Monday, October 27, 2008

The Born [again] Communion

On this Sunday before All Saints Day (November 1), we will conclude our examination of the Born [again] experience with The Born [again] Communion.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Jude 3

What is that faith for which we are to contend?

I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.

But who were the saints? The New Testament refers to "saints" more than fifty times. It is a term applied to Born [again] Christ-followers. It does not attach this word to super heroes with impressive resumes of super feats. It is the Bible's title for those who follow God with Simple Faith.
Believing in "the communion of the saints" means belonging to the body of Christ that not only extends around the present world (that's the catholic/universal church) but extends from this present moment to past and future Christ-followers. It refers to the union of the visible church at work building the kingdom on earth and the invisible church already at rest from their labor with our God. Without us, they are incomplete. Without them, so are we.

What GOOD Thing Must I Do?

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

This is the universal question of humanity: What must I do? We seek to do something to correct our alienation from God, our world, others and even from our true selves. The damage is extensive and we have a gut feeling it will take a lot to pay for repairs, to right the ship again. We want to DO something.
In Jude, Matthew and Micah 6.6-8, the answer to this question is clear: God has already told us what to do. In all three (we try to follow the traditional use of multiple Scripture portions each week, often directly from the Lectionary) we find humanities stark realization that there is so much needed to right the wrong and amazed disbelief that God has worked it all out and only asks us to cooperate with His work.
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.6-8
So what has God told us is beneficial and required? What do the members of the Born [again] Communion do? They ACT, LOVE and WALK.
They ACT...
The first is to act. God is VERY concerned with our actions. Being one of the Born [again] Communion does not simply change "the way God sees me." It literally changes me. This is the witness of every generation of Christ-followers. Believing alters behavior.
They act...justly. A member of the Born [again] Communion holds himself or herself to a strick standard of treating others rightly, of acting the right way in all circumstances. The ideals of fairness and respect and order and decency are applied to all human interactions. We do not excuse our unrighteousness with the flip "I'm not perfect, I'm just forgiven." Being forgiven starts us on a journey of being perfected.
They LOVE...
The second is to love. We are to love God, of course, but this love is more human directed. On the heals of God's requirement to act justly, we are told to love mercy. Those of the Born [again] Communion hold others to the standard of mercy. When confronted with unrighteousness or unfairness, we give the offender the benefit of the doubt. We hold ourselves to a strict account as we act justly. But loving mercy means we try to take into account all mitigating factors that may have contributed to someone else's misbehavior.
Typically we apply justice and mercy in the reverse. When wronged we want justice to fall on the offender. When we are in the wrong, then we cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!" God is saying that the opposite is beneficial and what he requires. We are to want mercy on the other guy or gal and judge ourselves based on the "rightness" of our actions. Only then does our character flaws and fallenness come to light and, in the light, find wholeness in Him.
They WALK...
Members of the Born [again] Communion have always understood the experience as a process. We walk with God. This is not a once-for-all experience. The first instant of belief launches us on a life-long process of growth. We have not reached the end with our conversion, we have only crossed the starting line. The goal is not to get someone to believe, but to help them believe and start becoming the children of God. We are called to make disciples, not just decisions.
They walk humbly...All that we are or ever will be is a gift from a gracious, merciful and loving Father-God. Even with its emphasis on seeing grace worked out in the life of a believer, Wesleyanism declares that all we do is really "...God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2.13 We are always humbly grateful.
They walk...with their God. Herein is the heart of the matter. We walk in a personal relationship with our God. We keep in step with His leading. We hold His powerful hand. And like a child dependent on its father, we must stay at it to keep pace. But as we grow and mature, the struggle to keep up is replaced with the joy of the journey. God, our loving Father, pauses at the proper places to allow us to catch up and to catch our breathe. But we are never far behind, only the length of his outstretched hand. Confidence, calm and comfort are found here.
Along the way, our faltering footfalls join the rhythm of His. We march now to His cadence. Our will more and more is synced to His. Being with God is to walk as He walks, to reflect His character more and more.
His is to lead and guide and set the pace. Ours is simple to trust Him and walk His way...

Friday, October 24, 2008

An enigma, wrapped up in a riddle, surrounded by mystery, contained in a cunundrum...

I have one unanswered question. I ponder it often in moments of quiet reflection. I wrangle with its complexity. Like an unfinished quest, I pursue its meaning.

And just yesterday, it assaulted my thinking again. The onslaught began so innocently:

Q: "How did a guy like you get such a beautiful wife."

A: " I don't know, but she is, isn't she!"

And there I was, face to face with the question with no answer -- the riddle with no solution -- the quest with no end.

I do not know how, since I barely proposed. It actually involved a spreadsheet-type financial analysis of the benefits of our getting married! She actually had to ask, "Are you proposing?" This is not a strategy I will recommend to my E when he finds the One.

As to why she actually did, this is the greater mystery. I cannot even pretend an answer to this one.

So I am coming to the resolution I always do when assaulted by the amazing truth that Lisa did, and is remaining married to me. "I don't know, but I thank God every day that she did!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Born [again] Ultimatum

Today we conclude the discussion of the born again experience as framed by the Bourne Trilogy. Our last investigation is the Born [again] Ultimatum.


I am sometimes overwhelmed at the intricacy of the Bible. The interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus is tight with word choice use and counter-use. It is beautiful and powerful to see Jesus using Nicodemus's words to move him from a very imperfect understanding of spiritual truth toward illumination. Several volumes could be dedicated to this literary quality of the Bible and the incarnation as Jesus works it out in his use of language in human interactions. The word play of interest here involves the original words for "no one," "no one is able," "know/perceive and see," and "enter." This whole section (John 3) "fleshes out" John's introduction: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1.4-5, 10-13

Finally, I find it interesting that Jesus chose a multi-layered word like ανωθεv which can mean "again" or "from above" as in the NIV footnote. Jesus had to discuss it repeatedly before Nic understood he was offering more than a Mulligan.

{end digression}

We find the Born [again] Ultimatum in John 3.1-8, Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [John 3:3 Or born from above; also in verse 7 ]." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit [John 3:6 Or but spirit] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You [John 3:7 The Greek is plural] 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."

You MUST be Born [again.]

In verse seven, Jesus specifically and clearly states the Ultimatum, "You must be born again." This is the offense of the Gospel in our post-modern world. Jesus has declared it necessary, not optional, to be born again. In a society celebrating multi-culturalism as its religion and tolerance as its rule, those who call themselves Christ-followers, must clearly continure to declare His message. It is His, so any problems with the exclusivity of it should be addressed to Him.

The Born [again] Ultimatum repeats thoughout the New Testament. In John 10.7-9, Jesus claims to be the gate for the sheep and that all others who came before Him were thieves. In John 14.6 He declares himself "the Way, the Truth and the Life" and that "no one comes to the Father but through me." The first Christ-followers echoed this claim when they preached that "there is no other name...whereby men can be saved...'

There are not many roads to God. There is just Jesus. Besides, when you get to God you will be arriving at Jesus -- He is God. He is not a man pointing the way to God, He is God incarnate bringing us back to Himself. This we declare to the post-modern, multi-cultural society with the humility of servants of Christ, not with the arrogance of those who know more than others.

You must be Born [again.]

...otherwise we don't have the ability to see. Nicodemus told Jesus, "we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus challenges the collective perception by saying no one can see [perceive] unless he is born again. Without the radical re-orientation being Born [again] brings, we cannot even see the door to the spiritual realm, let alone claim to understand God's will and way. Nicodemus counters that no one has the ability to enter the womb a second time.

Jesus shifts Nic's perspective on the Born [again] experience from a "do-over" to a radical overhaul. Nic cannot understand how to enter the womb to be born again. Jesus offers him more than a Mulligan when he suggests the new birth empowers us to enter the kingdom of God. Like John 1, the birth here is from above, God invading our space to bring His rule and its peace.

For illustration and emphasis, Jesus likens the elusive nature of God's work in the world to a simple breeze. We can appreciate and benefit from the blowing wind. But we cannot say with certainty the direction from which it came or to which it is going. Only those born of the Spirit are able to flow with this breeze.

It is the new birth that give us access to the kingdom of God. John 1, "he gave the right to become children of God." Only then can we see and enter this blessed life.

Y'ALL must be Born [again.]

The you in this ultimatum is plural. Good Appalachian dialect would translate it, "Y'all must be born again." Jesus was not just speaking to this individual named Nicodemus. Nic had identified himself as a representative of several individuals when he began, "...we know..." Jesus made this ultimatum to seekers like Nicodemus, skeptics like the Council and to humanity as a whole. The universal ultimatum must be addressed by all people: white, black, asian, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Gentile...

We must all choose what to do with this ultimatum. Unlike the God-father, Jesus does not give us an offer we can't refuse. We just don't have any positive alternative to the One Way declaration. It's His way or no way to God, for everyone.

What's Your Verdict?

Jesus concludes his discussion with Nic by saying, "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. 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 he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men 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 his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

The verdict is already in. Our destiny is already assigned. We now only await transfer to where we will serve out our sentence. Those who do not believe (and become Born [again]) will be separated from God forever. This is not God doing something TO us, this is us rejecting what God has done FOR us in Jesus. This is why "You must be born again" really is an ultimatum. If we trust (believe) God to create in us His life, we will continue in it for all eternity.

So what is your verdict? What will you do with Jesus and the Born [again] Ultimatum?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thank God, I'm an Appalachian Boy!

Tuesday found me in my garage staring at my blackened hands. Turning them around in the angular light I had a flash of my Grandpa's. Bocephus (Hank Williams, Jr.) started singing into my heart, "Country folk can survive..."

My people get dirt under their nails because they exercise self-reliance, ingenuity and determination. We fix our own stuff, rather than call a repair person. We patch and darn and keep things usable. Grandpa Andy could make anything grow, shape steel with his own kiln, bellows and anvil, carve intricate moving objects from a single piece of wood, and cobble shoes. When neighbors died, he constructed coffins and Grandma Andy made the burial outfits. He mined coal or built highways during the day, walked home carrying sacks of supplies for the family and then worked in his garden until after dark.

Grandpa Shinn could dismantle and reassemble engines, transmissions and other vital systems on diesel-powered equipment. He could listen to a car engine run and tell you if it had certain defects. He once lifted an entire 2x6 framed wall section and set it on the foundation 18 inches high. When my brother stepped on a nail, Grandpa pulled it out with a pair of pliers to help relieve his pain!

Both my Grandpas worked hard and came home dirty. Both, though, would wash off the day and you could not find a speck afterwards. They both lived in quiet confidence and a sense of self-worth that defied the judgement of those whose hands were never soiled with manly labor.

So as I crouched in the semi-light of my garage, changing my wife's brake pads, I saw on myself the line of my ancestry. I was not ashamed of the dirt streaking my hands. Instead I swelled with love, appreciation and pride as I thought that I, too, am Appalacian. Maybe I was just a little bit like them. I am carrying forward a rich heritage of tenacity and knowledge that has allowed my people to thrive in this rugged, isolated and rural place for generations.

Thanks, John and Oscar, hope I can pass on your strength to Eli and his sons, too.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Born [again] Supremacy

The second stop in The Born [again] trilogy is the Supremacy. Here we will look at how the Born [again] experience is the best way to live. Interestingly, this installment falls on the week of Yom Kippur, ending the Jewish days of awe...

Blow the trumpet in Zion!

"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?' " -- Joel 2.12-17

Rosh Hashanah begins 10 days of repentance with the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made of a ram's horn. Yom Kippur is the one day out of the year the High Priest could enter the Sanctum Sanctorum and make atonement for the people. The Hebrew people trace the roots of Yom Kippur to the Exodus. There in the desert, on the way from slavery to freedom, they stopped at Mt. Sinai. God gave Moses the 10 Commandment. When Moses returned from Sinai, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. God stated that He would wipe them out and start a new nation with Moses. Moses plead for their restoration and God granted forgiveness.

Later, in Leviticus 16, God detailed the ritual and events for a national, annual Day of Atonement. This day included the ritual of the Two Goats. One was selected by lot for sacrificial death to bear the consequence (death) for sins and the second, Scapegoat, was driven from the community bearing the guilt of the sins.

The Born [again] Supremacy

...When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here,
he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
...The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 9 & 10

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better minister -- through Jesus.

Moses served as a go-between for God and His people. So Moses was a servant of God. But Jesus was the Mediator between God and man, being both. He represented God to humanity far better than Moses could, because he was not representing someone else. He represented Himself.

Before a High Priest could make atonement for the people he represented, he first had to make atonement for his personal sinfulness. He was no more moral or righteous than those for whom he stood. But Jesus was morally pure having NEVER violated the Father's will or law. He is a better minister through whom real atonement is made for us.

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better administration -- of Jesus.

The temple ritual worked on a proxy punishment system. From the Garden of Eden, God has made clear that "in the day you [sin], you will die." This theme is repeated throughout the entire Bible. But in His mercy, God allowed a carefully regulated use of a substitute to bear this incredible price for our rebellion. Folks could bring an animal, lay a hand on its head, confess their sins and "confer" them to the animal, and then kill the animal to pay the penalty.

Jesus did not offer more or even better animal sacrifice. He offered himself as our Perfect, not proxy, Substitute. His perfectly moral life, surrendered for the lives of His rebellious brothers and sisters, satisfied the demands of God's justice (death to sin) and the desires of God's love (life to humanity.) He bought us back from the slavery to sin. His was the BEST offering.

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better ministry -- by Jesus.

Because He is a better minister who administered a better solution for the sinfulness of humanity, Jesus now makes available a better way of living. The writer of Hebrews now shows how the effects of this better way work out in the lives of the Born [again]. First, Jesus gives us a clear conscience. The old way did nothing to remove our guilty feelings. Jesus served as both the scapegoat and the sin sacrifice goat. He removes our guilt.

Second, Jesus breaks the power of cancelled sin. The old system did not empower the worshipper for victorious living, it only served as a yearly reminder of their moral failures. The cycle repeated year after year after year after year... Jesus, a Perfect minister, administered a Perfect sacrifice and the Born [again] have been ransomed. Paul states it very clearly in Romans 8.12-14, "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." We do NOT have to knowingly sin in word, thought and/or deed every day. There is more for the Born [again] than a cycle of failure and forgiveness without growth in grace.

Lastly, Jesus can perfect the Born [again]. This perfection is not absolute flawlessness. It is growth toward a goal or teleos. We are being perfected, though absolure perfection will not come until the third stage of Grace-glorification. Jesus can make us better and so the Born [again] Supremacy is not a statement just about our Savior or our faith system, it is a comparison of our pre-Christian selves to the whole and holy person Jesus is re-creating.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

One aspect of our Day of Learning with Dr. Black was a discussion of the nature of the Church. We briefly looked at word-pictures Scripture uses toward this end. Body, Bride, Building were three chief analogies. The classic theological definition of the church is "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic."

Later, in a discussion of the worship of the Church, Dr. Black reminded us of the use of sacred time and space. These two tributaries ran together in my thinking into a stream of possibility.

One view of the nature of the church is that we have been grafted into the blessings of Israel. Paul actually uses this terminology. One thing God asked of His people was to be holy -- set apart from surrounding culture and to Him. Besides the kosher laws, Israel did this through the marking of sacred time. Weekly they sat aside a day for Him -- Sabbath. Monthly they marked the new moon. Annually there were sacred seasons of activity and memorial celebrating and renewing His mighty acts for humanity. While most of this is ritual and is not "binding" on God's people today, one remains.

Sabbath is rooted in the creation of all things. It was the seventh day when God "rested" from His initial creative activity because it was complete. Later, the nation received the Decalogue as the foundational definition of morality. It contains, at Command #4, Sabbath. The recording of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy ties Sabbath to the deliverance from bondage experienced at the Exodus. So Sabbath is a celebration of God's creation and deliverance, both of which allow us to be at rest in His goodness and power.

With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, those who were not a people (non-Hebrews) were invited, through Jesus, into the life of blessing. While not obligated to observe any law as a way to "qualify" with God, His grace, purchased by Jesus and poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live right. We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2. 10.)

Of all the Law, the Decalogue seems still to describe morality. As believers in Jesus, then, we can enjoy the rest of Sabbath.

Obviously, Christians have moved the emphasis day from Sabbath to the Lord's Day. Even in the Scriptire we see the early church gathering and worshipping on this first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16.1 - 2, Revelation 1.10.) They still meet on Sabbath, often in synagogues, to share the message of Jesus. The first day celebrates God's new creation and His deliverance begun with the resurrection of Jesus on the same day, Sunday.

The most specific discussion of Sabbath-rest by the first New-Covenant people of God in the Bible is found in Hebrews 3 & 4. Here is an exposition of Psalm 95.7-11. The theme is "Entering into [God's] Rest." It refers to creation's rest, the rest at the conclusion of the Exodus and expressly says, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God..."

So could our post-modern, much-too-scheduled, hectic society benefit from the blessings associated with setting aside a Lord's Day? Could we have thrown the baby of blessing out with the bathwater of legalistic application of this principle of rest? I am starting to believe the answer is, "YES!"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Joy Ride

You might not think, at first, that 7 hours in the cab of a truck would be a joy ride. But wait...there was a 4 hour break in between the halves of this trip spent sitting in wooden pews in a church with no AC listening to a college professor lecturing on Ecclesiology! still don't get it, huh?

Well, the cab of that Chevy truck was transformed, by the holy Spirit, into an incubator for deep thought, a confessional for young pastors to vent, and a respite along the way to refresh and renew.

I am always energized, encouraged and edified when I spend time with Pastor Glen from Huntington. We usually car-port together on the long trek to Shenandoah Central from our far-west, Wesleyan outposts. Dr. Bob, our visiting theologian, had lit a fuse of thoughtful insights and questions that exploded in the cab of that Chevy into non-stop, high-energy conversation.

My mind was reeling so from the pace and portent of the trip home that I was still working out some of the thoughts at 03:00. (That's 3 in the MORNING.) I never have problems shutting down the thinker and sleeping. But I was alive with the nuggets of truh panned out in the Chevy and was afraid to close my eyes and close off this flowing of God's illuminating Spirit.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Born [again] Identity

I am always trying to find frames to accentuate the Message. A current one in use is the Bourne series of movies. They provide an action-packed storyline for a man who wakes up to discover himself in the middle of a dark ocean...

Taking the tiles of these, I have framed the Born [again] experience described in the New Testament.

The first installment is the Born [again] Identity. Who am I as a "born again" individual? The actuality is that much like Jason Bourne, we awaken to find ourselves adrift and wounded. Someone has attempted to destroy us.

Born [again]...what?
1 Peter 1.1 - 2.3 details what it means to be Born [again.] We are chosen, set apart and infused with "the divine nature." God deposited His seed, the Word, into us and now a new life is growing. We are being made new, the old is gone and the new has come. He has given us the right to become His children (John 1.12.)

How does this happen? We believe [TRUST] Jesus and receive Him. He is infusing us with His life. Imagine a vase filled with water colored with blue dye. Imagine placing a white carnation into that vase. As the carnation draws life from the water, it also takes on its color. As we believe/receive, the life of Jesus not only sustains but stains or marks us with His identity.

Born [again] what?
In the front leaf of a New Testament, I keep a series of Evangelism tools to lead someone the last few steps into a personal relationship with God. One of these tools, entitled The Life, shares this opportunity in a style used on the continent of Africa. 1. God gave man the Life (John 1.3-4) 2. Man lost the Life (Romans 5.12-13) 3. Jesus restored the Life (John 10.10 4) Man can receive the Life, again (John 5.24) 5. The Life is EVIDENT (1 John 2.3, 6; I John 3.10, 14)

Having the Born [again] Identity does indeed make a difference in one's life and living. 1 Peter lists some of the benefits include hope (1.3), heaven (4), power (5), perspective in trouble (6-7), joy (8), buy out from sin (18) and full-fillment (18.)

Born [again] what?
Wesleyans believe that the cross is not the end of the work of God, but the beginning. What was completed in Jesus' death and resurrection is now being "worked out" in the lives of those who believe.

Peter calls those with the Born [again] Identity to prepare for action, be self-controlled, to stop being conformed to evil desires, to be holy, and to love deeply (1 Peter 1.17-22.) He further calls us to rid ourselves of attitudes and actions that destroy us and those around us (1 Peter 2.1.) Lastly, he calls us to grow in our relationship through internalizing the Word.

In a culture of those living life-styles that are contrary to Scripture and yet claiming to "know I'm born-again," we need to bring our Born [again] Identity into conformity with the description in the Bible.