Archives For Jesus

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.

 

It Ain’t Me

October 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

That song really speaks to me sometimes. CCR has always been a favorite band. Love their sound, and their lyrics still hit home all these years later. Seems like we’re still fighting some of the same battles we have always fought. They just seem different because there’s different people involved, but really if you think about it, it may be a different generation, but the song is still the same.

I’m thinking about my own life while listening to this song, and some of the battles I’ve fought. Some I’ve won, some I’ve lost, and some I didn’t even need to fight.

Because of some of the things I’ve been through in life, I’ve always had some identity problems. I don’t know if all adopted children go through that, but I did, and do to this day. Who am I? Whose am I? Did I do something wrong all those years ago? Did I do something to make my birth parents do what they did?

I know the answer in my heart – NO! They were already adults, and they were who they were, and I didn’t do anything wrong. In my head, when it comes up, I still struggle with it. Most days I win, too. I know WHOSE I am! And on the days that my thinking gets the best of me, I resolve to give it to God and do better next time, through him.

Like I said, I don’t know if most/all adopted kids go through this, but I do know a lot of people in general deal with it. I talk to people at work almost every day who feel trapped, who think that life is passing them by, who don’t know who they are or what they were made for – what their purpose is. Most of them say the same thing that I feel and that is in this song – “It ain’t me!”

Thinking back to the cross…Jesus knew exactly who he was, and what he was here to do, and when the time came he did not hesitate to fulfill his mission. And because he did all those things – living, dying, living again, and all that that entails – because of that, we all have identity through him!

Romans 8:17 says that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Think about how huge this is! I think of the prodigal son, whose brother did not accept his return very gladly. The son had already taken his inheritance and squandered it, then came home with his proverbial prodigal tail between his legs. And the father accepted him gladly, running to him, throwing a huge party in his honor. The other son grumbled and complained and said, “you never let me have a party and I was here the whole time!”

That is not Christ’s attitude at all! He has everything, he is at the right hand of the Father, and he wants to share it all with us!  He wants to give it to all of us who have gone astray! Who are we? We are sons and daughters of the King, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit as the down payment of everything that is to come. We will inherit, and in fact have already inherited the Kingdom!

Crazy, right?

Who am I? I spend a lot of time saying, screaming, whimpering, whispering, thinking “It ain’t me.” God who am I? What do you want from me? What do I do with this life you have given me?

His reply is a still small voice – “Be my child. Just be. And as my Son said what he heard me saying, and did what he saw me doing, so you should say and do as well.”

I am a son, I am a prince, I am a saint, and I am a priest! As my savior was before me, so I now am. My life is a message – everything about me is a song to the King. He loves me, he accepts me, he approves of me and he even likes me! I do not disappoint my Father, and nothing I do or say or think could ever change his love for me! Why? Because when he looks at me he sees Jesus!

And still in this life I will struggle. My spirit is connected to God. My physical body will die. My soul – my mind, will and emotions – I will need to submit to him every minute, every second of every day. When I do he renews my strength. When I don’t I worry, I wonder, I wither.

What do I do with this life he has given me? What do I do when I’m at work thinking, “This ain’t me. I was made for more than this. What about these dreams I have? What about these gifts you have given me? I feel like it’s all been wasted!” I give it to him, and I be his son, and I serve those around me. And I forget what I was whining about to begin with.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now? About who you are? About why you are alive? I bet he’s telling you the same things he just told me. You’re special! You’re loved! And God has a plan for you – to just be his!

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!

I was never any good at the maths. And you can ask anybody, I never even cared. My last good math was in 3rd grade, because in 4th we started all the junk with the fractions and decimals and all that. So, I did what I had to do to pass, which was cheat. Yep. I’ll admit that I cheated my way through math.

In college, math was required. I got out of it. All I had to do to get out of one semester of math was take four semesters of Greek. Not a problem. I’m a language/word nerd.

Nowadays, I’m a claims adjuster. Guess what? I have to use all that math I never learned every three seconds. I still kinda stink at it, but at least I can soothe people when there’s no coverage for their homeowner claim.

Who made up all that math stuff? Pythagoras? Nope it was already being done by the Babylonians 2500 years before he was born. See, I love the history, too.

God made it up. He set the universe in motion, with the physical laws that apply. Things that he created have weight and volume and dimensions. It was God who made it, and we who have tried to figure it all out.

Believe it or not, I love physics. About 1/3 of my library is books on physics. I understand the concepts, the philosophical ramifications of some of it – example – the universe, on a massive scale, is pretty orderly, and we can observe motion and make predictions, but on the very small scale, all bets are off.

Quantum physics is pretty dark and twisty stuff. There are particles within particles and they really shouldn’t interact but they do. Sometimes a part will spin in a circle and be back to it’s original starting position, sometimes it will spin and spin and spin like 8 times before it’s back to it’s starting point.

There are weird names for stuff, too. Quarks, muons, gluons, and each one has different varieties. There are six different ”flavors” of quarks.  Light is both a wave and a particle. Weird, right?

So why I am boring you with all this? Do you see how big God is? And yet how small? What I mean is, there are things so big we can’t see them – we don’t know how far out the universe goes. Once we think we’ve seen all there is to see, they make a bigger telescope. 100′s of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. And how small can we go? We think we know, then we make a new particle accelerator and all bets are off again.

My thinking is, it just goes on and on and on in both directions. God made it and he sustains it all, both big and small. And he still has time to have a relationship with you!

Why did God do all of this? Because that’s who he is! He is loving, creative, powerful. When you mix those together, you get everything. And yet he is above it, outside of it all. He’s bigger than his creation.

But, since the time of Adam and Eve, it’s all been slightly off kilter. What’s the second law of thermodynamics? Anyone? Entropy increases. That means, what started off as perfect is all going to fall apart some day. It’s why your batteries die, why things wear out, why when you drop a glass onto the kitchen floor you’re still stepping on the pieces 2 weeks later. Disorder increases. Until it is acted upon by an outside force. That’s a new law I just made up. The law of redemption. Ok, I didn’t make it up. It’s always been there.

From Adam’s first sin, to whatever you just did that you thought, “Crap that was not the right thing to do,” God has been breaking all the rules so that you could be who he made you to be. He doesn’t owe you this, but out of his love, out of his creativity, out of his power, he made a way to save us. I say breaking the rules but I know there are rules we don’t know about and could never understand anyway.

Who thought it up that something had to give up it’s life and it’s blood to redeem us and save us? Is that crazy or what? What kinda math is that? That a blameless, spotless, sinless, innocent person had to give up his place in heaven and come here to this messed up planet and lay it all down for messed up people like us.

There was no other way. Just like the fundamental laws of the universe that apply to our physical existence, the spiritual law is that when the law is broken the penalty is death. But Jesus is big enough to take that all upon himself. He took our sentence of death and died once for all, and now the law that held us back has been fulfilled! We are no longer viewed by God as rule breakers and sinners. We are seen by God through the filter of the blood of Jesus.

And now, we are living in the kingdom, just like God intended. This world will still pass away, and everything physical and temporal along with it. These bodies that we call home will be shed in death. But we will live on! This is the best news I have ever heard – that the God of the universe loved me enough to die for me! Jesus lives, and because he lives, I know I will live with him forever!

Don’t even try to figure it all out – physics or God. Some things we just need to accept. Start by accepting Christ, and everything else will begin to make more sense.

Anyone who has seen the Veggie Tales video “A Snoodle’s Tale” has heard of Danish Immersion Camp. I’m sure you’ve heard of it even if you never saw the Veggie Tales video. It’s often used as a punch line of some kind. It’s real though, believe it or not.

Danish, or any kind, of immersion camp is an intense immersion into the culture, language and customs of whichever culture you are immersing yourself in. I suppose in Danish immersion, you eat a lot of Danishes, build stuff with Legos, and learn about Vikings.

I went through a similar experience when I started attending church at Gateway. You see, I was raised Baptist, went to a Baptist college, a Baptist seminary, served in Baptist churches for about 15 years. Gateway is not Baptist. And it was a little strange for me at first.

Gateway is a large, non-denominational, charismatic church. You may have heard of Gateway. They produce a lot of worship CDs, do a lot of missions, several pastors have written books, and they have helped a great many people in a multitude of ways.

The first Sunday I was there, they were talking about “water baptism.” That’s the only kind I knew about at the time. You get saved, you get baptized, you rock and roll. But what I learned, and it took a long time to sink in, is that there is another baptism – baptism in the Holy Spirit. It took a while for me to accept this teaching. It’s not mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message. Not the 1963 version (which I used to have about 1000 of), not the 2000 version (which I only read because I had to). Not even the 1925 version.

What the BF&M does say is, “At the moment of regeneration [The Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” On this I think we all agree, but that’s as far as I was ever taught. Except for that the Holy Spirit doesn’t enable us to do things like it says in the bible anymore – no healing, no prophesying, especially no tongues. Anything but that last one.

Going to Gateway was a liberating experience for me. I learned that there is more to life, faith and the Holy Spirit than what I was taught in school. Here’s a few things I learned, by immersion -

You don’t have to be afraid of the Holy Spirit. He wants to empower you to live the life you were created and redeemed to live.

Believing in the Holy Spirit, and talking about him, doesn’t make you weird. Pastor Robert Morris has stated several times that it’s not like you will just break out into tongues in the supermarket check-out line. The Holy Spirit is not weird, the people who talk about him aren’t weird, and he won’t make you weird.

You invite him in. You surrender to him. And when you do, amazing things happen.

The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ, and Christ baptizes us into the Holy Spirit. At least that’s what John the Baptist said. Take it up with him.

Now for some specific Scripture references -

All of the gospels speak of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. See Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33.

Jesus, as in all things, is our example. The Spirit came upon him, and remained upon him, after his water baptism by John. John 1:33, Matt 3:16.

Many verses throughout the book of Acts talk about the baptism in the Holy Spirit – Acts 2, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10, Acts 19:1-7.

Many people point to Paul’s words about speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 as a prohibition. He is not prohibiting it, he is putting its usage into proper perspective. With tongues, we edify ourselves – and there’s nothing wrong with that! But in public, we should build others up.

1 John 5 talks about three witnesses – the Spirit, water and blood. Christians are saved by the blood of Christ; water baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the death of our old selves, and being raised a new, whole person in Christ; and the Spirit, who dwells inside us and give us the power to be witnesses and live as God intended – free and whole.

This is foreshadowed in the way the tabernacle was set up in the Old Testament. There were three parts to the tabernacle – the outer courts, the holy place, and the most holy place. To get to the most holy place, you had to do three things -  you had to sacrifice a lamb on the altar, you had to wash with water, and you had to be annointed with oil. Only then could you enter into the presence of God. The lamb represents Christ and his sacrifice for us, the water represents baptism, and the oil represents the Holy Spirit.

It may seem like you have been immersed after all the Scripture I have referenced. I used my notes from church last weekend as the foundation for this post, and believe me, Pastor Robert really brings it – you can tell that the Holy Spirit is all over him – you can watch the sermon online here.

Last weekend, many thousands of people made a decision to be baptized in the Spirit. I have never seen anything like it in my life.  Please watch it for yourself, read the Scriptures, pray about it, seek God and the truth of his word. What is he saying to you about the baptism of the Holy Spirit?