I was in a Dallas department store one day and saw this sign over a cosmetic counter: “Born Again Perfume”. I didn’t buy any, but I’ve often wondered how it smells. Self-righteous? Humble? It depends.
In John’s Gospel, we find the story of Nickodumus, a Pharisee who went to see Jesus one night. He questioned him about the miracles Jesus had performed and in the course of the conversation, Jesus told him that he must be born again if he wanted to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-6). This stopped Nick in his tracks. Say what? How can you go back into the womb and start all over? The “new birth” didn’t make any sense at all. No “born again perfume” for him.
I suspect one reason some people have problems with the church is the message that some give, such as: “You are lost if you don’t believe as I believe.” There can be a gap between “born-again-talk and born-again-living”. People who feel superior because of their beliefs or rituals are prone to start wars. You see it happening, not only in nations, but also in families and churches. I’m allergic to that kind of perfume.
Some talk about “getting saved” because “end times are near”. People have been predicting the end of the world for a long time. It was supposed to end (as I recall) in 1984, and then in the year 2000. Now, it’s due to end in 2012. It must be a bit frustrating when it doesn’t happen the way they predict. I heard one TV evangelist warn about the coming of Armageddon, but there was still time to send him an offering. Unfortunately, Scripture is sometimes used to “prove” the exact time. There’s a statement in Matthew that speaks to the issue: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away…but of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven…but the Father only” (Matthew 35-36).
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not knocking being born anew, nor the urgency for doing so. Most, if not all, of us could change for the better. But I believe when Jesus spoke of the new birth, he was referring to “flashes of light” in the dark places of our lives. It’s like living in a 10-room house. You may turn on the light in one room, but this doesn’t mean every room has light. Salvation, according to my finite mind, is a process that’s ongoing. It’s a matter of spiritual growth.
Put it this way: here is a man who is addicted to a self-destructive habit. The addiction is dangerous and puts poison in his body. Then, one day, the light dawns and he realizes that he is on a dead-end street and says, “With God’s help, I will beat this thing.” And, it happens. New birth. New beginning. New outlook on life. Feeling good. Now, this doesn’t mean that a person is suddenly transformed in every way. He may not be a good husband or responsible father, and there may be other areas in his life that need light. I know a man who claims to be a born-again Christian, yet his is prejudiced against anyone who is not white, or Protestant. That kind of perfume is rancid.
Being born again means that you are willing to put on better tapes, listen to better directions and try healthier lifestyles. It involves body, mind and spirit. A personal illustration: since 1981, I have survived two, not one, but two by-pass heart surgeries. I’ve wondered, “What am I doing that’s bringing this on?” After the first surgery, I kept hearing “low fat diet”, and I though that I was doing pretty good with that and then, wham; another “party” in the hospital two years ago. Just recently, I have become convinced that my eating habits need re-evaluating.
The thing that caught my attention was the book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. M.D. A former surgeon, researcher and clinician, Dr. Esselstyn spent 20 years studying nutrition and convincingly argues that plant-based, oil-free nutrition cannot only prevent heart disease, but also reverse its effects. He advises his clients not to eat anything a “mother” or a “face”. The proof is in the number of people with coronary artery disease who tried it over a number of years. Their cholesterol and heart problems virtually disappeared. So, I am striving to become a vegetarian, although I have a little trouble passing up shrimp and other seafood. Speaking of eating things without a face, one sympathetic friend suggested, “Well, Henry, if you pull the heads off the shrimp, then they have no face.” Great point!
I received a birthday card the other day from my eldest son that depicted a woman talking to her husband: “I agree, eating right and exercising do make you feel younger. But that don’t have to make you act younger. Now get rid of that sports car, nose ring and ponytail!”
It seems to me that the “new birth” is dynamic, and by nature moves toward holistic living—when body, mind and spirit are working together. No one has any guarantees about the length of life on planet Earth, but it’s just plain good sense that we stay as happy and healthy as long as week can. The Bible reminds us that these bodies are holy temples (I Cor. 6-19-20). Then, too, a person who feels good is more apt to enter into a better dialogue with a Loving God, who claims us whether we eat right or not, thank you Lord. But the point is, the Lord may claim us sooner if we don’t take care of ourselves!
Happy New Year, and a healthy new you!