How can I know I am born again?

Read: John 3:1 – 21; 1 John (whole book)

Nicodemus…

One day a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus. Jesus told him that unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This confused Nicodemus. How could he, as an adult, be “born” a second time?

Nicodemus didn’t realize that Jesus was speaking about a spiritual birth, rather than a second physical birth. Jesus clarified that — first you are born of water (a natural physical birth), then you are born of the spirit (a spiritual birth). He even restated this — your flesh is born of someone else’s flesh, and your spirit is born of the Holy Spirit.

By now Nicodemus was more confused than ever. Maybe you are too.

Born of the Spirit?

Jesus explained to Nicodemus about the Spirit. The Spirit is like the wind. You can’t see the wind blow, but you can feel it blow. You can also see the results of it blowing. So, the wind blows, and the tree branches move. Or the shingles fly off your house. Or garbage blows across your lawn. You can’t see the wind, or where the wind is coming from, but you can see what it is doing.

That is one way to know if you are born again. Is the Spirit doing things in your life? Things that you can’t tell where they are coming from? For instance, something might tell you to give a twenty-dollar bill to a homeless person. Or to pick up a hitch hiker and speak to him about Jesus. Or apologize to someone for something you said about them.

By default, we do bad things, ugly things, selfish things. But when we are born of the Spirit our default changes and we want to do good things.

A Child of the Light?

Jesus also talked to Nicodemus about the Light. A person who has not been born of the Spirit doesn’t like Light, because it exposes him. It shows clearly how selfish and evil he is. But when a person has been born of the Spirit, he embraces Light. The Light helps him to see. It leads him to do good, to be unselfish, to be unafraid of being seen.

If you are born again, other people will see it by the changes in your life. And you will see it because you are no longer afraid of the Light revealing you.

“Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.”

How do you Worship?

Worship is…

Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (Matthew 6:6, The Message)

 

Lord, I have shut the door,
Speak now the word
Which in the din and throng
Could not be heard;
Hushed now my inner heart,
Whisper Thy will,
While I have come apart,
While all is still.

Lord, I have shut the door,
Here do I bow;
Speak, for my soul intent
Turns to Thee now.
Rebuke Thou what is vain,
Counsel my soul,
Thy holy will reveal,
My will control.

In this blest quietness
Clamorings cease;
Here in Thy presence dwells
Infinite peace;
Yonder, the strife and cry,
Yonder, the sin:
Lord, I have shut the door,
Thou art within!

Lord, I have shut the door,
Strengthen my heart;
Yonder awaits the task—
I share a part.
Only through grace bestowed
May I be true;
Here, while alone with Thee,
My strength renew.

© 1923, Ren. 1951 Hope Publishing Company , Carol Stream, IL 60188.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Suffering, Evil, and Pain:

Symptoms of BROKENNESS

Many people stumble

… over the question of suffering and evil. They ask, “Why would a good God allow such bad things?” They assume that this question forces us to accept that either God isn’t good, or He isn’t God.

But it isn’t good for finite people to make rash assumptions about an infinite God. We end up either making fools of ourselves or turning God into an enemy. So, let’s consider this question for a bit.

We live in a broken world. But it is a world that looks forward to better things. Pain, evil and suffering are merely the birth pangs leading to a better world. (See Romans 8:16 – 22)

Romans 8:16 – 23

… uses the concept of suffering to explain what it is like to be a Christian. It also gives us some reasons why suffering is important. Notice the two pictures that Paul gives us here. On the one hand we have suffering Christians. On the other hand we have nature, also suffering.

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Rom 8:16-23 NLT)

Here are some concepts

… from this passage.

  • If we expect to share in the glory of Christ, we need to accept his suffering. Why should we expect the one without the other?
  • Any suffering we might face is nothing in comparison with the glory we look forward to. So why should we balk at paying the price?
  • God had created man and woman perfect. He had also created nature perfect. In this perfection there was no evil, no pain, and no suffering.
  • Sin changed it all. It broke us, and we died spiritually. God also cursed nature, because broken humans needed a broken home to live in. Now nature is broken too. Broken beings and broken things suffer.
  • God told Eve that she would be saved by child birth. I’m sure that every time that she conceived a child she looked forward eagerly to her labor pains. Maybe this child would be the savior! Nature too is suffering labor pains. Suffering reminds us of better things coming. It is a very foolish mother who thinks that she can have the joys of child-birth without suffering labor pains.
  • It is through suffering that we give birth to the glory in store for us. Nature will also be reborn someday and will be part of a new heaven and a new earth—perfect once more. It will the perfect home for a perfect people who have been reborn with perfect bodies and perfect, sin free spirits.

No mother enjoys the pain of delivering a child. But through that pain she receives a “new” son or daughter. It makes her a mother!

My grand daughter was delivered by C-section. She didn’t go through the pains of being born. But the painful experience of birth is necessary for the health of a child. She suffered later because she didn’t suffer those pains. Even so, we wouldn’t become perfect people living in glory without the labor pains we suffer here on earth.

Join the society of the broken

… living in a broken society on a broken earth. But birth pains never last forever. The time is coming, and coming soon, when the pain will burst into GLORY!

God’s Grammar…

Every writer knows that active voice is better than passive voice. The same is true in our spiritual life. Here is a short list of spiritual active voice elements and their passive voice opponents. Let God work in your heart to eliminate your passive defaults.

Light 

Darkness is not the opposite of light. Rather, it is the absence of light. God is the source of all light, and He wants to share His light with you. In turn, you should share light with those around you, so that darkness can be driven out of their lives. 

"You are the light of the world.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mat 5:14-16)

Good

Evil is not the opposite of good. Rather, it is the absence of good. Just like light will always overpower darkness, so good will overpower evil. So if you struggle with evil, allow good to fill your life. If you feel as if darkness is taking over your life, flood your life with light!

Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (Rom 12:9)

Love

Hate is not the opposite of love. Rather, it is the absence of love. Like light overpowers darkness and good overpowers evil, so love will always outdo hatred. Allow God to fill your heart with his love and hatred will need to flee. 

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1Co 13:4-8)

Peace

Turmoil is not the opposite of peace. Rather, it is the absence of peace. Like light, good, and love, peace is active and will always overpower turmoil. Let the peace of God fill your heart, and turmoil will go.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (Joh 14:27)

Counterfeit Voices

Where God offers good things to us, the devil usually comes up with a counterfeit to sidetrack us. He gives us positive thinking instead of good, and transcendental meditation instead of peace. He promotes toleration to replace love, and social reform to replace goodness. 

Don’t be satisfied with counterfeits!

You can have the real thing.

Jesus is Coming!


“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” (Mat 24:36-42 NLT)


Are you ready? 

What did God REALLY Promise You?

Introduction

The following passage from Psalms 37:4 has troubled a lot of people. They feel that it makes a promise to them that God has ignored. For instance, they might feel that this verse promises them that God will give them a marriage partner and a family. This is their desire and they feel that they are meeting the caveat.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

But is this what God is really saying in this verse? Is this a blank check that you can cash anytime you feel like it? Can you actually force God to give you whatever you want?

Context

It is important to consider the context of a verse before we base a strong conclusion on it. When we isolate a verse from its context, it is easy to make it say anything we want it to say. So note the following statements also found in this Psalm.

  • Trust in the Lord, and do good
  • Commit your way to the Lord
  • Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him
  • Do not fret
  • Cease from anger

In fact the first eight verses of Psalms 37 list behavior patterns God expects of us. The rest of the Psalm then goes on to clarify the promises in the first part. When you read the verses carefully, you will notice that the promises are actually future ones. While God is free to give us these things anytime that He wants, He might wait until we get to heaven to do this.

Compare Other Verses…

I’m troubled by the number of people who try to coerce God into doing what they want. Some feel that He promises us wealth and power. Others try to claim marriage partners under this promise. Some go so far as to blame God for being unfaithful to His promises if he doesn’t do this.

In the New Testament, Paul faced a similar situation in his life. He had a thorn in the flesh and he felt that it was hindering God’s work. But God viewed it from a different perspective.

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

What is Your Desire?

In the passage above, we have a clear example of a time when God’s will conflicted with a Christian’s desire. So does this mean that this contradicts the verse in Psalms 37?

I don’t think so. It just clarifies it. Since God doesn’t contradict himself we need to understand that in a situation like this we need to understand the two passages in a way that they complement each other. There are several ways we can do this.

In the first place, God understood Paul’s desire better than Paul did. Paul felt that he could serve God better if God would heal him. So his real desire was to be able to serve God better. God knew him better than he knew himself, and told him that he would be a stronger witness with the thorn in his life than he would without. In fact, if God removed Paul’s thorn, it would lead to people glorifying Paul rather than God.

Paul did want to glorify God, from the bottom of his heart. So he was willing to praise God for his weakness and accept God’s verdict. So did God fulfill His promise? I think Paul would have said that He did.

God’s Will, Not Mine

Jesus faced this same situation in the garden before His crucifixion.

 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39)

Sometimes we simply need to lay down our desires at the feet of God and say, “You know best, Lord.” If Jesus needed to do that, how can we expect anything else?

This means that we might need to give up…

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  • health
  • our job
  • having a spouse and family
  • wealth and possessions
  • friends
  • etc.

God told Paul that, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” If we want to serve Christ from the bottom of our heart, then isn’t it our deepest desire to have His strength made perfect within us? This means that we must be willing to lay our personal desires on the altar at His feet. God doesn’t refuse to honor His promise. He just changes our desires so that He can honor them.

Read the book Hinds Feet in High Places for a wonderful illustration of this.

Should I self-publish?

NOTE: I recently got an email asking about my experience self-publishing with a certain publisher. I think most points are applicable for most self-publish services. This post is not promoting or denigrating any particular publisher.

Advantages…

  1. Pretty well any publisher will provide stability to a project, too often missing in self-published books. [Be sure to do an internet search for other people’s experiences because there are a few bad eggs out there.]
  2. They provide some editorial and design services.
  3. They put you in contact with sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble
  4. They take care of the e-book formatting, etc.
  5. Many will allow you to pay for their services over a ten month period.
  6. I have heard and experienced mostly good reports from in house “publishing experts”

Disadvantages…

  1. The price often seems very high for the services they provide.
  2. In my case I needed to find my own contact editor. The publisher said that they edit the books but it was only a copy edit, and they didn’t edit structure or story flow. This is a very important editorial function and a normal sized book will probably cost you an additional thousand dollars or so. When I contracted with them, I thought this was part of their editorial process. My book was too far into the process for me to pull, so it actually didn’t get the editorial treatment I like for my writing to have. [Make sure you know the details.]
  3. I ended up doing a suggested cover layout of my own. Their designer added finishing touches which were good, but I’m not sure what they would have done otherwise. I get the feeling they have certain templates they use that allow them to fast-track design. You have to be clear in your expectations and not afraid to ask for changes. BUT each change request adds a month to the process. My project ended up taking close to a year.
  4. The first uploads to Amazon and Barne’s & Noble had obvious errors in the descriptions. While my publishing expert was quick to get this fixed, it again depended on me to ask for it. I felt that for the price I paid, they should have been more careful about details in various times throughout the project. I asked for advice different times and it seemed like the person in charge of my project was reluctant to step out with concrete suggestions.

More Thoughts…

Maybe my expectations were too high. But it is the little things that derail the success of your book. If you feel comfortable being your own general contractor, here is what you probably need to expect.

  1. You need some good reviewers, not just people who pat on the back for your “wonderful work.” You need critics. Cost? It depends on who you know.
  2. You need a good content editor. Say a thousand dollars? Depends on book size.
  3. You need a thorough copy editor. Another thousand? Amazon has both available, but look for some good freelancers. I’d say that a good content and copy edit would cost you at least $1500 and maybe as high as $2,000, depending on the length and complexity of your book.
  4. You need someone to design the layout and the cover of your book. Maybe $750 or so.
  5. You need someone to design / format your e-book. Another $500 – 750.

My publisher also did a video trailer, which makes a good sales point, but I’m not impressed with mine and I don’t think it will really generate a lot of sales. They gave me a page on their website, but I have my own website. They do a press release, but I don’t know how many get printed or read. They do make the book available on a world wide distribution network.

I’m waiting to see how much their marketing efforts will help my book. But I suspect that in most cases, you will have to do your own promotions to make it work. It is hard to know who much these things help and how many simply make a good sales pitch. I don’t feel that they are dishonest, and a lot of people do seem to like their work. The books I have from them are good quality.

I paid them around $4800, most of which I borrowed. Add content editorial and I would be at close to $6000. [That was CND $$. US $$ might be cheaper.]

To produce the same thing on my own, if I had to hire everything, would cost around $3500. Say $4000 to be safe. So the extra $2000 goes for services like getting an ISBN, getting the book into the distribution chains and online, and giving me some security. Is it worth that? I’m glad in some ways that I took this route for my first self-published project. I know what to expect now. However, I used to do layout and cover design when I worked for Rod and Staff Publishers, so I could probably knock up to another $1500 off that. If I do another self-published project I’ll likely do it myself. But my next book has already been accepted by a regular publisher, and they have made me an offer on writing future books for them that I really can’t turn down. It takes some of the variables out of everything. Especially, they pay for editorial and review and do all the design without me financing it. 

That should be your long term goal. Look at self-publishing as an investment in your future. But be sure that you do a good job of it, so that you can use your books to sell yourself to a publisher. I haven’t been very impressed with many of the kindle books I’ve download from Amazon to try to get a feel for the market.

Blessings on your work. If you have more questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or contact me using the contact form. However, I’m finding my way as well, so I’m not an expert. Note that the costs I mentioned are off the top of my head, but they should be close.

There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else.
(Ecc 12:12 MSG)

UPDATE: This book has now been on the market for about nine months. I have found the biggest downside of self-publishing through a publisher to be the fact that you can’t set your own prices. You can’t do any kindle give-aways, or sell hard copies at a discount. My impression is that the pricing is about 25% to high.

The marketing my publisher did for me [if any] accomplished nothing, as far as I can tell. On the other hand, about four months ago a traditional publisher released a small book that I wrote. I didn’t really expect much of it, but someone I knew wanted a book on that subject. They sold over a thousand books in the first three months. No cost to me for editorial, marketing, or layout. I won’t tell you how many self-published books I’ve sold in the past nine months.

Poor Me!

Potential brother?

How Can You Tell?

Right now, I’m sitting at my desk trying to put together an answer to an email. This is the third email now from this person and everything I tell him just triggers another rant against me and Christianity in general. As a former Christian, he feels that he knows everything there is to know about Christians, their beliefs, and their shortcomings. If I recommend a book that I think covers his questions or challenges, he rails at me for not knowing the answers myself and needing to refer him to a book. When I do try to answer his questions myself, then my approach isn’t Christlike. I think you get the picture.

Jesus said: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” 

In this verse Jesus said we are be careful with our pearls . When do we get to the point that we are violating this verse in our discussions with unbelievers and scoffers? Is it ever right to write someone off? Should I just stop answering this particular person’s emails?

What bothers me about doing that is that I don’t know what is going on in this person’s life. Maybe he isn’t “yelling” at me at all. Maybe he’s really fighting with himself. Maybe he’s crying out for help and doesn’t even know it himself. It would be sad if I quit now when maybe a little more patience would bring him to Christ. And yet, I’m responsible to be a good steward of the time God has given me, and while I’m responding to these emails, I’m not doing other things that might be important in helping someone else.

I don’t discuss for the sake of winning an argument. I dislike controversy too much for that. But I do want to do what I can to help others. The person writing these emails might be a future brother or sister in the Lord. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into the New Jerusalem some day to be greeted with a big hug from someone you helped to find the way? Maybe someone you almost wrote off as being impossible to help, but kept on?

I hope I can meet at least one person in heaven who will tell me, "I'm here because you didn't give up on me." Even if it is just one person, it will be worth it.

I think I’ll say another prayer and answer that email. You never know…

Never despise someone Jesus died for…

Near Dead Experiences?

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Co 12:2-4)

I probably first heard of the phenomenon of Near Dead Experiences from the Reader’s Digest decades ago. A doctor ran into enough of them experienced by patients who almost died that he set out to study it. This was from a secular perspective. Then I heard the talk of a man from a Mennonite church who had “died” and seen a scene from the final judgment, then came back. This one was from a Christian perspective.

I’m not here to make a judgment call on this kind of experience. Maybe they are visions, like one person stated recently. Or maybe they are real. It seems that Paul experienced this, in the passage I quoted above. He stated that he didn’t know if he was dead or if he wasn’t.

That isn’t my point. I want to share an experience that a close friend went through. His father was on his death bed, but wasn’t a Christian. This was at least partly because of his lack of understanding, rather than because of rebellion on his part. However, one day he came very close to dying, but was resuscitated.

But later, he talked about what happened to him. He was able to see down a corridor to where some people were gathered and watching him. One of these looked very much like his daughter. Since he had a daughter who died at three years old, he thought that maybe this was her.

He couldn’t forget this. He badly wanted to meet his daughter. It seemed that God gave him this “vision” to show him the reality of the hereafter, and to give him a push in the right direction. Anyway it was what he needed. A day or so later, my friend was able to lead him to God. Shortly afterward he died, a saved man.

You may see some weaknesses in this picture. We think that people die looking forward to seeing Christ. But we can’t put God in a box. I think this is a clear picture of how much God cares for people. He knew my friend’s father had a soft heart but didn’t understand. So, in His mercy, He gave him a vision that helped to open his heart’s door, then took him home.

That is the kind of God we serve—a God who will go the second mile for us if that is what it takes.

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Enter into the joy of your Lord!

This is Tuesday?

 

This is the day the LORD has made; 
 We will rejoice and be glad in it. 
 (Psalms 118:24)

I’m not sure why, but mornings have always been a bit of a trial for me. I remember our principal at Bible School telling us that the Christian can bounce out of bed in the morning quoting the verse above and looking forward to another day. But that hasn’t been my experience. So this post is very much aimed at me.

You are welcome to read along, while I remind myself of some reasons that it is good to be alive this morning. Add some of your own reasons.

So, why should I rejoice and be glad on this morning?

  • I’m a child of God. Remember how mornings felt before you met Jesus?
  • I’m healthy enough to be able to get out of bed. I can remember days that this wasn’t the case.
  • I have a family that I love, and who loves me. Lot’s of people in this world find family to be their greatest trial.
  • I have godly friends. But I’ve discovered that lots of people in this world don’t have friends. At least not real ones that they can depend on to stand with them when they need them.
  • I’ve got a church that cares about me.
  • I have a job, food to eat, and a warm place to sleep. That is not the norm in the world today.

This song summarizes what I am trying to say.

(1)
I thank the Lord my Maker
For all His gifts to me;
For making me partaker
Of bounties rich and free;
For father and for mother,
Who gave me clothes and food,
For sister and for brother,
And all the kind and good

(2)
I thank the Lord my Saviour
Who came for me to do die,
And bless me with his favor,
And fit me for the sky,—
That all my sins out-blotted,
By Jesus washed away,
I may be found unspotted
When comes the final day.

(3)
I thank Lord for giving
The Spirit of His grace,
That I may serve him living,
And dying, reach the place
Where Jesus in His glory
I shall forever see,
And tell the wondrous story
Of all His love for me.

You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
(Psa 118:28-29)