TOO MANY RULES

signs

 

Remember the old song about signs everywhere telling us what to do. In case you don’t, here are some of the lyrics. (The Five Man Electrical Band)

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside
Ugh

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine”

We might also write down the same thing for religion. Everywhere we look we see another rule, ceremony, code, law and maybe even a secret handshake tell us what and how to believe within the Christian faith.

Keep this in mind. A passage from Romans 10:4 ‘For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.’

This means that anything and everything the law was meant to do in bringing humanity into right relationship with God has been culminated and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul anything but Christ being the way to our righteousness is ANOTHER gospel, one that isn’t true. He wrote this to the church in Galatia where people were insisting that ‘real’ followers of Jesus ‘had to’ be circumcised.

So I got to thinking one day that ‘religion’ of any stripe is too heavy a burden to bear. And within Christianity, according to some estimates, there are 33,000 Christian ‘organizations’ around the world plus many thousands of other religious sects and cults with lists of dogmas, doctrines, rule and regulations too numerous to list.

Now some folks need all those burdens, and boundaries to feel safe. In truth there are people who are willing to give up their freedom for a sense of security. And not in any good way do some people stay in an abusive relationship to be safer from harm that may occur by ‘breaking free’.

It may be why some people join very fundamental religious groups in order to have life that is defined for them in order that they don’t have to make their own decisions.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s why Adam and Eve became nervous in the Garden just living in love with their creator, making decisions from their place of communion with God. Freedom and love can be so risky.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, within the first five books, there are 613 laws and commandments on how to live with God and one another. They were, due to the immaturity of the chosen people at the time, necessary. In the New Testament Jesus announces that there are basically two commandments: to love God with all your self and to love your neighbor as yourself. He further says that all the laws and the sayings of the prophets are summed up in those two commands. Paul wrote that the entire law is fulfilled in keeping one command, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (Galatians 5:14) See also Romans 13: 9. And let us not think that this command to love neighbor as self is a walk in the park.

To love God fully means placing our trust in Christ, nothing more and nothing less and loving neighbor is a process of maturation in Christ to the point where we are willing to give up our lives even for the people, close to us, who annoy us most.

But and read this carefully: love comes from freedom, not rules. We are ‘freed’ to love. Here’s an illustration I heard once upon a time. If I bring home flowers to my wife and she is so surprised and asks me why and I respond by saying it is the rule of the Bible to show love. I can tell you this. It’s not going to be pretty.

So let’s take a look at what freedom is. Jesus came saying to the people who wanted to follow him, ‘If you hold to my teaching your are really my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (See John 8) Jesus is telling us that whatever we need to know about life in the Kingdom of God, right here and now is known simply by trusting him for everything. That’s why he says later, that is the way, truth and life (all meaning the same thing) and that no one is really able to come to the Father (live in the Father’s loving kingdom) except by trusting in Christ to be and show us the way there. And the commandments of Jesus, as John writes, in 1John are not burdensome. They are simply the truth of life in the Kingdom. But not even those commandments are the way to life. Jesus is. And trusting in Jesus is the best that we can do and life will follow.

And Jesus is not like some fuhrer setting up a system that kills. That’s a thief who steals life. Jesus gives life abundantly and if we don’t experience the abundance and joy then it could just mean that we are carrying too heavy a load.

If we look at Matthew 11 we find Jesus saying to the crowds, and I write from the Message Paraphrase; 28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

Now there’s a relationship of love that leads to a joyful responsible life. Jesus invites us to step into a life where we ‘want’ to do God’s will, not where we ‘have to’. “In the will of God, the kingdom of God there is no need for do’s and don’ts, no need for tables of commandments, tablets of law. In this kingdom everything will be regulated by inner rebirth and inward inspiration under the rule of Christ’s spirit.” (Ebehard Arnold wrote in 1935)

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (John 3) about a new birth he said, ‘The wind blows where it will- that how it is with the spirit’. The spirit of the living God moves here and there directing as God wills for each life, no two lives the same. And so when one person discerns the will of God in a particular way, another maybe differently understands the workings of God. That’s how it is with Freedom born of a relationship of love and inspiration.

When in the early New Testament churches leaders made rules and regulations for other’s conduct Paul wrote that they didn’t need to submit to the rules of an old way of life where folks were saying, ‘don’t eat this’, ‘don’t touch that’, ‘observe days of Sabbath’. (See Galatians 2:16-23) I like how the MESSAGE puts it, ‘don’t tolerate people who want to run your life.’

And there are a plethora of religions and people who want to do just that. I recall as a teenager, of the Christian slogans was ‘I don’t drink, dance or chew or go out with girls that do.’ Well, I pretty much broke all of those rules.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of freedom. The gospel has no moral code that defines our relationship to Christ. Because we are God’s new creation in the new Adam we live solely out of love and union with God, governed only by the word of Christ dwelling in us and constrained only by his love for us. When churches or other human tell us how or what to believe or live we respond that have no other King but Jesus. When our own flesh desires, or commands our obedience we say again that we have no other King but Jesus. Because remember we can be just as enslaved to sin and its wages of death as to some other cruel master.

Honest To God Christianity

I have been thinking recently how living the Christian life faithfully is not so easy or simplistic as sometimes we would like to make it. Even though we are new creations in Christ there is still the ‘old’ at work in us. We are sinners and saints at the same time. We are citizens of heaven and worldly people.

Let’s take for example Jesus statement that we cannot love God and material things at the same time. I think we can and we do. It is a tension of the Christian faith that needs to be realized, admitted and even confessed.

I love God and as I recently discovered I love my material and worldly circumstances. My wife and I moved from New York to Colorado for family reasons and I found myself quite obsessed with the ‘things’ around me, most of all my muddy yard that needs to be landscaped and fenced. Day after day I look at it with some anxiety about getting it fixed up before the winter comes.

And there is much else to be concerned with as any knows who has ever moved some distance away from all the known to the mostly unknown. Things like internet and good TV. service were on the priority list. What WOULD we do if he evenings were oh so quiet?

So I began to think, ‘Hey, how can I love and trust God while at the same time loving all this stuff. And even if I don’t term it loving, well, I am certainly spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about it. So am I going against what my Lord would want of me? In some ways yes but it’s the journey I am on and Jesus knows it so well.

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, so in love with God and in some ways so desirous to avoid his own agony. It was the fullness of his earthly journey that brought him to the place of saying to his Father, ‘Thy will be done’.

And so it will be with us in those hard places even though one foot is stuck on earth and mired in the things of this world. We are a work of God. Sometimes I like to think of myself as a ‘real piece of work’ as the expression goes.

And if we stay with the disciplines of faith and not quit being the apprentice/disciple that Jesus calls us to be, we will love God more and more and the things of earth will grow dimmer as the old hymn suggests. I hope it will be sooner than later, for myself at least.

So as I gazed upon the mud surrounding my new home I also gave glance to a passage of scripture I read in the MESSAGE PARAPHRASE, which is a wonderful rendering of scripture by Eugene Peterson. This passage is Colossians 3:2.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Wow, this puts life in a proper perspective. So I walked on out my deck, looked over the yet to be landscaping and thought, ‘this is nothing compared to loving God.’ I want to be thinking and praying about what Christ is up to, what he thinks about all this material stuff. And I know that he brings me back to reality. His reality. So while material things DO have some value in my life I want God to know that it’s God who I want to put FIRST.

Oops, hold the presses. My wife just informed me that we are going to have the lawn put in. Well, the dialectic of living the Christian life continues.

 

Just Good Enough

Luke 13:24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

In high school I had grades that were just good enough to make the ‘honor society’, but never to achieve loftier goals of any academic excellence. I played baseball just good enough to make the team but not to be very good. I played various musical instruments just good enough to get by but never really well to be the best at any of them. I have come to discover that just good enough is not really ‘good enough’.

And so sometimes I think have faith just good enough to be accepted into God’s kingdom, love that’s just good enough to care about a certain number of people near me and some who live on the fringes of life.

But Jesus says to exert myself or as the original language says, ‘strain every nerve’, or we might say to strain every muscle or fiber of your being, to step into the way of grace where with God nothing is impossible and where we can be the best and give God our best. Like those two women who made it into the Army Rangers, straining every ounce of muscle, energy, and emotional stamina to be not just good enough to get by but to be the best.

For me it has to do with my thoughts, my prayers, my reading of Scripture, my search for good fellowship and worship and striving to live my life as Jesus would live his life in me.

And as my grandfather used to say, ‘we don’t want to do it just good enough. We want it to be ‘right’’. Amen. And in this day the world needs to experience the excellence of a Christian witness that is much more than ‘good enough’.

 

“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.”- Mark Twain

Three mighty big words in that quote; faith, belief, true. A lot of folk think that the first two belong to the realm of the unreasonable while truth is what science and materialism and the real world is all about.

I like what the late Dallas Willard writes in his book Knowing Christ Today. He uses the illustration of how science taught us how to kill crop pests by using DDT. And what we eventually learned was that it killed all kinds of wild life too. He then goes on to write that ‘scientific knowledge’ will not solve practical problems in life. It takes knowledge plus wisdom of HOW to live. “The best physical, chemical, and other scientific knowledge will not tell us what to do or who to be.”

Religion answers the question of how and who. There is a knowledge beyond but may include science. There is a knowledge given by God to those who will listen. We call that knowledge ‘faith’. Faith is trusting that what God has said and what Jesus said and did are true and that they inform all life.

Woe to humanity that would toss religion out because of the mistakes religious people have made. Better it would be to correct those mistakes with a sincere faith that is informed by knowledge.

Let me give an example that is all too real in our world today. And in doing so I am aware that there who those who agonize over choices they must make.

We as a nation allow and, it would seem through some recent investigation, even promote the taking of human life. Science has taught us the procedures for abortion but science has not taught us the God given sanctity of all human life. Abortion is a realm that needs more than materialistic, scientific or even enlightened thought. This is a realm of life that needs to be informed (given information) by the religious meaning of ‘life’, in all its forms.

If there is no God, and we are but atoms, electrons, molecules and such, then the practical answer to an inconvenient life is what is approved today according to the desires of society. But if there is a higher truth, a more informed truth, a truth that governs this creation we need to discover that truth by all means possible. For such truth will tell us who we are, and how we are to live on this planet in the best possible way.

If there is a way to investigate the reality of God then we as an enlightened people ought to do our best to discover a knowledge that might just best arrive in the form of faith. And that is as true of religious people who have ‘used’ faith to rationalize some terrible behavior. We can all ‘learn’.

Faith, real faith, is an informed confidence in Christ from whom we learn ‘truth’ and not blind irrationality.

For Skeptics and Believers: What draws me to Christianity

At the outset I admit, without being trite, that it’s Jesus who attracts me to the Christian faith. The most attractive quality of Jesus is the way he shows us the character of God that is loving, and forgiving. God, through Jesus, has told me I am loved and God has told that nothing can separate me from God’s love. Not even my own stupidity, negligence or sin. God in Christ pursues me until he brings me back into God’s wonderful embrace. This is for me the essence of Christianity in my being and worked out through my life and the community of faithful believers.

It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus is just an imaginary figure created to satisfy the human need for a god or a crutch in life’s hard times. The character of Jesus is not the sort you would, on your own, invent. I will admit that the church has been guilty over the years of producing a version of Christ that takes the form of power but those powers are hard pressed to find the Jesus they affirm from the scriptures of the New Testament particularly the Gospels.

There we find Jesus, the wisest and most loving teacher who ever lived, instructing his followers to ‘love one another’, to ‘love their enemies and bless those who curse them.’ In Christ we discover a religious master who seeks all who feel lost and left out and find themselves as society’s outcasts. His harshest condemnations are reserved for the proud, the self-confident and judgmental.

Jesus taught his followers to engage the world through ‘weakness’ not ‘strength’. He said they should take up a cross and be willing to die for one another and that behind such ‘foolish’ talk was the love of the Father, God. That kind of teaching goes against the grain of our ego but aligns itself with the Creator. And Jesus not only teaches these principles. He lives them, taking upon him, servant-hood even to the point of death.

I am currently watching all the political posturing of the possible candidates for the office of President and all I witness is self-aggrandizement, judgementalism, pride and power. Maybe I need to look harder and elsewhere.

A skeptical view of Christianity usually addresses the failures of the church, the institutional and individual sins and while it could be made abundantly clear that the church has done more good on this earth than any other institution let’s admit that the church has had its share of failure and sin.

Skepticism does have its place for they wonder if the church didn’t invent this Jesus within the pages of history of the course of the first few centuries C.E. And skeptics do well to question Jesus role today especially in matters of evil, suffering and injustice. These are valid queries into Christianity as long as those asking are willing to do the appropriate searching into the person and work of Jesus. And those of us willing to believe them must be willing to bear a healthy investigation.

To dismiss Christianity because of perceived contradictions in the Bible is not sufficient because most skeptics have seldom read the Bible. And contradictions that might be found are to my mind evidence of the veracity of the witness accounts. Eyewitness accounts rarely find total congruence. We would be even more suspicious if they did.

I think a bigger problem is that Christianity has been around for 2000 years and has been put up on our mental if not physical shelves to be disregarded and a dust collector at best. Many people have simply not tried to place their confidence in everything Jesus did or said. And we are part of a society, which is pretty self-absorbed whereby life, the way we decide to live it, is just fine. THAT would be a religion created in our own image, a religion that we take off the shelf every once in a while, blow the dust off and look for the self-help section.

But not so with Jesus. In every aspect of life Jesus claims Lordship and he calls for our devotion not because he is an egomaniacal dictator but because as God he knows what’s best for his creation.

People say that Christianity is a ‘weak’ religion. I say that dying to self takes more ‘guts’ than to live by any other code. And what is so incredibly reassuring about it is that we don’t have to go it alone.

Grace and Peace

george

What is Prayer?

So I have been thinking recently on the meaning of prayer and the point of such an exercise. Let me first define prayer as ‘the communion and conversation between us and the Trinity.’ I realized that some people pray to the Father and some to the Son and some to the Holy Spirit. For the purpose of this conversation I refer to the Father to whom Jesus spoke.

Recall that Jesus said not to use a lot of words because God already knows what our needs are. And yet Jesus offered to his disciples the model of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a beautiful expression to God of our praise, our daily needs and desire for his will.

Conversation with God is an expression of love as conversation is in all human relationships and since we are created in the image of God it makes sense that God would want such fellowship with us. Prayer is how we express our most basic needs and how we find strength and comfort from God.

It seems from the bible that God wants our cooperation in his work in his world. Jesus teaches his disciples how to ask for anything in his name, that is, in his nature. And sometimes it seems that our relationship to God is like a child’s to a parent where the greatest thrill for a parent is to enjoy the relationship with his or her child and grow in that relationship of love, and trust. God asks for our trust just like a child’s. This is probably why Jesus said that unless we become like children we couldn’t enter the Kingdom of God. I believe Jesus means right now because the Kingdom of God is begun through Christ and when we place our confidence in God through prayer we are within that Kingdom life. Recall that Paul said the Kingdom is joy and righteousness. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14)

And there is no better place to know that life than in prayer, in communion, in love with God. Sometimes prayer can be in agony but that heartbreak is always surrounded with God’s love and assurance. This is why in Romans 8 Paul says that by the Spirit we call God ‘Abba’, the most intimate expression of loving address. You and I can tell God anything, anything. And we are assured that his listening to us is not in judgment but through Christ his love for us is filled with pardon, strength, healing and comfort. And if we listen carefully, which means being still, we will hear God speak to us, urge us, guide us and when we rise up from prayer we will know we have been with the Father, the Son and The Spirit.

That we can even pray is evidence of a loving God’s invitation into a relationship. So carve out a space and time for prayer. I remember when my children were young there was no greater joy than to have one of them climb up into my lap and just talk about anything, joys or troubles in the day. And at night what a thrill it was to lie in bed with one of them and recount the day’s events.

So may our hearts be given to God in prayer. If you know no other prayer then look at Matthew 6 for the Lord’s Prayer and let it soak into you. Just tell God you love him and let him love you. Reflect in these next weeks what Jesus did for you and me because of God’s great love. And may God bless richly that time you spend with him. I think I will go now and do what I have suggested.

 

DIVINE MAESTRO

 

Check out this quote by Dallas Willard. Confidence in Jesus as absolute Maestro of the universe is the first indication of regeneration. Is that great or what? And a divine maestro who is a master musician has one goal. He wants to bring about the most wonderful piece of music imaginable. He wants every instrument or voice in tune; every musician performing his or her best. That is the joy of the Master.

In this world Jesus is the Divine Maestro working with his Father to bring about the greatest good, the greatest artwork of creation imaginable. ‘God is good’ declares the Scripture. But, we often look at the world as a jumbled up batch of amateurish performers at their worst and the background of creation is a wreck in the eyes of many. How did the maestro even let some of the players into his orchestra? They seem downright evil.

Thomas Oden, a Methodist theologian, has written of this topic in his book called CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY. He says that we look at the fallen world, this messed up world, with cloudy eyesight at best. This world of all the worlds that might have been created is the best one.

Many of us who take a good look at the entire world throughout history will observe the goodness in this creation, and thus the goodness of God. God does not make anything badly insists the classic Christian writers. The creation has been skewed by our disobedience and still the creator, the Divine Maestro, is at work to take his creation and bring it back to harmony and perfection through his love for this world.

At the beginning everyone knew their notes, their parts and chose, from their own God given freedom, to distort the work, rebel against the maestro and this unfinished world is the result. And so are our unfinished lives.

But to have an accurate assessment of the whole situation you and I must read the score, the whole score. People who bash God and Christian faith have rarely done so.

Just read this account of the Maestro’s character and work from Colossians 1:

15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (MSG)

Let’s go back to Willard’s quote and see that indeed it is the beginning of faith to realize the goodness of our creator and our savior.

Now there are people like Bill Maher of T.V. fame who make their living denigrating God and Jesus and thus have no clue as to what is going on in this universe. To people like that religion is nonsense and even evil. But I suggest that they get to know the Maestro to understand God and his love for his creation and his desire both for our freedom and hopefully a redeemed responsibility to care as deeply as he does.

According to one of the smartest men who ever lived, St. Paul, this creation does indeed groan but God is working all things towards a good purpose, a good end that some of us see even now amidst the groans. (Romans 8)

The great Maestro of the Universe spent time with his creation, going to each student, one by one, to help him or her learn his or her parts to be able to perform the greatest masterpiece possible. And each student, apprentice will add his or her skill, talent, or new learning to the great work that was designed by the Maestro. Those who don’t want to be in the orchestra will have the choice to walk away. But in this masterpiece even the birds will want to sing, the flowers will bloom, and the trees will shout for joy to their Master.

I detest much that is happening on this earth, and make no mistake, evil abounds. It seems as though the devil secretly steals into the orchestra to create disharmony. But I don’t have the big picture. I see only a few pages at a time and trust that when it all comes together there will be a new heaven and a new earth whose brilliance will be unsurpassed by anything we can imagine. The final score is already written and we are invited to sit under the Maestro and learn the parts that have been assigned to us trusting that the music can be heard even now by those who have ears to hear.

 

WE’RE NOT FAITHFUL ENOUGH

Somewhere along the way we have learned a mistaken concept. We think that it is by our faith that we are saved but not so. My suggestion here is not a new idea. It has been expounded by others. According to the Greek in Galatians 2:20 Paul is actually saying that he lives by the faithfulness of the Son of God.
It makes sense does it not that you and I can never attain to the faithfulness of Christ? There is only one person so free of sin and yet so in love with humanity that he was willing to surrender his life in faithfulness to God.
What we do is believe him, believe in him if you like. As Jesus said to his disciples in John 14, ‘you believe in God, believe in me.’ Trust what he is doing on our behalf.

Say you have an attorney defending you in a criminal trial. You pay this person and you trust that he or she will do the best for you. You believe that they can do this. It’s not you doing the defending. Your belief is not the same as the skill and the experience of the attorney. You might actually say that your life is being saved by the faithfulness of that particular attorney.
The reason this makes a difference is that sometimes we strain to ‘get enough faith’. Faith is not some mysterious power that we conjure up in our hearts or minds. It is simply believing Jesus, taking him at his word. In Romans 10:9 Paul writes that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved. And that’s just the beginning but it’s a large, a monumental beginning to get to the place where we believe that the faithfulness of Jesus is enough to secure for us an eternal relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It is not our strength or the strength of our faith that saves us but the faithfulness of the Son of God. And then we take a lifetime to live out that belief by following Jesus.

TIRED

Sometimes writing a blog can sound a bit too pious like I somehow know the answers on the journey of faith. But it’s not like that. Some days I struggle mightily to be an apprentice to Jesus. For example I give you exhibit A, a recent time in my life that I journaled about.

Sometimes I get tired of being a student of Jesus as an academic exercise in goodness. Sometimes I just don’t want to be loving, or have any more patience. Sometimes I am just annoyed by pretty much everything and everyone. Too many demands and expectations. Too many extra miles to walk in someone else’s shoes. There are periods I would just like to be left alone. Sometimes I just want to be selfish. Not in some licentious way but just quietly minding my own business and saying ‘go away world’.

I wonder if the disciples ever felt like that. Tired of the Samaritans, feeding the thousands of people, storm tossed nights on their fishing boats, everyone pulling at them. I also wonder if maybe Jesus got tired of the whole thing, being fully human and all. I recall him saying that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If he meant spirit with a small s then I am not sure my own spirit is really all that willing. Paul certainly expresses his own struggles in Romans 7 where he writes that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do and the bad stuff he doesn’t want to do he ends up doing. Maybe Paul got caught up being tired too. Maybe he found himself cranky with those around him pulling on him at every twist and turn in his journey. He does ask rhetorically who is going to save him from the mess and concludes that only Jesus can. I wonder what that exactly means. Cause when I am tired I do not find the strength in myself to even try to be and do good. Prayer doesn’t come easy in these times.

As a retired pastor this may surprise some of you. That’s ok. I’m not feeling all that strong to put on a good face right now. So what to do? You might think I have some spiritual answer at this moment but you’d be wrong. I am just here and all I can do is trust that God in his grace is holding on to me. I have no 5 principles for combatting spiritual fatigue. No ten commandments for being more holy. I just am. At this moment I am waiting on God for whatever comes next. I haven’t lost my faith. I have lost the zeal. So in this experience of being a student of Jesus I think I will just audit the course for a while.

Born Again

Today I should like to suggest that the tired phrase ‘born again’ is a very rich expression for life in the Kingdom of God. Recall Jesus saying to Nicodemus, that he must be born again if he was to SEE the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3) One could say ‘born from above’ or ‘born anew’ but either way there is, from Jesus, the sense that one must start a new kind of life. I see that life as one of intentional interaction with God. It is not just enough to believe there is a God who is sovereign, who cares for his creation through his providence. One needs to have a new life experience with God. One needs to trust that God is actually engaged with us, is beginning a new work in us in the words of Philippians 1:6. This God is not static. His life is dynamic with us always moving, and relating with us.I believe that too often we can be satisfied with the theory of God and not the reality of God in us.

Jesus came to the earth to bring a brand new reality that can be trusted. That reality he called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Heavens. And to see that Kingdom as a reality one needs a new birth, a starting over in life with a new perspective that throws out most old notions of God as ‘up there’ or ‘the man upstairs.’ We need instead to place our confidence in the Jesus who came to show us ‘The Father’ and through whom as Jesus said we actually see the most perfect loving character of God the Father.

Maybe other expressions of ‘born again’ would be ‘alive’ ‘have new eyes’ or ‘be alert’, ‘excite your senses’, ‘think outside the box’, ‘get rid of all your restraints’, ‘think creatively’.

If we, any of us, are going to experience Kingdom living here and now we have got to start being creative in the attitudes of our hearts and minds. We cannot love like Jesus love without this ‘interaction’ with the Father. We love because God loved us and that love of God is big. It’s huge. And our little kingdoms that we build all by ourselves do not have the capacity to love like that. When Jesus tells us to forgive everyone or we won’t be forgiven it requires a new dynamic, a new paradigm, a model unlike anything we have ever known. It requires really a new birth experience.

Jesus told his followers, his new students that they needed to become like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of God. (See Mark 10:15) They and we must come with a simple trust; arms wide open to receive the love of God in Christ as never before.  A child places his or her confidences in those who care for them. They are not prejudice. They don’t worry about tomorrow.  They don’t even worry about the clothes they wear. Children know how to love unconditionally.  Jesus had a special care for the children and told the folks the danger of hurting any one of them.

When Jesus tells us to be ‘born again’ he knows that we come with a package of previous behavior and attitudes but he also knows that by God’s grace those characteristics where they are harmful can change. We can set them aside as it were. (See Colossians 3:8) Paul’s writings

So how does this new birth take place? It is a conscious decision to place our confidence in God’s son, Jesus, who came to show us the character and providence of God. And as with a child we learn a new language of trust and love and peace and righteousness. The new birth is certainly assisted by the Holy Spirit, which is why Jesus probably mentions the wind blowing where it wants to because God in Christ is up to a new thing in his creation. It may be the first time we actually experience love from God.

We are given new eyes to see as when Elisha prayed for his servant to be able to see the armies of God surrounded them against the enemies. (2King 6:17)

If we are born again, starting new, revitalized then like a child we will need to learn how to read and here I refer to the Scriptures that can make us wise. (2Timothy 3:15) And as we talk with our Father we begin to learn the language of love.

And most of all being born again means that we become apprentices of Jesus. We enter his school of grace and truth. We sign up to practice the life that Jesus told us to live. He promises to live with and within us, to be with us to the end of the age.

So let me conclude by saying that being born again is a dynamic life with God at every moment. It affects our body, our minds, our spirit, our souls. This is not a theory. It’s not a doctrine. This is the new reality of the Kingdom of God that has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Kingdom of God and invites us into life with God.

By the way. Nicodemus? He shows up again as a follower of Jesus. (John 19:38-42)