I can remember the date, the place and even the time when I answered an altar call because I "felt my heart strangely warmed," to quote John Wesley, by a message about Zaccheus, in which I felt like the preacher had been reading my mail. Then, at the altar, I cried as the stone melted in my heart. It was a stone of self-righteousness and fear, which both come down to about the same thing. It was around 7:30 PM, at St. Christopher’s on the Sea, an Episcopalilan Church on Key Biscayne, Florida, on August 9, 1973.
But I also know many, many saints, far more mature and faithful than I, who cannot name the date or time or place in which Jesus stepped into their lives anew. To quote a book title, they may have been "growing up born again." Jesus has been their ever-constant friend, they have been walking in the kingdom of God for as long as they remember, and I hope they are grateful for having avoided some of the things the forcibly converted had to repent of. I don’t doubt their membership in God’s kingdom at all. The fruits of their lives speak for themselves.
In fact, I question the all-too-common tendency of American revivalism to identify the new birth of which Jesus speaks in John 3 with a one-size-fits-all emotional experience. The journey of a thousand miles is at least as important as the first step. This over-done tendency also has the unfortunate effect of helping people believe that the new birth–and therefore all decisions– is over and behind us once the hand is raised, the tears are shed and the commitment card is signed. If we follow the logic of what Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3, the decision Nicodemus must make will start in motion a life of rebirth into deeper, richer, and yet more costly stages of discipleship, in which he will have to die to many of the privileges, powers, positions and relationships of his life before Jesus, if he is to "see" all that is his in God’s kingdom.
Or did I miss the boat? Check out last Sunday’s message on Nicodemus and the kingdom of God at Download Lent2-08.doc . What do you think?
Mathew Swora, pastor
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