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His body had purged the fevers and chemicals. He was well fed, alert, rested. He was his old self again, and that suddenly depressed him. The present was back, hand in hand with the future. He hated his weaknesses. He named them one by one, and was saddened by the list.

The young man was praying, his eyes clenched tightly, his arms waving gently upward. Nate closed his eyes too, and called God's name. God was waiting.

With both hands, he clenched the back of the pew in front of him. He repeated the list, mumbling softly every weakness and flaw and affliction and evil that plagued him. He confessed them all. In one long glorious acknowledgment of failure, he laid himself bare before God. He held nothing back. He unloaded enough burdens to crush any three men, and when he finally finished Nate had tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered to God. "Please help me."

As quickly as the fever had left his body, he felt the baggage leave his soul. With one gentle brush of the hand, his slate had been wiped clean. He breathed a massive sigh of relief, but his pulse was racing.

He heard the guitar again. He opened his eyes and wiped his cheeks. Instead of seeing the young man on the pulpit, Nate saw the face of Christ, in agony and pain, dying on the cross. Dying for him.

A voice was calling Nate, a voice from within, a voice leading him down the aisle. But the invitation was confusing. He felt many conflicting emotions. His eyes were suddenly dry.

Why am I crying in a small hot chapel, listening to music I don't understand, in a town I'll never see again? The questions poured forth, the answers elusive. It was one thing for God to forgive his astounding array of iniquities, and Nate certainly felt as though his burdens were lighter. But it was a far more difficult step to expect himself to become a follower. [1] This is John Grisham's description of a faith crisis for Nick O'Reilly in The Testament.

You can find wonderfully similar things in movies like Bruce Almighty when Bruce is asking for a sign and a city truck with all kinds of signs, like turn back, one way, and stop pulls in front of his car. One of my favorite scenes is in Forrest Gump when Forrest and Lieutenant Dan were shrimping. They pulled up a net with no shrimp and Lieutenant Dan gets angry and shouts at Forrest, "Where is the Hell is this God of yours," The movie cuts to Forrest's narration, " It's funny Lieutenant Dan said that, 'cause right then, God showed up." And their boat is hit by a huge hurricane. 

Nicodemus is a lot like Dan and Nick. He seeks God on his terms and in the process God shows up. Nicodemus comes to Jesus with all his intellectual teaching and theological insight. 'We know you must be from God'. Yet Jesus' comment has nothing to do with what the religious leaders know or believe about Jesus. Jesus says, "no one can see the kingdom of God unless they're born again." Jesus' comment seems to come from left field except, of course; we know Jesus is aware of the deeper need in Nicodemus' heart.

If you don't have John 3:16 memorized you probably have heard the concept behind it. God loves the world and Jesus came so that those who believe in Jesus will get eternal life. Yet, you'd be wrong if you believed this was the central theme to this conversation. In Greek, there is a word often translated "for" which in fact, has the force of our English word, because. And like in English, it is used to introduce the support, or rationale for another statement. "You cannot go out and play because your chores aren't done." Chores aren't the focus; it's the going out and playing.

Jesus is the one sent from Heaven. Jesus is the one with firsthand knowledge of God's kingdom. And it is Jesus who "must be lifted up" and in His death offers others and us the chance to believe. The Message puts paraphrases verses 13-15 this way:

"No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life."

God's love isn't impersonal. God doesn't send Jesus to be a good example, a wise teacher, a tax-and-spend democrat, a right-wing republican, or even a messenger of God's love. He came to be nailed to a cross. God's love isn't sweet and cute; it's bloody, horrible and gruesome. If you haven't seen it in a while watch The Passion of the Christ and realize that if anything they probably played down Jesus' torture.

There is nothing we do to deserve this love. We can't attend church enough; we can't go on enough mission trips, feed enough hungry people or do any of the other "nice" things we do. All we can do is accept Jesus' offer of eternal life. Jesus tells Nicodemus, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." The word "wind" and the word "spirit" are the same. The Spirit that hovers over the deep in creation; the spirit, breath or wind that is breathed into man in Genesis 2 and the Spirit that comes upon the church in Acts 2 is the same Spirit.

God's Holy Spirit offers the life giving new birth to whom it wishes that's grace. I began with a fictional story about a character. Let me end with a story Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie shares from the life of Hollywood Pres.

"Well over a hundred Southeast Asians have come to be a part of our church family, and what joy they have brought into our congregational life. One in particular is Mr. Nou, a gifted man with many leadership qualities. What a beautiful experience it was a few weeks ago to hear him share the meaning of the new life God had given him. In his “old life” he had frequently beaten his wife and children, often neglecting them while he was “partying with other women” as he put it. His weekends were often drunken orgies. Coming to the United States as a refugee from Laos did not change his situation. In fact, it worsened it!

He finally gave in to one of his persistent friends who almost angered him by constantly urging him to come with him to church. At first, it was all a joke for Mr. Nou. But then, in God’s mysterious way, he met the One to whom Nicodemus came at night. It was a radical, life-changing encounter, and Mr. Nou was “born again.” He emptied the whiskey bottles in his home and began to treat his wife and children with new love and respect. Then he discovered new friends among the believers and began to eagerly study the Scriptures at 5:00 each morning. What a joy to hear him speak about all the spiritual truths he has already discovered in the Word of God. His wife said, “I don’t have a different husband. I have a new one.”

As he shared that day with our congregation, there was a radiant joy about him. No wonder Mr. Nou has become a contagious evangelist among his own people, going to their homes, sharing the good news of what has happened to him, and inviting them to church. When I spoke to him commending him for this he seemed surprised. “Isn’t that what all of us are supposed to be doing? How could anyone hold back such a good thing?”[2]

If you are searching for a similar new sense of freedom in life open yourself to the Wind of God. If your life is stale with the scent of sin and useless, repetitive attempts at making things feel better open yourself to the Wind of God. And who knows, it just may be that you'll find yourself staring up into the face of the one who died on the cross for you.


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[1] John Grisham, The Testament (Random House, 1999), p. 373ff

[2]Fredrikson, R. L., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1985). Vol. 27: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 27 : John. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (81). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

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