Passion For God

I am amazed as I read Scripture of the passion that people had for the Lord. 

Paul states: “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3-4) He was offering to exchange his own salvation for the salvation of others.

Moses shared Paul’s self-sacrificing passion for others. He asked God to blot him out of His book if the Lord did not forgive the idolatrous Israelites in the Sinai desert (Exodus 32:32).

Then there are the many biographies that I read … Rosa Park who refused to give up her seat for a white person on a bus in the southern United States that began the Civil Rights Movement. A passion to make things right. Jim Elliot – a passionate follower of Jesus who went to share the Gospel with the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956. And died for his faith and his love for others that motivated him to approach this remote tribe to share Jesus with them.

Today I read the story of a young man called Joseph – who lived in Africa… Let me quote the story as it appears in a book I am reading.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as His Lord and Saviour. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life. He was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door to door, telling everyone he met about the Cross of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way he had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from the people he had known all his life. He decided that he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began tp proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God,” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him, reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised and scarred – and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him the third and possibly the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

Passion is not cheap. But it is real; it is priceless. It may cost your life, but it will save your soul. Generations of believers, now passed from the earth, handed down the gospel so that you could hear it. Now it’s your turn. 

Overnight Success?

Behind every great story there’s always another story. Rarely does success come without time, discipline, and hard work. Successful people often joke that they spent years becoming an overnight success. What many people don’t realize is that it’s the things no one sees that result in the things everyone wants. It’s the faithfulness to do mundane things well, to develop productive habits, and to remain faithful that eventually leads to success.

Old Testament prophet Daniel is a great example of this. Whether you know a lot or a little about Daniel, when you hear his name, you probably think, Oh, yeah . . . Daniel in the lion’s den. Any kid who grew up attending Sunday school or visiting vacation bible school, has heard the amazing story of Daniel surviving the night in a cave filled with hungry felines.

Let me refresh your memory, and then we’ll go back to the part many overlook. King Darius was the reigning king of Persia. As his kingdom grew, he appointed 120 satraps (similar to our present-day governors) to handle regional matters and help govern the people. The king then chose three administrators to oversee those 120 satraps. Daniel was one of the chosen leaders. Over time, by consistently serving the king with an excellent spirit, Daniel stood out among all the other satraps and administrators. Eventually the king decided to place Daniel in charge of the entire kingdom.

So Daniel was an overnight success, right? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t forget, there’s a story behind every story. Why was Daniel successful? Why was he favoured among others? Why did the king respect him so much? Promote him so quickly? Believe in his leadership? Why did God look favourably on Daniel? Why did God close the mouths of the meat-eating lions?

We find the answer in a part of Daniel’s story that many people skim over. His divine favour was the result of one small decision he made at some point in his life. We don’t know when Daniel made this decision or why. We don’t know whether someone helped him or he decided it on his own. All we know is that Daniel made one decision, starting one habit that changed his story.

As you might expect, the other leaders were fuming with jealousy of Daniel. The story continues, “Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, ‘Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.’” (Daniel 6:4-5)

Let’s consider for a moment some of the great qualities of our hero Daniel. Even though the other guys did everything they could do to find something wrong with him, they couldn’t find anything. Daniel was honest, trustworthy, and dependable in all that he did. He was exactly the type of person the king was looking to promote. So his opponents decided there was only one way they could trap Daniel into doing something worthy of punishment. They needed to devise a plan that involved his faith in God. They knew he wouldn’t do anything wrong. They were going to have to back him into a spiritual corner.

“So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:6-7)

The king apparently liked the sound of their plan because he agreed to their proposal. No one could pray to anyone but him for the next month. And so the plan to trap Daniel was set in motion. 

When Daniel heard about the new thirty-day restriction on prayer, he did the same thing he’d done three times a day for months, maybe years, possibly decades. Daniel went to his house and prayed to God.

As a result, Dan the Man was arrested and had to stare down the big cats and prove that God was his one and only. But think for a minute. It wasn’t just that Daniel wasn’t afraid of lions or had some super courage that mere mortals can never hope to attain. No, Daniel had started a regular practice much earlier in his life that helped him face this impossible situation. To others, prayer might have seemed insignificant. But to Daniel, it was a discipline that shaped his story.

We don’t know how many years Daniel had been practicing this habit, but three times a day, every day, Daniel stopped and looked toward heaven. He worshipped God. He aligned his heart with God’s heart. He sought God’s will to be done through his life. Because of Daniel’s consistent and prayerful focus, he grew as a God follower, as a person, and as a leader.

Daniel wasn’t an overnight success. He was able to stand tall because he’s faithfully knelt before the one true king. The small, daily discipline of prayer equipped him to face the big, scary test of those hungry lions, both the peers who were attempting to destroy him as well as the big cats in the arena. Starting something small and then faithfully continuing it made his story so rich that it’s been told for thousands of years now, and still counting.

The moral of the story: It’s the things not one sees that result in the things everyone wants. 

May I Take Your Order?

It happened again the other day. To be honest, I couldn’t even estimate how many times I’ve had some version of this conversation. I met someone new on my walk with my dog. Like always, we talked about dogs (I mean, what else, right?) And, as usual, I ask what they do for a living. They reciprocate and ask what I do. This is an automatic into the Gospel of the Kingdom and an invitation to our local house church. This time, when I brought up church, I found out that this person was already a Christian – a very frustrated one.

Within seconds, he had already told me about seven different churches they had tried in the past several years. The conversation went something like this: “We’ve been church shopping now for a long time, but we just can’t find anything that works for us. We liked the worship at one church, but the teaching wasn’t deep enough. Then at this other church, we loved the teaching, but the kid’s ministry was lame. We tried one church that we thought might be pretty cool, but no one talked to us the whole time we were there.” He finished with the line that to me is the death blow. It still breaks my heart every time I hear someone say it: “We just can’t find a church that meets our needs.”

Now, before I start sounding like critical, out-of-touch leader guy, let me say that I am thrilled that this person and everyone like him wants to find a great church. But the language in this conversation is troubling. For example, “We’re church shopping.” It sounds like you’re out looking for the perfect item of clothing. And the phrase “I can’t find a church that meets my needs” is one of the most unbiblical statements any Christian could utter. This is the have-it-your-way mindset. We see ourselves as spiritual consumers. The church is the product. We want to find a product that meets our needs. Before long, this polluted mind-set creeps into our theology. Well, since I’m going to church and doing good things, then God should answer my prayers, get me the job I want, help my sports team win the championship, and ensure that my twelve-year-old becomes class secretary. And if any of this doesn’t happen the way I want it to, then God failed me. Because, remember, everything is all about me. Right?

We forget that we are not made to be spiritual consumers. God has called his to be spiritual contributors. And the church does not exist for us. We are the Church, and we exist for the world.

When my mind shifts from being a spiritual consumer – it’s all about me, what I want, what I get, what I prefer – to becoming a spiritual contributor, everything changes. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing for others. My food is to do His will and to finish the work He sent me to do. When we stop just serving because it is the right thing to do and instead start seeing ourselves as servants, that’s the moment when we die a bit more to ourselves and Christ is free to live through us to bless others. 

Here’s a fun assignment: ask yourself, “Am I more of a consumer or a contributor?” If you are a Christ follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church. When you think about church, how would you rate yourself? Do you drop your kids off at the nursery (without ever serving there), eat a free donut or drink a free cup of coffee, sit in a seat that someone else paid for, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you are a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully? Do you tithe consistently? And do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

Now think about the other areas of your life. When was the last time you gave a whole day to help someone in need? If you’ve done that several times this year, you’re contributing. You’re using your life to serve others. If you’ve never done that, or if you haven’t given much of yourself in other ways, then you should face up to the truth: you’re more of a consumer.

What about your prayers? Are you faithfully praying for others? Do you ask God to draw those who don’t know Him into a relationship with Him? To heal those who are sick? To help orphans find homes? To bless those who are hassling or hurting you? If you do, then you’re contributing with your faith and prayers. If, on the other hand, most of your prayers are focused on yourself – “Bless me, protect me, help me” – then call that what it is: at least in the area of prayer, you’re a consumer.

I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you. I simply want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God will  allow you to tell. But if you’re more focused on self-service than on serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages – lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world. 

The Burger King Church Culture 

All of us can be a bit self-centered. By nature, we are selfish people. Just think about it: you don’t have to teach a child to be selfish. Have you ever seen someone sit down with a two-year-old and say, “Sweetie, today I’m going to teach you to be selfish. It won’t be easy, but I think you’re old enough now to make the jump. So I just want you to hold this ball, and when I ask for it back, you scream as loud as you can, ‘Nooooo! Miiiine!’”

That’s never happened in the history of the would. When push comes to shove, as it often does, we all look out or number one – me, myself, and mine.

Not only do we have our sinfulness working against us, much of what we see in culture affirms our self-centred tendencies. Some argue that a massive cultural shift in 1973 changed everything and made being focused on self culturally acceptable and solidly confirmed as right and okay. You might not have been even close to being born then, but it was a change experienced by my generation. It was a major cultural climate change. A new perspective on life. 

For decades, if you wanted a hamburger at almost any fast food restaurant, it would come however that restaurant prepared burgers. If you didn’t like the tomatoes, you could take them off yourself. If they used mayonnaise and you preferred mustard, you were free to scrape off the mayonnaise as best you could and squirt a mustard happy face across the bun.

Perhaps the best-known fast food chain at the time, McDonald’s, had a song about one of their burgers. When you ordered a Big Mac, you got, “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” If you didn’t like the special sauce, the lettuce, the pickles, the onions, or the sesame seed bun (and trying to pick off the cheese was the worst), too bad for you. Why didn’t you order a Quarter Pounder instead? The song told you what you were getting. That’s how to burger was meant to be eaten.

Until the competition changed the rules.

In a move that rocked the fast food world, Burger King boldly declared that you had choices, options, decisions to make: if you wanted a burger, you could “have it your way!” You read that right. It was crazy! It was your burger, and you could choose what you wanted on it. No mayonnaise? No problem. No pickles? No big deal. No onions? No worries. Extra ketchup? You got it. Burger King even developed a song that, once you heard it, was stuck in your brain forever:

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce,

special orders don’t upset us.

All we ask is that you let us serve you your way.

Have it your way.

Have it your way at Burger King.

And the self-centered, consumer-is-king mindset spread like wildfire. There was a new sheriff in town who was always right – you.

You deserve it.

You’re worth it.

Get what you want.

Enjoy life your way.

It’s natural in our world (and even today in the Church) to want it our way, and Burger King nailed it, even if it was just a smart marketing move. According to Jesus, life (and Church) is not all about us, and everything in culture tries to tell us that it is. Without realizing what a rabid monster we’d unleashed, we became more obsessed with self than ever before. 

One of the quickest ways to forget about God is to be consumed with self. It is also one of the fastest ways to destroy the Church. Jesus had pretty direct works for those who wanted to follow Him. He said, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). We are called not to celebrate, promote, or advance ourselves but to deny ourselves. To pick up our cross, to suffer through not having everything our way, to die to our selfish tendencies.

God wants us to have it HIS way.

And we’re not talking burgers. 

Forms of Fatherhood – Part Two

Some time back I was continuing an intense and in-depth conversation with a young father and husband who lives in another nation and not in Canada. He made a comment in his email about still struggling to relate to God as his Father. We had spoken about this in person a number of times over the last 6 or more years. His comment got me to thinking once again about God our heavenly Father and how our relationship with Him is helped or hindered by our relationship, healthy or unhealthy, with our earthly father. And, I remembered reading some information about fathers in a book I finished in early January. I will summarize my findings and thoughts…

We are living with a “fatherless generation.” I don’t just mean kids who are raised by single moms. Fatherlessness is more complicated than that.

Types of “dad’s” today ( we looked at the first four lot time)…:

1> DEADBEAT DAD

2> DISTANT DAD

3> RELIGIOUS DAD

4>”IF ONLY” DAD

5> GOOD DAD

This dad may go to church every Sunday. He may have fun with his kids on the weekend, taking them to soccer games and the lake for fishing or whatever. But he is not the spiritual leader in his home. He is not a spiritual cultivator.

He provides for his kids, but he isn’t providing what they truly need: spiritual direction. For whatever reason, these men treat God like he’s in the mothering category. They often defer to Mom for spiritual things. 

The interesting thing about this guy is he can be found intimidating his daughter’s new date, but he can’t be found instigating his daughter’s new faith. He can play the macho part but not the part that requires spiritual vulnerability.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These men have fun. These men prioritize their family. These men make many memories and many moments that are to be applauded. They just haven’t prioritized the faith of their family as a personal responsibility. I think deep down you’d find that there’s a desire to be a spiritual leader, but maybe they missed it. Maybe they just don’t know what it looks like. But at the end of the day, they are active, good dads, but they are passive spiritual fathers.

6> FAITHFUL FATHER

I’ve found God to be unpredictable in his methods. He’s always on the move, always shaking things up in our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly He’s up to. But one thing is for sure. God wants our hearts.

That’s what he is after. He searches our hearts. He guards our hearts. He even delights in us when our hearts are broken and honest before Him. He wants to transform every crevice and every corner of our hearts, and I think that’s at the core of what a faithful father does.

A faithful father is still dating his wife. He is still pursuing her heart. The same goes for the kids. So, the faithful father doesn’t just ask: “How was your day?” He wants to know: “How is your heart?” And this is true no matter what age the children might be. He is grounded in God’s Word. He asks for forgiveness often. And he strives to give more than leftover energy to both his wife and children.

He is patient and relentless, like our Father in heaven. He does not just focus on surface-level stuff. He is interested in his family’s inner lives. 

Since the main goal of life is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, this dad has made this the highest priority for the hearts, souls, and minds of his children. He wants them to have life, and life to the fullest. 

In the end, it all comes down to Jesus. I’m not saying faithful fathers are perfect. I’m saying that for a faithful father, Jesus doesn’t just describe him. Jesus defines him. So what if we looked to Jesus as our role model for manhood?

He was humble, He was strong, and He sacrificed everything. Jesus was marked by an unconventional, unconditional, unbelievable love this world had never seen before.

If we have a skewed image of what it means to be a man and a father, it affects everything: our family, our friends, our future, our legacy. A man’s ability to lead his family is completely dependent on his ability to follow Jesus. 

Forms Of Fatherhood – Part One

Some time back I was continuing an intense and in-depth conversation with a young father and husband who lives in another nation and not in Canada. He made a comment in his email about still struggling to relate to God as his Father. We had spoken about this in person a number of times over the last 6 or more years. His comment got me to thinking once again about God our heavenly Father and how our relationship with Him is helped or hindered by our relationship, healthy or unhealthy, with our earthly father. And, I remembered reading some information about fathers in a book I finished in early January. I will summarize my findings and thoughts…

We are living with a “fatherless generation.” I don’t just mean kids who are raised by single moms. Fatherlessness is more complicated than that.

Types of “dad’s” today:

1> DEADBEAT DAD

This is what our culture calls men who bail out of their responsibility to their family. If a man has become a father, he has a duty to then be a father. A deadbeat dad is a dad who refuses to be a father and is either totally absent from his child’s life or exists somewhere on the periphery.

In my ministry most of the young men I relate to, disciple, and mentor have this kind of “father” and thus are having a hard time relating to a loving, heavenly Father – the One revealed in Jesus and the pages of the New Testament.

2> DISTANT DAD

This is the dad who plagues the church. The dad who is there but not really there. This is the dad who shows up at the game but keeps his head buried in his phone the entire time. The dad who comes to church but only because his wife forces him to. This is the most common form of dad today in this generation. And, the one who has done the most damage in the church. 

He is physically present but emotionally and spiritually absent. Instead of being a transformational leader in the home, he is simply a transactional ATM for his family, necessary in times of need but absent for the rest of life.

Comparing the first two types of dads … Deadbeat dads see their kids as burdens as opposed to blessings, which is why they leave. A distant dad, however, doesn’t leave physically. Instead he sticks around but leaves spiritually and emotionally. He is with his child physically, but his mind is still back in the office. A deadbeat dad leaves one day. A distant dad leaves every day.

3> RELIGIOUS DAD

This dad wants his family in church, but he never communicated why it’s important. You might say he is religious but not spiritual. For this dad, being in church is more about doing the ‘right thing’ than about making sure his family cultivates a healthy relationships with the Lord. Because there is a lack of emotional connection, this dad can make God seem like a taskmaster. Even a killjoy. Rules without a relationship breeds rebellion. This form of parenting can make kids bitter towards God and especially toward the church.

4> “IF ONLY” DAD

This dad puts in the hard work of emotionally investing in his children. This dad puts in the hard work of developing a spiritual relationship with his kids. This dad totally gets that he needs to be the spiritual leader of his home. The problem is that this dad also wants to be this for lots of other people, and he is not home enough to experience the benefits of his labour. He is a terrific role model for his kids, but he’s too often being this from too great a distance 

He’s just not home enough. It’s not that he’s out drinking with his buddies or playing golf. He is doing good things in he world, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone. Gone is gone. 

His kids would say, “I love my dad. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. But I wish he had been around more. If only he had been around more.”

The “if only” dad has the right intentions. He wants to do right by his family and the world. His problem is one of priority.

More next time … Part Two

Nick at Night – Part Four

Let’s finish looking the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. 

We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …

Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:

Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love

And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost

And a third element – third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus – Patience … Even When They Don’t Understand

As I attempt to put myself non Nicodemus’s sandals after this fascinating conversation with the Saviour of the world, here is what I imagine Nicodemus saying or thinking:

“Jesus, everything that You’re saying has completely turned my thought process upside down. Everything I have ever been taught since I was a child is that the law is what saves! You come along with these miracles and signs that force me to listen to You. You  tell me I have to be born again of the Spirit. And that the Son of Man must be lifted up (crucified and glorified).”

I imagine him continuing, “Jesus, I’m an educated man, but I need you to simplify this for me. I’m very interested – but I don’t understand. I know the Scriptures front to back. I know what the rabbis have taught for thousands of years, but … I have no idea what You are saying.”

Then, in perhaps the greatest verse in John’s entire gospel, Jesus really did simplify it all for Nicodemus when He declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

People can keep all the laws, but the law can’t save. They can be leaders among leaders, but fame and recognition can’t save. They can be wealthy, but material possessions cannot save. Only knowing the Son of God – Jesus – can save a person.

Christ went to the cross and died for the sins of the world. All who believe in Him will not perish (go to Hell) but have everlasting life (know God personally and the, when they die, go to Heaven)! As Jesus spoke amicably with Nicodemus, we can show others through patient civil conversations that it was all part of God’s plan.

God’s story.

God’s love.

God’s Spirit.

God’s calling.

God’s Son.

God’s salvation.

Any time you see people getting saved, lives being changed, miracles and signs, and people moving from darkness to light – it’s all God. Anything good you see is because God is at work around the world to redeem mankind before Jesus returns. Unbelievers may not understand this, but we can help them. Today, you can initiate civil conversations about matters of faith with someone you meet. 

Nick At Night – Part Three

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. This is the first of three recorded connections that this religious leader and teacher had with Jesus.

We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …

Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:

Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love

And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost

Today – Let’s look at a third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus.

Patience – Even When They Don’t Understand

After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself in quite some detail, Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts. Even though, by all appearances, his conversion was nowhere in sight.

And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that be must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand. 

Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in the Old Testament – Numbers 21 – to explain salvation. The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land.

They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities.

They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food. 

They began to second-guess leaving a life of slavery in Egypt.

And they began to infect the camp with poisonous words

So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning. Many of the Israelites died. Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent. They knew they were doomed and beyond hope.

In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live. Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was juxtaposing the physical with the spiritual. In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking about heavenly things: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).

Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel. We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others. It may look like they don’t understand. It may look like they are never going to receive it. But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32). That is our only job. That is all we have to worry about.

More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused. Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of the camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

In everything we do, in every conversation we have, we believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift Jesus so that the entire would will believe. 

More next time… 

Nick At Night – Part Two

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded for us in John’s gospel, chapter three. On May 12th we saw that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and that Christians often fail to show love. We often don’t share the Gospel of the Kingdom because we fear upsetting others or having them reject us. And, often Christians have an adversarial attitude to those who are not believers. Being defensive and antagonistic. 

Then yesterday, “Nick At Night – Part One” we saw that Jesus lovingly shares with Nicodemus his need to be born again. And that Jesus went ‘straight to the point’.

The second thing we notice in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is that “The Spirit Is Always Moving.”

Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The winds 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” (John 3:8).

Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” (verse 9) The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person.

But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul. Despite the fact that he was a “law man” – and had money, fame, power, position, and religion – he was empty inside. He was searching. He didn’t know why he was searching. He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling.

I imagine Jesus was trying to quiet the noice in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying, “Shh! Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save.”

And here’s the best part: even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus.

Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was small in stature? He climbed up a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho. Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

Let me ask you a question: Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus? Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord. Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home. After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and pay restitution to anyone he had cheated in the past.

If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world., As we have already discovered, God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions. 

Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving! He blows wherever He wants to. As you approach casual conversations with others, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing – even in folks you think would never be saved. 

Author Russell Moore penned this powerful statement:

“The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”

Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach or whom God can save!

Right now there are people in your life – and perhaps even folks not yet met – who are restless just like Nicodemus. They are wondering what it means to be born again. There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill. The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you. Let this amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of faith. 

More tomorrow…

Nick At Night – Part One

Last time (Blog: What the World Needs Now – May 12th, 2020) we looked at the fact that what the world really needs from those of us who call ourselves Christians is love. This love will be seen first in the way we talk with people. In other words, knowing how to have civil conversations where we can express the Gospel while treating people with dignity and respect. We saw some examples: Philip and the Ethiopian, Peter and Cornelius; Jesus and the woman at the well, Paul and Lydia, as well as Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was someone you might meet for the first time and think, He’ll never become a Christian. The guy had political influence and clout. He represented the status quo. He was wealthy. A guardian of the rules. A keeper of the laws.

Were you raised in (or have you ever been to) a legalistic church? The kind of church that emphasized “keeping the rules” – lots and lots of rules! Sadly, sometimes even “unwritten” rules are considered biblical.

Nicodemus most likely subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher to Israel. He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous. And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was probable very intrigued by Him. He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching. So Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher,” and the conversation began.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2).

There are a few things I want to highlight within Jesus and Nicodemus’s exchange and conversation that will be immediately helpful to you as your share your faith.

1> Straight to the point

Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point, as we see in the third verse of John 3. It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was too tired for small talk. But it probably had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved. He pulled no punches. He did not shy away from this opportunity to converse with one of Israel’s most important political and religious leaders.

He said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

That’s pretty direct. Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out; he didn’t understand it. So he asked the question heard around the the evangelical world: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).

And what He meant by that was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually. Nick at night still didn’t get it, but to be fair, consider where we are in history: Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet, the day of Pentecost was still three years away, and the church hadn’t started yet. There were no baptisteries, no communion trays, and no crosses on church buildings. Jesus was speaking somewhat prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit. 

No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand. I’m not sure he was suppose to understand. Even mature Christians today have difficulty understanding this text! But Jesus laid everything out directly anyway.

Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush. We use too many words. We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message. Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point. This doesn’t mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt. Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth. He is the way, the truth and the life, after all, so it was probably completely natural to Him!

It may not be as natural to us, but you and I can learn to hone our message. As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we will learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important: the simple story of Christ’s transforming love. 

More next time…