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Nic at Night

March 2, 2020

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 Nic was a seeker who believed that Jesus had the answers he so desperately sought. He came to Jesus to learn under 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 plus 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 how he was 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’.  .  .”[2]

A once Special Counsel to the President, Colson was known as Nixon’s “hatchet man”—a moniker he claimed because of 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 44 years.

Abraham left his country and family to follow God’s call and promise that he would bless him greatly:  “I will 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).  After his conversion, Colson was also blessed greatly by God, even though he went to prison.

Step out in faith.  This is the message of this week’s Scripture lessons.  Psalm 121 is a one of the “Pilgrim Psalms” or “Songs of Ascent,” (Psalms 120-134) that were sung by pilgrims on their way up the hill to Jerusalem for the three pilgrim feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  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).

Abraham stepped out in faith when he left his country and family to start a new nation.  Nicodemus stepped out in faith when came to Jesus in the cover of night to learn that he must be born again.  Chuck Colson stepped out in faith and was born again, leading him on a journey that would help millions of people.  It’s not always easy, but God will open doors along the way for you when you step out in faith.

At the end of his interaction with Nic, Jesus reminded him and us, that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).  Jesus reminded us that he was sent to save us and that we will be with him for eternity.

Remember Nic’s nighttime courage to seek answers from Jesus when you are trying to summon the courage to follow the Jesus who loves you more than you will ever know.  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. God delivered this message to Jeremiah over 2500 years ago:  “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). Jeremiah was not “successful” during his lifetime by any worldly standard, but he has had a tremendous impact on believers through the centuries.  You may not see the impact that you have on others throughout your life, but God sees.  Stay the course.

Prayer:  Father, we thank and praise you for who you are and for being there for us at all times—whether we know it or not—whether we sense your presence or not.  We thank and praise you for loving us so much that you sent your Son to save us from ourselves.  Guide and comfort us as we journey through life’s dark tunnels.  Give us the courage to step out in faith and to walk through the doors you open for us.  Keep us ever mindful of others who are in need of our help and encouragement.  In your name we pray, Amen.

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. A similar version of this blog was originally published on March 6, 2017.

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


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