Born Again?

 

“Born again” –ResurrectionUnfortunately this term has been cheapened and even maligned, used in our generation to designate a certain type of Christian, which doesn’t make much sense because according to Jesus this is the only kind, it is what belief in him is all about, it is what happens when we accept the answer. I always think of Jimmy Carter who was ridiculed mercilessly by the press when he proclaimed himself a born again Christian when he was running for president back in ‘76.

This hasn’t changed, the world looks at born again believers as ignorant, do goody good, losers who are just out of touch with reality. I like to blow that image out of the water, last week at work a guy told me; “You’re more like that preacher from the movie The Pale Horseman,” I said, “Well, I do have a pistol in my truck.” I wasn’t really after the Clint Eastwood persona but I could think of much worse.

Like I said, the born again thing was Jesus’ idea, it was the answer he gave to that all important question about getting right with God.

He gave this answer to a Pharisee who came to Jesus one night. An influential Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. So he knew the law— the law of God. The law was what the Pharisee’s lived and breathed, in fact they made laws to make sure they were keeping the law.

So if anyone would know the answer to the question it should have been this Pharisee—Nicodemus—yet he came to Jesus asking, because he knew there had to be more than just words. Nick knew— just like every other man woman and child who had ever lived and had taken an honest look inside of themselves— that there was a big empty spot inside, in fact, it just seemed kind of dead. There has to be more— please, let there be more!

So Jesus meets him, and before he even really asks the question, Jesus tells him the answer.

Jesus answered, “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. You should not 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.”

We must be born again.

The first birth; Born of water, is a reference no doubt to natural human birth, which is indeed a very wet proposition, and possibly an allusion to water baptism. The Hebrews were masters of word play like this. And then the second birth; born of the Spirit— our sprits made alive, the empty hole inside of us filled with life.

Why?

But why? Why did it take such a dramatic thing like all the horror surrounding the trial, torture and execution of the loving and gentle Son of God?

I remember when I was a kid being very disturbed by the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told. An epic movie filmed in 1965 about the life and passion of the Christ. For years it was shown on network TV every Easter weekend—at least through the seventies. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, especially compared to Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion, but it wasn’t the violence that disturbed me, it just seemed like such a sad ending.

Yeah Jesus comes back to life in the end, but there was just so much suffering and sadness as soft spoken, tall handsome, blue eyed, European Jesus was being accused and beaten— then nailed to a cross? Why, why did he have to die like this, he was such a wonderful person, he just loved everyone and wanted to tell everyone about God, he healed people and did miracles, it just didn’t make sense. Why did he let them do this to him?

I remember asking my Dad that same question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I honestly don’t remember the answer he gave me but I know he tried to explain it.

It wasn’t until years later that it clicked, not until I really understood how sinful I was and how futile and frustrating it is to try to earn your way into heaven. When I woke up one day and realized that for the past several years I had let myself indulge in everything my flesh had demanded while at the same time claiming to be a born again, spirit filled Christian- when I looked at how far I had fallen all the while justifying just a little more, just this one time— what can it hurt? I’m still a good person…  no, I wasn’t.

And just a little more had become way too much and had affected everyone around me and everyone I loved— “I’m fine, just leave me alone, pass that joint and break open another cold pack, let’s get blasted out of our minds— again.”  Anything to cover the emptiness.

My prayers were hollow and timid, my Bible was dusty and all my fellowship was with those who dragged me farther down. Who am I? Not who I wanted to be that’s for sure.

And that’s when I understood why Jesus had to die.

That’s what Nicodemus— the expert in the law of God— was discovering, and that was the question and frustration that Jesus was answering to; The cry of Nicodemus’ heart; “Who am I? No matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I want to do what is right, to keep the Law that I know so well, I still feel like a miserable failure. It’s just so hard to be good and God just seems so far away, I still feel empty and dead inside.”

That’s why Jesus had to die, because it is impossible to be good enough, there is just too much going on in here (the heart) and up here (the head) that we seem to lose control of on a regular basis. Jesus was the only one who was good enough so he was able to die in my place, simply because, he had no sin of his own to die for. And by virtue of being the Son of God, his sacrifice was especially significant, for reasons the human mind cannot even comprehend, as the Father was himself making the sacrifice that divine justice demanded.

But he busted out of Jail and is giving us the keys to do the same.

We can be born again, never to die, never to face execution or accusation, the jury had been sent packing— thank you you’re dismissed, your services are no longer required, there is no accused.

Jesus made that possible, his death made that happen. And those who put their hope in him will be, and are, born again.

And carried on the wind, soaring free on wings like eagles.

Happy Easter my Friends! Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!

 

 

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You Are Safe

Behold your King comes, gentle and riding on a donkey-GirlHiding

This week we celebrate Palm Sunday. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem that Passover week so long ago he faced seemingly insurmountable opposition— an uneducated carpenter from an obscure village up north, riding right into the teeth of all those who would destroy him. But what his enemies didn’t know was that this was exactly the plan. He was going to conquer even in his defeat, he was laying down his life willingly so that we would not have to.Jesus was going to face his accusers so that we would not have to, he was going to suffer the very wrath of the Father, so that we would not have to.

 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. John 10:17,18

Palm Sunday was Jesus storming the beaches of Normandy to free a people from oppression and to deliver the world from tyranny. A one-man army on a plodding burro going to defeat the powers of darkness who had invaded and perverted all of the earth.

We all want to be safe, we all want to be free from harm and the threat of harm. If you’ve ever felt vulnerable, especially if it has been a way of life, as it is for way too many people— especially women and children— then you know what a desperate and lonely feeling this is. It consumes you, it steals your joy, your sleep, and, it may seem, even your very soul.

I have been in ministry for a long time and have seen over and over again the hurt and fear in a person’s eyes who has had to live this way, victims of abuse at the hands of a loved one, a husband, father, mother, a neighbor, it’s especially hard when it at the hands of someone that everyone else thinks is okay— “They would never hurt anyone.” You may even start to believe that it’s your own fault or that you somehow deserve it.

Lies, all lies! No one deserves to live in fear, you are not to blame for the sins of another and anyone who is causing someone pain is doing just that, sinning. We are commanded over and over again to be motivated by love, to treat others the way we want to be treated, to encourage and bless others. That’s the way our Lord was and is. The only people Jesus ever had a problem with were those who were hurting others and justifying it in his Father’s name.

 “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Mark 12:40

It has been a goal of mine in my entire life in ministry whether I was teaching kids in a Sunday school class, doing a Bible study in a jail, teaching a Celebrate Recovery meeting, pastoring a church, or writing a book, that the people who are looking to me for answers—some relief from their confusion and hurt— that they feel safe. No one can feel love if they do not first feel safe. It’s very difficult to accept the love of a God who claims to be our Father when you have never felt the love of a Father figure in this life, if you have never felt safe in the presence of a man, especially if that man is claiming to represent that God. That’s why Jesus came “gentle and humble of heart”— “gentle and riding on the foal of a donkey.”

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:29

We know Jesus had incredible power, he raised the dead, made the lame to walk, escaped mobs who wanted to kill him, calmed a storm on the sea— Jesus could very easily have conquered the Romans and taken the Throne from Herod, the puppet King. But Jesus had come to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday for another reason—to ensure our safety, the safety and security of a relationship with his Father, a Father who is the very definition of Love, a Father whose love was reflected in the gentle strength of his Son.

 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Col 1

Jesus reflects, and gives us access to, a Father in whose hands our hearts are safe. Jesus came to give us Spiritual safety and with that comes emotional healing and security as well— in one fell swoop— we are rescued as we trust our souls to him, as we come to understand the depth of his unfailing love for us.

Jesus, the image of the invisible God, came as a shepherd leading and protecting his flock, strong enough to keep the predators at bay and gentle enough to care for even the most fragile lamb.

Jesus was a strong man who could work wood with his hands before the advent of power tools when everything was chopped, chiseled and planed with blades you had to sharpen yourself. Yet those rough calloused hands could reach out and touch the broken hearted and bring healing even to those the world turned away from in scorn. Prostitutes, lepers, the raving mad demon possessed and lepers, even tax collectors- the hated agents of the Roman occupiers.

Those strong yet gentle hands would hold and bless little children whom others found a bother. Those hands would be pierced as they had the nails driven through them pinning him to a wooden cross hewn from wood with tools not unlike he what he himself used to use in his trade. The hands of the creator become a man, now nailed to the wood of a tree, a tree he had created long before his hands bore the marks of a man’s life of toil— all these things, all the love those hands wrought and expressed throughout his life and the pain they willingly suffered as his life was laid down when his toil was finished— all these things represent and illustrate who his Father— now our Father— is.

A God whose hands reach out to us with love. A God whose hands desire to assure and restore, to comfort and protect; hands that are never raised to us in anger but are always open to give if we’ll just heed his voice and come to him unafraid. Our God is our Father and because of that— You are safe.

 

What To Do?

What to do, what to do?


What am I supposed to do? How often have you asked that question? The question we all struggle with in our desire to be in the plan the Lord has for us. The answer, the Lord would give us, is simple and can be summed up in a few words; Hear me, know me, heed me.

So how do we hear, know and heed? That’s the challenge.

There are the generalities— how to live as believers, the principles espoused in the commandments of God and the illustrated in story after story throughout scripture, the teachings of Jesus, and the instructions to the churches left by the apostles in the epistles that make up the New Testament—  but there are also the personal questions that dog us as we struggle to keep moving forward as people who want to live in the plan he has for us. The decisions we have to make about jobs and money, houses and kids, churches and friends— the list goes on.

What we often miss is just how connected those two seemingly unrelated concepts are, the generalities of Christian living and the specifics of this Christian’s life. If we are being guided by the principles and teachings of the word of God, our personal decision making will be much more likely to fall into line with His best plan for us. We are much more likely to make wise choices if we know what disappoints our Lord angry and what brings him delight.

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Sam 15:22

That can only come by getting to know him, this comes with time and honesty; honestly seeking him and keeping nothing hidden from him, a true friendship. Sometimes we just know what we’re supposed to do because we know what our Jesus would do.

 4 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15

Friends walk side by side. True friends know what the other is thinking without even asking; they just know how the one will respond, how they think, and they trust one another. We are not just following Jesus— “Lord show me your ways that I may follow”, we are also to walk with him– that is what he desires- that we are so in tuned to him that we began to think the same way, that our steps are guided by him not just by decree but by our very nature as we set our minds on him as his Spirit breathes life into our very souls, not just to give us life but to be our life. And as his word becomes planted in our hearts and minds and the sinful nature of selfishness and fear finds no more room in hearts. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds as we draw ever closer to our Lord. It is no longer I who live but Chwwjdx-largerist who lives in me.

What to do—WWJD?— Somethings don’t need a revelation, sometimes we just need to understand the heart of the one we profess as our Lord and Savior, the one who calls us child, and friend.

When Jesus first called his followers he said to them, “Come follow me…” But there came a time after they had followed him, stuck by him, got to know and trust him, that he said I no longer call you servants… You are not just following me now, you are indeed my friends, there are no  more secrets, nothing is hidden from you, we are in this together.

Are you in a place in your relationship with the Lord where you no longer consider yourself just a servant of the Lord, where you feel like you are really starting to know him? That’s what he wants, He isn’t looking for servants, he is looking for friends who will help him to serve. Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats?  “Depart from me I never knew you!” —You need to know your Lord.

Don’t get stuck in the baby Christian stage. A person’s
child doesn’t stay a child forever, the relationship changes as the child grows up, becomes mature and there can be a level of friendship with a parent, an honesty and really getting to know and understand one another that takes place— that is a precious thing, it’s something I cherish with my own girls.

Those who knew the Lord did the things Jesus was doing because they were working alongside of him, feeding the poor, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, not because they had some grand revelation but because they knew that is what their Lord wanted them to do because they had his heart.

What to do, what to do. Too many Christians sit on their hands waiting for an assignment. One thing I do know, you are not to be doing nothing, at the very least you need to be doing this:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Hear me, know me, heed me. I Am —everywhere.

 

Of Mice and Men

I Need a House!


Years ago I was convinced that I wanted to be full time in my role as Kids and Associate pastor at Hope Center in Billings. 102883 I was going through a really rough season where we had lost pretty much all we owned, having to sell it all off as we tried to live on Workers Compensation payments and a small church salary as I was dealing with a back injury that kept me from working for months on end.

Against my own beliefs and desire, I was talked into pursuing a law suit against the City of Billings as my injury had occurred while at the City Water Treatment Plant. Problem was, I had waited almost two years and the Lawyer I called put me off for a couple months, just missing the two year statute of limitations mark. In the meantime I had contacted another Lawyer who suggested I sue the first lawyer for blowing it.

“Okay, whatever, maybe this is the Lord’s way of  getting us set up so I can be full time ministry and not have to go back into construction our learn a new trade altogether.” As the case dragged on the Lawyer was making all kinds of promises telling me we had a really sloid case and that we should get a substantial settlement. I told him I would be happy with enough money for a good down payment on a house- “Oh, you’ll do better than that”, he promised.

Donna and I actually started looking at houses. I remember one I really liked back on Blue Creek closer in from where we had left and I told the realtor, “It’s just a matter of time, we’ll have the money”. Finally, after months of preparation the Lawyer had set up a meeting with the other Lawyer we were suing where he fully expected them to settle to avoid going to court.

I’ll never forget, it was a Tuesday, I was back to work and helping with a remodel at 1st Interstate Bank in the Heights. I was supposed to be at the meeting at 11:00 that morning and I was convinced that my life was about to radically change. At about 10:00 that morning I got a phone call from my lawyer. He asked, “Did you read the paper this morning?” No, I don’t get the paper. Long pause- “Oh, anyway, the lawyer who was just indicted for defrauding a widow in Big Timber was my partner, and he has been working on your case with me. That doesn’t bode well for us as now this case is tainted- I’ll have to drop your case- sorry.”

As I stood there on the bare concrete floor of the bank where we had pulled up the old carpet earlier I felt like the rug had indeed been pulled out from under me. So much for that grand plan. Now what am I supposed to do?!

Of mice and men

“The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.” An old saying explaining the futility everyone experiences all too often in seeing our plans go down the toilet. We all like to plan, it is in fact the very thing which gives us hope, gives us a reason, as the psalm says; the people perish for lack of vision. What is a vision but a plan for the future, something to shoot for.

The Lord wants us to plan, to have a vision but he also wants us to have a faith in him, to seek his plan for us knowing that any plan we make, even any plan that we thought was probably his, could change in a heartbeat. Bringing our desires in line with his are a key part of this. If we have his heart we don’t always need to be hearing his voice- we become one with the Lord.

I see three things we need to be asking when we are making plans, the answers to which, will determine, if the plan of our hearts are from the Lord and if they will be blessed.

  1. Is this God’s best plan for me, or am I just asking the Lord to bless my plan?
  2. Is this plan one that will benefit primarily me, or will others also be blessed in this— what is my motivation?
  3. Will I be okay with this plan falling through or will I be devastated and angry at the Lord for ‘letting me down’?

So many times my plans have been changed, my dreams and schemes altered or blown out of the water. I can’t even began to count. But I’m learning— learning and yearning— to follow, to discern the will of the Lord. I think the yearning part is perhaps the key. I think too often our desires get transposed I our minds as the will of God. “Boy have I got a plan for you Lord!”

That failed lawsuit and my plan to use the money to get a house came at a time when I had been praying earnestly for a house. I was convinced that the Lord needed to give me a house so that I could afford to serve full time as a Pastor. So I asked the Lord repeatedly to bless my plan. See a problem here? My plan? I had convinced myself that my plan was God’s plan. So I pestered him relentlessly about working things out so I could be all set up to stay there full time and long term.

I fasted, I prayed, I schemed and planned. I remember one day, with Jesus’ story of the persistent widow in  mind, I decided that I just needed to spend a long concerted time begging the Lord for a house so I took a long walk using the time to pray over and over; “Lord, give us a house.” I don’t remember how long I walked but it was certainly long enough to repeat the request in various forms over and over probably way too many times. But guess what? –I didn’t get a house. And you know what else? I thank God that he didn’t grant my request to fulfill my plan because it would have made it very difficult for us to follow the Lord’s plan for us to come here to Red Lodge.

In fact, it wasn’t more than a few more months after this that the Lord started talking to me about going to Red Lodge. He probably figured he had better clue me in before I drove him crazy with the house thing. So in that regard, yeah, the persistent widow thing does work come to think about it.

The Lord will reveal his plan to us if we are listening and are patient enough to wait for it.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way. Psalm 37:23