Missing Persons

Have you noticed that every time your smart phone buzzes, whistles, chirps, beeps, or dings, something in you can’t help wondering “Oooh. What was that? I wonder if it’s something important. Who sent me something? I must know right this instant.”

Have you heard of FOMO? It’s a thing. I read recently that FOMO was added to the latest edition of a popular English-language dictionary. FOMO is an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out.” It was coined for an entire generation of people who are constantly worried they’re going to miss something.

We ask, “What am I missing?”

“I might miss someone’s funny cat picture.”

“I might miss the next video clip that goes viral. Then tomorrow everyone else will have seen it, and I’m going to look like some kind of idiot because I haven’t seen it yet.”

“I might miss the next trailer for that movie that doesn’t come out until eight months from now.”

“I might miss a really beautiful inspirational quote from some person I’ve never heard of.”

“I might miss someone Liking that picture I posted twenty minutes ago.”

Ask yourself this question: at the end of your life, is it really going to matter how many “Likes” you got? Do you honestly believe that you’re going to be lying on your deathbed one day thinking to yourself, “If I had gotten just three more Likes on that picture I posted of that weird tomato back in ’15, I would have made an even hundred. One hundred Likes. Triple-digit Likes. Ooh, life would have been so good. #ICanDieHappy #RIPme” 

Life is not about how many Likes you get. It is all about how much love you show. The only way people will know that you are a follower of Jesus is by how well you love other people.

Have your children been begging for your attention? Have they been acting out? Maybe instead of posting online about how they’re driving you crazy, you should put down the phone and engage them face-to-face. Maybe you argue, “Well, they’re doing the same thing! I can’t peel them away from that stupid device!” That may be true. But you’re the parent. It’s your job to teach your children (no matter their age) how to engage in real life in ways that make it more meaningful than anything they can get looking at a screen and tapping pictures.

Instead of FOMO online, what you really should be afraid of is missing out on the people in front of you. You may be missing out on your children growing up. You may be missing out on enjoying an intimate marriage. You may be missing out on deep friendships filled with meaning. Is your fear that you’re going to miss out on something causing you to miss out on what matters most?

Figuring this out in your own life is going to take a little effort on your part. But maybe it’s time for you to make some basic rules like these:

Phone curfew is 10:00pm: phones get silenced and plugged in somewhere out of sight.

When you’re with your family or close friends, phones get silenced so they don’t even vibrate and are placed face down. Nobody picks up their phone during dinnertime or at your small group.

Really think this through. If you’re in bed with your spouse while you’re both on your phones, and you text her, “In the mood?” there’s something wrong. She texts back, “Sry not tonite #headache.” If you’re not laughing at this, maybe it’s because you can picture it happening — if it hasn’t already.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT).

Don’t just pray for people. Pray with them.

Don’t just Like what they post. Like who they are.

Get involved in one another’s lives.

The greatest weapon the first-century followers of Jesus had was their love for each other. The outside world persecuted them so fiercely that they were driven together into a radical, unifying love for one another. If anyone among them had a need, someone else sold some of their possessions and used the money to meet that need. Scripture says that they were so generous and so loving that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-37).

Can you imagine? The sceptical world looking on was thinking, “You know, I’m not so sure about that whole Jesus-being-raised-from-the-dead business. I’m not sure I believe what they believe, but I sure wish I had what they have. They love each other and care for each other.”

That’s exactly what Jesus said would happen: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” ( John 13:35 NLT).

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many followers you have.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many Likes you get.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how quickly you respond to emails.

Believe it or not, they won’t even know that you’re His disciple by how many Bible verses you post.

No, they will know that you’re Jesus’ disciple when they see His love in you through your actions. When you get involved in the lives of other people, when you care for them right where they are, when you open up your heart and do life with them — that’s when they’ll see something in you that they really want. Then when they ask you what makes you so different from everybody else, you’ll be able to say, “God gave His Son for me to forgive me of my sins. I’ve found freedom and life in Him, and that’s how I’m able to show you this kind of love.”

Others won’t know you by your Likes

They will know you by His love. 

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part Two

 

Blog of September 7, 2020

We are looking at how technology has changed how we relate to others in our day and age. Last time we saw two of three major changes:

1> The term “friend” is evolving

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s continue our look and see number three…

3> We have the power to do friendship on our own terms

Not only do many of us have more virtual Friends than real friends and are addicted to immediate gratification in connecting with others, we face another downside to social media: the power to define relationships on our own terms. Let me explain what this means. Let’s say my friend texts me. I have some choices, don’t I? I can read his text right away, or I can read it later. I can reply as soon as I read it, or I can reply later. I can even choose not to reply at all.

I have complete control over what I do — or what I don’t do.

If another friend posts a picture on Instagram, I have the power to determine several things. For example, is his picture Like-worthy? Is it worth the extraordinary inconvenience of double-tapping my finger on it? Or should I just scroll right on by? If this is another of his stupid cat pictures, you can probably guess what I am going to do. A dog picture. Different.

I am in total and complete control of these friendships; I manage them from a distance. If you are my online friend, I’ll show you only the parts of my life that I want you to see and tell you only what I want to tell you. If I don’t want to respond to the things you choose to show me, I’m not going to. If you post too many pictures of your product, or too many duck-face selfies, or too many “inspirational quotes” that the person you credit may or may not have actually said (because you can’t be bothered to check), or too many pictures of your cat making duck faces, I will unfollow you. We are in control of on-line friendships. And that control is changing how we manage our relationships.

Friendship doesn’t mean what it use to mean. 

I can’t speak for you, but to be really honest, I have to admit that the more I dabble on social media, the more I realize I’m delaying the personal interaction I crave. I have also never been more connected and yet feel so alone.

The author of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Wouldn’t it be amazing to get together with other followers of Jesus and discuss this topic? We could start with, “Guys, how can we become so aggressive in how we show love to one another that other people really stop and think, ‘Hey, these people must be Christians. Have you seen the way they love one another.?’”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 12:25). 

Really let that sink in: “Let’s not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.

Have we fallen out of this practice?

If this passage isn’t enough to convince you, think about friendship in the context of your Christian faith. Think about what Jesus said: “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Isn’t that powerful? Jesus promises us that whenever we come together with other believers in His Name, we will experience His real presence in a supernatural way. Does that mean you con’t experience His presence when you’re alone? Absolutely not! You can. It’s just something more, something special, something powerful happens when we come together with other believers to seek God. When you join hands with someone, when you join your faith together and go before God on His throne, you experience His power and presence together in very real ways (Acts 16:25-26).

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and lift up holy hands before our God to worship Him (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and, as believers have done for centuries, open up God’s Word and read it aloud together (Nehemiah 8:1-12).

Something supernatural happens when we unite our faith and passionately seek God together in prayer (Acts 12:11-14).

Presence is powerful!

Think about it this way: God didn’t shout His love from heaven. He showed His love on earth. He stripped Himself of all heavenly glory and became one of us. God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Even one of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, literally means “God with us.” He came and lived with us, He loved people others rejected. He poured His heart into people who the religious community said were not worthy. He hung out with — and even ate with — tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

Presence is so powerful. So why do so many of us settle for on-line relationships and neglect the old-fashion way of having friends; actually meeting with them one-on-one, face-to-face?  

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part One

I was away on my annual holiday for three weeks in July. And, every morning over my first cup of coffee I wrote a group text to everyone in my home church. Most were not aware that I was away and not at home in my office. It led me to think and briefly research how technology is changing the way we relate to the people in our lives. As we explore these ways, consider how each applies to your life and how you are using technology and social media to relate to others. 

1> The term “friend”is evolving

It used to be that when someone said another person was a friend, you understood exactly what they meant. A friend was someone who shared common interests or bonds, someone you enjoyed being around, someone you did life with. But it’s not that simple anymore, is it? Now a friend can be someone you’ve never met IRL (in real life). Friends can be people who follow what you post on social media. If they follow you, and you don’t follow them back, that’s one kind of friend. If you follow them, but they don’t follow you, that’s another kind of friend. And if you both follow each other, that’s yet another kind of friend. 

Currently, the average Facebook user has 338 friends. But surveys indicate that the average person has only two friends they consider to be close. As shocking as that statistic is, there is one that is even sadder: 25 percent of people in North America today say they have zero close friends! The struggles are real. Does it really matter that you have 338 Facebook friends if you have no one to share your life with? And I’m not even talking about the kind of friend who listens as you pour your heart out or share your latest struggles, Many people no longer have friends they can hang out with or who can drop by unannounced as a welcome surprise. (When was the last time you did that to someone, or they did it to you? Doesn’t it sound intimidating?) Technology supposedly saves us time, yet we seem to have even less time — at least for really relating to people. We have lots of online interactivity, but that doesn’t mean we have any personal intimacy.

Friends just doesn’t mean what it used to.

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s say you were at home alone back in the old days (ten years ago), and you started feeling a little lonely. What would you do? You might pick up the phone and call a friend. You might even make arrangements to get together. You might walk outside and visit with your next-door neighbour. Any of these were reasonable choices, and they were all pretty easy, right? Apparently, they just weren’t easy enough.

What do we do today when we feel lonely? Text a friend, post an update, or share an old favourite picture. If you’re feeling really creative, we’ll surf for items to pin to Pinterest or make a new YouTube video. We might take a picture of our homemade chocolate chip cookies (gluten free, no GMO, hand-whittled, and carved from organic cocoa) and share it on Instagram. Or we Vine or Tic Tok a little clip about being bored.

Then there’s my favourite. If we’re really bored and lonely, we always have ourselves. That’s right, we can snap a selfie, right there on the couch. It we’re really motivated, we might even go into the bathroom and fix ourselves up a little first, then snap a selfie in the bathroom mirror. We tousle our hair, puff out our lips (duck face), and tilt our heads, snapping picture after picture, trying to get the light just right, determined to achieve a ‘perfect’ shot. We might even go as far as to wear our trendiest clothes, find a local you-wish-you-knew-where-I-was ally, and let the self-timer rip.

But we don’t have to stop there. We can touch up the photo, tweak the lighting a little more, maybe use a filter. We are nowhere near perfect, but we can manipulate images, apps, and filters to create an image of ourselves that’s perfect for the moment. And don’t forget the all-important caption. Is it inspirational? Clever, but not too obviously clever? We can even add a Bible verse for extra ‘Likes.’ Once all is in place we can post it. Then we can compulsively check our updates, hoping to hit the ‘Likes’ jackpot. 

Even if you don’t hit it big, we may score some fun comments. You know, things like: 

    • “Lookin’ good!”
    • “Love that shirt! Where’d ya get it???”
    • “omgosh amazing *swoons*”
    • “where r u? Totes adorbs!! [sexy, smiling emoji]”

We often get immediate feedback. But the problem with this kind of immediate feedback, this quick affirmation, is that it’s addicting. Even when we know it’s shallow, even when we don’t believe the sender is sincere in their flattery, we still love receiving it. To be fair, it’s not our fault. Scientists say that receiving positive affirmation like this release dopamine, a chemical in our brains that gives us a kind of euphoric feeling, a little rush. Just like similar drugs, we can get addicted to that high.

If you don’t believe me, consider the last time you posted a selfie and didn’t get much response — at least in the first hour. Do you remember having an empty feeling and thoughts like these running through your mind?

    • “Where is everyone? What’s up with that?”
    • “How many have clicked on it? Did they ‘Like’ it?”
    • “Who ‘Liked’ it?”
    • “Why didn’t she ‘Like’ it? She never ‘Likes’ my pictures. I’m going to stop ‘Liking’ hers. Just keep that up sister, and you’re gonna get yourself unfollowed.”

Many of us are addicted to immediate affirmation. What is this addiction doing to us? How is it affected our relationships?

Sociologists call all this “deferred loneliness.” We’re trying to meet some short-term need, but in the process of meeting this need, we’re deferring a deeper, longer-term need. We are meant to have deep, sometimes difficult feelings of loneliness to motivate us toward the kinds of contact with others that meet our deepest, long-term needs. Every time we seek instant affirmation, we ignore our basic human condition of loneliness and the opportunity of loneliness that drives us toward real friendship, real intimacy, first with God and then with others.

So our addiction to instant gratification can stunt our relationships. We’re living for ‘Likes,’ but we’re longing for love. 

More next time …

Two Are Better Than One

We are told that two are better than one. That “doing life together” is better than going through life alone. This is true in marriage but also true in friendship – deep, committed, lifetime friendships.

Two are better than one is a reference to the synergy that “together” creates. It applies to those who would assume that multiple relationships are not worth the effort we put into them; that having a spouse and /or a close friendship is all they can handle, and outside of that, it’s better to keep to themselves.

I know it’s easy to feel that way when you’ve had relationships that were complicated. I get that, because I’ve had, and still have, a few of those myself. I’ve come to realize that as much as possible I want to do life with uncomplicated people. People who believe the best. People who don’t read something into what you say, causing you to constantly watch how you say things and overly explain yourself. People who are stable and secure in themselves, open to conversation, not moody, not easily offended, not socially awkward. These uncomplicated people are not perfect, but once you’ve had complicated relationships, you have a great appreciation for the uncomplicated ones.

When like-minded, uncomplicated relationships come together, it’s far better than being alone. Especially, when there’s a common goal. There are three great reasons given in the verses below for why togetherness is better:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. [Success] If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. [Safety] Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Strength]     (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT)

The writer is saying that in a healthy, life-giving relationship we help each other success, stay safe, and grow stronger. Who wouldn’t want that? See, God never intended us to do life alone. We’re all meant to do life with other people, specifically God’s people. We are formed for family.  We are created for friendship. We are created for community. The only way you can be all you are meant to be is to be connected, committed, and in community with others. When you’re in  healthy relationships, with like-minded people, you can’t help but get bigger and stronger on the inside.

That doesn’t mean that those people are perfect, nor does it mean their struggles are any less than yours. It also doesn’t mean that it’s easy or without challenges. But it does mean we should never buy into the idea that we are better off keeping our distance from people. To live life fully we need to continually work at staying connected to those who bring out the best in us. Connecting to those who are living life in Christian community. Connecting with those who want meaningful, in-depth, and long-term friendships. 

If you are trying to do life alone you are missing out on God’s best for you. You will miss out on God’s plan for your life. Don’t let other ideas, past experiences, or current fears hold you back. If you’ve withdrawn or been distant, closed in on yourself, just know that part of getting bigger on the inside means pushing past self-imposed limits to engage and be an active part of healthy relationships. 

Today would be a good day to begin that journey if you have not already started. And, if you already have connected with uncomplicated but sincere friends, let them know today how much you appreciate them. 

 

Sometimes You Have to Subtract to Add

In arithmetic, subtraction is the opposite of addition, but in relationships before the right people can be added, the wrong people have to be subtracted. The wrong people always hinder the right people from coming and staying in your life. This is true in both friendships and marriage.

Friendships: 

You might be at a place in your life where you could use some positive input and encouragement that the people around you can’t provide. In fact, if you look around at the people closest to you and all you see are people who talk about their problems or gossip about other people, you’re trapped in smallness with the wrong people. You’re surrounded by people who are going nowhere and complaining in the process. But that’s not what God wants for you. He wants you to rise up out of that. He wants you to be confident and know in your heart that there’s something better out there for you.

You can’t expect Positive Paul to come hang out with your friend Negative Ned. Oil and water don’t mix. But you can make a decision to not stay where you are surrounded by people who only pull you down or hold you back. People who drain emotional and mental energy from you and give little back in the relationship. People who take up your time and never personally change. People who use up the time you could be investing in changing and growing healthy relationships with others.

Don’t assume that God wants you to open your life to everyone. No, He wants you to:

        • Be cautious in friendship (see Proverbs 12:26)
        • Avoid being friends with fools (see Proverbs 13:20) and hot-tempered people (see Proverbs 22:24)
        • Do as much life as possible with people who sharpen and make you better and wiser (see Proverbs 27:17; 13;20)

The amazing thing is that when you relationally reposition yourself, free up the inner circle of your life, and start to be the person you long to be and God created you to be, the people you belong with will be drawn in to your life. They will come! Faith-filled people, encouraging people, people who live with hope and confidence will be added to your life.

Marriage: 

It’s pretty common for single people to say, “I’m looking for my other half.” Sometimes it’s just lighthearted semantics that express a desire to find the right person. Other times it’s a perception that a person has about themselves that they are never going to be happy unless someone makes them happy. They assume that their mood swings will be gone. Their fluctuating attitude will be stable. Their battle with low self-esteem will not be an issue when someone has fallen in love with them and is living life with them. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, in arithmetic one half plus one half equals one whole. But in a relationship, one half plus one half equals two different one halves. If you’re not whole going into marriage (or a friendship), you won’t be whole because of your marriage (or friendship). If you don’t overcome bad moods when you’re single, marriage won’t remedy your moodiness. 

Based on how the two of you are coming together, these things are true:

      • Two immature people coming together doesn’t make for a mature relationship
      • Two insecure people coming together doesn’t make for a secure relationship
      • Two unhealthy people coming together doesn’t make for a healthy relationship

But the opposite is true as well:

      • Two mature people will have a mature relationship
      • Two secure people will have a secure relationship
      • Two healthy people will have a healthy relationship

Whatever you are before you are married (or enter into a friendship) is what you bring into the relationship. The best thing you can offer another person is a healthy you, a whole you. Being healthy, staying whole, being our best, taking care of ourselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally is the best gift we can give the people we are relating to. Because in any relationship (marriage, friendship, team members) two whole people equals one amazingly healthy relationship. 

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…

 

Discouraged?

Have you ever felt discouraged? I know I have. And, it has not always hit when things were not going well or I was feeling emotionally down. Discouragement can come your way no matter what is currently happening in your life. 

I was recently reading the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament section of the Bible. A good story of God moving strongly and powerfully in the life of a young man who was taken from his home nation and became a slave in a foreign empire that did not believe in the God he worshipped and served. Eventually he earns the respect and trust of the ruler and becomes a key member of the ruler’s household. In time, he hears about what is left of his own nation’s capital, Jerusalem. It wounds him deeply that the city is in ruins and so is the temple within the city. 

He prays and feels God calling him to go and bring the people together to rebuild the city and the temple beginning with the wall that surrounds all major cities of that day as a means of protection. So, he heads off with the ruler’s blessing and letters of introduction. He has everything he will need to rebuild supplied to him. The people are favourable to the plan and join him in rebuilding. They have the wall half built. So, progress is being made and people can see things coming together. 

In the process, Nehemiah has faced some fairly strong and regular opposition to the plan and to the work being done. He handles it wisely and in both a very co-operative and gracious way. But the people are all aware of the constant opposition to this work God has called them to accomplish. In fact, they are surrounded by nations that are enemies of the Jewish nation. As the opposition continues to grow and threaten the work, those rebuilding the wall and the city work with a sword in one hand ready to defend what they are doing. 

But the people become discouraged … 

Rebuilding – whether it is a walled city or your life, ministry, family, business – can be exciting for a little while, but when the initial excitement fades and opposition arises, it can get discouraging really fast. Nehemiah 4:10 says, “Then the people of Judah began to complain. ‘The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.’”

When you work hard for a while and you are blasted with ridicule, resistance, and rumours, you’re going to get discouraged! When does that normally kick in? Discouragement usually creeps in around the halfway point. Verse 6 states, “The wall was completed to half its height around the entire city.”

How many of you have projects around your house that are half finished? We can all relate to the sources of the people’s discouragement in the book of Nehemiah. 

1> The first one is FATIGUE. 

“The workers are getting tired…” When you are tired, you lose your edge to fight off discouragement and opposition. 

2> The second one is FRUSTRATION

“There is so much rubble to be moved…” They actually were making a lot of progress, but the task felt overwhelming at the moment.

3> The third source of discouragement is FAILURE

“We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves”

4> The fourth one is FEAR

“They will come from all directions and attack us” (Nehemiah 4:12)

Beware of these four things that can stop our rebuilding process dead in its tracks. Take some time as you think through some of the projects you have half accomplished … and nail down why you never completed them. What was the source of your discouragement – fatigue, frustration, failure, or fear .. or maybe a combination of two or there of them. 

And, then look at the current condition of your walk with Jesus and your general overall spiritual health and well being. Discouraged? Why? And what can you do to get over the half-time slump?