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Do you take it literally? ~ 7-11-2020

God’s greatness flows around our incompleteness; Round our restlessness, his rest. — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The little phrase “born again” became really popular in the seventies. Jimmy Carter was our President, and he said, “I am born again.” Time magazine published an article, “What Does it Mean to be Born Again?” People started getting “born again” all over the place, which I’m all for. I think it’s great!

But then the term started to show up other places, and it started to get watered down. A movie star in Hollywood came out of drug rehab and they said his career was “born again.” The people in Dallas started talking about the Mavericks being “born again!” (They were “dead” after losing their first two games at home, then they went down to Houston, and they won the next two.)

After that, the phrase kind of lost its oomph. Now, it means all sorts of things. But remember, Nicodemus had never heard this phrase before. To him it was completely new, out-of-the-blue fresh! Naturally, he thought Jesus was talking about something physical, and so he asked the obvious question:

“How can someone be born when they are old? … Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:4-5)

But just because it’s a spiritual birth doesn’t mean it’s any less real than a natural birth. Don’t let the meaning of this get watered down! It’s supernatural—an event that will certainly prove to be real.

Even more importantly for today, believing in this transforming spiritual birth gives meaning to what it means to be “in Christ.” Jesus wasn’t talking about an actor’s career or basketball team’s record. He was talking about you and the actual spiritual birth that happened when the Spirit came into your spirit!

Lord, I don’t want my belief in You to be symbolic or metaphorical. Open the eyes of my heart so that I can see the supernatural, super-real spiritual birth that took place when I was born again. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Behavior or being? ~ 7-10-2020

Hypocrisy desires to seem good rather than to be so; honesty desires to be good rather than seem so. — Arthur Warwick

When Jesus said that we must be “born again,” He wasn’t talking about a behavior change, or change of our political affiliation, or even believing in a certain creed or Statement of Faith. Human religion can be hypocrisy as people try to behave in ways that seem good. A lot of pretending goes on.

But Jesus certainly wasn’t talking about any sort of behavior change that would make us “seem good.” No, He was talking about something much deeper than that… something so deep, in fact, that it would transform the core of our entire being. It’s a brand new beginning, a complete rebirth, the exchange of something new and alive for something old and dead.

Because of the sin of our ancestors, when we are physically born the first time, we are born in sin—spiritually dead and separated from God. “Flesh gives birth to flesh,” Jesus said, BUT: “the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:6-7)

Being born the second time is a supernatural, spiritual event. An internal, instantaneous, radical life transformation takes place in the inner core of who we are. The pretending ends. The being begins.

When you think of being born again, do you think about “behavior” or “being”?

Holy Spirit, slow my thoughts. Still my heart. Let this soak in. Only You can give birth and insight to my spirit, only You can illuminate the truth about my core being having been born again. I sincerely, humbly ask that You would do that now. I am listening. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Beyond born-again babble ~7-9-2020

I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. — C.S. Lewis

In our culture today, “born again” is definitely a loaded phrase. Those two words have been politicized and socialized so much that to the outsider they are little more than a misunderstood cliché—a convenient label to categorize conservative Christians. If you can laugh at yourself a little, you might appreciate the irony and humor in these quotes:

The trouble with born again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around. — Herb Caen

Why do born-again people so often make you wish they’d never been born the first time? — Katherine Whitehorn

Born again?! No, I’m not. Excuse me for getting it right the first time. — Dennis Miller

How about you? Are you embarrassed by the label? Is it just an adjective with fuzzy meaning? A cliché? Just remember that no matter what it means to those around us, Jesus said,

“You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

The fact is that this “born again” thing is not an option. It wasn’t an option for C.S. Lewis who came “dejected and reluctant.” It wasn’t an option for the elite religious seekers in Jesus’ day. It’s not an option for the church-goer (or anyone) today. It’s a prerequisite for entering and seeing the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, search my heart and show me my ways. Show me what I think and believe when I hear the words “born again.” Don’t let these words be a catch phrase, punch line, or cliché. Transform me by the renewing of my mind through the mystery and majesty of what this truly means! Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Nicodemus and you ~ 7-8-2020

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. — Isaac Newton

He came seeking truth. And he came at night. A member of the Jewish-ruling council—the Sanhedrin—an exclusive council that ruled the religious life in Jerusalem. He was in the “Who’s Who” of the religious group in Jerusalem. Yet, there he was walking through the darkness seeking something from the homeless Galilean preacher known as a “friend of sinners”:

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

Jesus had just turned a whole bunch of water into wine at a marriage feast in Canaan and the news had gotten out. Nicodemus had come to Him for something—we never really find out what it was—perhaps a question? But leave it to Jesus to dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the answer:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

Interesting. I’ve read this passage many times and preached it to people who are far, far from God—as well as people who have no interest in God. But Jesus wasn’t speaking to one of those; He was speaking to a “mature” religious person. (Perhaps someone like you? Or maybe me?) And still he came to Jesus seeking truth—and Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” He says the same to any of us who come seeking.

Because, if you want to be in His Kingdom, you’ve got to start over.

Jesus, I pray simply that Your Spirit will speak boldly and clearly. You said that I must be born again to see Your Kingdom. Use Your Word as a double-edged sword in the power of the Spirit to allow me to explore the great ocean of truth beneath these words. Amen
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Are you writing a better story? ~ 7-7-2020

You can call it God or a conscience… but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness. — Don Miller

I’ve read a lot. Every once in a while, I come across a book that says something in such a way that I want to give it to my child and say “Wow, do you get this?!” These rare books change the angle from which I’m able to look at the Great Story of God and humanity through history. Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was one of those books. Reading it was like standing on the top of a waterfall looking down—and yes, I gave it to my son.

Don proposes that not only is there a Great Story going on, but that we are living stories within that Story. If we choose, we can write better stories—stories that shatter boredom, stories that matter, stories that will give us something to talk about with God in eternity. Paul would agree:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:2-5)

What kind of letter are you sending to the world? What kind of story are you writing?

Master Writer, during this chapter of renewal and restoration in the Great Story of Life, I surrender the story of my life to You. Make me a “letter from Christ… written with the Spirit… on the tablet of human hearts.” I claim confidence and competence through Christ. Write what You wish; live it through me. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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You are double-justified ~ 7-6-2020

Christ is at once the spotless descent of God into men and the sinless ascent of man into God, and the Holy Spirit is the Agent by whom this is accomplished. — John G. Lake

The writers of Scripture used some pretty impressive words to describe powerful theological truths. One of those words is justified. I’m afraid the word has lost some of its punch over the years since it was first translated into English. Certainly, means a lot more than whether the margins are smooth on the right- or left-hand side of your page!

So, what does it mean to be justified?

A legal declaration that we are completely forgiven and no longer liable for punishment.

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:2-5)

Wow! What a contrast with our experiences in the world, where we rarely experience any sort of affirmation outside of our fleshly efforts. In Christ, God declares us righteous through our faith in what Jesus did, not because of our works. That’s a huge, huge distinction. Do you see the practical difference for us?

We always have to keep our guard up and be on our best behavior in the world. But we can truly rest in Christ.

In your mind, do you make a clear distinction between how the world accepts you and how God justifies you?!

O Father, may I never seek forgiveness from You by my works. May I never try to be righteous through my own efforts. You have forgiven me fully and made me completely righteous in Christ! I stand aside and ask that You would naturally demonstrate that through me today. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Your sins are yesterday’s news in Christ ~ 7-5-2020

It is not thy hold on Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not even thy faith in Christ, though that be the instrument; it is Christ’s blood and merit. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

In the ancient days, there was a table in the town square. On the table they’d put a very thin layer of wax—and this was their newspaper! The sun would rise in the morning, heating the wax until it become soft. Then, someone who had good handwriting would write the news of the day in the wax, and when the sun went behind the buildings and the shade came, the wax would harden and everyone would walk by and read the news of the day. The next morning the sun would rise again, and the wax would heat up again. Then, the writer would take something like a flat spreader, smooth out yesterday’s news, and it would disappear in the wax.

That motion of smoothing out yesterday’s news is the same word that David uses in Psalm 32, translated as “covered.” Paul expounds on that passage in Romans 4:5-8:

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

“Blessed is he whose yesterday’s news is wiped away.” Paul says, “The same thing I’m saying here, David said centuries ago.” Can you see that as God sees it? Imagine, truly imagine, your sins written in that wax, smoothed over like yesterday’s news by the nail-pierced hand of Christ!

Jesus, You and You alone have restored me and are renewing me daily. Open the eyes of my heart so that I can see it—see the truth of what You have done and who I am in You. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Realizing your union with Christ ~ 7-4-2020

Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. — John Murray

In Revelation 1:17, when the apostle John was ushered into Heaven in the vision, he found himself in the presence of the Almighty One, and fell at His feet as though dead! All great people, when they came in contact with the Holy God, fell on their faces. The holiness of God blew them away. They knew, in and of themselves, that they were toast because of their sin.

But get this: At the moment in time when you said, “Jesus, I trust in You for salvation,” God instantly began to see you in a completely different way. Now, when God the Father looks at you, He sees the cross in front of you. It doesn’t matter what you did today, either good or bad. What He sees is Christ and His righteousness in you.

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Please, believe this, because God means what He says! You have been made holy. You are not condemned. This is the key to experiencing Life in the season of “already, but not yet” and renewal. You will not be condemned by God for anything that you do because all your sins are covered. When He looks at you, He sees Christ!

Do you see yourself that way, too?

Jesus, renew my mind. By the counsel of Your Spirit in me, conform my thoughts to the truth of who I am in You because of the cross. I deeply desire to live as a restored, renewed child of Yours in unity. Give me the willingness and ability to believe! Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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Your internal renewal ~ 7-3-2020

I saw that the kingdom must be interior before it can be exterior, that it is a kingdom of ideas, and not one of brute force; that His rule is over hearts, not over places; that His victories must be inward before they can be outward; that He seeks to control spirits rather than bodies; that no triumph could satisfy Him but a triumph that gains the heart… — Hannah Whitall Smith

We’re living in a very interesting chapter of the “Great Story” of human history. Eden is in the past. The great crisis emerged because sin separated humanity from a righteous and Holy God. Then came the climax of the cross were Jesus Christ heroically sacrificed Himself so that we might have unity and intimacy with our Creator one more time.

Is that the end of it? Not at all. Christ will return again and human history, as we know it on Earth, will end as the full-blown Kingdom of God is reestablished throughout the universe 100%.

But we’re not there yet. We’re living in the “already, but not yet,” a finite season where the Spirit of God is renewing the spirits of men and women who draw near to Him in faith—from the inside out—setting the stage for His physical return. Story writers call it the restoration.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

How’s your heart today? Are you worried about exterior concerns or are you experiencing the peace of inner renewal?

Heavenly Father, give me eyes to see the unseen, so that I might walk by faith in a decaying body through a world that is going from bad to worse. Open up Your Word to my mind that I might be able to embrace this season of in-betweenness and celebrate what You have done in me through Christ. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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The Hero Inside You ~ 7-2-2020

The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. Nurture your mind with great thoughts; to believe in the heroic makes heroes. — Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister and Novelist (1804-1881)

Not only does each of us need a hero, but let’s be honest, each of us wants to be a hero. Deep down inside there’s that desire to be looked up to, to be appreciated, and to give our lives for something that truly matters.

If you search for quotes about being a “hero,” you’ll find tons of stuff, including this by Will Rodgers: “Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.”

And then there is this chorus to the song Hero, sung by Mariah Carey:

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are.

Okay, I have no idea where Mariah is coming from with this. But if, by chance, she’s talking about being “in Christ,” then this song nails it! (On the other hand, if someone tries to be a hero outside of Christ, then they should be afraid!). The foundational verse about our identity simply cannot be overemphasized:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

This is certainly one of the powerful mysteries of the faith, but it’s so practical. In some supernatural way, we were crucified, dead and buried in Christ, and then raised to new life in Him. In Romans 6 and 7, Paul expounds on this: Not only did Jesus take our sins to the cross, He also crucified our “old man” (our old, sinful nature).

Then Romans 8 tells us that the risen Christ indwells us by the Spirit and changes us from the inside out. He’s waiting to live heroic deeds through you in a world that needs Him. Study His life well. What kind of hero was He? What are the possibilities?

Jesus, I am no hero, but I believe that You, the True and Great Hero, live in me. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see what heroic deeds You want to accomplish through me today. I can’t do it. You can. Do it, Lord. Amen.
 
By: Pete Briscoe

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