Born Again Identity


Today’s readings (click to open in a new window):
Psalms 135; 145, Genesis 8:6-22, Hebrews 4:14-5:6, John 2:23-3:15

“Born again Christian.” It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, but it can mean many different things depending on our religious background (or lack thereof). It has its origins in Today’s reading from John, when Jesus tells the sympathetic Pharisee Nicodemus: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3). The Greek wording could also mean “born from above.” The idea of a second birth is confusing to Nicodemus, and Jesus doesn’t really clarify it. For many Christians, this one ambiguous phrase found in only one gospel has become an extremely subjective litmus test for “authentic” Christianity.

The gospels use several images to describe the new life that comes from a relationship with Jesus. Why is this one definitive for so many people? Maybe because it implies the reality of a a complete do-over. Human beings are helpless at birth and depend on their parents for everything. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus, we re-learn how to live and depend totally on God’s grace to carry us through that process. Throughout our lives we find new reasons and new ways to surrender. Our rebirth is not a one-time event occurring at the moment of conversion or baptism, but a constant spiritual renewal.

There is beauty in the image of rebirth, but also a danger of exclusion. Lifelong Christians may never have had a distinct moment of  rebirth, so insisting someone must be “born again” can quickly turn to judgment. It is God’s job – not ours – to judge whether someone is sufficiently Christian.

Whether or not being “born again” is part of our theological vocabulary, renewal is part of life in Christ. Just as the birth of an infant can be simultaneously joyous and scary, so can the changes in our new lives. At times we will need to celebrate, at other times we will need support, and sometimes we will need both. Fellow believers may need the same from us. Our new lives are meant to be shared, so let us be present for each other in all the ways we can.

Comfort: In Christ our life is made new every day.

Challenge: If you don’t have a “born again” story listen to someone who does. If you do have such a story, listen to how someone born into the church experiences their faith.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for giving me a fresh start every day. Amen.

Discussion: What do you mean when you say “born again?” If it’s not part of your faith vocabulary, what do you think when you hear it?

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Hands, Eyes, and Butterflies


Today’s readings (click to open in new window):
Psalms 2; 145, Isaiah 49:13-23, Isaiah 54:1-13, Matthew 18:1-14

If your hand caused you to sin, would you be able to cut it off, as Jesus suggests in today’s passage from Matthew? Would you be able to pluck out your own eye to avoid damnation? More importantly, does Jesus actually expect us to do these things? Certainly not. If we heard of someone who mutilated himself for religious reasons, we would consider that person to be deeply disturbed, and rightly so. Most of us are not physically capable of such acts. What then might Jesus mean to tell us with such harsh imagery?

Hyperbole and extreme examples are teaching methods common to Jesus’ time. He didn’t intend to create a flock of one-handed, half-blind followers, but he does want us to understand true commitment means cutting out the parts of our lives that undermine or overshadow our relationship with God. Becoming part of God’s kingdom is a transformational act, and like butterflies emerging from cocoons, we must leave behind all that would hold us back.

As caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, their bodies break down into imaginal cells – undifferentiated and similar to stem cells – and reform into something entirely new. When we truly embrace faith, or feel the call to a deeper level of it, our spirits need to undergo a similar process. All we have to work with are our original materials, but surrendered to God’s hands they can be repurposed and reborn. We won’t welcome every change, and some will even be painful, but we must be willing to rigorously examine the difference between who we are and who we are meant to become, and abandon the parts that either don’t fit or can’t be re-shaped.

God loves and accepts us whether we are in the caterpillar or butterfly stage, but God’s hope is that we fulfill our potential. One advantage we have over butterflies is our ability to metamorphose again and again, throughout our whole lives, each time getting closer to becoming our best selves. We don’t need to lose our eyes or hands, but we may need to remake them into tools of love and grace.

Comfort: God loves us when we try, when we fail, and when we succeed.

Challenge: Metamorphosis requires both time and energy. Assess the gap between who you are and who you believe God wants you to be, and set aside the time and energy necessary to create that change.

Prayer: God of life and change, teach me to be the person you created me to be. Amen.

Discussion: What are some of the most important positive changes you’ve made over your lifetime?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!