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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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“Set back to wind,” she wrote. The Spirit fills us, pushes us along, just the next gust or the ever-present breath. No sinking, no long-range course for us. Like the wind.

John 3:8 – “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I love the wind. Strong or gentle, wrapping me or rattling my window, my eyes light like Galadriel’s going to sea. Calling, like I’m supposed to be there, in it. Hard to only watch. And what am I watching? Not really the wind itself. Family is careful to remind me that I am not seeing wind, but its impact. Transfer of energy. But the wind takes a long time to get tired.

Rain in the wind. Hair in the wind. Eowyn’s flag atop Edoras in the wind. Trees in the wind. Windy City. Windmills. Wind on my face. A sail-ship powered by the wind.

Romance of Sail by Frank Vining Smith
Romance of Sail

All my life I’ve wanted a picture of a ship. I’m picky. It has to be a beautiful ship on a beautiful sea. And the ship can’t bee too modern, or a pirate ship either. Ships in bottles excite me. I love anchors and the white and blue of a sailor, white ropes and wooden floors and round windows.

Comprehend my delight at finding the perfect substitute for my ship picture or ship-in-a-bottle: a model of a ship, about a foot long, unpainted. As soon as it’s made I will place it in prominence in my room, to inspire like wind in my room every day of the year. Such are all my decorations, bits of memory pointing me to love others, worship God, walk in the spirit, quest for the truth.

 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s January, and the only reason I’m bringing this up is to immediately draw some relevance to your life.  In January the custom is to make at least one New Year’s resolution, something you’re intending to accomplish or change in the upcoming twelve months.  Have you ever made a resolution that was not fulfilled, through no fault of your own?  

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9 

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 

About eight weeks ago I saw the movie Bella.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 That day I had a list of things to do a mile long.  The theater I chose was across town, the one offering the cheapest tickets. (Even though we only broke even for gas, I like to exercise my rights as a capitalist and boycott expensive movie tickets.) By the time we got across the city, we were about ten minutes early. But being out of our neighborhood, we didn’t know where the theater was. I saw one on the left side of the street; Mom turned right.

Finally I explained I saw the sign across the street, so we made it over there. Like a theater ashamed of its existence there was no marquis. We parked and went in, but did not see Bella listed. Sighing, I asked the cashier, “There’s another theater across the street in the mall, isn’t there?”

Back in the car, we returned to the exact spot we had accidentally visited earlier, but still there was no theater in sight. You know how malls work, though; you can start anywhere and get anywhere, especially in this one, which has a shortcut through the food court. So we parked. I hurried in and analyzed the map while Mom followed. At this point the listed start time of the movie was already upon us. I found the theater on the directory and took off in the direction, hoping my recent venture into map-reading would pay off.

The whole race I was coaching myself, “God knows what He’s doing, Lisa. This is for a reason. Relax.” Finally through the mall and across a little drive, we entered the theater, bought our tickets, and were at last standing just inside the door for screen 12. And everything was pitch black. The movie was just starting. Once there was a little more light, we found our seats and heard the line, “…tell God your plans.”

Hang with me, I’m not done. About twenty minutes into the movie the entire screen went black. Small fluorescent emergency lights began to flash and a calm voice informed us that an emergency had been reported in the building; everyone should move toward the exit. Outside we moved back across the little drive.

My brother has this laugh and dance he does when life is so unbelievable. Rosalee on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton says, “Yikesabee.” I sit down and watch with a smile ready to burst into a laugh. Some people say, “You just can’t make stuff like this up.”

In the end we got free movie passes for anytime, any in the family of theaters, with no expiration date or restriction – and we got to finish our movie after a mere 15 minute intermission. I would have been fine if they carried sodas and popcorn to us on trays, but then they were already over the top on customer service.

That day God was driving home a point.  Maybe I needed to lighten up, to laugh at surprises, to recognize that He is in control and I’m not, to trust that He is in control, and to be at rest with that.  In fact, that is pretty much the way I’ve learned to live life.  I learned because the Bible teaches all those things; in fact I’d say it emphasizes the need to submit our plans to God.     

Look at the parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-33.  Remember, it’s a story.  Pretend you’re reading what happened to your uncle last week.  What reactions do you have to the word “fool”?   

Mark Schultz wrote in a song, “I’ve dreamed my dreams; I made my plans.  But all I’ve built here is an empty man.”  The word fool, that God used in the parable, makes me think of emptiness.  The rich man was only an empty man.  Jesus called His disciples to something better.  What was it?   

How many of your decisions are made based on the concerns Jesus said to give no thought?  Do you encourage your husband, or your kids, or your friends and family to gauge their decisions by those things?  What does Jesus teach about God in this passage?  

Next time you find yourself thinking about those things, ask yourself what part of God’s character you’re doubting.  Is He unable to take care of you?  Does He love sparrows and lilies more than you?  Does He not know your needs?  Does He not want to take care of you?  Does He want you to make those decisions?  Now?   

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” ~ Psalm 32:8-11  

Psalm 32:8-11 compares the kind of faith God is looking for with a life of utter dependency.  God is not expecting us to never think of the future; He wants us to make decisions.  But He wants them made by His wisdom, even when we have ideas of our own.  What is possible when we trust God?   

James brings up a twin aspect of the foolishness from which Jesus taught about faith: James talks about pride, assuming like the foolish man that we know what will happen and can control our futures.   

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:  Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.  Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” ~ James 4:13-17  

What happens when we spend so much time planning our future?  Is there something else we should be doing?  

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing this lesson everywhere I look.  God’s plans, not our plans.  Again and again.  Not only am I seeing the truth of this; I’m seeing the vastness of God’s plans.   

“Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.” ~ Psalms 33:1-22 

Also these past few weeks I’ve been reading a book on chess.  Do we have any math geniuses in the room?  Has anyone heard the legend of the chess board and the rice grains?  Does anyone know how many board positions are possible on the 64-square, 32-piece chess board?  I guessed you wouldn’t.  I’m not sure I can even read it properly, but I’m going to try.  This is from The Immortal Game p.68-70:

“It all starts out so simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options…  Black has the same twenty possible moves with his first response…  there ar eactually 400 possible board positions in herent in those moves.  That’s because for every one of White’s twenty moves, Black’s response can lead to twenty separate positions…

“…the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is – you’ll have to trust the number crunchers o nthis – 71,852.  

“…After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions.

“Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion…

“The total number of unique chess games is… in scientific notation, 10120 

“… In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games.”   

I read that passage and something struck me.  God is working on a board the size of the universe, and He has billions of pieces at any given moment.  I don’t think we have numbers to express all the possible combinations that entails.  But God knows when each sparrow falls; He has a plan for every individual.  Out of all the possibilities, there is one that will happen.  Wow.  How great is our indescribable God!   

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:8-11 

God doesn’t give us problems in which there is insufficient information to find an answer or make a decision.  He likes us to know how the world works.  One good Law of the Universe to keep in mind is in Isaiah 55:6-11.  What is the difference, according to this passage, between our thoughts/plans/ways, and God’s?  I would say the difference is that God’s plans always happen  

Jeremiah 29:11 was preached originally to the Israelites.  What does it tell us about God’s plans?  “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11  

Is God out to get us?   

We all remember Romans 8:28, that all things will work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.  Again: God works things out.  God wants good.  God called us.  God will accomplish His purposes.  When God makes a resolution, it cannot fail to be kept.   

So how should we live?  Luke and James warn us against worrying about and planning over our futures.  Psalms forbids us from being like animals, which are so dumb that they need to be dragged wherever their master wants them to go.  There must be another way to live.  All of the books mentioned it.   

“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”  ~ Proverbs 16:3 

John records Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about this different sort of life.  Chapter 3 verse 8 says, “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.”   

2 Corinthians 5 is not alone when it commands Christians to walk by faith.   

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:  (For we walk by faith, not by sight)  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.  Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-9  

What is the motivating factor of the life Paul describes?  Where does a Christian’s confidence come from, if he never knows where he is going (as in John 3)?  Did Paul plan to live his life walking by faith?  What did Paul plan as a young man?   

What did you plan?   

By the end of Paul’s life, he had discipled successors, spread the gospel, led churches, written part of the Bible, and stood before kings.  How did Paul get from what he planned to those things?   

When Paul was saved after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, did he understand: we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians), or God works all things together for good (Romans), or God shall supply all your need (Philippians)?  

Philippians, perhaps one of Paul’s most personal and mature letters, contains Paul’s confessions that he learned.  (Philippians 4:11) He didn’t hit perfection and run on through life without any problems.  But he pressed forward.  (Philippians 3:12-13)  He learned in whatever state he was, to be content.  And because he knew who God was, and believed those things, Paul could rejoice.   

How has God taught you to walk by faith?   

Are you empty?   

I am overwhelmed by the possibilities for my life, for one piece, and the implications for those around me.  No wonder people go crazy.  No wonder humans end their own lives, especially if they don’t acknowledge that God is directing this world.  A philosopher once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe, or we are not.  Both are equally terrifying.”  The terrifying God of power and wrath and holiness relates to us in grace proportional to His awesome understanding and might.  He is a God worth trusting in a life that cannot be peacefully lived any other way.  

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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