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Broken and Born Again

Owen —  January 19, 2009 — Leave a comment

Our culture of celebrity fascination thrives on the fact that there are beautiful, rich people who have everything and lead the lives that we all want.  They go to the best parties, drive the best cars, have huge houses, eat the best food, and date the hottest people.  Even when things go wrong, it’s spectacular.  I mean, who hasn’t, from time to time, wanted to shave all their hair and wear a pink wig? Then show ‘em all two years later with a comeback!

What we don’t see is the hurt, and the loneliness.  More often than not, the most famous, the most popular people in the world are broken inside.  They have literally everything that this world can offer.  Like Solomon, they’ve tried it all – and nothing satisfies.  Celebrities suffer from the same issues as all of us.  In fact, they’re often magnified because of the pressure and spotlight put on them.

I may not know you personally, but I do know there is a sense of loneliness inside every man and woman. Everyone is lonely, deep down inside. Even if you are married or have lots of friends, there is still a deep-seated loneliness inside of you. Sometimes it sweeps over you when you are surrounded by people. What it really is is a loneliness for God.

And not only is everyone lonely, but everyone feels guilty – guilty about something they have said or done and now regret. It’s a guilt that is hard to shake. It can’t be drowned in drink or psychoanalyzed away.

That’s where much of the extravagance and acting out comes from.  What do you do when you have access to everything, and you still want more?  You go more and more extreme.  Britney’s breakdown was actually a pretty understandable reaction to the pressure cooker that she was put in.  She was broken.  Though she had everything in the world, she didn’t have the one thing that would make her whole.  Like all of us, she needs God, and to be born again.

“Born Again” has been so overused in our culture that it’s become a catchphrase, losing in large part it’s original meaning.  For non-Christians, it means “crazy, radical, extreme Christians.”  You’ll hear things like, “Oh, he’s a ‘born-again’ Christian.”  As if there are “non-born-again” Christians.  For those familiar with Christianese, it means “someone who has said the prayer of acceptance and become a believer.”  While the second definition is much closer to the truth, it still misses the deeper meaning.  Greg Laurie has put up a nice summation of what it means to be “born again:”

The Bible talks about a man who was very aware of his mortality. He was someone who had climbed his corporate ladder, if you will, a man who was powerful, successful, famous and wealthy. He was also devout, religious. Yet there was a hole in his heart that he didn’t know how to fill. He had heard about a rabbi named Jesus who was performing miracles, giving sight to the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing leprosy and even raising the dead. No one had ever heard of such things. But most significantly, the things Jesus said were changing the lives of people.

Nicodemus came to Jesus respectfully looking for answers, and Jesus cut to the chase: “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). In other words, “Let me just get to the bottom line with you, Nicodemus. You need to be born again.”

The problem today is that we don’t know what this phrase means anymore. The term “born again” has been pirated, emptied of its meaning, dragged through the gutter and given back to us, minus its power. Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Literally, it means to be born from above. It is a change on the inside.

God loves you, no matter what you have done, no matter what sins you have committed, and no matter how many failures you have had. God loves you. And He will change you.

But to believe not only means to take hold of something; it also means to let go. To let go of the sin that separates you from God is called repentance. The Bible says of this, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19 NIV).

We are all broken in one way or another.  We are all lonely, and we all feel guilty.  We try to escape it, drown it, forget.  We think the things of this world, if only we had more and better, would fill that void.  History and the news are full of people who’ve tried – and failed spectacularly.

Jesus is the Great Physician, the Great Healer.  Many take this at its physical meaning.  God can, and sometimes does, heal our physical ailments.  But more importantly, he heals our hearts, he heals our souls.  It’s only when I’ve been completely broken that I understood the power and meaning of born again, and the healing and restoration that God offers to us all.

Sometimes it seems that even though we’re doing everything right, we’re living as we should, things just aren’t working out the way we think they ought to.  Psalm 119 has David crying out just that sentiment:

153 Look upon my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law.

154 Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise.

David’s prayer reminds us that if we love God, then we will love his commandments, and that God will not leave us.  Often, we think we know what’s best for us, what we need at any given time.  I’m in a situation like that right now.  I want something that is right in front of my eyes.  I want it more than I ever have anything else in my life.  It seems like God has forsaken us.  How can he not understand that this job, this person, this possession is exactly what I need??  If he loves me, why does he not give me what I need?

More often than not, we don’t actually need it.  Quite regularly in my life, I thought I knew the answer, I knew what was supposed to happen.  I’d looked at the possible choices, done a thorough examination, and picked the right one.  “This one, God.  This is what I need.  Now please give it to me.”  Every time that I was denied what I wanted, however, the alternative ended up being infinitely better.  Every time.

Live with God, walk with God.  Follow his commandments, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.” (Psalm 119:11, 14)  Know that when we do this, we come closer to God, and he has promised that he will defend and redeem us.

Take a few minutes to think about and write down any times when you thought you knew the right answer, but God said no, and ended up giving you something much better.  Write it down and thank God for those times.  Not only is he worthy of the praise, but it will help you remember that just becuase things aren’t working out as we want them now, it’s because God wants to give us something even better than that which we would pick for ourselves.

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to make an effort to read the Bible daily.  It appears that the Pope is of a similar mind, and earlier this month, he started a week-long Bible-reading marathon:

RAI state TV began its program called “The Bible Day and Night,” with Benedict reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis — the holy text’s opening verses about the creation of the world.

The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights.

Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians will participate.

Every few chapters the reading was being interrupted for Christian or Jewish religious music, and opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude Sunday by singing Bach’s “Praise the Lord.”

Hopefully this will inspire more than just a temporary hightened appreciation for scripture, but will cause people to start reading the Bible for themselves.

Reading the Bible Daily

Owen —  October 20, 2008 — Leave a comment

One of the main things I don’t think Christians do enough is read the bible.  I know I don’t.  I went years where I never opened the bible, only hearing it occasionally when I would go to church.  We think to ourselves, “I get it, I know the story.  God created everything, the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert.  Jesus came and died for our sins.  What else do I need to know?”  We treat the bible as if it’s some stale source of theology that is best left to our preacher, instead of what it is – God’s primary way of communicating to us.

I recently made a decision to start reading the bible again, setting the goal of reading at least a little bit every day.  It’s hard to do.  We have so many other things filling up our time, it seems like we can’t spare any.  But that’s not true.  Sure, we have a set amount of time every day, and we can only do so much.  How we fill up that time shows us our priorities in life, and trying to make time for bible reading has made me realize that my priorities aren’t entirely in order.

Before I know it, after I get home from work and relax, it’s really late and I still haven’t made time for the bible.  Somehow, I found time to watch a couple of youtube videos, read a ton of news stories, email my friends, IM people on gchat, comment on facebook photos, listen to music, play a bit on my guitar (that I’m still learning), and countless other fillers.  All that, but somehow I have “no time” to read the Bible.

Even after a short time of concentrated effort at reading the Bible regularly, I feel the positive effects.  Being in the word reminds us of who God is, what he has done, and what he promises to do in our lives.  It also connects us directly to our faith.  Protestant broke off, in part, because we felt that everyone had the right to read scripture for themselves.  We don’t need it spoon-fed to us.  We’ve taken something that our ancestors struggled for, and thrown it aside.

Beyond grounding us in the Lord, reading the Bible regularly also corrects us.  It reminds us of God’s standards.  The longer we are out of the word, and out of Christian fellowship, the more we think that we can just live “good,” lives.  Good, of course, being defined by ourselves, and generally loosely.  The Bible lets us know God’s standards very clearly.  We can’t hide from what’s written on the page, and it serves as a useful tool to check ourselves and our behavior.

If you’re not already, I encourage you to take up the same challenge I have placed before myself.  Read the Bible every day. Set a time, perhaps right before bed, and pick a book.  Just start reading.  Don’t treat it as some obscure, dense text.  View it as the living word of God.  You’ll be amazed how just this act can deepen your faith, understanding, and peace.

Pope John Paul II did a lot to bring Catholics and Protestants together, and deservedly holds a special place in the heart of American protestants.  He was culturally and socially conservative, which provided the bridge across which our intellectuals crossed, creating a conversational dialogue on issues fundamental to the faith.

Pope Benedict XVI has largely followed in his footsteps, at least doctrinally.  Culturally, there has been a bit of hostility because of certain statements, but on the issues, he is following the path John Paul’s laid.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.”  This organization used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition, so you can imagine that they take Catholic teaching pretty seriously.

This past weekend, Benedict opened “worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics:”

“Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” said Benedict, who has been pushing for religion to be given more room in society.

A document prepared for the meeting rejects a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science.

Benedict is spot on.  It seems that the more material wealth a society has, the less spiritual they are.  Mother Teresa noted the same thing:

There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger.

But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.

Last week, I read 1 and 2 Kings, and the same principal was noted there.  David lived most of life in extremely difficult circumstances – a hard life on the run from Saul.  David’s son, Solomon, reigned over a period of peace and unparalled prosperity.  David was far closer to God than Solomon, who fell away and built places of worship for all of his non-Jewish wives.  David, whose constant companion was suffering, felt the need and closeness of God.  Solomon, who lived in comfort, filled all of his material needs and found no need for God.

Christians all around the world, but especially in the developed, wealthy West ought to pay special attention that we don’t allow material wealth to crowd out God – because the material only provides temporary satisfaction at best, and often not even that.