Thursday, January 28, 2010


Last week I spoke on the temptation of Jesus. Take a look at it if you get a chance. It’s in Matthew 4. It’s a few short verses about Jesus resisting the temptation to do anything but trust in His Father.

We’re all vulnerable to temptation. Take a survey and you find the point of the attack comes in very obvious ways. Some of us are addicted to power, some to sex, and many to money. Who hasn’t played the comparison game when it comes to looks, talents, and possessions? Food is a place of vulnerability for many of us. Until you know where you’re vulnerable, understand it, own it, and confess it you’re prone to be tempted in those areas. And the truth is even if you know where your weakness lies you can still feel like you’re walking on shifting sand. For the truth of the matter is that we’re tempted because we’re human.

So, temptation is going to come your way. We’re in the middle of a spiritual battleground all day everyday.

It’s been said that we are most vulnerable to temptations when we are hungy, angry, lonely or tired or any combination of the above. It’s then that we try to fight temptation with will power, a snappy slogan, or a quick trip to Barnes and Noble for the latest self-help book. They don’t work. Not for the long haul.

You know the great and radical claim of Christianity –the great difference between us and other world religions and philosophies is this … Jesus offers to live in and through us. That means that we have the living God and His power and authority working on our behalf. Where we’re weak He’s strong. And yet, so often, we try to go it alone not allowing God to do the heavy lifting. So why don’t we take advantage of everything the Lord offers us?

The other night Anita shared with me something her friend author Larry Crabbe said at a conference. At a time of need in his life he prayed. Lord I know you’re all that I have but I don’t know you well enough for you to be all that I need.

That helped me understand something. The reason a lot of people don’t turn to God for help in the midst of temptation is that the God they need isn’t the God they know. Because if they really knew the great God of the Bible they wouldn’t settle for the trinket god of self-help or the god of the next best thing. The god so many people don’t quite know isn’t really the God of the Bible. It's at best, a caricature of the real God.

Is the God you need a God you know?

Jesus's life is always instructive. His intimacy with the Father came, in part, because of His knowledge of the scripture. And when push came to shove in his showdown in the desert He relied on that knowledge to thwart evil intentions.

So, are you a student of the Scripture?

I remember a story about someone approaching a holy person and asking the question …”How long will it take me to master the Scriptures?” The holy one said, “A better question is how long will it take for the scriptures to master you?”

I think Jesus allowed the Scriptures to penetrate His very being and was very much a factor in His amazing intimacy with the Father.

We will be tempted. We will also be tempted to fight temptation under our own power. We only delay the inevitable. For the only way to fight the temptation of the devil is with the power of God and the word of God.

So I’m asking myself some questions.

Will I allow the God I need to truly take deeper residence in my life?

Am I willing to commit myself to more intensive study of the Scriptures, allowing the word of God to grab hold of me in deeper ways?

Good questions. Hard ones though. Life changing for sure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State of the Union

The President will address Congress tomorrow evening. It’s the State of the Union address. Like most of these addresses it will be part truth, part hope, and somewhat imaginative. That's the way it's been for a long time.

I wonder what our reaction would be if President Obama said something like this.

I’d like to talk straight with the American people tonight. Please refrain from any applause. I really want to speak from my heart without interruption.

This has been a tough year. We’re stretched thin. We haven’t seen the economic turn around we’d hoped for. We think there’s some encouraging signals regarding a turn for the better but I’m not sure we’ll have a return to the insane prosperity we had just a few years ago.

There’s a lot of you who are stuck in the middle of hard times. In all honesty you might be there for a time. That’s not what you want to hear but I can’t give you what I don’t have.

All I can say is that we are working hard to turn things around but we’re going to continue to need your help. If you own a business do whatever you can to keep workers on the job. If you’re an investor don’t panic if companies don’t hit their projected mark especially if their still making a profit. When you panic everyone panics. We don’t need that anymore. If you’re getting government money and you own a business we want you to have the decency to not take obscene bonuses at the public’s expense. Main street doesn’t get it and frankly I don’t either.

We’re stretched thin on the military front too. Let’s be honest. This war on terror is an awful thing. We’re dealing with crazy people. You can’t reason with crazy people. So, we have to have a strong military presence. We’ll have to have one for a long time. Maybe forever. That’s the nature of evil in this day and age. We’re beginning to think that the war on terror can’t be won the way we’d like to win it. That’s the reality of it. We’re going to have to be vigilant, at considerable cost, for the long term.

I’m backing off health care. It’s a battle I’d like to win but can’t right now. But health care is an issue. People don’t have insurance. They can’t afford it and don’t have access to it. We’ve got to fix it. But this isn’t the time or place to do it. There doesn’t seem to be a plan available that makes sense to enough people. But I promise you this. I will come back to it. This is a battle worth fighting. We need to do our homework, however, and come up with a plan that makes sense, does good, and solves the problems that threaten our health care system and the lives of friends, families and neighbors.

Our government has not earned your trust. We continue to see pork in almost every piece of legislation. It’s embarrassing. I won’t sign any legislation any longer that’s filled with stuff that doesn’t belong there.. But I need your help. I want you to pledge not to vote for anyone in the next election who votes for legislation , even if it’s earmarked for you and your city, that makes you scratch your head and wonder ‘what’s that doing in here?’ The only way to get better government and more fiscal responsibility is for you to hold us accountable. The trouble is that too many of you don’t vote, don’t read, and don’t know what’s going on. That’s got to stop. We need an informed, alert and involved electorate.

I’m convinced part of the problem we have in America is an ability to discuss things with a credible level of civility. I don’t know how to fix that except by maintaining a high level of civility in my own interactions and expecting the same from my staff. To that end, I’ve fired some of my staff. I hired some to act like hatchet men and women. They’re rude and disrespectful. In their place I’m going to be hiring tough people who know how to exert influence without striking fear into the lives of the people they’re dealing with.

One of the things we’ve got fix in America is the lack of respect we have for each other. We've got to figure out how to be more respectful on our streets, in classrooms, in town hall meetings, and on our airwaves. We seem to have a fascination with those who bluster and blabber and exert negative influence. Is that what we want?

Those of us in the public eye have to start modeling more noble things. Are we living lives worth emulating? If you're a talk show host tell the truth. Keep the innuendo out of it. If you’re making millions of dollars as a singer make sure your lyrics take the high road. If you’re a comic and can’t be funny with out swearing maybe you need different writers. If you’re an athlete be a role model for the young. If you make a gazillion dollars you should be generous in your giving. It’s been written that ‘to whom much has been given much is required.’ My prayer is that more of us who have been given much would believe it act accordingly.

Of course, all of us can make a positive difference. To that end I want to encourage every religious body to partner with an underachieving school. I want each of you who aren’t doing something noble with your life to commit to giving five hours a week towards something that will make a positive difference in our culture.
Don’t even think about commuting unless you car pool. We can save the environment and have more money to invest into our economy. If you don’t know what to do pick up litter in your neighborhood.

Just make a difference. Leave a footprint. Help us advance the ball down the court.

I’m going back to some things that are rooted in my heart of hearts. There’s too much going on in this country and the world to rely solely on my own talents and abilities. I know I’ll get hammered for saying this but I need God’s help to lead this country. We all need God’s help. Part of the reason we’re in the messes we’re in is because we’ve walked away from asking God to guide us. Too many of us don’t have a moral compass that works. We’ve got to change that. I’m going to try to model it in my own life in deeper ways.

I still believe in America. The answers to the problems we face aren’t going to come to us easily. They’re going to require sacrifice, soul searching, collaboration, and vast amounts of good will. I think we’re up to the task.

Compared to just about any other planet in the world we’re in pretty good shape but there are many Americans who go to sleep each night without hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. Life is hard for them. There are systemic and personal issues at play. Instead of pointing fingers and bashing the poor we’ve got to join together to create opportunity and a vision for a better future. We can do it. We must do it.

America’s best days aren’t behind us. They are in front of us. We must believe this deep in our being. And may that belief propel us into an era of creativity, problem solving, forward thinking, compassion and care that will make us the envy of the world.

May it be so.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I’m a lucky man. I’m almost sixty years old and God keeps putting adventures in front of me.

Early Saturday morning I drove around a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. It isn’t a rich neighborhood. You can tell. Lots of vacant lots, a drug deal on one of the corners, a prostitute making her way home, pot holed streets, a fair amount of litter. Every time I turned a corner I saw something that assaulted my suburban eyes. And I asked God to allow me to observe and not make judgment. There’s so much about the urban neighborhood I don’t understand. But God is allowing me to learn. And it’s important for me to learn. God is there.

He’s also in the burbs where the streets get fixed, the litter is gathered, and where the prostitutes and the drug deals are more clandestine. A strong tax base can take care of potholes and garbage but is still incapable of dealing with sin.

I was on my way Saturday morning to a seminar at Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Cy Fields talked to our BUILD group about the Black Church, the neighborhood, and the challenges and hopes of being a pastor within that particular milieu.

I walked away with mixed feelings and many blessings.

Cy Fields blessed us by being honest. Honest about the role of the church in that community. Honest about the challenges. Honest about his hopes. Honest about the difficulties. Honest about the God ordained role the church he pastors plays in the neighborhood.

Somewhere during the morning the word ‘prophetic’ came up in the conversation. And that word is stuck in my head.

Prophets aren’t well liked by and large. Prophets show people the reality of life and calls them to a God driven transformation. Further, prophets often get chased, whipped, beaten, robbed, ridiculed, ignored and killed. That’s probably the reason for the short lines at the job fair for potential prophets in training.

Prophetic voices try to challenge the status quo. The problem is that we like the staus quo. In fact we are the very definition of the status quo. Who wants to have their world rocked? We expend a great deal of time and energy maintaining what we have even though it’s not serving us very well.

Sometime on Saturday morning two conflicting thoughts roared through my mind. One of those thoughts I’m not very proud of. It’s the one that says ‘get out of there. You don’t have to do this. You’re an aging white man.. You don’t belong. You’re trying to revitalize a fading idealism. You’ve done enough. Pass the torch to a new generation.’ I don’t like this thought because I think age doesn’t mean much, that I belong wherever God has invited me to go, and that the trouble with many of my peers is that they have forgotten any notion of idealism and traded it for an unsettling blahness.

And then there’s that other thought that I can’t shake. It’s says ‘learn as much as you can, let God mold your heart, and then go and be a prophetic voice amongst the hundreds and hundreds of comfortable people you know who need their world shaken up. Help the church be the church. Build a bridge between the burbs and the city. Hep people learn from each other.’

I’m prouder of that thought even though it probably the more problematic of the two. But it feels more like God doesn’t it? It has a ‘prophetic’ tinge to it.

Now here’s the problem. I like to be liked. Stirring the pot, saying things people don’t want to hear, and challenging the status quo puts you on the ‘do not invite him to the party list’. So what do I do?

What would you do?

I believe the enemy of my heart wants me to sit the next couple of decades out and die with unlived dreams.


Doesn’t sound right.

I’d rather miss a few parties and follow the more prophetic path. It sounds like a lot more fun.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Foot in Mouth

Pat Robertson did it again. He suggests that the Haiti earthquake is divine retribution. And why? They made a pact with the devil.

Robertson is the poster adult for foot in mouth disease. It’s that human malady that all of us have fallen prey to. OK, at least I have. You know, too, what it’s like to pick the worst possible time to say something that shouldn’t be said in that time or place. Impulse control goes on the fritz.

Robertson has ‘foot in mouth disease’ in a bad way. This isn’t the first time he’s said something controversial in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. He threw verbal gasoline onto the fire raging in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Robertson always try to explain the why when no one is asking the question. The questions good people are asking immediately after a tragedy is ‘how and who”. How can I help? How can I enter into what’s happening in a meaningful way? How can I get there to lend assistance? Who do I send money to that's trustworthy? Who do I partner with?

Down the road a bit we can ask the ‘why’ questions including the sticky political and theological ones. And they need to be asked. They will be asked. That's human nature. Not now though. Now is the time to respond with compassion.

And if people ask ‘where’s God in all of this’? He’s with the poor and suffering in Haiti. He’s suffering with them. He’s holding up the aid workers helping them to go further than they thought they could. He’s breathing fresh life into His people. He’s weeping with the heartbroken. He’s stirring up hearts to do good. He's not reveling in the destruction of a country.

By the way, I went on the 700 Club web site which tells us that they have already sent a shipment of millions of dollars worth of medication to Haiti and their disaster team leaders will be sent to Haiti to help ease the suffering. That’s all Robertson needed to say on the air the other night. He didn’t need to comment beyond that. He just needed to enter into the moment with care and concern and invite others to do so by responding with compassion. You know what? I think Robertson really does care about what's happening to the people in Haiti. Seriously. It's just that his impulse to immediately rain down judgment obscures obvious and generous moves of compassion. And it's the impulsive statement that people latch on to and remember.

In the midst of all the devastation one has to marvel at the way people are responding. I’m proud of America in the past few days. We’ve put aside our bickering to reach out in amazing ways. The church in America has stepped up big time. And it’s just not America. People all over the globe are responding. But I see best what’s right before me. That includes your giving and your efforts. Bravo.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I had lunch about a week ago in Lawndale, a Chicago neighborhood. About thirty of us gathered, ate some excellent Malnati's pizza, and heard about how we could support the upcoming (Sept.) Christian Community Development Association's annual gathering to be held in Chicago.

CCDA is the brainchild of Dr. John Perkins, Wayne Gordon and a whole lot of other folks who believe that Christians can make a difference in under resourced communities. Twenty years ago CCDA held its first annual gathering. 130 attended. Last year in Cincinnati almost 3,000 gathered to learn and grow with each other.

I ate lunch with an old friend who I haven't seen in almost twenty years. We served in Young Life together. He's a denominational executive now. To my right was a pastor of a Chicago church. I've heard about her for years but we've never crossed paths before. Across the table was a buddy who works in Chinatown. At the end of a table was a college professor. We sat at the table. Men and women. Black, white, Chinese and Hispanic. Some quite young. Others not so much. Some in blue jeans. Only one tie. We were bound by a common faith and a desire to be used by God to help transform neighborhoods and lives.

I was surprised how many people I knew and if there was someone I didn't know I recognized their name. In the course of human events this gathering went unnoticed for the most part. There were no TV cameras or reporters.

Yet, from a kingdom perspective this was a 'dangerous' group.

One of the speakers started to cry as he pointed out some of the folks in the room. He recalled the contributions they were making to the slow transformation of urban communities. He said, "The work we do is hard".

Hard work. Needing to be done. But still hard. Not without rewards but some times it's tough sledding.

I'm drawn to people who have done and continue to do the hard work of ministry. They are people who have tasted success but are also deeply cognizant of how fleeting success really is. The reality is that the hard work of ministry, any ministry, means facing failures.

I know about failure. Most of you do too.

No one in ministry hits every ball out of the park. Lots of times it feels like no contact is made at all. And there is ample evidence of people who 'got it' once ...people who made contact with Jesus ...deciding somewhere along the line to 'drop it'.

The hardest aspect of ministry is realizing that people will exercise their free will, that they will give in to temptation, that they will reject faith and opportunity and fresh starts and go their merry way.

So, every once in awhile it's good to be surrounded by people who continue to do the 'hard work' of ministry. There is comfort in being reminded that the ministry road doesn't have to be a lonely road. There are others on it who understand.

What's interesting is that in this room filled with amazing people there was a general agreement that the hard road is a good road. Every disappointment creates an opportunity. God was still at work. And so in the midst of the challenge of ministry 'joy' creeps in and does it work in our hearts.

It was a good lunch.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Short entry today. There’s nothing funny or provocative in what I’m writing. All I want to do is use my influence to encourage you to do something within your power to do.

The southern part of Haiti was hit by a powerful earthquake today. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The government is weak. Corruption is high. The infrastructure needed for recovery is sorely lacking. So, when a natural disaster hits …well, it’s devastating.

I want to urge you to do three things.

1. Pray
2. Give
3. Consider being part of a relief team.

I’ve never been to Haiti. I know a lot of Haitians however. I raised my family in Evanston, Illinois. There’s lots of Haitian people there. My kids went to school with a lot of kids who were from Haiti or at least their parents were. The parents of those kids were and still are my friends. My son’s high school soccer coach played for the Haitian national team. So, I have a heart connection to a country I’ve never visited.

Pray for recovery. Pray for the people.

Give what you can. Let me recommend Bright Hope International, World Vision, Compassion, World Relief, World Concern, the International Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse. Good people. Good ministry. Your money will be spent wisely. We’ve already sent a check this evening.

A portion of the country is going to have to be rebuilt. Talk to your church about organizing a team to go to Haiti. The impact will be huge.

Everyone reading this can pray. 99% of you can send a check. Whatever you’re thinking double it. Some of you can take time away from your responsibilities to be part of a relief team. Maybe you can organize one. Do it.

I've never had to live through a devastating natural disaster. Under any circumstance it would have to be very painful. I can’t imagine going through one in an under resourced country. Our response can bring people hope.

I’ve already read some looney on-line comments from brain dead people who obviously won’t pray, won’t give, and won’t volunteer. They won’t be part of the solution. We can be.

Go for it. Google one of the organizations I recommended. Many of you probably have your own 'go to' relief organization you already give to. Each organization should have a way, on their website, for you to give to Haiti Disaster Relief. Do it. Before you go to bed or go to work in the morning pray for the people of Haiti. Then ask God whether or not He wants you to go on a relief team.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two Books

I’m tired of easy answers. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a few but I’m tired of the ‘know it alls’ who think there is a simple fix for every problem. We've all heard them. We've gotten e-mails from them, we've had conversations at parties with them and they fill the airwaves with their arrogance (how's that for judgment?)

Problems in the public schools? Bring back prayer.

The fix for welfare? Mandate personal responsibility.

The economy? Vote in the Republicans/Democrats.

Terrorists? Bomb every nook and cranny of any country harboring them.

Immigration? Send ‘em all back.

World hunger? Tell people to get a job.

Global warming? It’s a conspiracy. Ignore it.

Simple fixes. Complex problems. Snap your fingers and they’ll all go away, huh?

It doesn’t work that way. Most of the big issues of the day are shrouded behind years and years of habit, systemic and personal sinfulness and are protected by both formal and informal power structures. There’s no easy fix.

That doesn’t mean we walk away from the problems facing us. We’re called as Christians to be visible and potent in this world. We’re called out and beyond our spiritual ghettos. We fight evil. We pray. We become a presence. We advocate for reform. We resist the temptation to simplify the complex and make complex the simple. And as Jesus followers we’re asked to enter into the suffering with our brothers and sisters who indeed are suffering. When we do they can become our teachers and guides. Relationships are built. We can give of our gifts and talents to people we now love and acknowledge as friends.

I’ve been thinking about this because I read two books in the past ten days. Right after I finished reading a book called A Mile in My Shoes by Trevor Hudson I started to read a book called Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Trevor Hudson is a pastor in South Africa. That’s a tough place to be a minister. The issues are deep and persistent. He insists that “our times cry out for a gospel shaped spirituality that is both intensely personal and deeply aware of our suffering neighbor.” And of course our neighbor is more than that nice family next door. Hudson writes from a Jesus perspective and that means our neighbor is that not so nice family three doors down and the people fifteen miles away who we don’t know and don’t want to know and those folks thousands of miles away that show up on commercials for feeding, sheltering, and clothing the poorest of the poor. A Mile in My Shoes is a short book. It's a little over a hundred pages but it got me wanting to read it again. It’s a call to develop compassion in our lives. Compassion opens the door to opportunity, I think. That’s a doorway people of faith need to walk through. Too many of us avoid it because walking through it means entering into a world that will probably make us uncomfortable. We favor comfort.

I certainly needed that ‘compassion fix’ when I cracked open Code of the Street. It’s both enlightening and disturbing. Using under resourced Philadelphia urban neighborhoods as a back drop Anderson patiently paints word pictures that describe the ever present 'code of the street' that influences virtually everything it touches. It has at its foundation a nihilistic philosophy which encourages skepticism about ...well, just about everything. It does battle against hope.

In this world of extreme skepticism street codes have evolved around a complex need for 'respect’ and the jockeying necessary to be 'respected'. The need is deep. The skepticism is real. The fall out almost makes you want to cry. This is a tough read. Stories of lives being cut short by violence, education snubbed, municipal indifference, generational wounds, intergenerational sinfulness, and lack of role models aren't easy to digest. But if you want to understand poverty, violence and urban sociology this is an important read.

Anderson maintains that the forces at work in many of our urban neighborhoods make it “increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of community.” He writes: “A vicious cycle has been formed. The hopelessness many young inner-city black men and women feel, largely as a result of endemic joblessness and alienation, fuels the violence they engage in. The violence then serves to confirm the negative feelings many whites and some middle-class blacks harbor toward the ghetto poor, further legitimating the oppositional culture and the code of the streets …unless serious efforts are made to address these problems and the cycles are broken, attitudes on both sides will become increasingly hardened, and alienation and violence, which claim victims black and white, poor and affluent will likely worsen.” Whew. Welcome to the future.

I’d love to give this book to everyone who has an easy answer for what plagues urban America. Read it and then tell me that there are ‘easy answers’. And if it doesn't make your heart ache then check for a heart beat.

I’m not discouraged though. I know more today than I did yesterday. I’m more committed than ever to cultivate compassion in my own life. I’ve got questions but I also know where to find answers. And I still believe that stacked decks can be unstacked. I also know that where there is deep need God is at work already. His people are there. They're in inner city Chicago. They're in that township in South Africa. There's that 'wise head' on every block who tries to nurture the children. It's that grandma on her knees daily asking God to work a miracle in her community. It's the small church ministering to those with AIDS. It's the mission providing the free meals. It's the after school program refusing to give up on the young. They're there. My job is to find them, join them, give to them, and pray for them.

Anderson’s book Code of the Street helps me to understand the depth and breadth of the issues many face day in and day out. Hudson’s book A Mile in My Shoes gently challenges me to yearn to ask God to cultivate compassion deep within my heart and then to join with God’s people who live with hard realities that might cripple the average suburban church goer.

It's been a good week of reading.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Born What?

I grew up in a world where there were two religions. There was Catholic and there was Protestant. One was right. One was wrong. I know which one was right because Sr. Mary Attila the Nun told me what to believe. And I learned early on that it wasn’t wise to argue with the good sister. (By the way I thank God for my Catholic upbringing and how good priests and nuns helped shape me.)

It was a neat, easy way to divide the world.

As I grew older and dabbled more widely in things Christian I made a decision to be a Protestant. More importantly I made a decision to follow Christ. But the whole Protestant thing began to be a bit confusing because there are different versions of Protestantism with strong emotion on all sides. I read a story recently that put it into perspective. It’s from a book called Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo which explores Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Excellent read. I’ve tweaked the story a bit but it’s his idea

A Protestant man was hiking in the mountains. As he turned a corner, he noticed a man standing on a small rock ledge preparing to jump to his death. He ran over and said, "Stop don’t do it.”

Why not?

Well there’s too much to live for.

Like what?

Are you religious by any chance?


Me too.

Are you Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish?


Me too.

Catholic or Protestant?


Me too.

Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist?


Me too

Are you Baptist church of the Lord pre-trib or Baptist church of the Lord post- trib?

Baptist Church of the Lord pre -trib.

Me too.

Are you reformed Baptist church of the Lord pre-trib reformation of 1847 or Baptist church of the Lord pre-trib reformation of 1962 ?

Reformed of 1962.

With that response, the man scowled, pushed the man off the rock ledge and yelled ‘Die heretic scum. Die.’.

The Protestant Christian Church has always had divisions. Some bitter and some deep. Movements, phrases, and even words take on meaning that can sometimes unite us or divide us.This morning I preached about two words. Biblical words. Words I rarely hear anymore. And those two words are ‘born again’.

In some circles ‘born again’ stories abound. They are words of conversion, fresh starts, of new beginnings. Of sin forgiven and hope given. Ask someone if they’re ‘born again’ and he/she can tell you the day, the hour, the minute, and the setting where it all happened. Their eyes light up because the memory is so good. That’s when their life started over again.

I’ve also found that the words ‘born again’ can become quite divisive, with lots of baggage attached. Over the years, I’ve had people come up to me and say “Are you one of those born-againers?” It’s a loaded question. What they're really asking is this “are you a narrow, hypocritical, anti-everything religious zealot?” 'Born again' got hijacked by the religious right along the way and got politicized. Too bad. For they are truly good words. Really good. They're words of Jesus.

We see the 'born again' discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in chapter three of the book of John. Under the cover of night religious leader Nicodemus comes to Jesus perhaps looking for a spiritual pick-me up. Instead he gets a spiritual wake-up call.

Jesus looks him in the eye and basically tells Nicodemus that he'll never see the kingdom of God unless he's born again. That had to be a shock to his system. Jesus rocked his tightly wound Pharisaical world. Jesus was saying that rule keeping and score keeping don't count. Instead he tells Nicodemus that he needs to “allow God to do a new, fresh, radical work in his life. Allow God to move in your life is such a way that you are born again. The person that will take shape inside of you is formed by something you can’t see and touch …the Spirit of the living God. It will look and be different from anything that you concoct in your own brain.” (my paraphrase)

I read a story that again I’ve tweaked a bit in an old Ray Stedman sermon recently. Stedman was the longtime pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto.

An Englishmen was visiting a local church. In the entry way there was a guest book that visitors were expected to sign. It’s an old custom. And in this church visitors not only wrote their name but the habit was that they would identify the degrees they earned. This particular man never attended college and was a little unsure what he should do. He thought for a few moments and then wrote his name and then boldly wrote BA and MA. A friend looked at him quizzically and said. You never went to college. What’s with the BA and MA. He said, It’s the truth. They stand for Born Again and Marvelously Altered.

When we're rebirthed spiritually something changes in us. We become marvelously altered. For Nicodemus he appears later in John offering a word of defense on behalf of Jesus and still later he is shown co-operating with Joseph of Arimethea in the embalming and burial of Jesus. Not a whole lot of mention. But enough. His life changed. No longer was He questioning Jesus under the cover of darkness. He was standing in the light identifying with Him. His life had been altered.

In the next few weeks at the worship service where I serve on the preaching team we’re going on a journey. It’s a sermon series called ‘The Road’ . We’re going to walk through the life of Jesus. We’re going to follow him on the road. From teenager to the cross. One of the things we’ll notice ‘on the road’ with Jesus is that He has an amazing knack for asking people to rethink their spiritual life. To different people he says different things. He says, “come follow me, don’t sin anymore, quit fighting about who’s greater, come away and pray with me, give away what you have because it’s imprisoning you, etc.” He says to Nicodemus “be born again.” He offers the same invitation to different people in different ways but it’s always an invitation to something ‘else’. It’s an invitation to relationship, to mission, to repentance, to discipleship, to a magnificently and marvelously altered life.

I wonder how many will go beyond learning about the road and actually step onto the path. You see we live in a world where we want our lifestyles to be validated, not questioned. We want God but only enough of him to make us feel good and not enough to alter our life. We’re too busy shaping our destiny to stop long enough for Him to actually form what He wants in our life. We’d rather be self-sufficient that God dependent.

But those who do come to a place of understanding that He is the creator and we are the created and who allow themselves to stumble into the arms of grace …well, they allow a good God to breathe new life into them again, and again, and again.

I’ve discovered that those who have been born again and marvelously altered always seem to have a story to tell. There's always a story about them and God. Not just the conversion story but the story of discipleship. It's not a story about what happened way back then but it's about something that happened recently. It's a story about a God sighting in the here and now.

So, let me ask you a question. Put aside your biases and prejudices. Put away your skepticism and your sarcasm. Answer this. “Do you want God to do something new in your life?” It doesn't matter if you walked down a sawdust path years ago, stood up at a Say-So at a Young Life camp, or said yes to 'Jesus' while watching a Billy Graham crusade or if you never did anything like that ever in your life. The question is this. " Do you want God to do something new in your life starting now? "If the answer is ‘yes’ …tell God. And then welcome to the adventure called 'born again'.