In John 3, Jesus tells a Pharisee named Nicodemus that people must be Born Again to see the kingdom of God. The notion was troublesome to Nicodemus then, and remains so to many of us now.
What exactly does being Born Again look like?
For most of my Christian life, I’ve largely put that question aside. The phrase Born Again is often associated with televangelists and door-knocking, Bible-thumping turbo-Christians who seem to think they can bring people to Christ if they irritate them and creep them out enough. But while I’m no fan of that stereotype, which has unfairly tarnished the Born Again phrase, that’s not why I’ve avoided wrestling with John 3.
Being Born Again is a tough thing to quantify, so the concept doesn’t really compute for me. My approach to this verse has, for several years, been as follows: ‘Whatever “Born Again” means, it includes striving to live a wholesome life, trying to get to know Jesus better and to be more like him, to meet with His followers and serve His people. Therefore, I’ll try my best to do those things, and leave the question of whether or not I’m Born Again to God.’
That’s served me well, but a few weeks ago, I think God decided I was ready for more.
I was listening to a sermon on my iPod as I carried out some menial household task. The sermon was delivered via podcast from Dalhousie Community Church. The preacher was my friend, Brad Huebert (http://bradhuebert.wordpress.com/), and the sermon was titled Born Again.
At one point, Brad asserts that the term ‘Born Again’ implies that this state-of-being is not arrived at through a gradual journey, but a definable, defining Moment. Gestation is a process, but birth is a moment. If you’ve been Born Again, you know it – and the reverse is equally true.
It’s a plausible interpretation of scripture, and it rocked my little world.
My Christian experience to this point has been quite gradual, you see. I started attending church fairly reluctantly in 1999, and only because I wanted to be a good husband and father, not because I wanted to be a Christian. Faith grew in me very gradually and imperceptibly, and 11 years later, I find myself a worship leader and Christian blogger. Also, I sometimes volunteer with Christian charities that help the homeless, I served a full term as the co-chairman of my church board, I maintain my church’s website, I send my kids to a Christian semi-private school, I’ve been a member of a Bible study group for four years and I write regularly for my church’s newsletters. In short (too late), I’m a devoted, busy little soldier in the Army of God.
And suddenly, it’s pointed out to me that I don’t know if I’ve been Born Again or not, and suggested rather strongly that if I’m not sure I’ve had a Moment, I can be sure that I haven’t!
That threw me for quite a loop, and I was in a bit of a spiritual funk as a result.
It wasn’t a debilitating funk, but a nagging, needling one, and I was still in the midst of it more than a week after I heard Brad’s sermon when I attended Cursillo – a men’s retreat weekend hosted by the Anglican Diocese of Calgary. (Cursillo is an awesome experience, by the way. If you ever have the opportunity, take it. Visit http://www.cursillo.ab.ca/ for more information or – better yet – talk to me!)
Anyway, the topic of being Born Again was a key component of one of the retreat’s discussion sessions. The speaker, an Anglican priest named John Gishler, had much to say, but I’ll attempt to sum some of it up with the following paraphrase:
‘If an Evangelical Christian ever asks you if you’ve been Born Again, you can hold your head up and say, “I was reborn at my baptism, I was reborn again at my confirmation and I get reborn yet again, every time I take the Eucharist.”’
For my money, that’s a comforting and credible understanding of the Born Again concept. After all, if being Born Again is spiritual stuff rather than earthly stuff, should we really be concerned if we can’t perceive it in the earthly realm?
Members of my table group offered more words of comfort a few moments later, suggesting that a Road to Damascus experience may not be any more valid than a Road to Emmaus experience. Jesus doesn’t always hit us over the head, they suggested. Sometimes we gradually come to understand the significance of a Moment after weeks, months or years of digestion and discernment.
‘That’s all well and good,’ I said to myself. ‘But I’d still like it if I had a Moment to point to.’
A little while later, the retreat’s lay director told us to take a break, and to feel free to get out for some fresh air. Since the weather was pretty nice for late October in Calgary, I took his suggestion, and went for a walk in the woods.
During my stroll, I continued to wrestle with this issue: Am I Born Again?
I prayed intently about it, didn’t expect an answer and moved onto other topics that I felt merited some prayer. After a while, my mind wandered – as it often does during prayer – to other, random things.
I was awoken from this ambling, rambling daydream when some words quietly and subtly entered my consciousness and gently cut through it all: ‘Of course you are,’ the speaker said with a patient, loving chuckle. ‘How could you not be?’
The crazy thing is, I wasn’t talking to myself at the time. And I would know – I work alone, so I talk to myself a lot. It wasn’t random brain garbage, either – I’m also a very experienced cerebral sanitation engineer. No, this communique was unique; it did not originate inside Rob Petkau. For reasons that are largely unexplainable, but completely undeniable, I believe it came directly from the Holy Spirit.
So there’s my Moment.
I would never have arrived at this Moment if I hadn’t opened my Anglican-indoctrinated ears to a Mennonite preacher from the other side of the tracts – or attended a weekend-long Christian retreat delivered by extremely gifted and caring leaders, where I was assigned to a table peopled by wise, clever, likable and thoughtful men, and then presented with weather conducive to a brisk walk in the woods.
So thanks, Brad, John, Sean, Tony, Dennis, Chuck, Chris, Matt and Gabriel for your parts in this process. Thanks most of all to you, Jesus, for putting it all together; for giving me a Road to Damascus experience, when I thought I was on the Road to Emmaus.
Peace be with you.