Born Again

I am born again.

This is such a misunderstood concept, and a lack of knowledge often breeds fear and hate, and of course ridicule. So don’t fear this. Don’t hate this. Don’t laugh at or ridicule it either. You may not understand or agree with it, and that’s okay, but please don’t roll your eyes. And pretty please, don’t ignore it. It’s very real. As real as anything else… the sun in the sky or the receding hair on my head… really real.

I know many people just shake their heads at this notion of being born again, and anymore that’s understandable. We’re an unbelieving sort living in a post-Christian, secular America, prone to chase endlessly after the temporal and fleeting… that which is directly in front of our faces right now… rather than wait patiently for what is to come. I was that person once too.

So what does it all mean?

Thanks for asking.

We are all born into this world. That is the first birth. No one that is here has escaped that birth. You’re born, you’re here, you exist. Welcome to Earth. Here is the vessel you’ll be traveling in. Best of luck.

That vessel has a beginning, your birth date, and some day it will have an end. Your timeline is linear. You move from start to finish and your life, your story, is in between. This vessel, your body, is temporal. It exists for a short while, then it’s gone. Put in the context of all of time expired, your timeline is not even a blip on the screen. A mere fart in the wind. Barely noticeable.

To be born AGAIN is an awakening. It’s a conversion. For Christians, to be born again is the spiritual rebirth of your soul, or spirit, (more on the spirit later) and it happens as you let go, trust in Christ, and accept His work on the cross. With that trust comes the realization that everything is quite different from how you always believed.

I often liken being born again to the movie The Matrix where Neo is presented with the option of taking the red pill or the blue pill.

matrix-red-pill

The blue pill will take him back to the reality he’s always known… back to what he believed to be the “truth” which in actuality, is a lie. The metaphor of the red pill (which he takes) refers to waking up from that illusion, that false world, and suddenly realizing that everything is very different from how you always believed it was. And no, this is not similar to “drinking the Kool Aid.” Brain washing and cults prey upon the mind, then seize and entrap it. They’ll coerce or even force you to believe a certain way for gain… for power, money, control… Jesus wasn’t after any of that. Read His words and tell me different. There are religious ideologies that subscribe to that method, as it can be quite effective. Some of them even (ridiculously) claim Christ, but again, His words testify against them.

So Neo takes the red pill, wakes up, and suddenly sees the world, and life, as it truly is for the very first time. Metaphorically “born again”.

Or consider Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion, or rebirth, on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts. (Right, I know, the Bible. But why not read it, even if you think it’s man-made garbage? We’ll read any number of ridiculous self-help books, comic books, Oprah’s book of the month, or how to get rich out of a tiny 1 bedroom apartment, but not the book that’s had the most profound impact on the course of history? Even if you feel that impact was negative?)

Saul was a devout Jew… “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Phil. 3:5-6) This was Paul’s reality, his truth. This was the lens through which he viewed the world. Along that road to Damascus, however, he encountered Jesus, was temporarily blinded, and forever changed. Once in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias sought out the blinded Saul: “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. (Acts 9: 17-18)

This was Saul’s red pill, so to speak.

It wasn’t the restoring of sight that’s important here. It’s the profound change Saul underwent that gave him completely NEW sight. He saw things completely different from then on. What he once believed was totally turned upside down. He once sought out Christ followers to persecute and imprison, kill in some cases, yet now he joins them in preaching the Gospel and ends up writing a number of books in the New Testament.

Saul’s a new man. Born again in dramatic fashion.

“I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see.”
– Amazing Grace by John Newton

While my rebirth was not nearly as dramatic, it was no less momentous an occasion marked by an extraordinary (albeit much slower) shift in perception and lifestyle as the scales were removed from my own eyes.

And being born again necessarily implies that your life has been, or is being, drastically altered. Sometimes the changes come fast, sometimes slow, but there’s always change with genuine rebirth. No exceptions. Where once you lived for yourself, you now live for Him, and it should be reflected in every aspect of your life. Habits should change. Desires should change. Hopes and dreams should change as you align your will with His. This process of change is called sanctification, and at times for me has been a slow, painful process marked with many periods of rebellion. The battle in my head and heart still wages on between what I know is right and true and holy, and what I want right at the moment. It’s a battle between the old me and the new me.

Before being born again I believed this world was it. Live life for life’s sake because when we die, it’s over. I didn’t believe in much of anything else, like the notion of a man named Jesus coming back from the dead. But something happens when you let go and begin to trust in something that’s completely out of your control. Something happens as you begin to understand what it means to live by faith and not by sight. This is not to say you have to completely let go of logic and reason, but it does mean you have to step out in faith.

***

In John 3:4-8 Nicodemus asks Jesus about being born again (my notes in bold/italicized letters)

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

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 (obviously, this is the first birth I referred to earlier), but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (spiritual rebirth/born again). 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.”

Regarding the wind analogy in verse 8, the MacArthur Study Bible explains: “Jesus’ point was that just as the wind cannot be controlled or understood by human beings but its effects can be witnessed, so also it is with the Holy Spirit. He (Holy Spirit) cannot be controlled or understood, but the proof of His work is apparent.”

So as we’re spiritually born again we are indwelled with the Holy Spirit which allows us to see, for the first time, life as it truly is. This is how Paul’s scales are removed from his eyes (metaphorically of course). This is what affords Paul NEW sight. This is the driving force behind sanctification. This is that still, small voice inside that confirms what is right and convicts what is wrong. The Holy Spirit’s “work” is changed lives.

But just like Nicodemus, many people fail to see… or rather trust and believe… that we are body and we are spirit and that these two things are only united for a brief time here on Earth. To miss this is to miss a much, MUCH bigger picture this life. To miss this is like visiting the Louvre, but only from the outside. Could you imagine? Sure it’s an amazing building with incredible architecture, but there’s so much more inside that awaits. What’s inside is really what matters, and all you have to do is walk through the door. There are probably people pleading with you to come inside and see for yourself, but I imagine you’re not willing to trust anyone or anything you can’t see and touch first, as this would require a leap of faith.

Life without the concept of spirit is flat and essentially meaningless. Our spirit is what really makes us “us”. It’s beyond the mere chemical reactions and firing neurons in our physical brain. Many will tell you that when the brain shuts down, that’s it, you’re no more. Well, kind of, but not really. Since we’re body and spirit, the body is no more, but the spirit lives on. Our spirit, who we really are, is no longer confined to this place, this dimension, and it’s stifling constrictions. Our spirit exists beyond the constraints of the temporal.

(There’s a book called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander that offers a unique scientific perspective into the spiritual realm from a real smarty-pants type guy. Interesting read.)

In 2 Corinthians 5: 1-10, Paul beautifully describes our bodies as temporary “tents” as we wait for our permanent residence in heaven:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

So we’re never going to be completely comfortable here in our temporary earthly vessel no matter how hard we try. After all, it’s not really our home. We’re only here for a short while, yet we fight and struggle in a futile attempt to make this place our heaven.

***

Unfortunately many will point to science to disprove the spiritual side of life. Contrary to many people’s belief, the scientific and spiritual are not at odds. One does not disprove the other. Science is the “intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural.” We need science. I’m all for science and studying the world in which we live. Who wouldn’t be? Seriously? Am I suddenly anti-science because I believe in something that can’t be seen or measured scientifically? There are some things that are beyond our reach here on Earth in the “physical and natural” realm. There are things that are beyond science. How then can we use science to study and measure that which we cannot measure. The spirit is, after all, neither physical nor natural. So if it can’t be measured, is it therefore worthless? From my vantage point that’s a short-sighted view of life. It seems prideful and a touch arrogant to believe that if man can’t necessarily study and categorize it say, in a laboratory, than it has no value. That this “faith” thing is just a bunch of nonsense for the weak-minded. Some will go further and call us quacks or kooks, simple, backwards, or to a more harsh degree stupid or moronic. This is so misguided and so very hurtful. I’m no simpleton. I be educated. I can reed good. I have all my teeth and I didn’t marry my sister. And oh ya, I believe in an invisible God.

But what people from my vantage point often fail to realize is that if you believe man is it, the pinnacle, the highest form of life, then writing spiritual things off as worthless would, I assume, be perfectly natural and rational from their vantage point. So as Christ followers we shouldn’t be so offended. Perhaps it’s the condescending and pompous manner in which it’s often relayed that drives me nuts. Then again, that’s a two-way street.

Trust me, I can see why people don’t believe in what I believe in. I have seen the ugly, hypocritical side that turns so many away. I have lived it. After my conversion there were times where I clutched my bible and lowered my head to barrel through life and over people, in a futile attempt to convince others and myself that my faith was real. That my born again experience was not just some silly notion planted in my head by a charismatic pastor ultimately motivated by greed or power or Tom Cruise.

I think sometimes the message gets so messed up because people are involved. People are messy. Face it, we’re all a mess in one sense or another. But there are those in the church (and outside for that matter) that will read the teachings of Jesus, claim them pridefully as their own, and hoist them high in the air. They’ll wave them around like a diploma, often in your face, as if they’re somehow responsible for their own rebirth and in on some sort of exclusive secret. Are they truly reborn? I don’t know. We humans will do everything we can to screw up that which is a truly perfect gift from above… including but not limited to criticizing, ostracizing, judging, bullying, and on, and on. Sometimes well-intentioned people want others to see what they see so badly yet go about it all wrong and end up pushing them even further away. Then again, some people are just plain a-holes with an agenda and develop an us versus them mentality, completely disregarding the whole “love your neighbors as yourself” command.

The reality is, I too want nothing more than for others to see what I see. It’s like staring at those 3-D Stereogram images from the 90’s. You stare until they finally come into focus for you for the first time, revealing some amazing new world that you desperately want to share with everyone.

jesus_001

You want so badly for everyone else around you to see what you’re seeing, but you can’t make them or force them and many times, sadly, they’re just not interested in what it is you’ve discovered.

And so I’ve gotten frustrated at times, even angry, when my beliefs were simply brushed aside, or treated with contempt or hatred or intolerance. But I try to just swallow that. What I won’t do is lash out at or belittle someone because they believe differently than me. I’m called to pray for them, not judge. (Although admittedly I often do judge others. What can I say? I’m human. I’m messy. I’m fallible. Hard to believe, I know, but you’ll have to trust me on this. Or just ask my wife.) As the saying goes, a Christ follower is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. As Christ followers, we would do well to keep this in mind when trying to share that which, only by the grace of God, has been shared with us. We’re not special, and we’re certainly no better than anyone else, but we are called to share the gift that’s been revealed to us:

“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5: 12-21

The message is one of inclusion. All are welcome. Christ followers are just messengers, nothing more, and we’re compelled to share the message with anyone who will listen. To do otherwise would go against God’s Word. To do otherwise would make us even more douchey than most think we already are. Think about it. If a Christ follower genuinely feels someone else’s eternity is in danger, and does and says NOTHING… wouldn’t that make them a SUPER HUGE douche? It would be like watching someone stand on railroad tracks with their back to an oncoming train, and just pulling up a chair to watch how it ends. There’s no love in that.

I’m always happy to share, although I’m not usually invited to do so. Seems most people aren’t interested, or are perfectly content with the here and now. It’s tough watching people you care about stand on the tracks. I try to keep an eye out for an opening to lead them to safety, but worse comes to worse I’ll just tackle their ass off the tracks, you know, in the name of the Lord. They can hate me in heaven.

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