A Way Out

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, two men were having a conversation. The wiser one, JC, was attempting to explain to his new friend Nick how the Kingdom of God works. He had begun the conversation by stating that one had to be ”born again” to attain the kingdom, and Nick was thoroughly confused as he tried to imagine his adult self being birthed again from his mother’s womb. So JC took another approach, and shifted the conversation to God’s activity in the process.

He explained that God’s love for the world was so ginormous, he sent a begotten son to save it. That perked Nick’s ears up, as the phrase ”begotten” harkened back to his Jewish roots. Every Jew knew the story of the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make of his begotten son. Every Jew knew the surprise ending to that story. It turned out that the God of Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. A ram was provided for the offering and Isaac returned home with his father. So Nick was onboard with the notion of a substitute begotten Son being given in sacrifice as an offering. Perhaps this JC fellow was on to something.

John 3 (The Message)

13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.

At this point Nick is beginning to realize that the Son of Man is the one who has come to offer eternal life to God’s people. But in his way of thinking, it was just another sacrificial sin-offering that would probably have to be repeated, just as all sin-offerings did. After all, the whole offering system was designed to expiate sinful actions, which of course were going to happen again and again. But JC went on to explain that THIS offering was different:

And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

Nick was amazed to think that God SO loved the world that he offered up his only son as a once-and-for-all sin offering, whose sacrifice at the altar would put the entire world right again. This life, once taken, would be proof of God’s grace, not his condemnation. God’s love was so great, he created a way out.

Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

JC told Nick one more thing before he turned to leave. It all hinged on belief. Those who believe would never eternally die, but instead they would eternally live. Those who refused to believe have already condemned themselves by their unbelief.

The condemnation comes not from God, but from their unbelief.

Little did Nicodemus realize that this conversation would be recorded by a man named John, and would be repeated millions of times throughout history. It would appear on signs and posters, and become a mantra for believers. It even would show up at sports stadiums with the simple designation ”John 3:16.”

It all hinges on belief. Do you believe?

God So Loved the World by Kathy Schumacher

Things That Go Bump

“From Ghoulies and Ghoosties, long-leggety Beasties, and things that go bump in the night,
     Good Lord, deliver us!”

This old 20th Century prayer is a reminder that we don’t like things that startle us in the night. A noise in the daytime is quite different than that same noise in the dark of night. Our imaginations can go wild about the source of night-time interruptions.

Movie makers take advantage of this. Think of how all the scary scenes take place at night! Have you ever seen the classic apocalyptic film The Omega Man? The fact that the creepy zombie people can only come out at night is one of the best plot twists of that film. Everything happens at night…none of it good.

In our scripture today we see that a man named Nicodemus interrupted Jesus late at night. This is an important part of this encounter. Why didn’t he approach Jesus during the day, when Jesus was out teaching on the hillside? Something was amiss:

John 3 (The Message)

1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

John is explicit about why this had to happen at night. He lays out Nicodemus’ credentials in the first sentence: Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a prominent leader among the Jews. Imagine what might have happened to his social rank and political status if he had been seen consorting with this untrained, radical teacher. It would not have been appropriate. We have to give Nicodemus credit, though, for acknowledging Jesus’ connection to God. It was remarkable for a Pharisee to point to Jesus’ teachings and attribute them to God. But he could only say it in the dark of night. His brothers surely would have persecuted him for thinking this way.

Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

In typical Pharisaical behavior, Nicodemus questioned the practicality of the premise. He was not quite ready to yield to the idea of new life in Christ. His hold on the Jewish laws and ways is too strong, and so he resisted being won over….just yet.

5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

We are all like Nicodemus in a way. Some of us resist the complete yielding to God that is necessary for full conversion to new life. We like the idea, but we are not so sure we want to leave it ALL behind to follow Jesus.

7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

What are you holding back? What habit or behavior do you still cling to that prevents you from truly being “born anew?” (Common English Bible) The Spirit of God calls us to enter a baptism into a new life through water AND the spirit. Only then do we become living, breathing spirits that are formed under God’s direction.

What do you need to leave behind in order to move ahead?

Night Lite by Karen Hunt

Easter Eggs

Movie-goers love to find “Easter eggs” hidden in scenes of popular films. Easter Eggs are hints or clues that reference a less obvious part the story. These hidden messages are fun to hunt and act almost as love letters from the movie’s creators to their fan base. Alfred Hitchcock often appeared as an extra in the first five minutes of his films. Fans love to try to spot him. “Catch Me If You Can” is the story about Frank Abagnale’s defrauding the government out of millions of dollars. The real Frank Abagnale appears as a cop in the scene where his character (played by Leo DiCaprio) is arrested. Caught ya, Frank!

In a similar way, the scriptures are full of Easter Eggs that reveal clues and hints about the nature of God. I have always thought that the Bible is one big love letter from the Director. These glimpses of his character are meant to reveal him to us.

See if you spot any Easter Eggs in this very famous passage.

John 3 (Common English Bible)

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

In writing to the Jews, John deliberately takes them back to the time of Moses’ authority. Moses is the hero of their faith. Moses led them out of slavery into the Promised Land. Moses defeated Pharaoh. Moses gave them freedom. The symbol of the raised snake on the pole was a sign of deliverance.

Easter egg: Jesus is the new hero. Jesus will lead his people to an eternal promise. Jesus defeated death. Jesus gives us freedom. The symbol of Jesus raised on the cross is a sign of deliverance.

Jesus is the new Moses…only better.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

John loved to write about light and dark. It is a dominant theme in his book. In this passage he helps us understand that sin traps us in the darkness of evil. But here is the Easter Egg: Christ is the Light of the world, a light no one can extinguish. ALL the world (not only the Jews…surprise!) may come out of the dark and live in his Light. And surprise! When God sees your actions through the Light of Christ, he won’t condemn you for your sin. He will save you from it.

God so loved the world that he sent his only son. This is his enduring plan to save us all. Thanks be to God.

That the World Through Him Might Be Saved by Karen Warlitner

New-Born

I was (finally) cleaning out some old storage containers and I came upon a onesie that both my daughters wore. I saved it because it was my favorite. The puppy-flying-an-airplane motif seemed just right for a family of dog lovers whose Daddy is a pilot. I was glad to find it, because it made a perfect object for my children’s sermon last Sunday.

John 3 (The Message)

1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

This is a confusing story. We are confused, just as Nicodemus was confused. Explaining to the children on Sunday that my 5’10” daughter would never fit into this onesie again was pretty easy to understand. Obviously we aren’t meant to take a literal view of born again. So what was Jesus trying to get at?

When you think about it, becoming a new-born makes sense in the context of setting aside your adult preconceptions and seeing your relationship with God the way a newborn looks at her mother. Newborns are totally reliant on their parents for food, nurturing, learning, and life. Jesus is telling us to be new-born and rely solely on God for those things. We are to depend on him, not ourselves, for our daily needs. We are to look to him for what we need to learn, and not lean on our own understanding. We are to look to him to feed us both physically and spiritually.

5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

How can you look at your relationship with God through new eyes today? What is he trying to teach you?

God invites us to be formed by something we can’t see and touch…the Holy Spirit. When we submit to his power and authority in everything, when we put ourselves under the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, we can be born anew. Only then can we enter God’s kingdom. May the invisible move the visible in us toward new life.

New Born