Old Dogs, New Tricks

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Sometimes we think we already know it all. We've seen it all before. We even quote that phrase from Ecclesiastes 1:9, "There's nothing new under the sun." This kind of thinking actually indicates a sort of cynicism. Honestly, who are we to think there is nothing more to learn? When we don't want to change or we do not see change in someone we say, "Well, you can't teach an old dog new tricks." I think Jesus knows differently.

In John Chapter 3, we learn the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee - the most religious, educated, rule following type of Jew. This man would have known the law and scriptures back and forth. He would have kept every commandment, attended every church service and would have never missed a scheduled sacrifice. Yet this man, who had it all figured out, sought out the Savior late one night, under the cover of darkness.

Nicodemus clearly needed something more than rules, religion and rigidity. Jesus immediately tells Nicodemus that someone must be born again in order to experience the fullness of God's kingdom. Nicodemus responds in John 3:4 with an "old dog, new tricks" response: "How can someone be born again when he is old? Can he enter into his mother's womb a second time and be born?" I almost imagine Jesus staring into the fire with a little smile, shaking His holy head a little. This older, wiser gentleman named Nicodemus just doesn't get it. Thankfully our Lord is not cynical when it comes to us - He continues to explain.

Our rebirth is not a physical rebirth but a heart change. A realization that the world we make for ourselves is not the kingdom of God but the kingdom of ME. In order to enjoy all that God has to offer which includes eternal life, we must admit our need for Him and be reborn as His creation, not the creation of our earthly parents.

What's amazing is that tucked away in this late night conversation is the most famous verse ever written, John 3:16 : For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. How about that? This verse was spoken first to the most religious, knowledgeable man of the time. Jesus did not choose the leper, the prostitute or the thief to first share with this amazing truth - He chose the old dog. He chose the one who would likely not realize his need for something new.

Jesus went on to inform Nicodemus that He did not come to condemn the world but to save. Perhaps Jesus knew that Nicodemus felt condemned by his religiosity. The world of the Pharisee was one of guilt and shame covered by routine and ritual. Sure, Nicodemus loved God, I don't doubt that, but did Nicodemus know that God so loved him?

Often in our Christian walk, we focus our attention on all that we see going wrong in the world. Immoral choices, blatant sin and depravity receive our attention, prayers and criticism. The conversation of John 3 tells me that God is just as concerned with the thoughts and hearts of those who don't think they need Him. The ones who think they are cleaned up and good enough. The ones who know their Bibles cover to cover and can sing hymns by heart.

I find myself in the "old dog" camp often and it has not served me well. When I think I've heard it all before and know it all, I miss the grace and love of Jesus and begin to absorb the guilt and condemnation of my own thoughts and this world. I pray to be like Nicodemus...seeking the Savior because I know He has so much more to offer than a religion of my own making.

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