Thursday, August 11, 2011

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Born Again 13: God's in the Heart-Changing Business

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Sharon's previous letter had raised a couple of critical concerns.  First, she'd been conditioned to think of the term "born again" as something of a derogatory.  Of course, Jesus emphasized the need for spiritual rebirth in very clear terms, and so she'd need to be able to separate Biblical mandate from the catch-phrase.  I started there:
I understand your hang-up with the term "born again". I'm pretty anti-cliché by nature, and tend to be a little (over)critical about certain habits of the church.
I really am, as any regular reader of this blog would know--probably to a fault, in that it makes me a bit reactionary.  Be that as it may, this text and the concept were no less real and relevant to where Sharon stood at that moment.  So:
However, the concept of being born again goes back to Jesus himself in John 3. This is a rather long passage, but worth quoting in full:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him."

Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."

Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

"How can this be?" Nicodemus asked."

"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
I thought about ending here, but everybody ends here, and I often worry that we lose the larger meaning.  In fact, John 3:16 itself has become shockingly cliche, having been relentlessly robbed of its context and trivialized on a billion bumper stickers and football game signs.  Everyone has been told God loves them.  Far fewer have been told why it matters or what their response must therefore be.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God."
Sharon, there is much to take away from this passage. Of course, everyone knows John 3:16, and it is a wonderful verse. It is also a little frightening however, for the gospel is the best news in the world ("whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"), but it comes in the context of the worst news in the world ("whoever does not believe stands condemned already"). 
Ultimately, we experience our spiritual rebirth (being "born again") as an act of the will. We struggle through the intellectual side of wondering whether this is all true. You've certainly been going through this process with all the reading you've been doing. We also struggle through the emotional part ... how do we "feel" about the idea of surrendering our lives to Him? It seems to me from what you've written that you're really there already. 
So then, where does that leave us? Like the fisherman Peter at his nets, we hear Jesus call. He says "Follow me", and we make a decision. Do we stay here and fish, or do we get up and follow the Lord? We don't know precisely where he will take us, and the idea of surrendering our wills to his is frightening. But, as Peter later said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." So we decide to follow Him, for in Him is life.
Having challenged Sharon to lay down her nets, I had yet to deal with her other huge concern ... the poor woman's husband thinks she's weird!  Now, we are to be a "peculiar people" after all, but I'm not sure "weird" is the effect we're shooting for.  Yes, I think there's a difference.

I'm reminded of a friend of mine who went to his mentor to ask what was to be done about his wife, who just didn't seem to "get" Christianity.  This wise elder leaned forward, smiled softly, and said:  "Greg, love your wife."  This has always seemed to me to be the simplest and most profound advice I've ever heard on the matter.
Of course, this is likely to be alarming to your husband! What does it all mean? Will you now become one of "those people"?   Well, yes ... but is that good news or bad news for him?  When I look at what the Bible commands us as husbands and wives, it is truly good news!  For it tell us to love and submit, even if the person we are married to is not (yet) a believer!  By loving Christ, we are actually freed to love our spouses and children all the more, because we no longer require them to fulfill our deepest personal needs.  We gain our security and our significance from the Creator and Savior Himself!
Instead of demanding that my wife meet my need for unconditional love, I turn to Christ who never changes and whose love never falters, and am then empowered to extend that same love to her. Instead of demanding that my children validate me by being successful and obedient, I turn to Christ in whom I am eternally significant as a loved child of the King of Kings. I can then patiently pour my life out for them, because my cup is being filled by the Almighty One! Therefore, the news for your husband is truly good. You're not going to come home and try to "change him", because of course you can't anyway. Rather, you're going to come home and love him better than you ever have before!

God's in the heart-changing business.
 

1 comment:

  1. This is getting better and better. I love how you've dealt with the unbelieving spouse. Blessings!

    ReplyDelete

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