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A Personal Encounter

Are you preparing for Easter? As we go through Lent have you been able to take some extra time to examine your faith? Have you had the time to pray more or take time to read your Bible in the morning before you start your day? Have you fasted? Now I’m not saying these things to make you feel guilty if you’re not.

Lent is the perfect time to take a look at our faith. It’s the 40 days that lead up to Easter and we’re supposed to take some time to think about what we believe and why we believe it. So I want to ask everyone, “How are you doing in your faith?” There are times that seem to be really good times to determine where we are in our relationship with Jesus. Now is one of those times. Faith is not always easy. Jesus is not always easy to understand or easy to follow. We’re not the only ones who have had a tough time understanding Jesus. But as we grow together as disciples of Jesus we should be studying the word of God and trying to put it into use every day.

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Nicodemus came to visit Jesus. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews so there is a distinct possibility that he is a member of the San Hedrin which was the ruling body of the Jewish faith. They were the best of the best. They were the leaders of the faith. They were the most educated men in the country and the most respected when it came to being able to teach about the scriptures. Nicodemus wasn’t a nobody! He was a somebody! But I want you to notice something about the meeting. The meeting was happening at night! Although Nicodemus wants to meet with Jesus and find out more about him he wants to do it on his own terms. Jesus had stirred up something in him. But he was really afraid to be seen with Jesus because he has this persona as a Pharisee. If he’s seen with Jesus other Pharisees might start to question his faith or his leadership. Maybe they’d start to doubt him and his loyalty to the faith. Maybe they’d undermine his status in the group. So even though Nicodemus wants to talk to Jesus he doesn’t want to be seen with Jesus.

Jesus talked to Nicodemus about a spiritual rebirth that night. The Holy Spirit needs to do a new thing in our hearts. When someone converted to the Jewish faith they were baptized in the river. It was symbolic of a new beginning. The old sinful nature of the person was washed away and they were considered clean and acceptable. But Jesus is telling Nicodemus it’s much deeper. One has to have a personal encounter with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must come and work a new thing in our hearts, in our soul. Outward washing or actions isn’t enough. Knowledge isn’t salvation. Works aren’t enough for salvation. God wants our hearts.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God so loved the world! Not God so loved the Jews. Not God so loved the Whites. Not God so loved the Republicans or the rich or the women or the straight or the pretty. No God so loved the world that he sent his only son. Everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. Everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. So many times we exclude people from God’s love and grace because they don’t match up with us in our beliefs or the way we worship or dress or talk. Jesus didn’t come to judge the world but to save the world. He came to show the world that there is a different way to come to God.

Jesus is calling all of us to come to him. He wants us to understand that our grandparents or parents faith won’t save us anymore than Abraham’s faith would save the Jews. He wants us to understand that our words or actions or good intentions or good works won’t save us. He wants us to understand that it’s all about God and a personal encounter with him. We need a relationship with the Holy Trinity, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit to descend on us and dwell in us to empower us to change our lives and our hearts toward everyone around us. We need to see that God sent his one and only Son to die as a sacrifice for our sins and to believe that he is who he says he is. He was lifted up on a cross to die a horrible death so that we might live. That is the work of a God who truly loves his people. That is the love of a God who wants to have a personal encounter with us all. May this Lent be the time where we truly draw close to God and experience his love, grace and mercy. In Christ, Pastor Joe

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