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.”
Well there’s too much to live for.
Are you religious by any chance?
Are you Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish?
Catholic or Protestant?
Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist?
Are you Baptist church of the Lord pre-trib or Baptist church of the Lord post- trib?
Baptist Church of the Lord pre -trib.
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'.