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Mine was a difficult birth, or so I’m told, I don’t remember much about it myself.

March 15, 2014

Mine was a difficult birth, or so I’m told, I don’t remember much about it myself.

I obviously was reluctant to come into this world. The warmth, ease and comfort must have been too much. But whatever the reason I was a long time in coming. So long in fact that by the time I came into the world my poor Mam was exhausted with the pain and effort. So when the midwife lifted me up and said, look Mrs. Tuffnell you’ve got a beautiful baby boy, my Mam snapped back, “I don’t care if its  a *** rabbit so long as its out!”.

Knowing that, the thought of me going back in again would probably kill my Mam on the spot. So I can understand poor Nicodemus’ alarm and confusion in John 3, I really can. He sounds a little stupid today, we have heard of being born again, and know it to be figurative not literal. But what would we have thought talking late in the night with this amazing but weird teacher? I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have done any better.

The important thing, is not that Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus. The important point is that Nicodemus obviously went away and pondered all that he had seen, heard and felt in Jesus’ presence, and was changed. I know Nicodemus was changed because he was there with Joseph of Arimathea caring for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (John 19).

So are you ever puzzled by something God says or does? Do you ever get confused by a Bible passage? Well don’t worry you are in good company, you are not alone. Jesus is not always clear and education doesn’t always help. Think of Nicodemus, he was very well educated. Sometimes study helps us to understand the will of God but often a good religious education just allows us to bluff a little better.

No, Nichodemus tells me that some times I need to spend time thinking and praying about what I have seen or heard. I need to go back to my Bible and commentaries and try and make sense of it all, but all the time having faith that Jesus is right even if I don’t understand him.

That is what Jesus’ mother did when Jesus did something strange, she “pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 2.19). (We’re never told whether Mary had an easy birth with her first born. Maybe Jesus too was slow to arrive and maybe she snapped at Joseph, “I don’t care if its a rabbit so long as its out!” Some things are just not recorded, all we do know is that she pondered and wondered at all that God was doing through her.)

Nicodemus seems to have done the same. He left Jesus confused but no less convinced that this was someone sent by God. He seems to have pondered all these things in his heart too.

I need to ponder too, so I suspect do you.

I need to ponder when I see good people suffer, or when I see people indifferent to the offer of love from God. Like Nicodemus, I can get so confused. I wonder about so many things. But also like Nicodemus and Mary, I know that Jesus is special. I know that Jesus is the one sent by God to save this world, and all in it. Like Nicodemus, I know that faith is the key. I know the truth of those words:

‘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’ (John 3.16 & 17).

These are some of the first words of the Bible that I ever heard and I am still pondering them. I have pondered these words, “God so loved the world” and I realised that my faith needed to include caring for this world, it’s fish and birds and animals and people – if God loved them so much how could I not care? That in turn continues to lead me to all sorts of interesting places – but that is for another day.

Today I need to ponder the words of the Bible. Spend time with them, roll them around in my mouth, tasking them. I need to let the Spirit in to guide me. I need to be open to whatever the Spirit intends to reveal to me. That is what Nicodemus did and he did the unthinkable – he broke with the powerful Jewish council and helped to bury Jesus. He is mentioned by name, perhaps because he was well known to the believers, so it is entirely possible that Nicodemus stuck his neck out even further and after Jesus’ resurrection became one of the first Christians.

Who knows? But I do know the power of that pondering the words of Scripture such as these. Of being open to letting the Spirit guide me. I recommend it to you. But beware! Beware because the Spirit may well reveal something you would rather not know. I have learned that I enter God’s presence with no guarantees. God will say and do and reveal whatever he wants, and it may upset me.

I once was absolutely convinced that only men could be ministers. But God changed all that. I was comfortable where I was. Changing that idea meant that I was no longer the welcome friend to some people that I once was. I was desperate to believe in a literal 7 day creation, but Scripture and the Spirit wouldn’t let me. This one belief was the real test of orthodoxy, I wanted to be part of that club, but I was not allowed.

So beware! Your most cherished certainties could be overturned. But still I believe there is no better way, indeed there is no other way, than to ponder the words of Scripture and let God’s Spirit guide me.

There is another important point here to learn  from Nicodemus – honesty. Nicodemus wasn’t afraid to seem stupid – he didn’t understand Jesus so he said so. He could have nodded wisely. He could also have said something like, “Wise words teacher”. But what good would that have done? He didn’t understand, he wanted to understand, so he admitted his ignorance. So when I ponder I pray that I can be honest enough with myself and God to own up to my ignorance too.

I’ll leave that thought there. There are hundreds of messages that can be inspired by John 3 alone, but not for now.

For now, I want to focus on that idea of pondering and wondering about life and faith, while open to the work of the Spirit. If you’ve got this far, please take to heart the power of this practice of pondering all these things in your heart.

Perhaps there is something that you need to ponder in your heart this Lent? Are there passages of the Bible that puzzle you? Are there world events or people that confuse? Then perhaps your Lenten discipline should include setting aside time to ponder and explore them?

To end, something from one of the great Classics of literature to ponder:

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”

(Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne)

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  1. 3/23/2014 Share Your Story | ForeWords

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