Monthly Archives: July 2019

Finding the Old Treasures

Treasures and Light Bulbs

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and you do not understand these things?   (John 3:10-11)

Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He was a top dog among the religious officials.  He was steeped in the knowledge of the scriptures.  You could probably ask him any religious question, and the answer was on the tip of his tongue.

Yet what Jesus said stumped Nicodemus. What was all this talk of being born again, and of the Spirit?  “How can this be?” he asked.

Jesus answered him by saying, “Wait a minute.  You’re the one who instructs all the Jews.  How can you not get this?”

Ouch!  But, as the Ellicotts Commentary for English Readers puts it, “Do teachers of Israel know not these things when they lie beneath every page of the Old Testament Scriptures?”

There were truths in the Old Testament that should have switched on a light bulb for Nicodemus when he heard Jesus teach them.  Look at these passages:

  • I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. (Ez 11:19a)
  • I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ez 36:26)
  • I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. (Ez 37:14)
  • The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted . . . until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high. (Isa 32:14a, 15a)
  •  I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isa 44:3b)
  • And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Joel 2:28a)
  • And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. (Zech 12:1)

And that’s a challenge for us.  Is the Old Testament switching on light bulbs for us?  How much do we know it? How much are we reading it, to remind ourselves of all that is there?

Paul told Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim 3:5)  The holy scriptures Paul was referring to had to include the Old Testament writings, because when Timothy was growing up, the New Testament books were just being penned.  So Paul said the Old Testament scriptures are a great source of knowledge for salvation.

I have a friend who attended church for years, but didn’t come to a saving faith.  Finally, she started reading the Bible on her own, starting in Genesis, and going all the way through.  The more she read, the more she fell in love with the gracious and amazing God she discovered. Then as she got to Jesus, her heart opened up as she saw how he reflected everything else she had studied.   It was the knowledge of the Old Testament, put together with the New Testament scriptures, that converted her.   She was baptized a few weeks ago.

The thing is, that’s just the beginning.  There’s so much in the Old Testament that can open up our hearts in cool ways.  We’ll find that almost everything in the New Testament has a basis in the Old Testament.  The more we understand the Old, the more we’ll understand the New.

So I’ve been getting convicted that I need to start regularly reading through the whole Bible. Sure, I have daily devotionals. (Well, mostly!)  But I need to have a regimen of exposing myself to the all of scriptures, not just bits and pieces.  There’s a wealth of great stuff that God put in there for a reason.

There’s this turn of the century Bible teacher I admire,  James A. Harding.  Harding was known for his knowledge of the Bible.  He read through the Old Testament 60 times, and the New Testament 130 times.  And everywhere he went, he urged people to do the same.  It was said in his eulogy that he, “set more people to reading the Bible … than any other preacher; and he infused his own love and appreciation of the Word into those who came under his sway.”

I so want to infuse my love and appreciation of the Word into those around me.  That’s the reason I blog.

Here’s a great verse,  “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”  (Matt 13:52)

We can have a storehouse of gems of truth from both the New Testament and Old.

You know, Nicodemus was a good guy.  He sought out Jesus and put his faith in him.  But he was a teacher of the law, and Jesus expected him to understand the scriptures.

Today, we are Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor 5:20), and Jesus expects us to understand the scriptures as well.

Let me encourage you to find a way to read the Old Testament more.  If you’re a new Christian, don’t get overwhelmed.  Start by reading all of the New Testament, book by book.  Then develop a system to read the Old Testament as well.

There are all kinds of reading plans on Bible apps and web sites.  You can listen to the Bible.  There are online devotionals that study books of the Bible, including first5, which some of my friends love.  I just bought a chronological Bible that is divided up into daily reading plans.

Let’s make this our challenge: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” ( II Tim 2:15)

Let’s do our best to correctly handle the word of truth.  It’s going to take work.  We’ll have to be intentional.

But the light bulbs are worth it.  The gems of truth we will gain are worth it.  And the love and appreciation of the Word that we will infuse to those around us will be a tremendous blessing.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103)

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Filed under John, Loving the Old Testament, Red Letter

The Crazy Blowing of the Spirit

windmills

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)

The other night, I couldn’t sleep.  My mind was spinning with thoughts of stressful situations.

But then it occurred to me that I have a resource that can get me through all of the challenges, including getting back to sleep.

I have the Spirit.

The Spirit is like an extra thing.  I don’t have to depend on the same old stuff that hasn’t worked.  There’s something in me waiting to be tapped, waiting to give me hope and strength, telling me I can make it.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  (John 4:4)

When I remembered that I have something in me that is stronger than those things that daunt me, I felt empowered.  I knew that I could handle the trials.  Sleep began to creep over me in a supernatural way, and soon I was snoozing once more.

The Spirit is amazing.  So it’s no wonder that Jesus would tell believers that they need to be born of the Spirit.  They would need a piece of the divine in them to carry out his mission.  They would need extra strength to overcome temptation and persevere.  They would need to be different than the world.

Here are some things we can take away from today’s red letter passage.

We’re a part of a spiritual kingdom.   The context of this passage is that Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus about how to see the kingdom. Jesus said the flesh gives birth to flesh, and spirit to spirit.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “What you seek is actually invisible.  It’s a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one. And so, to be a part of this kingdom, you’re going to need to be born of the spiritual.”

Do we understand that those of us who follow Jesus are born of the spiritual, and that’s our milieu?  We work through an invisible realm.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Yesterday, I coached someone who was being pulled in two directions.  One one hand, they wanted to solve their financial challenges by finding ways to make more money.  On the other hand, they wanted peace, and to be more centered in God.  They decided that focusing on the latter would help them achieve the former.

This is what we have to keep remembering.  We look for physical solutions to our problems.  And this is not a bad thing.  But the way we operate is to seek the kingdom first, and pray.  Our solutions start with the spiritual, with faith.

The Spirit is a moving force.  Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind, which is anything but stationary.  As I’m writing this, I’m on an airplane flying across the US.

Airplane Sky

View from the airplane window.

It would do me no good to be on the airplane and sit on the tarmac.   I did that once before, when there was a thunderstorm delay, and we were stuck for hours on a hot airplane.  That was the pits!

And so it is with the Spirit.  It’s meant to take us places.  Sometimes it motivates us to physically move to a different place or situation.  Other times it empowers us to grow internally.

“For God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self discipline.” (II Tim 1:7)

The Spirit takes us to unexpected places.  Jesus said that the Spirit is like the way the wind blows and no one knows where it came from or where it’s going.

Do you ever look around you and say, “This is crazy.  I don’t know how I got here.  But it’s good.”

I was talking with my son in law recently.  Over the past four years, he, my daughter and my grandchildren have lived in Chicago, Seattle, Indonesia, and now in  in the San Francisco area.  It’s been a wild ride.  But he’s come to realize that God took him and his family to a place where they will do their best and thrive.  He said this is not how he would have planned things!  But he sees that God’s way is much better.

The same is true with my own personal development.  Believe me, I would have self-helped myself in different ways than the trials I’ve endured.  My way would have included a lovely smooth path.  But the Spirit has brought me from a place of being opinionated, judgmental and full of myself, to being more surrendered and more dependent.  I’m more joyful and peaceful.  I feel more ready for heaven.

In conclusion, let the Spirit work.  Don’t restrict it!  Do we open ourselves up to the workings of the Spirit, or do we quench it? (I Thes. 5:19)

I’m off the airplane now. But on the flight, there was a little boy behind me who kept up a constant stream of commentary.  He exclaimed about what he saw out the window.  He expressed his excitement at take off.  He asked random questions.  Whatever he said was unfiltered.  Meanwhile, no one else on the plane was talking.  They kept their thoughts to themselves.

It reminds me of the way we are with the Spirit.  We’re reserved. We’re civilized. We’re fearful and cautious.  We don’t let that inner self run wild and free.

But where would the Spirit take us if we let go a bit?  Recently, my friend Marge was inspired to take her small group to visit a church right around the corner for midweek services.  She wanted to promote unity.  It was kind of a bold crazy thing, to walk a diverse group of people into to a little country congregation.  But they ended up having a great fellowship.

Who would the Spirit create in us if we let go a little bit?  As I’ve studied life coaching, I’ve been able to throw off more of my negative self talk.  I’ve had so much more room for spiritual thoughts and growth.

windmill 2

After I got off the airplane, I drove through the prairies of Eastern New Mexico.  Along the way, I saw the giant windmills that are becoming more prevalent as the nation utilizes wind energy.  The windmills are a great visual for me.  The propellers are set way up high, where their motion can be unimpeded. (Okay, there’s a telephone wire in the picture, but it’s actually far away.) It reminds me that the “wind” of the Spirit works best when we raise our focus to God, instead of at the level of our worries and fears.  The blades are continually rotating, and it reminds me that the Spirit is an ongoing force.  If we get in the flow of it, we will have a constant cycle of love, joy, peace, patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control.

Let’s appreciate how incredible it is that Jesus came to bring a spiritual kingdom.

Let’s live as citizens of this kingdom, and draw on the amazing resource we have in the Spirit.

Let’s be conscious of the times we clench up and inhibit the Spirit, and strive to open up instead.

It’s a wild ride!  But it’s going to take us to amazing places, and do amazing works in us.

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Spirit

Fear (A Poem)

tumultuous waters

There’s a thundering

I pretend not to hear

But it’s so loud

That I’m deaf to everything else

This looming tsunami

Filling my ears with the certainty

That I will be swept away

Father, come close

Look with me at my fears

Let me know the lies

Let me hear the promise

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you”

Louder than the roar

Of the tumultuous tide.

 

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Filed under Poetry