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The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus.  Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel.  A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16.  In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation.  I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke.  Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable…  (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!) 

You know the other thing that really gets me?  When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t.  Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke.  How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit? 

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth.  And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs.  A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary.  Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage.  For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”? 

So we began to study.  I looked at the context.  Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea.  First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12.  But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter.  John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’”  Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think.  How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God? 

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit.  It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic.  Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective.  Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted.  Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign.  John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine.  But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.”  Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment.  People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions.  John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’”  His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate.  All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.” 

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response.  The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings.  Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority.  Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it.  Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker. 

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life.  This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category.  This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category.  Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out?  Or that passage or prophecy?  They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God.  Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it.  I admit I’m tempted to do the same.  Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases.  But one Bible study help proved immensely useful.  A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of. 

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down.  We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3.  Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making.  Scholars call this an intertextualization.  By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point.  Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way).  What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5.  If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint. 

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.  Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit.  You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do. 

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life).  But you can watch them happen.  You can even predict them when you see the signs.  If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful.  When harvest comes you will reap nothing. 

Back to John 3.  Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things.  First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event.  Knowledge isn’t enough.  Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge.  He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works.  The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 

Verse 8.  Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind.  Be born of the Spirit. 

Then the crux.  If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God.  You are not born again of the Spirit.  Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see.  Faith is essential.  Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten Son, has eternal life. 

Get up from your wind-watching.  Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know.  (Ecc. 11:6)  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Earlier this week I was talking to an old friend.  As long as I’ve known him, he’s been talking about ways to make the most out of all the information in the world.  What it comes down to is community: I can’t read all the books and you can’t watch all the movies, but if we do a little of each, and then share the summaries or highlights, we’ve both benefited from double what we could have done ourselves.  Another thing he brought up was the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Wisdom knows value.  Wisdom can make choices. 

 

You get on the internet and how do you decide whether to read the article about the presidential race or the news story about international affairs?  You go to the library: upstairs or down?  Fiction or nonfiction?  M’s or Biographies?  There’s so much you couldn’t hope ever to get to, yet gaining knowledge is good.  What makes you read Jane Austen over Dickens?  Why did you pick a mystery today, but a book about Iceland last week?  Or we could look at your household.  How do you decide between Monopoly with your kids, a movie with the family, or any of the hundred chores and projects you could do around the house? 

 

The choice is wrought by wisdom: your wisdom or someone else’s.  My same friend is an excellent story-teller.  He has the wisdom to know what details are essential to letting you feel right there a part of the story.  When I get on the internet most days, I’m not thinking of choices that are life-shattering.  “What’s this about?” I ask and click.  I found all of my favorite blogs by linking out of curiosity.  Why did that article catch my eye?  I believe this is providential grace.  Do I always see purpose in my trips to the library, the museum, or the web?  Are all of my conversations with friends evidently headed in a direction good for both of us?  I believe that, though I can’t always point to it. 

 

Fruit in our Christian life is a matter of wisdom.  It isn’t dutifully devouring the books in the library shelf by shelf until we are filled with useless facts and exhausted by blurry lines on the pages.  Christianity is walking in the Spirit’s wisdom.  And the Spirit produces fruit in our lives. 

 

Luke 10:27-42 contains two stories: the first is the Good Samaritan.  The second is one we’ve been studying in Sunday school for several weeks, Mary and Martha.  This week we’re got a glimpse of the context of Mary and Martha.  We can tend to see Jesus’ reproof of Martha as a call to abandon work almost entirely.  Churches today are so afraid of legalism that they can be afraid to tell people to work.  Who was most spiritual in the Good Samaritan story?  Who was most Christ-like?  Who obeyed the greatest commandment?  It’s significant that Martha’s story follows the account of the lawyer (asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”) who wanted to “justify himself.”  He wanted to earn credit from God.  That’s not what ministry is about.  Let’s look at a proper perspective on service. 

 

Last week in Sunday school we talked about having “living room intimacy” with God.  A few weeks ago one of our teachers shared a little of what her living room is like with friends.  She’ll serve them, but wants them to help themselves to refills or anything they need.  I love most to visit my friends and spend the day with them, changing diapers, folding laundry, etc.  What I’m getting at is intimacy that goes beyond sitting at Jesus’ feet, beyond the time of prayer and meditation on His words.  Intimacy with Jesus is an active intimacy, too.  It doesn’t turn off when we get off our knees, or when the kids wake up, when we’re at work, driving, relaxing, or even when we’re on vacation. 

 

We work as a result of being with Jesus.  We can’t do everything, so we need wisdom to know which works to choose.  Follow Jesus’ example (taken from Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World).  He ministered in three ways:

 

         as He went on His way

         as He went out of His way

         in all kinds of ways

 

 

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes that we should look for God at work and join Him there.  In John 5:19, Jesus describes His walk in the same way: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

 

We don’t get the impression from the gospels that Jesus published an itinerary.  His disciples rarely even knew where they were going or when.  Jesus was like a living pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites followed.  Jesus knew where He was going, and the gospels even report at times that He had to go somewhere (Jn 4:4).  

 

Even in the story of Martha and Mary, when Jesus got to Bethany, He was on His way to Jerusalem.  What does this joining God at work look like? 

 

I’ve worked at the same office for seven years.  Over that time I’ve met some favorite patients and some least favorite.  Last week we saw one of my least favorite, a man who when he came last year was a test of my Christian love.  I didn’t want to love him, to want him to be saved, to be nice to him or anywhere around him.  I wanted him punished.  But I struggled with that, and prayed that God would help my weak heart to love my neighbors no matter who they were. 

 

This year when I saw his name on the books I started to pray, but my prayers were all different.  I prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel, and for the approach to take with the gospel.  Our patient needs Jesus, no question about it.  And for all the times I’ve asked God to never let this man come back to our office, God has brought him back year after year.  God doesn’t make me miserable for no reason, so I believe God is at work in that man’s life.  I didn’t get to share the gospel.  He came in and left without even stopping. 

 

But he came back the next day, and my gifted-evangelist brother shared the gospel with him.  How incredibly cool is that? 

 

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?  He wasn’t out on a charity field trip.  He didn’t build a shelter for beaten and unconscious penniless men to recover if they could make it.  Luke 10:33 – “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”  The Samaritan was on his way, paying attention to the needs of others.  He ministered on his way. 

 

But the difference between the Samaritan and the other, “religious” men in the story, was that after he met the needy man on the road, the Samaritan didn’t just toss him a drink or some money; he went out of his way to help him, just like Jesus would. 

 

Joanna Weaver points us to Matthew 14:1-22  for Jesus’ example.  The first part of this chapter describes the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  John was the first to proclaim Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ and actually baptized Jesus.  In response to news of his friend’s execution, Jesus goes apart by Himself.  The crowds find Jesus, but He doesn’t immediately send them away.  Instead, according to verse 14, Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Note the word “compassion.” 

 

“He laid aside his hurt so he could pick up their pain.  He laid aside his wishes so he could become their one Desire.  He laid aside his agenda so he could meet all of their needs.”  – Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

 

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on our passion for ministry.  What do you just love doing?  God created you to be passionate about certain types of service, truths about Him, or people groups.  As youth leaders at church we’ve been talking about that.  And when you’re building a team with a mission, that’s good.  You want those passionate about interaction to be doing the fellowship, the teachers to be teaching, the servants to be running the snack bar or sound booth, the loud and energetic ones to be leading games.  God gave the body spiritual gifts, and He gave varieties to different people so that we could work together and be the best and strongest. 

 

But we’re not talking just about targeted long-term missions. 

 

Compassion is different from passion.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to meet the needs of the multitudes.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to make me His.  And compassion is willing to serve wherever needed. 

 

Jesus ministered in all kinds of ways. 

 

What if Jesus had said, “Blind people aren’t my ministry; I heal the lame”?  Or “You’re a Roman; I only help Jews”? 

 

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, healed lepers, taught Pharisees, fielded questions from lawyers and peasants.  Jesus played with kids and cleansed the temple.  Nothing and no one was off limits to Him. 

 

Yeah, you say.  That’s Jesus.  Of course He could do everything. 

 

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

 

God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the same Spirit from whom we get the terms “spiritual gifts,” and “fruit of the Spirit.”  So no excuses.  If God is leading you to a ministry, whether for five minutes, five days, or for a lifetime, He’s going to supply the gifting.  Remember the idea of spiritual gifts is that they are supernatural.  If we could do it without God, they wouldn’t be spiritual gifts.  Ministry is God’s power working through us.  And that Power, that God, is exactly what the world needs. 

 

Remember the story of Peter and John from Acts 3:6-9 where they heal the lame man?  Peter offers the man first Jesus and second healing.  We need to have that intimacy with God (from spending particular time with Him) that gives us insight into physical and spiritual needs of those around us.  They need Him more than money, free food or good counseling.  Even the people not like the Samaritan’s neighbor, not at death’s door, desperately need to believe that there is a God with Power that they can trust. 

 

So we’re serving out of our intimacy with God, continuing the journey and joining Him in His work.  We serve and bear fruit as we go, when we embrace God’s interruptions of our plans and go out of our way to help, and reach out in all kinds of ways.  You see a person in need.  What do you have to offer? 

         Compassion that comes because God loves them.  When we spend time with God, we get His heart.  We start to love people because God loves them, and because we love what God loves.  The word compassion is an overflow of feeling.  If it doesn’t produce action, it isn’t compassion. 

         Compassion that sees their need as more than outward.  Going through our daily lives with God is a good way to keep in mind that there’s more to life than what we see or feel.  People have needs that are physical, and God calls us to care for those in distress.  But God left us on earth to spread the good news. 

         Passion for God’s glory that can’t hold it in.  Getting to know our God produces more and more enthusiasm for who He is.  Then we can’t help sharing it.  Everyone should know about God; He should get credit from everyone for the goodness that He is and does. 

 

This whole lesson on fruit is based on the idea of abiding in Christ, summed up in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  When we have that intimacy with Jesus, we’re like a zucchini vine.  Joanna Weaver writes, “Fruit happens.  You get connected to the Vine and pretty soon you’ve got zucchini – tons and tons of zucchini.  So much zucchini you just have to share!”  If our fruit doesn’t point back to the vine, though, we’re just working.  We’re Marthas, cumbered about with that load of rocks (acts of service or ministry) God didn’t give to us, trying to earn credit from God for all the good things we do.  We’re trying to tackle the whole library.  Christian work is from “walking in the Spirit” (that living room intimacy picking up and moving through the whole house), the Spirit who glorifies Himself, and who gives people what they need and not a cheap substitute.  If all we have to offer the world is our love by ourselves, or our money, or our help – they’re not getting nearly what they need. 

 

Jesus promises that men will recognize His followers by their love (John 13:35), and sure enough, Peter and John were identified as Jesus’ disciples because they boldly healed the lame man in Jesus’ name, and would not be deterred by the religious incumbents, though the apostles were untrained and uneducated.  Jesus had made a noticeable impact on their lives (Acts 4:13). 

 

We had elections in this country last week.  Compare the US to China.  In China the Christians are often officially persecuted for their faith.  But most of them aren’t fighting to transform the government.  They know their real mission – and only hope – is to transform lives.  God changes lives when He is known in His people’s love.  “Chinese Christians devoted themselves to worship and evangelism.  They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.”  – Philip Yancey

 

Does the world know WHOSE you are? 

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