Like many, we recently went on a trip, but we were travelling to the South of England. And as any northerner will tell you, when travelling to the South of England, you have to start your travels before the sun rises. You will get caught in long traffic queues if you don’t, especially when everyone else wants to head South for the Bank holiday weekend too. So we set off at 4am. We are travelling through the darkness for a good two hours or so, then we notice the sky turning a little blue almost. Then after a while longer, a lighter shade of blue, then after a bit longer – boom! – red appears. But still no actual sun. We wait and wait, in excited anticipation, then suddenly without warning, this semi-circle of light just appears on the horizon. The landscape is instantly transformed from various shades of grey-blue, as colour and definition appears. A few minutes later we actually see the sun.
“Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”
So after singing, Matt Redman’s song 10,000 reasons, another song pops into my head – Alive Again by Matt Maher. And I am reminded of when I was made “alive again” by God. A time when God quite literally and clearly spoke into my mess and gave me a choice – do things His way or continue to do things my way. Because I was trying to follow Him already (just completely getting it wrong!), I chose the path that I hoped would lead me closer to Him. God reached down and straightened me out. God clearly said to me, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21). From that moment, I was “born again”.
As I thought about this, I was reminded how hurtful the phrase “born again” can be, how it’s a phrase that sometimes is used to divide between those who are “real Christians” and those who aren’t.
The phrase comes from the Bible in John 3. Nicodemus – a Pharisee and a devout Jewish bloke – goes to Jesus at night (maybe he was afraid what people would say if they saw him with Jesus?). It was dark, and he decides to go chat with Jesus. Nicodemus comments about all the miracles Jesus has been doing (He was either making chit chat or testing this “young upstart” Jesus – you decide). Jesus though cuts to the chase by out of the blue saying, “Seriously mate, let me tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (or born from above)”. Nicodemus was all “that’s impossible!” And Jesus says, “No seriously, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.” John 3:5-7
I’ve heard it said that this passage proves that if you aren’t “baptised in the Holy Spirit” then you aren’t a real Christian. I have also heard people say that the Holy Spirit baptism doesn’t matter and that there is no such thing. I know from experience that there is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. I also know from experience that the Holy Spirit matters a lot. He’s a great teacher! However I also know that this passage is not about dividing the fake from the real (Jesus talks about that in other parts of the Bible). This particular passage for me is not about dividing God’s kids into the real kids and the pretend kids. I believe something else is going on. Something far more important. And it’s a bit like travelling at night.
When you are travelling in the dark, you see shapes, ideas of things. That blob looks like a tree, so it must be one. Those blobs like sheep, and I expect to see sheep, so they must be sheep. Apart from where your headlights are…everything else you are pretty much guessing – educated guesses based on past experience and current expectations.
However when the sun does rise – everything changes. Some of your guesses were right, but occasionally you notice that something you thought was a tree might have been a funny shaped haystack or building. You don’t really know until the sun comes up. Light throws itself onto everything, gives it colour and clarity.
And I spent a long time as a Christian, travelling in the dark. Just guessing. Yeah, I am supposed to go to church and read the Bible a bit. Pastor says that verse means this, so it must – I will remember that. Oh and sing some songs. Sing the old ones they are reliable. Sing the new ones they are the ‘new sound’. Serve on committees. Save the world from itself – save the world from me – just save the world in general. Stop trying to save the world. Let the world save you. I tried it all.
But it came down to a choice that I never really made. (Oh I made it in my head, but not in my heart.)
You see at the heart of Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is the same question Joshua posed way back in Old Testament times “Who are you going to serve?” (Joshua 24:15) – or as the rapper Ad-Adapt asks much more recently “What you living for?”
God or yourself?
For me, being “born again” is that moment when you let go and chose to live for God – not just in your head but in your heart – and God responds by filling you with His Holy Spirit. I didn’t start speaking in tongues that day, but my perspective on everything changed.
I like the way Matt Maher puts it in his video explaining why he wrote Alive Again. He explains that your perspective changes and you start to not just see all the troubles and hardship, but you start to see things through Jesus’ eyes – through grace. You hope again. You see the potential of how things could be. He found the best way to explain it was the sunrise.
Jesus used the metaphor of birth.
When the sun rises, you have a choice. Appreciate its beauty and warmth and how it transforms everything around you. Or ignore it and carry on with whatever you were doing.
One perspective brings change. The other doesn’t.
Same with Jesus, God and that. You can notice God’s there, ask to see things God’s way, accept the love of God through Jesus. Or you can carry on regardless, just going about your day.
Either choice brings consequences. One brings change and hope. The other – same ole, same ole.
Matt Maher’ song Alive Again – https://youtu.be/CSTaVmDQP5s
Story behind Alive Again with awesome sunrise pictures – https://youtu.be/OyBkwpsAb4Q
Ad-Apt’s song What You Living For – https://youtu.be/psDilYkN0wY