Monthly Archives: June 2019

The Continuing Adventure of Being Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “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.”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:1-3)

This was a bold move for Nicodemus.  He was a respected Jewish leader, and yet he took the risk of coming to Jesus and expressing faith in him, knowing that the other religious leaders were highly critical of this new teacher.

Jesus’s response, which is our red letter statement for today, was equally bold.  He told Nicodemus that more than belief would be required.  The Pharisee would need to be born again.

What does it mean to be born again?  We’ve heard this phrase so much that it can lose its impact.

Last week, I got the totally encouraging news that a long time friend of mine got baptized.  I met her back in 2011 when she was a master’s student at Auburn University.  We studied the Bible, and had many spiritual discussions over the years, but she wasn’t able to make a commitment of faith at that time.  She continued her spiritual journey over many years, and it was so thrilling to me when I heard that she had finally come to the point where she completely gave her life to God.

She texted me, “Now I want to please God.  Before I wasn’t interested in that.  I just wanted to please others.”  She went through a complete transformation.  She was a different person after her baptism.  She wasn’t just immersed in water.  She didn’t just profess faith.  She genuinely was born again.

For those of us who have been born again, I think it’s a good reminder that we also have been completely transformed.  That means that we now have a different identity.  I recently had coffee with a new friend who told me about her church.  “I don’t understand why some of the members act like they’ve just kind of added God to their life, while others are completely committed,” she said.  I thought she was pretty observant to notice this.  She could see that some people make Christianity one of the things they do, while others make Christianity who they are.  Being born again involves making Christianity who we are.

Is Christianity still who we are?  We’ve been adopted as God’s children.  Do we see ourselves as part of his family?  I’ve been watching this reality series, “Relative Race,” in which the contestants  travel around the country to see who can be the fastest to find blood relations they’ve never met.  It’s super poignant, because some of the contestants were adopted, and never knew their birth family.  To see them embrace their father, brother or sister for the first time is amazing.  You can’t help but be tremendously moved.

Do we appreciate that we’ve found a whole new wonderful family — a spiritual family?  What’s our identity as part of this family?  My grandchildren are visiting us right now, and it’s very natural to pass on to them what it means to be a part of our family.  They see our devotion to God as we go to church, pray together and talk about him.  They see how we love and respect others.  We teach them our values.  We talk about how to behave.  I sing them the songs I learned from my parents.

Family identity can be powerful.  I remember my mother telling me about her father, who died before I was born.  She told me how he was a cowboy, but he never used profanity.  He said that cussing was for those who weren’t smart enough to think of other words.  That story really made an impression on me.    I decided to never use coarse language, because I wanted to follow my grandfather’s example. To this day, I’ve stuck with that.

The example of Jesus is even more powerful.  It strongly inspires us to not only take on his behavior, but also his character.  This is what we signed up for!

But sometimes, over time, we grow comfortable with where we are.  We start to be more like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus and telling him how awesome he is, and missing the rebirth.  We forget that complete transformation isn’t a one time thing.  It’s ongoing.

It’s actually an adventure to work on being transformed!  We can step out and do something with crazy faith.  We can love someone, even when it doesn’t make sense.  We can decide to live in total surrender.   We can pour out ourselves in generosity.  We can make a radical decision about our sin.  We can thank God, no matter what.  We can be joyful in tough circumstances.

Nicodemus thought he was making a bold move.  Jesus was like, “You can have a bold new life!  One that’s completely different than the one you had before.  One that’s completely different from the people around you.  One that’s vibrant and inspiring.”

You know, it’s interesting.  My slogan in my life coaching business, Broad Tree Coaching, is “Support for Becoming All That You Are.”  When I coach clients, I support them as they learn what their values, needs, talents and purposes are, and how to align their lives more closely with these.  I support them in becoming authentic.  I support them in building integrity, and being true to what is important to them.

Now it strikes me that what God does is support us as we learn to align our lives more closely with our spiritual values and purposes.  He supports us in becoming authentic in our new identity.

Every day, we can choose to grow and live up to who we are.  Every day, we can be born again.

“Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”  Eph 4:24

“That way you won’t be guided by sinful human desires as you live the rest of your lives on earth. Instead, you will be guided by what God wants you to do.”  I Peter 4:2

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. . . Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (From Colossians 3)

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  II Cor 5:16-17

“Do not conform to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Transformation

The Blessing (A Poem)

Sunrise2

Sometimes I receive a blessing so big

That I sit still

Because it doesn’t fit into my view

And I have to let my soul expand

As I appreciate

Like lapping waves of an incoming tide

Like dawn

When the sky changes color over the mirror of the sea

And pink steals over the horizon

And the sun, making a gleaming trail

Rises until all of the world is sparkling brilliance

My heart soars.

I am carried away

By the unimaginable joy of what has been given.

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Friends of My Heart (A Poem)

Leaves 2

Floating Leaves, by Bryan Robberts

My friends,

Each of you is my lifeblood,

We’re connected,

Your breaths are my breaths.

But sometimes, I don’t know how to communicate.

I want to hear how you’re really doing.

I want to be the sister of your heart.

Sometimes, all I can do is pray for you,

with longing that you’ll flourish and resist temptation.

If only we could join hands and remain clasped

through every flood.

But the currents of life keep us bobbing about,

Sometimes close, and sometimes apart.

You bump up against me,

And I say, “Hold, on, we can make it together!”

Until you’re swept in another  direction,

And I’m left, remembering our shared breaths,

As I spin downstream.

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Why Am I Not? (A Poem)

goose nesting

Why am I not where I think I should be?

What would it take to find contentment where I am?

I have to not listen to the voices that yearn for affirmation.

I have to settle down, like a goose roosting on a nest of down.

I have to let the day happen to me

And open my ears to the Spirit

And find the treasures in the hours.

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How Do We Keep On Going?

On account of this, the Jews demanded, “What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do these things?”

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

“This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?”

But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His body.  After He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. Then they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)

Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately:  How do we keep going in tough or totally discouraging circumstances?  Today’s red letter statement gives us insight into an answer.

In the statement, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection.  What impresses me is that Jesus said this at the beginning of his ministry.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus doesn’t start talking about his impending death until Luke 9.  But in the Gospel of John,  he speaks about it early on, just after he calls his disciples and performs his first miracle.

It shows us that this was always so much in the forefront of Jesus’s mind.  That’s mind blowing to me.  It’s so different than the way I think.  I love to be productive.  If I were Jesus, I would be working towards creating tangible results.  I would want to see the evidence that I’m impacting people and creating a movement for God.

But Jesus served ceaselessly with the knowledge that his efforts would seem to fail.  All of his followers would leave him.  His movement would be virtually extinguished.  He would be condemned to death by those he sought to help.

Can we serve God like Jesus, knowing that we may not see the fruits of our labor?

We can, if we have the mindset that Jesus had.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”  I think he answered the Jews with these words, not just because he wanted them to remember later and have faith, but because the words were the very basis of his faith.

Jesus was fueled by his belief that he would be resurrected.  He knew that his life on earth would feel ineffective at times.  It was his life after death that would change the world.

There are two lessons we can get from looking at the perspective of Jesus.

First, let our goal be “death,” not accomplishment.

Jesus said later in his life, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

Jesus knew that, just as the “death” of a seed results in the growth of a plant, his death would result in the growth of the church.  And then, as a plant continues to regenerate, so would the church.

Today, we die to self and sin, knowing that this results in growth and regeneration.

  • We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.. . . Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . . So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. (II Cor 4:10, 12)
  • If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Luke 9:24)
  • For if you live according to your human nature, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you put to death your sinful actions, you will live.  (Rom 8:13)

As it was for Jesus, the basis of our faith is the resurrection.  We believe that our labors bear fruit as God works through our death.

Second, look less for gratification on earth, and more for gratification in heaven.  Hebrews says about Jesus, “Because of the joy awaiting him,  he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Heb. 12:2)  The real joy, for Jesus, didn’t come until after his death.  That’s not to say that he didn’t have joy on earth.  He most certainly did.  But the true gratification came later.

And the sure belief of this coming happiness gave Jesus the strength he needed to hold up through the daily rigors of his ministry.  It gave him the fortitude to submit himself to a humiliating and tortuous death.

Can I find the same kind of strength?  Because I’m realizing that I need to ask myself,  “What if I knew that all this work I’m putting into serving God would fall flat?  What if I knew that the result of my labor would be my death ?  Would I still go out every day and deny self and give?”

As I said before, I’m so results oriented.  But I need to look further than gratification on earth.  The gratification I’ll have in heaven needs to become my biggest motivator.  I confess, that when I was younger in my faith, it was so hard for heaven to be a motivator.  As I get older, I’m finally seeing this better.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Matt 6:19-20

Jesus lived by those words.

How do we keep going in discouraging circumstances, when everything seems to be going wrong?

We look at how Jesus kept going.

We picture the surpassing bliss we will feel when we’re safe in the arms of our loving Father in heaven.

We believe in the power of surrender, of repentance, of prayer, of nothingness before God.

We say, “The only hope I have today is in death. I have no answer to Satan, except that I die and put myself and my work in God’s hands.”

And then we let our faith swell until it’s bigger than every failure, saying, “And I believe that God will work the power of life on whatever I put to death in him.”

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.  (Matthew 13:31-32)

I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (I Cor 3:6)

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Filed under Faith, Humility, John, Perseverance

Clearing Out Self

When the Jewish Passover was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables.  So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those selling doves He said, Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.(John 2:13-17)

Here’s a model of what Jerusalem looked like in Jesus’s time.  The temple is in the foreground.

temple

I can picture how excited someone would be who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  I can see them anticipating being physically close to God, because back then, the Lord resided in the Most Holy Place at the temple.  As they approached, they would see the temple gleaming the sunlight, high up on a hill.  How their hearts would thrill!

Contrast this with what Jesus found.  As he entered the temple, the courts were teaming with vendors and money changers who were clamoring for attention.  There wasn’t a sense of reverence and communion, but instead, of profiteering.  The sacred act of worship had become a transaction.

Jesus saw greed.  He would preach later, “No one can serve two masters. . . you cannot serve both God and money.”  (Matt 6:24)  People were serving the master of money.  Idolatry was thriving in the very temple where people went to be with God!

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

Here are some practicals we can take away from this red-letter statement by Jesus.

Make church about God, not about us.   Not long ago, my small group read Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Churches.  In it he talked about how churches are now structured around a consumer model. “We are actually ruining people by making them consumers,” Chan said in an interview.  “Because you’re supposed to be turning them into servants.  We don’t come to be served.  We serve and give our lives as a ransom for many. It’s at the core of what we understand it means to follow Jesus Christ.  And we’ve twisted it and it’s evil.”

Do we make church about us, and our needs?  Or do we come with a pure motivation, seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and giving ourselves as a living sacrifice?

Make our private devotionals a time of reverence and communion.  Today, we are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides. (I Cor 6:19)  The question is, are we coming to the temple in the same way the worshippers of old would come to the temple? Are we excited to connect with the seed of God that is within us, which helps us connect with the God who cannot be contained? Do we realize how amazing it is that we can be close to the Holy One who created and sustains the whole universe? Do we make sure our time with him is devoted to him only, and free from distractions?  Or is our temple crowded, and noisy with other things vying for our attention?

This song illustrates what the attitude of worship should be.  I’ve included a video and some of the lyrics.

Who else commands all the hosts of heaven
Who else could make every king bow down
Who else can whisper and darkness trembles
Only a Holy God

What other beauty demands such praises
What other splendour outshines the sun
What other majesty rules with justice
Only a Holy God

Come and behold Him
The One and the Only
Cry out, sing holy
Forever a Holy God
Come and worship the Holy God

We so need to meet with God, and bow down to him, and pour out our hearts as we are overwhelmed with the utter realization of how awesome and holy he is.

Yesterday, I had a one-on-one phone call with my life coaching teacher to evaluate the final for my class.  For the final, I coached someone, and my teacher listened and transcribed the session.  So in our evaluation conversation, we discussed in detail how my coaching was, what I did well, and what I could improve.

I was discouraged that my instructor told me that I’m still trying too hard to be in control of my coaching sessions.  The goal is to let the client steer the sessions.  I keep trying to take the wheel, and direct them.

It was sobering that she told me this, because I know I do this, and I was trying not to.  It’s so hard to change!

But at least it gives me a very clear picture of how I need to be with God.  I need to completely let him steer, instead of trying to grab the wheel.  This morning, while I was praying, I pictured a stage on which God was the only player.  I cleared the stage of everyone else, especially me!  And I thought, “This is what my days have to be.  God has to be the one on stage, not me.”

My youngest daughter got me a new journal for Mother’s Day, and I’m using it to keep a list of what I see God doing.  I’m trying to live out the words of Jesus, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.”  I’m taking note of what God is doing, and tooling my actions to match his.

God is teaching me in so many ways to clear out self.

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

There’s so much we need to clear out so we can worship God.  We need to deal with our materialism, our love of self, the desire to control.

Idols don’t belong in the temple.  They ruin what it was meant to be.  And what it was meant to be is amazing.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Phil 3:7-8a)

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Filed under Glory Above All, Holiness, Humility, John, Red Letter, Surrender