Archives For Jesus

red light

Today, I was in a hurry to get home, and of course, I hit ever single red light on the way. All 12 of them. Red. Also, I was behind the same car all the way home. Traffic was such that I couldn’t pass to the left or right, so I was stuck behind one very slow moving Acura, that also got stuck at every red light.

At first, I was thinking this was the Twilight Zone. Then I thought it must be some kind of unholy purgatory. Not the kind where you go skiing either. My last thoughts were of the rapture.

Ah, the rapture – that glorious, foretold event that all Christians look forward to – when Jesus will come and take us all away from all the stuff in this world – including red lights. There will be no red lights in heaven, or else they’d call it something besides heaven. They’d call it traffic, and I am a firm believer that there will be no traffic in heaven.

So, as I was in traffic hell, I was thinking about heaven, and what it might look like if Jesus came to take me away while I was at a red light. I think there would be a lot of honking. Then people would get out of their cars and look inside my truck and just see a pile of clothes. Apparently, I also think we will all be naked in heaven. I don’t know why I think this. Anyway…

People will look in my truck, and there won’t be anyone there, whereas there had been someone there (me) mere seconds before. Some will think, “Holy mackerel, I think I just missed that rapture thing from those books and unfortunate Kirk Cameron movies!” Others might think, “Hey! Free truck!”

Either way, I’m like gone dude.

Thing is, I don’t know if I believe all that. Not that I don’t think Jesus is coming. He is! I wish it was today! Not that I don’t think He will take everyone who believes in Him to be where He is – again, today please. I just tend to not think it will happen like a badly written science fiction book.

How about you? How do you feel about red lights or the rapture? Either, or both? Let me know in the comments below!

NebulaThe first four words of the bible are the most important words ever written. They dispel virtually every thought of the worldly, scientific mindset our culture is enmeshed in. We depend on data. If there’s no input, there’s no progress – that’s one thing that’s never changed. What needs to change is the source of that input.

In the beginning God…But after that, we.

We tried to become our own source. The world we live in was created by the Word of God, but as masters over this creation, we have formed it in our image. God created the world and gave it over to mankind to rule, and then Adam made a choice to trust knowledge over the life-giving power of God. We’ve been trying to get God’s attention ever since.

In the beginning God created. Then with what He created, he formed some things as well. We were formed from dirt by God, then He breathed His Spirit into us. At that time, we were perfect, fully alive, 100% connected to Life. Our choice was to remain connected, or to not.

God placed man in the Garden – the first temple – the place where He dwelled with mankind. The Kingdom, heaven, was here. And at that time we walked the earth alongside God. At that time, we saw as He saw, we thought as He thought, we lived as He lived. Genesis 2 reveals that in the garden were many kinds of trees, and in the middle of the Garden there were two – the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God said they could eat from any tree except one. They could have apples, pears, bananas, kiwis, oranges, peaches. They could have life, too, if that’s what they wanted to eat from. It was all good.

In the middle of the garden were two trees and a choice to be made. They could eat from the forbidden tree or not eat from it.

Rather than call upon God, they chose on their own and did what they thought was right. And then, banished from that first place of worship, physically, spiritually and mentally, mankind has sought to find a way back to God on his own terms ever since.

We try to do good, thinking it matters, but we have forgotten that in the beginning God. We learn all there is to know, and by our observations try to understand even more, but we forget that in the beginning God. We make plans, formulate hypotheses, create, innovate, build, rebuild but in the beginning…God.

We deny what we are trying to do by striving. We say there is no God. We trust the scientific method, we try to unlock the mysteries of the heavens and die in that attempt never having found what is all around us, right in front of our eyes.

For this reason Jesus came to die. To break the cycle of mankind’s struggle to “get it” on our own – to solve the problem of the knowledge of good and evil. Remember, knowledge of good and evil are both fruit from the same tree, and neither bring life. Bob Hamp has said, “When the problem is knowledge, more, or better knowledge is simply like pouring gasoline on an already blazing fire.”

The more we know, the farther we are from God. Jesus came to give us life, to reconnect us to God, to make us citizens of the Kingdom. And if you’re His child, the Kingdom is here, and you are living in it right now.

You can walk with God, just like in the beginning. You can know Him. He can be your source. The cycle of striving for more can be broken. You eyes can be opened to what is all around you. You can see as Adam saw in the beginning.

We have proved, over and over again, that our desire is to know God, but the means to do so is beyond us. We can’t get to the Kingdom trusting our own way. We have to make a willful choice to not trust our will. We have to make a willful choice to lay down our will and enter the Kingdom of God.

In the beginning, God. It will end the same way. How you walk through the middle part is up to you.

 

rocks-in-pocket

I grew up mostly in the country. My dad had some land, pretty far away from anything civilized. When I was 4 and 5 years old, the road wasn’t even paved – it was gravel. I would walk up and down that road all day in the summer heat looking for rocks. Not just any rocks – different rocks. Shiny ones, dark ones, rocks with what I thought were dinosaur fossils in them. Whatever I found went into my pockets. I was out for several hours one day, and I had so many rocks my pants wouldn’t even stay up!

I loved rocks, and I still do. No matter where I am, if I’m walking, I always look toward the ground in front of me for some kind of new treasure. I have a box full of them somewhere around here.

The thing about rocks is, as I mentioned before, they can get heavy. They can weigh you down. If you carry them around too long, they can make you weary, and when you become weary, you can become weak, susceptible to all kinds of things.

Tonight I was reminded of a story. In John 8, Jesus was in the temple teaching, and a crowd of religious leaders brought before him a woman caught in the act of adultery. They reminded Jesus that God had commanded such a person to be stoned – the Law commanded that the woman be executed by having rocks thrown at her.

After a time, and after being asked repeatedly what they should do, Jesus agreed with the crowd – stone her! But the stipulation was this – that the sinless person in the group be the first to throw.

Well, there was nobody who could claim to be sinless. Not in the presence of the Son of God. The crowd dispersed, leaving Jesus and the woman. He asked her, “Where are your accusers?”

That’s the question I am asking myself. Where are my accusers? Who stands to condemn me? The answer is, there’s me and there’s Satan. My pockets are full of rocks. I collected them from the Enemy, filled my pockets and I’ve been trying to climb out of a ditch, weighed down by lies.

I look at the people around me, the ones doing amazing things, and I think, I could never be like that. I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not strong enough. I’m carrying too many rocks.

What I learned tonight was amazing. I learned about grace. Grace is a tidal wave and it just keeps on coming. Max Lucado told the story of the first time he saw the ocean. He said, “The waves just keep coming and coming!” The waves never stop – they wash over you, knock you over, they surround you and you can hardly keep your balance and they just keep coming and coming.

Grace is what surrounds me, just like a giant, crashing wave. I’m blown over by it. It never, ever stops. It doesn’t stop when I question everything, it doesn’t stop when I have doubts, it doesn’t stop when I wonder what’s next. It doesn’t even stop when I accuse myself. Sometimes I think I have bricks for brains to go along with the rocks in my pockets.

Jesus stands by the Father, interceeding for me, and because of him, those accusations have no weight anymore. There is therefore now no condemnation for me or for anyone who is in Christ Jesus! I don’t have to go to church and see people doing what I know God has called me to do and think, “I could never do that.” I wasn’t born to carry rocks – I wasn’t created to be weighed down by the Accuser. I was born to run! I was born to soar like eagles!

Jesus stands between you and the rock throwers - even if you’re the one throwing rocks at yourself. Grace – that’s what happened for me today. If God is not accusing you, and he’s not, and if God loves you, and he does, who can stand against you?

Empty the rocks from your pockets! Don’t be burdened anymore by a weight you were never meant to carry! Let Jesus do his job – let him carry it – empty your pockets and be free!

einstein_thinking

I learned some things in church on Sunday. Well, I say I learned them – I already knew all that stuff, but it was presented in a new way that made me think. And it put me into a really weird mood. I was wresting with it all day on Sunday, all evening, all night, all day today. And I was crabby and irritable and generally off-putting to those around me. I sometimes get that way when I have to work through something, but not very often. It depends on how much thinking I need to do. And to be honest, the less I have to think, the better.

It’s not God’s fault I was in a bad mood. Even though it’s God stuff I was thinking about, it really wasn’t his fault. It’s my fault.

Here’s what we talked about yesterday – being born again. Should be a pretty elementary topic for a Christian, right? But this message threw me, and made me think long and hard about my salvation experience, and all that has happened afterward.

We talked about the story of Nicodemus from John 3. The pastor walked us throught the story – a Jewish religious leader, a Pharisee, came to Jesus during the night, probably so none of the other Pharisees would see him. They kinda didn’t like Jesus much. As a group that is. All through the Gospels you can read about Jesus doing something miraculous and the Pharisees complaining that he did it on the Sabbath and then saying that they were going to kill him for it.

Nic was a bit different. He told Jesus, “We know you’re from God – nobody can do all this stuff unless he’s from God.” Jesus stepped right around that statement and made one of his own – “Unless you’re born again, you’ll not see the Kingdom of God.” And Nic was all like, “Wait. What?”

It’s all about perspective, and you have to understand where Nic was coming from. As far as God loving, Law abiding, tithing, fasting, Scripture memorizing, church attending, praying people go, there were no better people than the Pharisees. And from what I’m reading, Nic even believed in Jesus!

What else is there? What other qualifications are there? What is expected of us? If none of that is enough to get into heaven, what do we have to do?

We must be born again.

Wait. What?

Nic didn’t get it, and most people who love God, read the bible, do the right thing, tithe, fast, pray and go to church miss it too. And maybe I’m missing it and just don’t know it yet.

You must be born again. Jesus said we have to born of water and Spirit. The first one, water, is natural birth. If you’re reading this, you may have actually been born at some point in your life. Except for that small segment of the population that was delivered by stork, or who crawled out from under a rock somewhere. Seriously though – you were born.

The second birth is Spiritual birth. This is salvation. The first birth is from your mom, the second is from the Holy Spirit. I have previously written a little bit about the role of the Spirit in salvation (which you can read about here) but basically the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, leads us to salvation and regenerates our spirit. This is what it means to be born again. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (Jn 3:6).

So far I’m hanging in there, really eating up everything being said. Then I started thinking. “Well,” I thought, “I do all those things. I mean, I’m not much for fasting, but I’ve done it. And the other stuff too.”

Then the pastor went on to give examples of people who said they became a Christian at some point, but nothing really happened after that – not much in the way of change in their lives.

And I started thinking even more. Who am I? How do I act? What goes on in my mind? Is it God stuff or worldly stuff?

If you could see into my mind, you’d most likely puke up a lung. It’s a mess up in there. I’m not going to list my sins here, my thoughts, the things I think and do when I think nobody is watching. I’ll just say that to a certain degree, I lack integrity. Integrity is the glue that holds it all together, and my glue dried out. You can’t even pull the lid off anymore.

So, I spent most of the night kicking myself for all the junk in my life. I even had a pretty deep conversation with Cheryl about it. And I still don’t have an answer yet.

I could also list all the good things – all the things that the Pharisees did that were not good enough to get them into heaven either. It’s not about the good outweighing the bad and if there’s just a little drop of good left, “Whew, I made it!” No – I must be born again. Am I? Are you? How do you know??

Here’s the answer – before I was saved, I did good and bad things. When I did bad things, I was punished and instructed not to do those things anymore. I didn’t even care. My freshman year of high school I was in so much trouble. My dad was seriously going to send me to a military academy about 4 states away. I couldn’t change, and I didn’t care to. I kinda tried, but it was no use. I was just a bad kid. No – really. I was a bad kid, and no amount of effort on my part could change that.

In the spring of 1980, I went to a revival on youth night at a local Baptist church. Cuz they had free hotdogs. And I ate a ton of them, and tried to sneak out the back door. My plan was to vandalize the majority of the vehicles in the parking lot. I hadn’t thought much past that, but if time remained I would have thought of something.

I got caught by a wonderful man named John Childers, and he made me go to the service. I sat by a boy named Tommy, and we dipped snuff and spit on the floor. But at the end, something got ahold of me. I heard the words, not in my head, not with my ears, but in my heart. I didn’t know what to do. I waited until it was all over – the bus had left, the janitor was shutting the place down. He went and got the pastor, and the pastor took me home and led me to straight to Jesus. I was born again in the spring of 1980. I don’t remember the exact day, but I know it happened! And I have a baptism certificate somewhere around here from just a few weeks later. I was born of the Spirit on that very day!

You know what? I still got into a little trouble. Heck, I was a kid. But the heart behind those action was different. No more anger, no more hate. Before I was saved, I had to work hard to be good and failed, and afterward, I had to work hard to be bad!

Before I was saved, the burden was all on me, and I could not handle it. Afterward, that burden was and is on God – and he’s got it covered. There’s no checklist, no condemnation, no burden of guilt – just freedom! And it is such a sweet deal – I gave up everything that was killing me – physically, mentally and spiritually – and in return I got a brand new life!

I still mess up. My thoughts are still a mess. I still dip some snuff even all these years later. But just ask around – “Who is Rich Nifong?” I know the answer you’ll get. Everyone knows who I am and what I’m all about.

What about you? Are you trying to work your way into the Kingdom? You can’t! You’ll miss it by a mile or by an inch but you’ll miss it either way. You must be born again!

water balloon

My daughter Trinity just got back from Crazy MixUp Camp 2012. Looks like she had a great time! This was her first camp experience, except for those years when I was a Youth pastor – I think she was 6 months old, 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 during those years, so I’m sure she doesn’t remember.

I saw a pic or two that the camp posted on their Facebook page. Seriously – I’ve said this for years – the thing I miss most about ministry is summer camp! I never missed a year between 1979 and 2003.

Trinity came home with all kinds of ideas for games that we all had to experience as a family. As a former rec guy, I saw a spark in her – creativity, fun, organization skills. It all kinda falls apart when you take a game built for 500 and try it with a family of 4 though. Still, we had a great time tonight just playing!

The culmination though was when Trinity nailed me in the head with a water balloon. She threw, I dodged, it was a fake, she really threw and it got me good – one of the only ones tonight that actually popped on contact. The look on her face was priceless, then I pretended like I was mad and about to throw her over the back fence – even more family fun!

While Trinity was at camp, I went into her room every night and prayed for her – just like I have every night since the day she was born. She wasn’t in her room, obviously, but I still prayed – that God would speak to her, that the Holy Spirit would teach her, that Jesus would walk beside her. I know people always think great things about their kids – but Trinity is very special. God shows her things, she speaks the things she is shown, and they come to life.

I don’t know what God is going to do with my little girl, but I pray it’s big things! I pray that she won’t be weighed down by worldly things. I pray that her sense of curiosity is never satisfied. I pray that God would inhabit her praises and that no matter what, she will walk with him her whole life.

My Grandmother used to pray for those things for me. Looking back, it was just around the time she died that I lost my way. I know she prayed for me daily, and I prayed for her, too. She was an exceptional woman – loving, kind, gracious, forgiving. Even when I was the opposite, she still loved me, and in that she showed me that God still loved me, too.

While Trinity was away at camp, I had the opportunity to go to a special service at my church called Habitation. Many people have been healed physically and spiritually during this time, many people have heard powerful words from God.

When we got to the church last night, I immediately felt tension – like I was being pulled apart on the inside. I went into the worship center and there were already close to 1000 people there – and I was an hour early! They do a prayer service right before Habitation, and all during that portion more and more people poured in. By the time the actual service started, the place was full! They had printed 1500 handouts and were not even close to having enough. I mean the place was full! At least 3000 people, all with one thing in mind – growing closer to God!

Back to my feeling of tension – All of a sudden I didn’t want to be there. People talked to me and I was grouchy. I was really being attacked I think – and I generally don’t think that way to be honest. I wanted to go home. I wanted to watch reruns of House. Anything except for be at church.

They prayed, they sang, people testified, and then I knew what it was – the whole night was revolving around gratitude – to God for the wonderful things he has done and for the things he has given us. And it dawned on me that I am so ungrateful!

My expecation was that God would provide, that I would be successful, that if I did what he wanted, nothing would ever stand in my way. And when it didn’t happen the way I wanted I shut God out – I stopped praising because the blessings stopped coming. Or maybe it was the other way around, now that I have some perspective.

I stopped praising because I got full of myself. I stopped praising because I was in charge of my life. I stopped praising because I became my own god. And when I put myself on the throne, God stopped blessing. Oh, he still loved me, he still gave me a good job, he still gave me life and breath. But the rest was all me and under my reign it all fell to pieces.

I was reminded last night that every good thing comes from God and that there is so much good in my life, so much to be grateful for! My beautiful wife Cheryl, my beautiful daughters Trinity and Zoey, my house, my job, my truck – and beyond that, my health, the health of my family, that God loves me in spite of me being me, that he loved me enough to forgive me, that he called me to do great things!

I often wonder if it’s too late – if I’m too old, if anyone even cares – then I remember that it’s not about who cares or my age or how much I have failed in the past. It’s about my willingness to praise God and show him that I am thankful for the little things. When I can praise him, from deep within, when I can meet with him, spirit to Spirit – that’s like getting busted in the head with a water balloon! It comes out of nowhere and changes your perspective on everything! When God invades your space, there’s no telling what might happen – he might even renew your calling, let you know you’re not a has been, you’re not too old or too broken – he might just give you hope!