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.