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.
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!