Monday, August 13, 2012

Born again every day

John 3:1-8 (NIV)

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of 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.”

“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, 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.”
Flesh did give birth to flesh 33 years ago on a Monday night when I entered the world. Today is a Monday, and as I write this shortly after 11 p.m., we’re not too far past the actual time of my arrival. And although I’m sure Pops has been asleep for a few hours, I can pretty reliably bank on K being awake at home, wrapped in nostalgia and placing herself exactly where she was in 1979.

That's me, not more than a month old, in a four-generation photo.
It was a month after her own 26th birthday and just a few weeks before her fifth wedding anniversary. About a year earlier they bought the house in Libertyville they still call home (though it’s been expanded and altered several times since July 1978). I can imagine her emotions to some degree, having been in the delivery room three times myself. It was on the occasion of Jack’s first birthday when I finally realized how important a child’s birthday is to the parent, no matter how old. My kids’ three birthdays are far more meaningful to me than my own, and I imagine that will always be the case.

I did work myself into a decent lather as I turned 30, although I think a lot of that had to do with it being only a few months removed from my career change and our move to Gurnee. I’ll probably have some angst over turning 40, but I bet by then I’ll have far more anxiety over Jack being old enough for a learners’ permit. I did get a little hitch in my giddy-up about hitting 33 thanks to a “Jeopardy!” category earlier this year about things famous people accomplished at that age:
  • $200: At 33, he drafted the Declaration of Independence.
  • $400: He was 33 when he first exhibited his 32 “Campbell’s Soup Cans.”
  • $600: He was 33 when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.
  • $800 (Daily Double): On May 29, 1953, he literally found himself on top of the world, along with his guide.
  • $1,000: And to think he was 33 when he published his first book, “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.”
I don’t have any plans to be Thomas Jefferson or Dr. Seuss, nor do I have an inferiority complex or any major life regrets, but it was impressive to see what they and others were doing at roughly the same age. Then there is the list of notable folks who died at age 33 — John Belushi, Chris Farley, Sam Cooke, Eva PerĂ³n, Bon Scott and dozens more. I generally live a far cleaner life than most people on the list, so I don’t lose a lot of sleep over the potential of joining their ranks.

And of course there is the very popular notion Jesus was 33 at the time of his crucifixion. But no matter how long I live I won’t be measuring up to Jesus, so I don’t exactly try to compare my life to his in that regard. I know some folks use that connection to try to do something of significance in their own 33rd year. I still have more than eight months to go in this project, which I consider a pretty serious undertaking, so maybe this is my contribution.

Thinking specifically of the passage above, I don’t think I’m alone in bristling when I hear people use the phrase “born-again Christian” as some sort of pejorative term to define a certain sort of believer. As someone who grew up in the church, devoid of any Road-to-Damascus-style conversion experience but also able to understand what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, I’m happy to identify as born again — one physical birth and one spiritual birth, though in my case it was more of an awakening and accepting my faith as personal belief instead of instructed lessons.

Understanding what it means to have faith in God and acceptance of Jesus as savior is a life-changing experience, but it changes my life every day, not just once. Just because I do not have a Godless period in my past does not mean I can’t sense how different a person I would be without my faith, prayer and my church family. The colloquial notion of a “born-again Christian” is a person who adopts more of an “in your face” approach to evangelism, and in some cases people use the term interchangeably with the word fundamentalist, rarely invoking either in a positive light.

In the end, I feel as if all Christians are born again, because if they are not alive in the spirit, then what is there to set them apart as believers? To me being born again is not about how I express my faith externally, but about how my faith shapes me internally.

I’ll always be grateful to my parents for bringing me into the world physically, and for continuing to be wonderful parents and grandparents all these years later. But I also must thank them for introducing me to life as a follower of Jesus. They gave me the chance to be born into the spirit because they knew what God could give me beyond this physical life. I plan to repay them by giving their grandsons the same opportunity. We folks might not have “spiritual birthdays” circled on the calendar just like our regular natal anniversaries, but that’s no reason to be any less enthusiastic about what happened because God so loved the world.

A prayer for August 13:

Lord, I am thankful today for my human life and the blessings of a loving family with which to celebrate. And I strive to be thankful every day for my spiritual life, your never-ending presence with me as I navigate life’s paths, trying to be the person you call me to be. You sent Jesus not to condemn, but to save, and the gift of his redeeming sacrifice is far more precious than anything this world can offer. Thank you so much for everything, God. Your love is amazing. Amen.

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