There Is One

Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

2014-02-02 - There Is One (IMG_0558)A lone tree silhouetted against a cloudy evening sky.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

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The Wind Blows Where It Wishes

John 3:1-8 – Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

2014-01-31 - The Wind Blows Where It Wishes (IMG_8140)The wind-blown waters of Upper Two Medicine LakeGlacier National Park, Montana.

We cannot see the wind, but we can certainly see and feel its effects; and, when you are hiking in the mountains the wind can get rather chilly, even on a warm summer day.  On the particular August day that this photo was taken the temperatures were probably near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but by the time we got to Upper Two Medicine Lake the wind coming down off the mountains was cold enough to warrant putting on a jacket.  Never underestimate the weather in the mountains.  Always be prepared and carry extra layers of clothing, even if it is warm when you are starting out on your hike.

Today’s passage from John’s gospel recounts a late night discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees.  Although Nicodemus seems to acknowledge Jesus’ authority, at least as “a teacher come from God,” he clearly does not understand, or does not want to understand, what Jesus is telling him when he says, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The term “born again” is not just some catchy phrase used by Christians; it is a real transformation that takes place in the hearts and minds of those who come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The term “born again” is often the subject of much debate, but there is another term also used to describe this transformation, that term is “regeneration,” found in Titus 3:4-7,

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Christ’s words in John 3:5 and Paul’s words in Titus 3:5 definitely appear to be describing the same process, “born of water and the Spirit,” and “by washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  In both passages it is clear that this process is not of the individual believer’s own doing, it is only by the action of the Holy Spirit that this transformation takes place.

How exactly this regeneration, or rebirth, happens is a mystery, and Christ basically tells us just that when he says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  We know that we cannot see the wind, but we certainly can see and feel its effects, so it is for those who have come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Twisted Things

Acts 20:28-32 – Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

2014-01-21 - Twisted Things (IMG_6800_CROP)Twisted tree roots at Jasmine Rocks, along Rough Trail, near Gray’s ArchRed River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

Today’s passage from the book of Acts is part of Paul’s admonition to the leaders in the church at Ephesus as he was preparing to depart for Jerusalem.  And, although he was speaking specifically to church “overseers” in first century Ephesus, his warning is one that Christians, leaders and laity alike, of all generations would do well to heed.

Generally most of us are aware of the lies that abound in the world outside the doors of our churches.  However, spotting the false teachings, the “twisted things,” within the walls of the church can often be a much more difficult endeavor.  In Matthew 7:15 Jesus warns of this, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  The fact that they are disguised as sheep makes them that much harder to recognize.  So what are we to do?

We need to follow Paul’s example and “commend [our leaders] to God and to the word of his grace,” that is, to pray for them and hold them accountable to the teachings found in the Bible.  Not that we should eye every pastor with suspicion, or dissect every sermon with a fileting knife, but we do need to “be alert” for false teachings coming from within our churches, both locally and globally.  Of course the only way we can do this is if we, ourselves, spend enough time studying the word so we are able to recognize something that is contrary to Scripture.

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Rivers of Living Water

John 7:37-42 – On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

2014-01-10 - Rivers of Living Water (IMG_8028)The waters of Reynolds Creek cascade over the rocks just above Deadwood Falls. Glacier National Park, Montana.

I think there are times that we, as Christians in the present day, imagine how wonderful it would have been to walk and talk with Jesus during his life here on earth.  We think to ourselves, if only we could have seen him perform just one of his miracles, how much easier it would be for us to believe.  Not that knowing Christ in the flesh would have been a bad thing, in fact I am sure it had to be an incredible experience.  However, as believers today we have some very significant advantages, or should I say blessings.

First of all we have the full story laid out in front of us in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation and everything in between.  As today’s passage indicates some who encountered Jesus realized he was special, that he was quite possibly “the Prophet,” or “the Christ,” foretold by the prophets of old.  Still, others questioned it because they assumed he came from Galilee, while Scriptures said he was to be a descendant of David from the town of Bethlehem.  Many, I am sure witnessed his miracles, but there were also many who did not.  None of them, though, had the written word of the Gospels to tell them the full narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.  They could not just pull a Bible off their bookshelf and compare the prophecies of the Old Testament to the detailed accounts in the four Gospels like we can.  What a blessing!

Another advantage we have is the interpretive comments we often find in the Gospels.  When Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,’” I suspect this would have been a difficult saying for many in his day to understand.  For us though, John immediately tells us, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”  For us there is no guesswork.  What a blessing!

Last but not least, we have the advantage of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  For those in Jesus day, “as yet the Spirit had not been given.”  But for the believer today, as we read in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”  Those who believed in Jesus day could look forward to receiving the Holy Spirit.  For believers today, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” from the start.  What a Blessing!

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.