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Nick at Night

March 6, 2017

Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again . . . No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit . . . You must be born again . . . So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3,5,8).

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council, most of whom were jealous of Jesus because he undermined their authority. But Nick was a seeker who believed that Jesus had the answers he so desperately sought. He came to Jesus to learn. But he came in the cover of darkness, so as not to be discovered by his colleagues. He was puzzled when Jesus told him that in order to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born again. Jesus explained that entering God’s kingdom requires a do-over—a new start. He was explaining the concept of spiritual rebirth—and that the Holy Spirit is the instrument of spiritual rebirth: “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).[1]

Inspired by Nicodemus’ nighttime exchange with Jesus (John 3:1-17), I pulled my 30 year-old yellowed paperback copy of Born Again, down from the shelf. The book is Chuck Colson’s 1972 account of his conversion. Colson describes the process he went through in being reborn in the Spirit. Colson was familiar with “religion” when he visited a friend, Tom Phillips one night, but unfamiliar with the concept of having a personal relationship with God. Tom gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and prayed for him. He was moved by Tom’s prayer, and after he left Tom’s house and climbed into his car he “prayed his first real prayer. ‘God, I don’t know how I’m going to find You, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to You.’ I didn’t know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: ‘Take me’. . . I stayed there in the car, wet-eyed, praying, thinking, for perhaps half an hour, perhaps longer, alone in the quiet of the dark night. Yet for the first time in my life, I was not alone at all.”[2]

A once Special Counsel to the President, Colson had a reputation as Nixon’s “hatchet man”—a nickname he secured by his willingness to do just about anything to destroy a political opponent. During the aftermath of Watergate, Colson had the conversion experience described above, compelling him to enter a guilty plea to something he hadn’t been charged with–obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg.

Colson recognized the necessity to start over once he was “born again” through the Holy Spirit. He took the first step in his new life with his plea. He served his time in prison, and afterwards founded Prison Fellowship, an international ministry that has helped millions of prisoners and their families over the last 40 plus years.

Abram left his country and family to follow God’s call and promise that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12: 2). Paul confirmed that the “promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13).

This last Sunday our pastor challenged us to step out in faith. This is the message of this week’s Scripture lessons. This week’s psalm is a one of the “Pilgrim Psalms” or “Songs of Ascent,” (Psalms 120-134) that were sung by pilgrims three times a year on their way up the hill to Jerusalem for the three pilgrim feasts. Each of the psalms is a “step” along the way. Psalm 121 assures us that God will be with us every step of the way. We can depend on him for help: “I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber . . . the Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-3. 7-8).

In faith Abraham left his country and family to start a new nation. In faith Nicodemus came to Jesus in the cover of night to learn that he must be born again. In faith, Chuck Colson was born again and embarked on a journey that would help millions of people.

Remember Nick’s nighttime courage to seek answers from Jesus when you are trying to summon the courage to find the truth. God is asking you to step out in faith and embark on the journey that he has in store for you. And he promises to watch over you all your life and forever.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture lessons for the Second Sunday in Lent are Psalm 121; Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:1-8, 13-17; John 3: 1-17.

[2] Colson, Born Again (1972) Baker Book House, p. 117.


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