You Must Be Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  (John 3:1, ESV)

This was no ordinary run of the mill Jewish man with whom Jesus was talking. First of all he was a Pharisee. There were only six thousand in all of Judaism and they were considered the spiritual cream of the crop. They were considered experts in the law. They kept the law more scrupulously than anybody else. More than that, he was a ruler. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council otherwise known as the “Sanhedrin.” This was the Jewish Supreme Court. They were the religious and political liaison between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people.

Nicodemus had heard a lot about this Jesus. Fascinated by the stories of a man who could walk on water, raise the dead, feed thousands of people with a few loaves and a few fish and a man who was making some unique claims about who He was and where He was from. Nicodemus decides to seek this man out for himself.

“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.’” (John 3:2, ESV)

Notice he says the same thing about Jesus that the world is still saying today. Who is Jesus in the eyes of the world? A good man? A great teacher? A real prophet. Not God, but maybe from God, but not God. Spiritual–yes. Supernatural–Nicodemus would have said no. Where Nicodemus thought he was coming to have a theological discussion or a friendly philosophical debate, Jesus begins to talk about (of all things) birthdays.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:3, ESV)

One thing you have to say about Jesus is He doesn’t beat around the bush. He gets right to heart of the matter. He said, “Nicodemus, you don’t know Me, but I know you. You think that having a relationship with God is a matter of religion, good works, keeping the law, doing your best, and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. I’ve got news for you. A relationship with God has nothing to do with what you do for God and it has everything to do with what God can do for you and in you.

If you had been there you would have seen the blood drain out of his face. You would have seen the sweat drop from his brow. You would have seen the tremble in his hands. For the first time in his life, Nicodemus was confronted with this shattering thought–when it comes to having a relationship with God, good isn’t good enough. Your best won’t do. Your works won’t work. You want to see the Kingdom of God? You want to get into the Kingdom of God? You want to live in the Kingdom of God? Then, you must be born again.

Nicodemus had no problem with the birth being the way to God, but he had been taught that getting into the kingdom of God was a matter of physical birth. If you were born Jewish or born as a descendant of Abraham that automatically made you a kingdom citizen. He had what I would call an “in and out religion”. You were in the kingdom the moment you were out of your mother’s womb if your mother was Jewish. Had Jesus left out the word “again” after the word “born” Nick would have gone his merry way. Sure a person must be born to get into any kingdom. If Jesus had just said, “born Jewish” or “born to Jewish parents” Nicodemus would have gone back, given a big thumbs up to his Pharisaical buddies and said, “Hey, this Jesus is a-ok.” Instead, Jesus said, “You had better have a passport to get into God’s Kingdom and that passport must be stamped “born-again.”

You can’t even understand why Jesus Christ came to this earth if you don’t understand what it means to be born-again. Jesus Christ was born physically that we might be born again spiritually. He left heaven as the Son of God and came to earth as the Son of Man, so that sons of men might leave this earth and go to heaven as sons of God. The only way a son of man can become a son of God is to be born again into the family of God.

You were born for only one purpose–to be born again. There are a lot of things that we think you have to do that we really don’t have to do. You don’t have to succeed in business. You don’t have to grow old. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to have children. You don’t have to make money. You don’t have to get an education. You don’t have to buy a home or a car. You don’t have to live until retirement, but if you want a relationship with God, if you want to see the Kingdom of God and enter it, you must be born again.

–James Merritt

Everything For Our Good

shutterstock_106407572“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Not everybody can say, “Don’t worry, everything will work out.” Because everything does not work out for everybody. Everything only works out for God’s children. You may be sitting there thinking “Well, I’m not a child of God, and everything is working out for me.” I submit to you that ultimately if you die, and spend eternity without God, things really didn’t work out for you.

You may not always like what God is doing in your life, and you may not always understand what God is doing in your life. But you can know that God is involved in your life 24-7 making all things work together for your good. Think about that. This verse did not say that God works all things out for our good most of the time, nor does it say that God works most things out for our good all of the time. It says God works all things out together for our good all of the time.

Now, it doesn’t say that we “see that all things work together for good.” But you can know it whether you can see it or not. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean he can’t see it. Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light. That does not mean that all things that happen to us are good. As you well know, everything that happens to you is not good. But everything that happens to you will ultimately work together for your good.

Behind every promise of God is the providence of God. Do you know what the word providence means? It comes from two words: the word pro meaning “before,” and the word video meaning, “to see.” Providence simply means to see beforehand and to provide for what is seen. Do you hear that word “provide” in the word providence? The providence of God simply means that God sees every event before it occurs, and provides for that event and makes sure that it fits into His plan for your life.

Normally we would think that thanking God for a flat tire would be crazy, but now we know that we can give thanks “in all things.” Good does not necessarily mean health, because not all Christians are healthy. It does not necessarily mean wealth, because not all Christians are wealthy. God’s purpose for you is neither to be healthy or happy, nor to be rich or famous. His purpose for you is found in that next verse, Romans 8:29, where Paul said, we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. God’s purpose for you is to be just like Jesus.

The best thing that can ever happen to you in this life is not to make millions of dollars, not to become famous, not to live in a mansion, not to drive a Mercedes. The best thing that can ever happen to you in this life is to become just like Jesus. And because God is working everything in the life of the Christ-follower to that ultimate end, we can know He works everything for our good.

–James Merritt

 

The Glory of the Cross

Off the coast of South China, on a high hill overlooking the harbor of Macao, is a huge wall. This wall is the only thing that remains from a massive cathedral that Portuguese settlers built on that hill hundreds of years ago. A typhoon hit that cathedral, literally reducing it to ruins. Everything except this front wall was totally leveled. High on top of that wall stands a huge bronze cross.

 In 1825, Sir John Bowring was sailing a ship off this same coast when a terrible storm hit, breaking his ship apart and throwing him into the water. He was holding on to a board for dear life, thinking he was going to pickled in that China sea, believing that all had been lost, including his own life. All of a sudden through the storm, he caught sight of this bronze cross atop this cathedral wall. In that moment God spoke to him and he knew in his heart that God was going to deliver him, and that his life would be spared. Indeed, he was miraculously rescued.

John Bowring was so moved by how God had spared his life, that he wrote a poem that years later was put to music, and for over one hundred and fifty years God’s people have sung this song over and over:

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

When the sun of bliss is beaming,
Light and love upon my way,
From the cross the radiance streaming,
Adds more luster to the day.

Two thousand years ago the cross was nothing to glory about. In fact, the cross was grossly offensive to the three major cultures of Paul’s day. To the Romans the cross was so despicable that Cicero, the Republican orator and statesman, who died in 43 B.C., wrote: “Even the mere word ‘cross’ must remain far not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, their ears.”

In the history of the Jewish people, Titus, Pilate and other Romans crucified more than 30,000 young Jews. Yet we remember the name of only one. Do you know why he couldn’t call the name of one out of thirty thousand? Do you know why we remember one name when we can’t remember the other twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine? Because Jesus Christ is the only one who died for our sins, and was raised from the dead!

You see, the Lord Jesus turned the cross from a symbol of guilt into a symbol of glory. He transformed it from a beam of execution into a balm of salvation. Oh, it is not the cross that is so wonderful, it is Christ on the cross that is so amazing.

We are not to glory in church buildings, budgets, or baptisms. We are not to glory personally in prestige, privilege, or position. We are to glory only and eternally in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the only hope for a hurting, hateful, horrible world that is lost in sin, is that old rugged cross.

–James Merritt

shutterstock_118404541 copyI find it fascinating that of the 41,173 verses in the Bible, one-half of one verse is given to the atheist. Of the 774,746 words in the Bible, eleven words are given to the atheist. But big things do come in small packages, and in a short statement in Psalm 14:1, we learn some great truths about the reality of God. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’

Here we have what the atheist says about God–“There is no God.” Then we have what God says about the atheist–“fool.” Almost as if he does not waste his breath, God just simply mutters “fool.”

This world is full of brilliant fools. There are Ph.D’s in leading universities who can intellectually understand the theory of relativity, but spiritually they don’t know their ABCs. They see a car and they believe in a manufacturer, they see a portrait and they believe in an artist, they see a book and they believe in an author; but they see a creation and refuse to believe in a Creator.

You notice in Psalm 14:1 the words “there is” are in italics. In the Hebrew text the words are not there. What the verse actually says is, “The fool has said in his heart, no God.” This is the person who wants nothing to do with God at all. He has no use for God’s person, God’s principles, God’s people, or God’s purposes.

In effect, there are two types of atheists. There is the intellectual atheist, and there is the practical atheist. There is the person who believes there is no God; that is the intellectual atheist. But then there is the person who behaves as if there is no God; that is the practical atheist. There are far more practical atheists both in church and in America than you might even realize.

Now we understand why God called such a person foolish. If a person knew there were no God, and said so, he would be wise and even courageous for telling the rest of us we were wrong. If he did not know whether there were a God, and said so, he would at least be an honest skeptic. If a person is convinced there is no God, when actually there is one, he would merely be mistaken. But the reason God calls this person foolish is because deep down he knows there is a God, and yet chooses to believe and act as if there is none.

The foolish are marked by intolerance. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread?” (Psalm 14:4) Not only does the unbeliever attack the person of God, he attacks the people of God. Secularists, humanists, materialists, and atheists absolutely hate the devoutly Christian people. The more you love God, the more this world will hate you. Jesus said in John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” He then went on to say in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”

The foolish are marked by indifference. “And do not call on the Lord.” (Psalm 14:4) The reason why an atheist can’t find God is the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman. They do not want to find God, because if they do it will change the way they live. Psalm 14:1 tells us the unbeliever does not see God, but verse 2 tells us why, because he does not seek God. You can see the power of God by the eyes on your face, but you can only see the person of God by the eyes in your heart. The reality of God is only truly known by faith.

It is true that when it comes to God in His reality, we walk by faith and not by sight. But that’s all right, because “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I can say, without shame, I would rather live by faith than to die in doubt.

I believe in God. But more than that, I know God through Jesus Christ His Son, and I can say today, beyond any shadow of any doubt, my God is real.

–James Merritt

Fiscal Fitness

You would expect that the richest man who ever lived would have something to say about money, and, in Solomon’s case, you would be right. He has plenty to say. There is a wealth of wisdom about wealth in Proverbs. With money, there is not only much to earn, but there is much to learn. In fact, the entire Bible has much to say about money. Howard Dayton, the founder of Crown Ministries has counted about five hundred verses in the Bible on prayer, but over 2,350 on how to handle money and possessions.

The amount of hard cash lost each year in the United States amounts to about $75 per capita. The total average income for most of this planet comes to about $69 per person annually. In other words, the average American loses more money each year than almost anyone else in the world earns.

Money is like nitroglycerin: handling it is not morally wrong, but, especially if you do not know what you are doing, it is extremely risky. It seems as if everywhere you look, there is a warning label of some kind on toys, cigarettes, diet soft drinks, even air bags! Perhaps it would be a good idea to put a warning label on dollar bills, certificates of deposit, and credit cards. Perhaps nothing has been the ruin of more people, marriages, and friendships, than the failure to handle money properly.

You are either master over your money or a slave to it—there is no in between. As I walked through the rich grain fields of financial wisdom in Proverbs, I gleaned some keys to helping you to master your money—lessons you can pass on to your children that will be “worth their weight in gold.” Let me share just two with you…

Principle No. One: Being poor is a problem, but being rich isn’t the answer. The New Living Translation renders Proverbs 8 this way: The rich can pay a ransom, but the poor won’t even get threatened.

The poor man may get no mail, but the rich man may get “blackmail!” The good news is, that the rich are worth kidnapping. The bad news is, they are able to pay the ransom. For the poor, the bad news is, they are not worth kidnapping, but the good news is, they don’t have to worry about ransom. The principle is that money is not an end. It comes with its own set of problems. Pursuing riches may rid you of some challenges but it will also bring other challenges and it certainly will not bring you happiness in any eternal sense.

Principle Number Two: Remember the difference between “needy” and “greedy.” We have all heard, when it comes to cars, “speed kills.” When it comes to money, “greed kills.” So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners. (Proverbs 1:19) We Americans pledge allegiance to “One nation under God,” and then live as if we believe in “One nation under greed.”

A greedy man is just like the heroine addict. It takes a “hit” to satisfy him, but the effect soon wears off and he needs another “hit.” When John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world, he was asked by an employee, “Mr. Rockefeller, how much money is enough?” To which Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more, son, just a little bit more.” A Greek sage once said, “To whom a little is not enough, nothing is enough.”

–James Merritt