Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Reposted from 2012.

I brought in the car for a $25 oil change this week, and came home with a laundry list of significant repairs estimating over $3,550. The car has 200,000 miles on it — so we knew this day was coming. Nicodemus probably came to Jesus hoping for a simple religious tune-up — a new teaching to consider or an old teaching with a new spin. Like me at the car shop, Nicodemus found out he had a bigger problem to address.

Recently I had a serious steering alignment problem. My alignment was so bad that if I let my hand off the wheel for a split second my car would veer sharply to the right into the ditch. Instead of getting it fixed, I decided to just fight it for months by gripping the wheel tighter. Eventually my wrists began to ache from holding the steering wheel straight.

The Bible describes a world completely out of alignment with God’s will and purposes. Human sin and rebellion have jerked everything out of whack. If we simply leave things, people, nature, government, etc. to do what comes naturally, we’re all veering into ditches, colliding head on and driving off cliffs.

Religion steps in at this point and provides some guard rails to help keep us on the road and out of the ditch. God gave us his Law to show us the righteous path, the holy road, that if followed will keep us from self-desctructive twists and turns, reckless off-roading adventures.  But unlike my car’s steering, the misalignment of the human will caused by sin has no quick and easy fix. Continue reading Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Nic @ Night 4: Talking about “New Birth”

This Sunday I have the honor of preaching a message on one of the most significant truths and experiences in all the universe: God’s supernatural work of New Birth in the human heart. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above” (John 3:3).

How do you talk about something that is necessary to experience firsthand?  It’s like describing a Mozart piece instead of listening to it.  It’s like talking about a Rembrandt painting rather than looking at it. It’s like trying to describe love to someone who’s never been in love.

These sermons drive a preacher to his knees, and bring him to the end of himself. I can only invite people to follow Nicodemus into that face-t0-face, personal encounter with Jesus, and pray that the Holy Spirit will come among us and open people’s eyes and transform hearts.  Come Holy Spirit!

Here’s a good quote from Gary Burge’s commentary on The Gospel of John:

“Religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.

Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief(3:16,18), and yet is is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped with sin” (Gary Burge, Gospel of John: New Application Commentary, 126).

Come Holy Spirit!  Invade our presence, and sabotage our hearts! Blow mightily among us at MainStreet this Sunday and every day!

Nic @ Night 3: Religion vs. Gospel

Nicodemus was very religious. And this was a major obstacle preventing him from receiving the teaching and understanding the message of Jesus.

Here’s a wonderful contrast between RELIGION and THE GOSPEL by Tim Keller:

RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles: If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure, inadequate, and not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time, neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to “the other.”

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies and who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. It is only by grace that I am what I am. I have no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, regardless of what I say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life: family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things is an ultimate end for me. None of them is something I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency such things can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Mourning Story

I want to share an incredibly powerful and innovative new ministry vision. Meet my friend and former colleague, Mike Lotzer, and his thoughtful new ministry venture Mourning Story.

I encourage especially pastors who are ministering to people nearing the end of life to consider this powerful way to share the gospel at your next funeral. Can you imagine the potential impact?

Watch this video and let Mike explain Mourning Story:

Nic @ Night 2: Religion Isn’t Enough

Reposted from 2012.

To kick off the new year, we’re exploring one of my favorite “Christ Encounters” in the Gospels — Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here’s how the clandestine story begins:

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.  After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

One of the most shocking aspects of this exchange is that Nicodemus is a very religious, devout man. He is called “a Pharisee”, a member of the ruling council (Sanhedrin), and “a teacher of Israel.”  The Pharisees were the most remarkable, scrupulously religious adherents to the Jewish Scriptures. Pharisees were, in the words of Barclay, “those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes” (123).  His entire life’s purpose revolved around honoring God, understanding the Scriptures, and observing the appropriate religious customs and rituals.

He was very religious.

But he will soon find out in his exchange with Jesus that religion isn’t enough. Nicodemus was still somehow in the dark. This is the main significance behind the author’s telling us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night.” The darkness of night symbolizes the darkness in Nicodemus’s unregenerate mind and soul.

It’s often been said that religion is man’s attempt to reach up to God by good deeds and religious observances; and Christianity is the story of God mercifully reaching down to us in Christ.  Nicodemus is busy with many religious tasks and obligations. Had he lived today, he would have perfect church attendance, possibly be the chair of the church counsel, living a morally upright life as a responsible citizen with a good standing among his neighbors and friends.

But he is still spiritually dead — blind to the things of God (cf. 2 Cor. 4). “As Barclay puts it: “Nicodemus was a puzzled man, a man with many honors and yet still lacking in his life. He came to Jesus for a talk so that somehow in the darkness of night he might find light” (124).  All of us, religious or not, must make this same passage from spiritual darkness into the light of a New Life in Christ.

Have you come into the light?  Have your eyes been opened to the truth of the Gospel? Have you been born again from above?

Oh, LORD, breath your Holy Spirit upon all the religious people in our churches who have yet to be born again from above.  Rescue us from our tendencies to try to be religious enough to please you, and help us to receive your gift of New Birth as we surrender our lives to you. Amen.

Nic @ Night 1: Restless New Years Eve

A repost from 2012.

Let’s begin this New Year by getting back to one of the most basic and foundational spiritual truths: New Birth!  Let’s spend sometime in the shoes of Nicodemus, a devout, religious man who was still lacking something.

Let’s imagine, just for fun, that Nicodemus went to Jesus late on New Year’s eve.  He had spent the evening with friends doing the first century equivalent to eating nachos and watching Dick Clark at Times Square. Prior to the party, however, Nic had been doing some soul searching. He couldn’t get out of his mind the miracles and powerful message he had been witnessing of this popular preacher from Nazareth named Jesus. What did it all mean?

He was feeling a void in his soul – a subtle restlessness that all his religious knowledge and devotion just couldn’t seem to help.  New Year’s Eve often causes one to reflect on the past year and inspire new hopes and aspirations for the coming year.

A new beginning.

A fresh start.

A chance to get over the hill,

kick the bad habit,

find what’s missing,

right what’s wrong,

turn a new leaf,

and live with more purpose and joy.

All of these things were stirring in his soul as he left the party just after the giant stone ball dropped in Jerusalem (just go with it!). A storm of emotions bordering on despair and an irresistible curiosity to get to the bottom of this Jesus figure, led him to do the unthinkable.

In the middle of the night, Nic walked to the place where Jesus was staying, and knocked on the door. Nic was risking reputation among his fellow religious leaders who considered Jesus a false prophet and blasphemer, as well as risking upsetting the famous rabbi by disturbing him at this late hour of night.




The sound echoed into the abandoned village streets.




“Will he answer?” wondered Nic. “If he does, what kind of reception will I receive?”  All was dark for the moment…

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,  

I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” -JESUS

Read full “Nic @ Night” series here.

Merry Parachoresis! A Christmas Reflection

DAILY ILLUMINATION | Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life.

This is a repost from a couple years ago. -JB

The Christmas story is all too familiar for most Christians today. We’ve seen two dozen pageants, have basically memorized Matthew and Luke’s accounts of wise men, shepherds, overbooked inns and barnyard manger scenes. The problem with familiarity, as Dallas Willard puts it, is that “Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity — unsuspected unfamiliarity, and then contempt” (The Divine Conspiracy, 11).

Thus, pastors often struggle preparing their annual Christmas message.  But as my recent post argued (See “And There Were Shepherds”), the Christmas story is filled with shock and mind-boggling surprises.  One has to work very hard to make this story ordinary and boring.  The story of Christmas is the most extraordinary story ever told.

This Christmas I shared a brief Christmas message at our high school Christmas dance — yes, my Baptist friends, our youth group had a dance to celebrate…

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Magi Remixed: More than Sparkle & Shine

TZ-Star-of-Bethlehem.grid-6x2The story of the magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem could have ended much differently.

We know that these men from the east were likely royal astrologers in the court of the Persian or Babylonian King. They were obsessed with the movements of the stars and planets. They found great meaning in tracking their orbits and phenomena such as supernovas, eclipses and planetary conjunctions. They spent their lives with an eye in the telescope, and loved every minute of it.

They spent their lives as keen observers of the heavenly bodies.

Now imagine that they remained merely curious observers when the Star of Bethlehem made its grand appearance in the night sky. Imagine they came together and merely studied and marveled at and talked about this strange star rising in the sky?  Stars have all the qualities of the things in life that grab our attention and delight our eyes: They are bright, shiny, majestic, sparkling, alluring. They invite us to ponder the transcendent quality of the created realm, they “declare the glory of God” and “proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19).

In a phrase: They command our attention. And this is exactly the danger or temptation that faced the magi 2,000 years ago. They could have quite easily remained merely observers of that brilliant star. What a tragedy is when we are content to merely stare at an object that is intended to draw our attention to something far greater! Continue reading Magi Remixed: More than Sparkle & Shine

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life .

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