It’s time for a startling revelation. I’m born again.
Maybe that’s a gutsy and random thing to say publicly. Many who make this disclosure are met with suspicious nods.
That’s too bad, really, because, the born-again experience is a rich spiritual event that deserves no less attention than any other religious event.
“Born again” is a term commonly attributed to slick-haired evangelists, but actually, it’s a phrase based on an encounter Jesus had with a man who inquired about discipleship. The man’s name was Nicodemus.
In a reply translated in the King James Version of the Bible, Jesus told Nick that he’d have to be “born again.”
Nick then asked the question repeated over the centuries: “How can I enter my mother’s womb again?”
Jesus must have pounded his forehead. “No, no, not literally go through the birth canal again.” (Norris paraphrase) This birth must be “from above,” which is the literal Greek translation of the phrase “born again.”
While Evangelicals adopted the less accurate “born again,” it really makes no matter. The phrase expresses that moment when a person declares he is, as my pastor Barry Smith calls it, “making God the boss of your life.”
It happened to me in 1965 in a little church my father pastored called The First Southern Baptist Church of Freedom, Calif.
Like most kids of my culture, I’d grown up hearing stories about how Jesus loved children and even depended on them once to feed a convention center. (Again, my paraphrase.)
So, there came a moment when, like our friend Nick, I wanted to be born again — but how?
In my Baptist tradition, this moment happens during the last song of the Sunday service. It’s a time when potential converts must leave the pew, walk down the isle and declare before the congregation their intent to be born again.
Now, don’t let that idea deter you from being born again. There are many Christian churches that don’t make a big public fuss about it. Baptists just like fusses.
So it was, during that final hymn of the service, on the last verse of “Only Trust Him,” I left my comfortable pew and ventured down a very public isle and buried my face in my father’s stomach.
I remember my face hurting. It was the kind of hurt you get when you want to cry, but you force yourself not to cry because you don’t want to be embarrassed.
Why did I want to cry? My guess is that tears come naturally when one comes to spiritual crossroads. “Crossroads” may be a dramatic word, but truthfully, I’ve never been short on drama.
Thankfully, my dad explained it didn’t have to be dramatic. All I had to do was to tell God I wanted to follow him the rest of my life and I’d be born again. There was no, whap, bang or pow.
No drama; just a quiet filling of my heart with the love of God. It was nothing mysterious or new-age. It was nothing mystical or magic. It was simple, a child could do it.
But like all births, it was only the beginning. It’s unfortunate when people define their entire religious life by such a relatively short experience of being born again.
For life to continue, there has to be growth. If one doesn’t grow, a new birth can easily become a stillbirth.
To avoid the stillbirth experience common to all spiritual traditions, I believe you must become a part of a spiritual community. Hopefully, once in that community you will learn spirituality is more than a one-time experience of being born again — it truly is a living relationship.