, verses one and two:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor...He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor..."
At this point Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue were upon Him. The comment made by Jesus [to me] seems riveting.
"Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
The implication was that Isaiah's prophesy from seven hundred years prior was being fulfilled through Jesus as He is about to begin His ministry in Galilee. What was predicted, or prophesized, hundreds of years before, would be fulfilled in the life and ministry of the One proclaiming---thus---as He read the Word.
The other is accompanying my dear Dad to the local railroad station in North La Crosse, Wisconsin, at the age of five years old, and having Dad put me on his shoulders to see and hear President Harry Truman speak to a small, shivering crowd gathered at the last car of his campaign train...
There was snow on the ground. It was freezing. The message was brief, as I remember, but the impact of seeing President Truman has stayed with me for over seventy years. What's my point?
Well, millions can share the experience of having watched President Kennedy and this famous speech on television. Yet, although it actually happened, it still seems rather distant, although impressive. Indeed, in the case of the Truman experience, it has always seemed impressive, but in addition, personal and unique, grounded in time and somehow much more real, associated with flesh and blood. Dad was one of those old-fashioned Republicans, and yet, later that year, he voted for Truman. His assurance was justified, as most historians would note.
So, too, is the experience of knowing about Jesus' personal appeal to the people He grew up with. And of course, there was going to be a negative reaction.
But... "....He walked right through the crowd and went on his way...." (Luke 4:30)
The scene in the synagogue always seemed idyllic to me...but really...it's momentous to consider that God presents Himself...that is...makes Himself known...fulfills His promises---yes---reveals Himself within the context of simple events in the course of our lives and times. He makes Himself known most powerfully when we can no longer shut Him out, but see Him within the context of the "nitty-gritty" of our lives.
He makes a real, powerful difference. Our lives are impacted by His divine and loving touch...within the common experiences of our lives. We don't forget this, because we are illuminated by the experience, just as I've kept the memory of seeing Truman on my Dad's shoulders. Yes, God makes Himself known to us within the everyday experiences of our lives. In our hometown. In the church we attend. Extraordinary extraordinary events---right under our noses. We are daily transformed by God's intervention in our lives... into the hardest of human hearts...
God makes Himself known. Jesus becomes real to us.
Often what is perceived as ordinary, just for the moment, becomes dynamic and extraordinary, beyond any vision we could possibly have.
The question is---Are we aware of it? Did I know when I was five years old, I'd still be remembering seeing President Harry Truman in person. Even if I would, is it possible I would eventually consider Truman exceptional, or among other presidents, great...and not just a person worthy of note. Jesus becomes large to us as we continue to think on Him and note His greatness in our midst.
Just to say---God is great. Jesus is love. Jesus will faithful, ever so carefully, causing things to happen to save us and draw us near to Him. Are we taking note? Are we aware?
Could we be, on the other hand, like the hometown people in Nazareth who could only see Jesus the way they "had" seen Him or perceived Him to be--- growing up. Are we---am I---guilty of marginalizing the legacy of the Christ? We need to be careful. The Lord Jesus was---and is great...
He is, indeed, worthy to be praised!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up in a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Peter 2:5 King James Version
I recently came across a reminder that we are all adventurous spirits. Of course we are, because we are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit knows no fear and no boundaries. I hope this is a constant message of all faith traditions: that we are enlivened by God to be unhindered in our ability to accept love and share that love with all.
Today, I leave you with a prayer from Father Richard Rohr
God, Lord of all creation, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality everything and everyone is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of all creation. We pray as Jesus prayed: that all may be one.
We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God,
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
A TOUCH OF HUMOR
The worship service was over. A guest brought his pet monkey into the Social Hall for coffee. He sits at the piano as the monkey dances nearby holding a cup for tips. The monkey goes up to a member having coffee, dances and holds the cup to receive a tip. The member turns away. The monkey sticks his tail in the man's cup. The man is astonished. He goes to the guest playing the piano. He says, "...do you know your monkey stuck his tail in my coffee?..." The guest replies, "No, I don't, but if you hum the tune, I'll catch on and be able to play it for you!"
"...you will be a crown of splendor in the Lord's hand...a royal diadem in the hand of your God..." (Isaiah 62:3)
"...your righteousness is like the mighty mountains... your justice like the great deep..." (Psalm 36:5-10)
Today we want to praise you for the ordinary things of life, which we often take for granted:
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Some years back now, in a remarkable conversation with a very special friend, Dr. Willy Anderson, former professor of Nuclear Physics at M.I.T., Stanford University, Ohio State University, and Lockheed Martin scientist, commented on his unresolved issues concerning the composition and nature of things in outer space. There, of course, are still many that are, to this day, a great mystery. Willy, now in retirement, is a great intellect, a delightful, generous person, one who enjoys good food and great social times, and a devoted evangelical Christian.
Upon one occasion he said that he couldn't wait to get to heaven, indeed, at the appointed time, so he could finally ask Jesus two questions.
"Well, Willy," I said, "what would be the first question?"
He replied, "I'd like to ask Jesus about the unresolved issues concerning the nature of 'dark holes' in space."
"Yes", I said, "...and what would be the second question?"
Willy replied, "I'd like to check with Jesus and ask Him if there was still any leftover wine from the wedding of Cana in Galilee."
I laughed. I just wasn't expecting to hear something like that. To me, the sign of a good sense of humor.
The wedding was in its third day. His mother, Mary, was present, and the disciples were invited, too. People were having one whale of a time, but then..."My Goodness!"... the wine ran out. Mother Mary was there to the rescue. She sensed Jesus could take care of the dire situation. Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.
Six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons, were filled to the brim and presented to the master of the banquet. His comment, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best until now."
For those of us who partake, we drink too much cheap wine, thinking that quantity will make up for quality. Jesus made sure that the best stuff was saved for last. He does the same thing in our lives.
I sometimes think of the "abundant life" in Christ as being like sipping an excellent glass of fine wine. Yes, I know, some folks would take offense to the suggestion because of how often people abuse the use of alcohol. It's great if handled properly, for those who choose to partake.
We can expect that Jesus will always save the best for last. It's just one way to explain the advantage of faith.
God Almighty, in His imaginative, glorious way, calls us from a "fallen world" into the magnificent "wedding feast" of His beloved Son---with each one of us---united with Him, in faith, bonded together through the work of the Holy Spirit.
In a larger way, the second basic step of faith, receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives, can be likened to partaking in the best wine made available at the wedding in Cana.
Saint Paul said a mouthful when he laid it on the line in 1 Corinthians 12:3b, "...no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit..."
One remembrance coming to mind is the painting of "Jesus Knocking on the Door" (that being, of our heart) that was on the church altar of our former church building in Wisconsin. This painting spoke to my heart.
dSometimes it gets bad...
Life for many people is "just life". Blah! Nothing is really going on there...day to day, week to week, month to month. We go to work. We pay the bills. Etc., etc., etc. There's a lot of television and not too much excitement or anticipation of good things to come. There's hardly time to "smell the roses" and treasure of the gift of our life.
Enter the Holy Spirit...there are a host of important things and there are essentials in this life...
The reason for God in our lives is to bring a sense of purpose and well-being. Know that life has a higher purpose than all these other lesser things---details regarding a purposeless life produce a blur in our mind. The reason for God is to bring meaning and focus into our lives:
It happens when we make a decision -- to die to things that remind us of unpleasant things — death, life without meaning, boredom, and seeming purposelessness. These cause us to fall into deep despair at times.
Make a personal choice.
Die to a lot of things in life that just do not provide joy and personal peace. Be raised up into newness of life through the Holy Spirit — already at work in each one of our hearts. All you need to do is open the package.
When the wedding feast of life has run its course--- and the wine has run out---and the party's about to abruptly end...that's when Jesus shows up to liven things up
What a great Gospel lesson in John we have to consider... we thought life was almost over for us...and now we know that life is just about to begin in an abundance it was meant to be---from the time we were conceived in the womb.
We tried it our way and things didn't work out for us. Now we will simply do it God's way, with reason to decide to live our life in Jesus, we experience joy and peace and have the assurance things are going to be just great!
"...all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and act according to His purpose..." ([Paul] Romans 8:28)
When it seems to look as if the wedding feast is about to end, Jesus intervenes and keeps things going (again) ---over and over again. The fine wine never runs out. Let Him liven up the feast of abundant life---yes, your reasonable and rightful life, your joy, your destiny---in Him.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Scripture: John 14:18-19
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Soon, the world will no longer see me, but will see me. Because I live, you will too."
It is important to listen to our thoughts. Many of them, like the one above, are helpful. Yet, many of our thoughts are rooted in fear. Those thoughts are generally not helpful. They are usually "old tapes" that have been running in our minds for years, if not decades.
One of the advantages of a meditation practice is that we can begin to release those old, non-helpful thoughts. God wants us to do well, to "bear good fruit," as Jesus often said. This is true all of our lives.
Some of you I cannot see right now. This month's wave of omicron certainly has been vexing. Yet, it can never have the last word. Let us always remember that God is the Alpha and the Omega, and God is always with us.
May the world know your peace. Help us to live in that peace so we can nourish peace in others. Help us to remember to lift our hearts and our minds to you. We know worrying usually results in a fretful harvest, rather than a fruitful one. We surrender ourselves to your abundant love. Thank you for helping us to learn to trust only in You, and not in our worries and fears. We know that in your ever present love we find eternal life, and we give you thanks and praise.
In gratitude we pray,
Grace and peace to all,
Rev. Sue Ann
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"cherish yesterday, turn your wounds into wisdom, dream tomorrow, live like crazy today" Anonymous
"be yourself, no one else is qualified and everyone else is taken" Unknown
"...I have summoned you by name, you are mine..." (Isaiah 43:1-7)
"...worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness..." (Psalm 29:3)
"...they prayed for them that they may receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them...they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus...then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 8:15-17)
"I baptize you with water...but One more powerful than I --- will come, the thongs of His sandals I am not worthy to untie...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire..." (Luke 3:16)
We thank you that Christ Jesus' shed blood is sufficient to so cleanse us that we need not go to any dark place, but always, at all times, remain in the light of your love and provision for our lives. We are so glad that you came to love and save us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen
I'd like to make a point today about the difference between unfocused religious pursuit and genuine faith. There seems to be such lack of distinction between the two perspectives on spirituality these days. I have always tried hard to live by faith without seeming "holier than thou" to others, and sometimes I've simply failed to do so.
I've constantly asked the question to myself - how can I be normal and yet have extraordinary faith?
How can I know that I have journeyed sufficiently to the place spiritually needed to experience Jesus in his fullness?
Anything less than the sentiment of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 would fall short of the mark. By and large we have forgotten that "very special sense" of totally loving God, totally allowing Him to lead, putting the Lord first in our lives, making our spiritual point in life keeping God's interests first.
As the only Pakistani missionary to America, Madame Bilquis Sheikh used to say, "...making it my goal to please the Lord..."
For me, failing to keep Jesus the focus of our lives usually leads to personal failure, lack of purpose in life, and radicalism. Indeed, keeping faith "on the side" has tragic consequences. It leads to "dualistic thinking" in life and eventually leads to the kind of religiosity that is so radical that it causes religious people to do dastardly things.
A mixture of religion and unresolved rage has caused so much cruelty, destructiveness and other deeper, more pervasive darkness than any other factor in our post-modern world.
In that same chapter, the third chapter in John's Gospel, prior to the 16th verse, Jesus presents an essential element of faith life, in fact, faith formulation, in His remarkable conversation with another great historical figure, Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. He wants to meet Jesus, but he doesn't want people to see him doing so. (People came to Nicodemus--- Nicodemus didn't come to others.)
He acknowledged that Jesus "must have come from God..." I would say that comment was quite a remarkable comment from Nicodemus' lips. I'm convinced he eventually became a believer in Christ. At this point, Nicodemus was quite impressed with reports than Jesus performed what he called, "miraculous signs".
A transition came when Jesus switched the course of the conversation, so that it wouldn't focus upon the Lord's accomplishments, but rather on Nicodemus' salvation...his insight into faith essentials...being in the forefront of all religious thought and discussion in Israel, he is completely in ignorant of what Jesus is attempting to address him with.
Jesus turned the conversation around to the spiritual essentials, more important than "miraculous signs"... to this day, the thing people find most compelling. We note John 3:3, "...I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again..."
Let me quote from this most important passage in the Bible.
John 3:5-8 "...I tell you the truth, no person can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So...it is with everyone born of the Spirit..."
Let me share a recent conversation over the telephone with a gentleman I've known for decades. Hopefully, through sharing this conversation, I can get my point across regarding the definitive difference between common religiosity and genuine faith.
I received a call in the evening recently from a friend in rehabilitation. His drug of choice had been alcohol. He asked this question in the course of conversation, depending upon me for an answer regarding a spiritual matter...that alerted me...causing me to go on-guard: "Will I go to hell if I commit suicide?"
I replied: "Now, wait a minute, let me get this straight...you're asking me to condone something that we both know is evil...? Is that what you are asking..."
The response: "Look, life is miserable for me. I don't want to live anymore...I want to die..."
"Okay, I hear you... (pause) "...let me suggest something that may work for you. You want to die, but you want to die your way... Is that what I'm hearing(?)...rather than God's way... (pause)
"...I've sensed for years that you certainly demonstrate respect for God and your fellow human beings...you are a moral person and you have a compassionate heart, but your belief system smells shallow and artificial to me...there hasn't been room for genuine biblical faith there in your life. You may not know it, or be aware of it..."
"...what I mean is...you're a good man with a bad habit...you have nothing inappropriate to say about the Lord, but you've never...may I say it... laid down your life before Jesus...you've never surrendered your life...you thought you could take care of yourself without Christ in your heart... you need to be born again..."
After I had shared the material in the third chapter of John's Gospel, I suggested the following:
"I respect the fact that you've been struggling with the very real issues of your life. Considering that, in my heart, I have known that you haven't taken the crucial step in your life that would complete you and make you whole... you've remained at a certain 'dead spiritual place' all these years..."
"...God has allowed you to go through what you're going through now for His purpose in your life. Rehabilitation didn't just happen. It was God who allowed the unpleasant things that have happened --- to draw you near to Him. The Lord is not punishing you. He's trying to get your attention!
God has bought you to this crucial point that His divine purpose in your precious life might be fulfilled... You must be 'born again'...God wants you to die, but He wants you to die His way so you may be made complete. You need to be 'born again'!"
There was silence at the other end of the line. I paused with the silence, and then, asked, "Are you ready to accept God's invitation for you to experience the goodness of life in Him. Are you ready for 'abundant life'?"
He said, "Yes, I am."
A council member from our congregation used to say, "Jesus will fix a fix to fix us". I remember that saying as we together thank God for that conversation. I expect that the Lord will walk with my friend in the days to come, giving him encouragement daily, and bring him one day to eternal life. God doesn't cause us displeasure, but He will allow it that His perfect will for us may be fulfilled.
Considering our human condition in depth, we all need to be born again. We need to die to "self" and experience a transformation of the person we are, the person we were meant to be.
This brings me back to the statement Jesus makes in the Gospel lesson...
Many of us have been baptized with "water", but, like the gentleman mentioned, haven't be baptized in the "Spirit" (John 3:5). What happened during that conversation over the phone was the completion of the baptismal covenant God made with him when he was baptized as a child. God was faithful to perform his conversion to faith. The God's Church did its part.
I also have observed we can, indeed, receive the Spirit first, prior to the time we are baptized with water. In that case, water baptism is necessary and follows thereafter. Jesus makes it a point to suggest that we must be born of water and the Spirit. Jesus makes this crystal clear.
I rest my case.
We all drive automobiles these days that have two bucket seats in the front. I remember automobiles that seated three persons in front. Unfortunately, our post-modern automobile seating arrangements, it seems, reflect our notion of Godhood, with two divine personages in the front seats and one in the back. The Father and Jesus sit in the front --- and the Holy Spirit sits in the back. We need a "Spiritual Automobile" that seats the Holy Spirit in the front seat with Father and Son.
Using that analogy, I'm sensing that Jesus would back me up. Furthermore, the Lord works diligently with great effort to bring us to Him through the Spirit so we might know Him as He is --- it's not always our faithfulness, but His faithfulness, that is the redeeming factor. He will find a way for the persons He loves --- that's each of us --- to experience the "great transformation" happening when we surrender.
As Psalm 29 [David] suggests, we worship the Lord in the splendor of His Holiness when we do so, having surrendered "all" unto Him...when we have received the baptism of water and the Spirit.
There are times when we get discouraged with church on Sunday morning, wondering what worship is all about:
It's really ourselves we need to look at.
When it comes right down to it, we need to allow the Lord to speak to us through the words of Jesus directed to that venerable epitome of religion, Nicodemus, in the third chapter of John's gospel. Jesus can see through both you and me. God is a gentleman. He will not force us to accept Him and His ways. He wants your heart and mine to be open to surrender to the only One, the only Source, worthy of that surrender, into abundant life.
What a great time to make the great change in our lives...at the beginning of a new year...
If you have not done so prior, would you accept my invitation that you receive Jesus today as Lord and Savior? Ask Him to come into your heart. Make a decision to receive Him as personal Lord and Savior.
You won't regret it. He is worthy.