New 5

John 3:1-5

There is a clever challenge we have used before in church to show how God can make the impossible happen. We challenge people to cut an opening into an 8x11 piece of paper, leaving the paper in one piece. The hole must be big enough to allow your whole body to pass through without tearing the paper.

At first it seems like it can’t be done, but if you fold the paper down the middle and then make about a dozen cuts from the fold toward the edges and back again the paper can open up like a string of paper dolls – remaining in one piece – but with a hole large enough for an adult to pass through.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was presented with what appeared to be an impossible task. What did Jesus tell him about seeing the kingdom of God? What was Nicodemus’ interpretation? What did Jesus say?

Like so many, Nicodemus was trying to comprehend the ways of faith by looking at things from a human perspective. But Jesus clarified the situation by explaining that Jesus was talking about spiritual things.

To be part of the kingdom of God, to be immersed in our faith and a vibrant believer in Christ we must be born again. But this rebirth is not a physical matter. It is a spiritual matter. We are called on to be reborn in our spirits, to take on a new faith life, to give our spiritual attitudes a revival.

This lesson from Jesus was not for a new convert, someone unfamiliar with faith, but to a man who was a leader in spiritual matters. Like Nicodemus we are also called to have a new spirit put in us. We are called to ask God for a new heart, a revived and steadfast spirit, so that our faith life – our beliefs and our actions – might gain a new energy.

By being reborn by the Spirit, even when we are quite familiar with God and faith, we can have a new heart and new attitude toward our holy living.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you allow yourself to be reborn?

New 4

Psalm 51:10

For the past several years we have had bottled water, the kind that comes in 5-gallon jugs and is dispensed through a chilling tank. Because of that I have become accustomed to pure water. I like my drinks – iced tea, hot tea, water – to be clear and pure, free from any contaminants.

I try to have the same attitude with my thoughts and feelings. It is part of my daily prayer to ask God to keep my thoughts and intentions pure, clean, and holy. The same thoughts are expressed by the psalmist in today’s passage. What two things does the psalmist ask for? What do you think a pure heart is like? What is a steadfast spirit?

True purity is hard to achieve. Whether you are talking about water, food, air or thoughts and attitudes, it is difficult to reach a level of purity. Contaminants seem always nearby ready to pollute whatever is pure.

This is true of our hearts. No matter how devout and holy we want to be we can often have things enter into our hearts and minds that distract us from God. Or we may simply be unable to maintain the fervor and dedication we once had.

When we find our faith failing or when we seem to have lost sight of God we must remember that He welcomes our return. When we lose the fervor we once had for ministry we can always turn to the refreshing well of our God. The Lord welcomes those who hunger and thirst for His presence. The Lord can restore and revive any soul, we simply need to seek Him.

If you feel that your heart is not in your relationship with God, if you feel you have strayed from the Lord, or if you simply want a renewed attitude and connection with God, you can join in this prayer with the psalmist of old.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you live out having a steadfast spirit?

New 3

Romans 6:3-4

When we love someone we are connected to that person on a spiritual level. We understand their triumphs, their defeats, their hopes, their sorrows, and all the ups and downs of life. When we follow Jesus we share a connection, a deep relationship of love.

In his letter to the church in Rome Paul expresses our relationship to Christ by giving us a perfect example of the connection. Into what are we baptized? What will happen?

There are various approaches to Baptism. Some rituals involve having water dabbed on the person’s head or sprinkled on them. Others involve water being poured over the head from a pitcher. Finally, the Baptism rite can involve total immersion, the participant being completely dunked in the water.

The ritual is to remind us of this passage. The Baptism rite is a symbol that we are buried “with” Christ and “in” Christ. The water, whether it covers us completely or only a little, reminds us of the “death” and “burial” we experience.

How are we buried with or in Christ? When we accept the sacrifice of Jesus, then we are dying to ourselves. We are dying to our old ways of behaving and thinking. We are giving up our previous ways and taking on the new life of Jesus.

That is when we bury ourselves in Christ. By accepting the sacrifice and taking on a new heart and a new spirit, a revived faith and restored soul, we are placing ourselves – our beliefs, our thoughts, our behaviors – into the Spirit of Jesus. We become more Christ like.

And when we do all of these things then, like Christ, we are promised a resurrection. And that resurrection is not just a heavenly one, but a new life with a new attitude and a new hope in our lives today.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Do you have an attitude or behavior that needs to be buried?

New 2

Ezekiel 11:19-20

One of the biggest problems we have around the house involves batteries. It seems that whenever my MP3 player loses power there aren’t any batteries available. If we try to use the TV remote when the batteries are low our channel surfing and volume adjustment becomes very erratic. Batteries are taken out of one device to be used in another leaving us with flashlights, clocks, remotes and music players with no power. Without an energy source at the heart of them most of our devices are pointless.

Likewise, if we do not have a heart for God we may become fairly useless too. But Ezekiel has a message of hope and new life for the children of God. What will God do? How will the believers behave then?

Just as batteries eventually lose their power, we too can sometimes have our vibrant and energetic attitude toward God fade. Without intending to we can lose that passion for our Lord. Our souls and spirits can grow dull, missing that spark of devotion that moves us forward in our faith.

Now and then we need to revitalize our spiritual situation. Now and then we need to re-commit ourselves to God, revive our dying spirit and focus again on our Lord.

God can help us in this process. It is likely that Ezekiel was prophesying to the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon. They may have come to tire of their absence from the Promised Land. Their devotion and faith may have flagged a bit.

But God promised them He could remove their divided hearts, hearts that tried to straddle that fence of faith and culture, hearts of stone, uncaring hearts. He would replace them with new, vibrant, holy hearts, making them all people of faith.

If we feel our own faith begin to grow weary or to wane, we can turn to God to revitalize our spirits and give us new hearts of new affection.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Do you need new spiritual batteries?

New 1

Matthew 3:13-15

Our oldest child is now a senior in high school but I remember well his first day of school. It was a big production – giving him his first backpack, making certain he had nice clothes, getting up early, having a good breakfast, and of course the photos. What was the big deal? He was still our son and little had changed from that last day of summer to the first day of school. What was important was that he was beginning a very important part of his life, a new stage in his experience.

There are many interpretations of baptism. Some see the sacrament as a symbolic washing away of sins. Yet, in Matthew we have Jesus being baptized by John. What was John’s response? What did Jesus say?

It is obvious that Jesus did not need to have any sins removed through baptism. Jesus was and is the perfect Son of God, sinless and pure. Yet he was baptized.

At first John tries not to baptize Jesus because John obviously saw the rite as a cleansing and knew it was not necessary. But Jesus insists and it is done.

So, what was the purpose of this baptism? The ritual in this case was an anointing, a marking, a commemorating of a change in what is. Jesus was no different after the baptism than he was before, but the act marked the beginning of his ministry. He was stepping out into a new way, a different part of his life.

The baptism of Jesus was marking a time when things would be new for Jesus. He was no longer just the carpenter’s son. He was stepping into his role of Messiah.

We may not need to be baptized anew, physically and outwardly, but we may need to re-awaken our spirits and re-commit ourselves to the service of God. As the season of the year changes and we are faced with the dying of summer, let us allow our old ways to die and bring on a new way of obeying God. Let God create a new spirit and new attitude in you.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What old thinking our attitude do you need to wash away?