Birthday Celebrations: Have TWO Instead of One!

Years ago there was a Certs Breath Mint commercial where two people were arguing, “Certs is a candy mint. No, Certs is a breath mint!” And the announcer would say, ” Stop. You’re both right! It’s two, two, two mints in one!” In another vintage commercial, Doublemint gum used to advertise, “Double your pleasure, double your fun: try Doublemint, Doublemint gum!” Today’s advertisers like BOGO (Buy One, Get One) to utilize the lure of two for one. Well, there was once a man who discovered that he could have TWO birthdays! Here’s his story:

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3, NIV)

The Original “Nick at Night”

Nicodemus was a member of the ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. This group of up to 71 men, comprised of Scribes, Pharisees and Elders, became increasingly antagonistic towards Jesus as he conducted his public ministry. That’s probably why Nicodemus had to visit “at night”. He couldn’t risk censure by such a powerful group of co-workers, and was not yet sure where he stood. But he was impressed enough with Jesus’ work to acknowledge that God’s hand was upon Him, and honest enough to seek the truth.

When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, it was puzzling to the Jewish leader, and he asked how such a thing could be. Jesus explained that it was a spiritual thing; you cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you have had a spiritual birthday to go with your physical one. He told him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”, and he encouraged Nicodemus to pursue the type of new life that was only available through God’s spirit.

Birthdays…

In May, I got to celebrate my birthday on May 9, and, since I was BORN on Mother’s Day, every so often it falls on Mother’s Day!. (Double bonus! At our house, though, we kinda like to celebrate birthdays all week long, and there’s even a card you can buy on Amazon that actually encourages that!) But it always causes me to reflect on my birthday, which then causes me to reflect on my OTHER birthday!
https://www.amazon.com/Happy-Birthday-Week-Book-thats/dp/1539326918

birthday

My actual birth day was apparently pretty difficult. My momma always told me I was lucky to make it. I was very premature, an RH baby, and apparently had a couple of medical issues that were touch and go. She used to tell me that the doctors told her I wasn’t going to live, but the Lord saved me for a reason. I’ve always been reminded of her belief about this time each year. I have to admit there are times when I’ve wondered if it was true…

My 3 kids would tell you there are at least THREE great reasons that God saved me as an infant, and to be honest, I’d have a hard time thinking of anything better or more important than having helped to bring them into the world. I got to be in the delivery room with Nancy and hold each one of them moments after they arrived on THEIR birthday!

Twice the Celebration!

But as meaningful as my birth story has been for me, and as meaningful as their birth events were, I am even more grateful for the fact that all of them have all experienced another birthday, the kind Jesus discussed with Nicodemus. I was “born again” the summer of 1968 at YMCA camp Flaming Arrow near Kerrville, Texas, when I came to realize that Jesus was more than just an amazing Rabbi. I read what he said to Nicodemus in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus wasn’t talking ONLY to Nicodemus, he was telling ALL of us we could be born again! I read that, and decided to follow him, thereby gaining another birthday.

That’s the birthday that happens as a result of seeing who Jesus is, and trusting in what He did for us on the cross. That’s the birth that granted spiritual life, participation in God’s word, and adoption into God’s family. And as fun as it is to have a party on our original birthday, I think the celebration that awaits us because of our second birthday will be beyond our wildest expectations! So during my birthday WEEK (or YOUR birthday week!), my wish is that YOU would consider this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. And pick yourself up a second set of cake and candles!

THE BIRTHDAY WEEK CARD

I was getting you a birthday card,
Which really wasn’t very hard,
But I saw this, and so I said,
“It’s good for the heart and good for the head!
So this is what I got, instead…
Read it every day. You’ll find
It will bless your heart and help your mind.
Once again, the time is near to celebrate another year!

This year the baker had to make more room for candles on your cake,
And friends and family couldn’t wait to wish you well, and celebrate!
But getting wiser can be hard, so this is more than just a card:
There is wisdom, if you look, within the pages of this book.
Spend some time with God each day, and you will grow a different way:
Intellectually stimulated, personally motivated, spiritually activated,
Ego properly deflated, you will wonder why you waited!
Read a page each day this week, and if you listen, God will Speak!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sabbath has Unlikely Heroes After the Crucifixion and Burial

Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World, Day NINE (Matthew. 27:57-66; Luke 23:47-56; John 19:31-42): As Friday came to a close and the Sabbath began, the Gospels report that two somewhat surprising figures step forward to make arrangements for Jesus’ body. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night“. (John 19:38-39, NIV)

Unlikely Heroes

The appearance of these men is very surprising, even though we know both of them had been involved with Jesus before. But, as Pharisees or members of the council, they took great risks to bury Jesus. They identified themselves with him on this Sabbath Eve when there was seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose. They faced ostracism and persecution for taking this action, but their love for Jesus was so strong they did it anyway.

sabbath heroes

A Good Question

I’d love to know what their stories were after this, what risks they took to go get Jesus’ body, and how it affected them the rest of their lives… (Won’t it be cool to ask them?) And their actions make me question something… How many of us follow Jesus just because we love him, rather than for what he can do for us? I know that’s hard to separate, but it’s a question worth asking yourself on Easter. We can read about the Apostles in Acts, but there was unheralded heroism among so many followers of Jesus in those early days that it will be fascinating to hear their stories.

A Very Tough Day for Some

Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) was a quiet day, when Israelites did not work or move around much. This Sabbath began with Jesus dead and in the grave. Judas has committed suicide. The disciples are scattered and afraid. Peter in particular must have spent this day completely broken over how he let Jesus down. (John tells us how Peter “wept bitterly”.) The boldest disciple failed to identify with Jesus when it counted most, and I imagine that he spent the day utterly distraught over what he had done and hadn’t done…

You and I have had broken days or moments like that…Just remember that it’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming! (If you haven’t heard Tony Campolo’s great sermon “Sunday’s Coming!” do yourself a favor and listen to it sometime.)

As you reflect on Good Friday and the cross, there are many things to consider. Sin is a deadly business. So was paying for it. You’ve seen images of the cross. The crucifixion day has been vividly portrayed in songs, films and books that provide context and emotional connection to how Christ suffered and died and what his death accomplished. Simply put, he paid for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, and offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice. I believe if there were an easier way, God the Father would surely have provided it. Since it was the ONLY way, God the Son carried out his mission.

A Personal Sacrifice With a Cosmic Result

As Paul said, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17, NIV).

Caiaphas was obviously not in agreement with nor aware of the true outcome of Christ’s mission. But he was inadvertently spot on when he advocated getting rid of Jesus so that the Romans would not punish Israel for insurrection. “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50, NIV) One man indeed died so that all could live, just not the way Caiaphas intended.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history. It offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal statement in all of human history, which came from the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. You remember him, the man who showed up to take Jesus’ body for burial? When he visited Jesus, Jesus told him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If that sentence is true, then ALL OTHER SENTENCES pale in comparison. Easter Sunday is the exclamation point on that sentence. What do YOU believe about the cross?

sabbath

A Little Word About Easter

It’s not about fertility, or lilies in the Spring;
It’s not about the things that bloom or little birds that sing.
It isn’t Easter baskets, filled with Peeps and Easter treats,
Like chocolate bunny rabbits or a bunch of egg-shaped sweets.
Easter is much more than children scrambling on a search–
It’s even more than Easter Sunday worshipping at church.
Easter means that one man sinned, and through that sin we fell,
Unable to redeem ourselves or save ourselves from hell!
Until on Easter Jesus conquered death, and time, and space,
And took my punishment for sin: He died, and took my place.

He bore the scourging and the cross, and Satan’s mocking laugh,
And saw his mission to the end. And died on our behalf.
Easter saw him conquer sin and death–the scourge of men,
And lift us to the heavens with Him when He rose again!
So while you hunt for Easter eggs, just please remember this:
Jesus died and rose again. That’s what Easter is.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Fresh Wind and Full Sail is the Antidote to Getting Stale

Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the wind, using it to describe the mystery of the spiritual life: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NASB)

So, what exactly does Jesus mean by this? He had just told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The wind is an intriguing analogy for one of the most difficult aspects of inner life. How do we know about the Spirit of God? Is He real to us, and as much a part of our perception of God as the other two members of the Trinity?

Does a spiritual life result from some vague, random occurrence? Is Jesus emphasizing what we don’t know and can’t see? Is he saying, like Mohammed Ali, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; you can’t hit what you can’t see!” Or something else? Here are a few observations related to wind:

An Unnatural Spirit

1) A spiritual life does have a source beyond us, something that is not necessarily evident. We don’t have the resources on our own to produce it, and our inherent human nature dwells on natural, not spiritual things. Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

2) There is an element of mystery to it; since it is not something we produce and control, we don’t know for sure where it will take us. We took a balloon ride over Napa Valley, and I was surprised that the balloon pilot had so little control over direction. He could go up and down, but he had to navigate according to what the wind dictated. In terms of our spiritual wind, it has a definite direction, but we don’t always know what that is, and it doesn’t necessarily serve human logic.

Spiritually Becalmed

3) We notice it by its absence. Ever wished for a breeze, when it was still and miserable? Have you ever been spiritually becalmed? Dead in the water? If you are lacking that spiritual push, maybe you long for a little fresh air.

wind and spirit

4) The wind, while we can’t see it, provides empirical evidence of its existence—we hear it and feel it. We know it from its effect, much like we know the Spirit from its fruit. What Spiritual evidence is displayed in your life? Can people see the empirical results of a Spiritual influence?

5) The wind is unimaginably powerful (think: tornado, hurricane). Yet we usually feel it blowing gently, or see it filling the sails of a graceful vessel, providing energy and speed. The Spirit is the same: while It is overwhelmingly powerful, He can also move gently through our inner life, providing a source of power and direction. Much like a sailing vessel, if we yield to the wind and apply our resources to capture its power, it can send us through storms and across oceans! Do you have all your canvas out? Are you yielding to God’s Spirit?

Put Up Some More Canvas

If so, do you feel a freshening breeze? When you’re sailing, the more receptive you are to the wind, the faster you will go. Do we ever fail to feel the Spirit’s influence because we aren’t waiting expectantly, and don’t have any canvas out? Better put up another jib, and make sure we are properly rigged; we’re about to set sail for adventure!

Impact

The wind expands the billowing sail,
Pushing a mighty ship with ease;
A wind can displace all that’s stale,
And cool your porch with a freshening breeze…
The wind is powerful, wild and free:
You sense the wind and you feel it blow,
Although it’s something you can’t see!
It goes wherever it wants to go…
The breeze can blow the goldenrod,
Invisible whether it’s light or dark;
And so it is with the Spirit of God,
Who is not seen, but leaves His mark.
For when you let the Spirit take command,
He’ll guide you with His gracious, unseen hand.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Flesh is Flesh. Spirit is Spirit; Do You See? Can You Hear It?

The Forgotten Dimension

In one of the pivotal conversations in history, Jesus told Nicodemus something really quite amazing. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6 KJV) Do you ever notice the spiritual dimensions of life? Out of all the animals on the planet, only man concerns himself with spiritual things. Ever wonder why that’s so?

Animals don’t debate morality, they don’t pray, they don’t pass laws, they don’t worship God, and they just really don’t pay attention to spiritual things. They have emotions, yes, and they can even love after a fashion; but they’ll never understand spiritual things. Like it or not, the spiritual dimension is clearly around us humans all the time, even when we don’t notice, or even when we just flat-out ignore it…

flesh vs spirit

The Optional Dimension?

Now, that doesn’t mean that a man HAS to notice spiritual things. He can stay as carnal (fleshly) and as practical as he wants to. In fact, millions of people disregard spiritual things because they require physical evidence, or it could be that they just choose not to see them. But the spiritual dimension is always there, waiting to unveil its power and beauty, pointing to something more profound and moving than the empirical facts suggest. The Bible speaks about being born in the Spirit. One can only infer that a spiritual birth leads to the experience of a spiritual life.

flesh or spirit

So, What’s the Difference?

A sunset can merely be a cosmological array of physical properties—flesh—but the way it moves you with its beauty speaks to something deeper (perhaps an artist of the highest caliber)—spirit. A history book can be a bunch of dry facts—flesh—but when we find ourselves motivated by the gallant acts or lofty notions from those who have gone before, well then—spirit! And a kiss can be merely osculation, which is the physical contact of two curved surfaces between a common tangent—flesh—or it can be—well, you know… It can take your breath away, and speak to the passion and love behind it!

Elevation over Sensation

It’s interesting to me that if you live in the flesh you will minimize the Spirit, and lose its enhanced perspective and all of its attendant blessings. But if you live in the Spirit, you can actually elevate the experience in the flesh and complete it by allowing it to be all that it was intended to be. A kiss can merely be the exchange of saliva, it can even be limited to lust, OR it can be—LOVE! It can point to something more profound and moving than the empirical facts suggest!

The more we stay in the flesh, the less we experience the spiritual aspect of things. And the more we live in the spirit, then… That’s right! The more it gives meaning to life, and it elevates the true meaning behind everything.

The Why

Jesus didn’t encourage Nicodemus to be born of the Spirit so he could live a life of drudgery and self-flagellation. He was encouraging him discover who he was made to be. God’s purpose for us is not to live like animals but to discover another dimension to life above and beyond mere flesh. The question is, have you found it? Are you discovering something more than mere flesh? Read John 3 and listen to what Jesus told Nicodemus. You may just unlock a whole new dimension…

Flesh or Spirit?

Are we merely carnal creatures?
What can set mankind apart?
Is it instinct? Are there features
That transcend the human heart?

When I live in stress or tension,
When I limit how I feel,
There’s a spiritual dimension
Where God’s love is fresh and real!

Let me walk in realms of glory,
Even with my feet of clay;
Help me see salvation’s story
Every ordinary day.

Into Thy hands I commend my Spirit,
More than just in words or talk;
Make my heart like Yours—or near it;
Help my feet to walk the walk.

As I sense the world around me,
Let me see you, Lord, afresh;
Let your loving heart surround me
In the Spirit, and the flesh.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Nick at Night: The Most Important Conversation in History

The Pharisee Who Took a Chance

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 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.” (John 3:1-2, NIV) This original “Nick at Night” provides far more drama than your average TV show…

It has often been speculated that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because of the risks involved. If the ruling council saw his actions as supporting or endorsing Jesus, it could have had serious consequences for him. Nicodemus could have been thrown off the council, or at the very least endured criticism and persecution.

On the other hand, perhaps he went at the council’s request, and was there as an intermediary to try to get a fix on Jesus and report back. But the fact that he went at night suggests that he was avoiding public scrutiny, and was not there on behalf of the council. If that was the case, then he was risking ostracism, persecution, and the loss of his social (and vocational) position in Jerusalem. Since he took such a huge chance, perhaps he was just an honest man seeking the truth about Jesus.

Nicodemus at night

Most Important Conversation: Really?

Whatever his motives, this talk between Nick at Night and Jesus became arguably the most quoted and pivotal conversation in all of human history. It certainly contains perhaps the best-known and most quoted Bible verse. From this brief encounter we get “born again” (v 3); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (v 6); and the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up (v 15). And from this brief conversation, we get this:

“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.” (v 16).

If you’ve never read that verse before, read again and think about what it means. It’s the verse everyone knows, and the most quoted verse in the Bible. It rocked Nicodemus’ world, and it changed his life. From the snapshots we get of Nicodemus later in John’s Gospel, a story of transformation emerges. In John 7 he subtly advocated on Jesus’ behalf in the Sanhedrin. He was still on the council, but flies in the face of the overriding hatred of Jesus.

The Rest of the Story

And then this: We see Nicodemus again in the terrible aftermath of the cross, helping to take down Jesus’ body to prepare it for burial (John 20:39). He has stepped out of the shadows of night to identify with him even when it no longer seems to matter. By performing this service, Nicodemus indeed places himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin as a dangerous nonconformist. He risks his life and his reputation to identify with Jesus the crucified “criminal”.

This conversation from John Chapter three obviously meant something to him. The real question is, however: what does it mean to YOU?

Nicodemus

Late at night, he smelled the alleyways;
Secretly, he stalked the truth in silence.
Darkness fouled his progress with its murky haze;
The echoes whispered softly, and with violence…
The Inner Council would not see his coming here
As anything but blatant heresy;
His heart beat faster as he walked along in fear,
A lonely and conflicted Pharisee…

He paused before the doorway, now unsure,
Should this conversation even start?
He wavered now, so righteous, so impure,
Listening to the beating of his heart…
The quiet night created space for him to doubt;
What would happen to him if they knew?
What penalty awaited him if they found out?
Should he be here? Or run? What should he do?
He froze in fear of who he’d meet behind that door;
Confused anxiety almost made him run,
But Nicodemus knocked because he wanted more,
And Jesus smiled and said, “Come in, my son”.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread