Born of the Spirit, Homily, Euch. Service

John 3:7B-15

In our Gospel we hear a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus tells him that he must be ‘born from above’. Jesus continues with the phrase of ‘born of the Spirit’.

Poor Nicodemus, in return, asks Jesus, ‘how can this happen’?

Each of us might ask the very same question; how can I be born from above and born of the Spirit. It sounds like Jesus is describing an event.

I believe there are two ways. One happened to me 48 years and one week ago when I literally asked a group of people to pray for me that I would be immersed or baptized in the Holy Spirit. The prayers were very plain and honestly did not sound super spiritual.

But, they changed almost every aspect of my life, a true paradigm shift. Scripture came alive. My heart seemed to resonate with it. On the down side I lost all of my friends and they were replaced with a whole new group, some of whom I had previously known but didn’t care for. Six weeks later I lost my job at the beginning of a whole different life style that lasted one year, almost to the day.

During that year we welcomed a forth child born without insurance and a series of other events that moved our hearts closer to the good Lord.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways. The second way is most likely the normal way that most people experience – that is, they grow over time into that same endpoint. As we mature, scripture comes alive if we give ourselves to it. Our hearts learn to resonate with it and the normal things of God. We experience hard times that draw us closer to God through our need.

So, in the end, one way is not really better than the other. It is my guess that the quick way is used by the Lord with those of us who are truly weak and needy.  That is surely where I was at the time, hanging by a thread.

The Holy Spirit brings practical solutions to practical problems and we would all do well to reach out specifically to Him in our daily needs.

Pride in the Book of Daniel

God Gives Ample Warning for Us to Make Amends for Our Sins

In the 4th and 5th chapters of the Book of Daniel, we are shown God’s great concern with the sin of pride in His people and how He tries to give warnings to us when we slip into that prideful state.

After being shown how God could protect Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego from being destroyed in the white-hot furnace, and for a time repenting of the attempt on their lives by King Nebuchadnezzar, still, as time went by, the King returned to his prideful ways.

So, the Lord tried again by giving the King a terrifying dream. King Nebuchadnezzar called all his magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers to come into his presence, hear of the dream, and then interpret it. None were able to explain the meaning of the dream to the King. Finally, Daniel came before the King and gave him the frightening explanation that, he the King, was about to have his Kingdom taken from him. And, that his mind would become like that of a beast, insensate, until seven years passed over him and he learned that it was heaven that ruled.

Daniel counseled the King to atone for his sins by good deeds, and for his misdeeds by kindness to the poor.

After twelve months, when nothing bad had happened to the King, he again grew prideful and stated from the rooftop, “Babylon the great! Was it not I, with my great strength who built it as a royal residence for my splendor and majesty?” Obviously, the King had slipped back to his previous level of pride.

While these words were still on his lips, a voice spoke from heaven, the very words that Daniel had spoken to the King in the beginning. “It has been decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom is taken from you. You shall be cast out from among men and shall dwell with wild beasts. You shall be given grass to eat like an ox, and seven years shall pass over you until you learn that the most high rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will.”

When the seven years had passed, Nebuchadnezzar raised his eyes to heaven and his reason was restored to him. He blessed the Most High and praised and glorified Him who lives forever. At the same time his reason was returned to him, his majesty and splendor was returned to him as well, and his nobles and lords sought him out and restored him to his kingdom and he became much greater than before.

So, the King was finally broken of his pride and lived out his life because all his works were right and his ways just, realizing that all who walk in pride the Lord is able to humble.

As time goes by, Nebuchadnezzar lives his life in good fashion and finally dies. His son, Belshazzar, takes over Babylon as the crown prince and apparently inherits the pride gene of his father. He ignores the stories likely told to him by his father about how the Lord dealt with him concerning his pride and warned his son of the dangers of pride.

The warnings went unheeded and the son, Belshazzar, grew in pride just as is father had when he was a young King. At a great banquet given by Belshazzar, he ordered the gold and silver vessels which his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem so that the King, his lords, his wives, and entertainers might drink from them.

While they were drinking from the sacred vessels, an abhorrent sacrilege, they praised their own gods of gold and silver. In the midst of the debauchery, suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall.

The face of King Belshazzar blanched, his thoughts terrified him, and his knees knocked. At that moment he likely remembered the stories his father had told about his own pride issues and how the Lord dealt with him. The King shouted for help from his enchanters and astrologers. No one could interpret the words that had been written on the wall.

The queen reminded him of man in his kingdom who had helped his father, Nebuchadnezzar, and urged him to call forth that man, Daniel, to interpret the writing. Daniel reminded him that when his father had become proud and his spirit hardened by insolence he was cast out from among men and was made insensate for seven years.

Then he stated, “You, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this. You have rebelled against the Lord of Heaven.”

Daniel stated his interpretation of the words written on the wall as, Mene, meaning God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; Tekel meaning you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; Peres meaning your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians. That same night King Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Mede succeeded to the kingdom.

So, here we have seen two examples where God interacted with two Kings about their sins of pride. In the first case, He gave Nebuchadnezzar a warning and a year to respond. When he did not change his ways, then He increased the level of discipline and the king was made insensate for seven years. That finally got through to Nebuchadnezzar and he made a permanent change.

Surely, he passed on the lesson to his son Belshazzar, but his son did not take the lesson to heart. That’s likely why God did not go through the steps of increasing discipline with him. His father’s experience should have been enough.

My belief is that pride is the reservoir for almost every sin and as such, God knowing the destructive power it wields in our lives tries to help us see that. As such, He tries to show us in advance of taking serious action.

I know in my own life I can point to several times when I was shown in advance what I needed to do to deal with effects of pride in my life. While I was never made insensate for seven years, I did have a job that wore me down to a nub for four years. When I finally stopped complaining about the job and in fact thanked Him for it and promised to make the best of it even if it never changed, within three weeks it did change.

That moment of promising to not complain anymore and to work my best even if it did not change was the equivalent of Nebuchadnezzar looking up to heaven and having his reason restored to him. At that moment I knew I had reached the point I was supposed to reach and within three weeks I received a job offer for a much better job.

God loves us and tries His best to protect us from ourselves and our proclivity for sin.