Born again

waterWe started looking at John chapter 3 yesterday. We find there some of Jesus’ earliest teaching on baptism. However, we need to remember that baptism is not the main point of what Jesus says to Nicodemus. The driving thrust must be on the Spirit. Look at what Jesus says in verses 5 through 8:

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8)

We need to remember that baptism wasn’t new. With John’s preparatory work, baptism was at the center of religious thought, at least in Judea.

The talk about the Spirit was new. He wasn’t new, of course, but he hadn’t been given to people in the way that he would be given to Christians. What differentiated Christian baptism from John’s baptism was the Spirit. Look at these passages:

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)

“I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33)

“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5)

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.” (Acts 19:1–7)

Being born again involves water, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we are being born of the Spirit. That’s the central reality in this new birth.

Links To Go (April 23, 2014)

God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge — A Response to Matthew Vines

Here we face the most tragic aspect of Matthew Vines’s argument. If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted to understand what it means to be human, to reveal what God intends for us sexually, or to define sin in any coherent manner. The modern notion of sexual orientation is, as a matter of fact, exceedingly modern. it is also a concept without any definitive meaning. Effectively, it is used now both culturally and morally to argue about sexual attraction and desire. As a matter of fact, attraction and desire are the only indicators upon which the modern notion of sexual orientation are premised.

China on Course to Become ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’

Christians in America often find reasons to be pessimistic about our religion’s waning influence on our country. But we should remember that our land is not the last bastion of hope for the faith. The remarkable growth in global Christianity — particularly in Asia and Africa — should give us reason to be optimistic. The Holy Spirit is changing hearts and minds around the globe in a way that has not been seen since the first century after Christ’s Ascension. For this we should be eternally grateful.

What Hollywood gets wrong about heaven

Ultimately I believe we flock to gauzy, feel-good depictions of heaven and tiptoe around the biblical passages mentioned above because we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness.
I fear we’ve sentimentalized heaven and by extension its primary occupant. I worry the modern understanding of God owes more to Colton Burpo than the prophet Isaiah. And I think this one-sided portrayal diminishes our experience of God.
We can’t truly appreciate God’s grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won’t be lifted by his love until we’re humbled by his holiness.
The affection of a cosmic buddy is one thing. But the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who Isaiah says “dwells in unapproachable light,” means something else entirely.

5 Things I Learned from Immigrants Learning English

We come together from every corner of the world, bringing so many experiences and stories. Together, we laugh, we dream, we hope. Some carry sad tales of war-torn homes, others struggle to navigate life without the right documents or enough money. Nearly everyone is terrified of LA freeways and perplexed by American teenagers. Each day as I walk them through the maze of the English language, they teach me how to walk through the maze of life.

Rethinking Theological Education

What if theological education was driven by stories rather than abstract concepts? What if it was driven by concrete characters rather than philosophical ideas? What if propositions were personified? What if it promoted discovery learning through problem solving rather than listening to the lecture to pass the next exam? What if it was driven from whole-to-part rather than part-to-(sometimes) whole? What if all Bible classes showed how they relate to the metanarrative of Scripture?

Fixing a World That’s Out of Balance

I think we’re going to do a book where we out ourselves fully, say, “This is how much money we actually have, this is how we live, this is who we are, this is what we think is important.” Not to be judgmental but to ask folks, “Hey, you with the $100 million, $500 million, or $3 billion: What’s it doing? What’s it for? Why do you feel you need that?” My dad is doing this giving pledge for people with $1 billion or more, and many of them won’t sign up to give half their money away. My dad jokes about how he wants to write a book about how to live on $500 million. It’s like, come on! They were honoring my dad recently and he said something really spectacular. All these ridiculously wealthy people at this dinner and you know what he stands up there and says? “Thank you, this is wonderful, but the truth is, the money I’m giving away had no utility for me. I had no use for it. The person who should get this award is the person who gives $10 to a food bank that they could have used to go to the movies, to buy food for the table.”

U.S. think tank urges president to allow more openings with Cuba

Specifically, AS/COA suggests the president allow for humanitarian travel licenses for U.S. citizens that provide professional services to independent Cuban entrepreneurs; authorize the import and export of certain goods and services between U.S. private sector and independent Cuban entrepreneurs; provide specific licenses to allow NGOs and other micro lenders to lend directly to independent farmers, cooperatives and micro enterprises in Cuba; promote exchange studies between U.S.-based cooperatives and private cooperatives in Cuba; and grant application-free travel for business-to-business exchanges.

Stephen Colbert on Extreme Measures for Boosting Church Attendance

The day after Easter, Stephen took a look at church marketing in his clip, “Extreme Measures for Boosting Church Attendance,” looking specifically at mixed martial arts as outreach.

Born of water and the Spirit


“In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:3–8)

Nicodemus came asking a question, even if he may not have known that he had a question. Jesus answered it by talking about being born again. When Nicodemus asked what that meant, Jesus talked about being born of water and the Spirit. I’m convinced he was talking about baptism.

Later in the same chapter, we find the next reference to water. It’s the water of baptism. John often connects teachings with actions in his gospel; the healing of a blind man is connected with teaching about spiritual blindness, for example. Here we have a discussion of entering the kingdom followed by examples of baptisms, both by John and his disciples and by the disciples of Jesus.

The Jews were very familiar with ceremonial washing. It was nothing new to them. Proselytes would be immersed. Worshipers would wash before going to the temple. Priests engaged in ritual washings.

We’ll dig deeper into what this text means, but I think Jesus is saying much what Paul said when he described the new life that beings with baptism. (Romans 6) New life… born again. Similar concepts. Much like what is said in Titus 3 about the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

Links To Go (April 22, 2014)

Immigration Part 2: “Why Don’t They Go Back to Where They Came From?”

If we see ourselves first and foremost as Americans, the mission of God often gets set aside for a more nationalistic, self-centered response. “This is ours. You get out.”
But if we are first and foremost Christ followers, our ultimate desire is the mission of Jesus. So when we look at foreigners in our midst, our instinctive response is, “How cool! What a great opportunity we have to lead someone to Christ from another nation or ethnic background. They are coming to us! What an awesome thing for the gospel.”

When Christians Shake Their Fists

Now, I’m not saying there is never a time to speak up, or that Christians simply should shrug at sin. But when we are outraged, condescending, confused, and cry out together, I don’t believe we are operating from a truly Christian paradigm. When we do this, I believe we are operating from an immature faith.

The Monday After Easter

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it’s morphed from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.
That’s okay.
You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call, or God’s love for you.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

In my experience and, more importantly, in the polling and literature about Millennials, it is clear that this huge generation of young people has a profound spiritual yearning. Because of the constant flow of media stories about everything from clergy sexual misconduct to financial scandals, Millennials are, in my opinion, rightly skeptical about religious institutions.
However, if we can’t answer the questions of these skeptics, we don’t deserve them as members of our congregations. Indeed, their questions can lead to a healthy reformation of religious life in the United States.

Even secular humanism depends on Christianity

Theo Hobson, in the British Spectator, critiques the New Atheist insistence that we can have morality–indeed, a better morality–apart from religion. In doing so, he shows that even today’s secular humanist morality, which the atheists take as axiomatic, actually derives from Christianity.

End of the Line

There is a sense in which we have come to the end of the line—not the end of the line for Christianity, but the end of the line for the track we have been on. We are like people on a subway who have taken a particular train as far as it will go. We now find ourselves sitting in the terminus. We have two choices. We can sit on a train that is going nowhere, or we can disembark and find our way through the confusing labyrinth of the terminus and locate the proper platform to catch the train which will take us farther down the line.

Worship as art

The young men and women that I witnessed at awards show included my daughter. I watched her sing and dance with all of her heart, soul and strength. Too often at church the expectation for her is to sit and listen, to conform, to help keep the boat from rocking and to express herself at the theatre or somewhere else. We even have the idea that energetic songs with exuberance and joy are ok for kids and teens. But no “camp experience” in the sanctuary. That is out of place.

Cat Can’t Figure Out How to Get Out of Litter Box and It’s Hilariously Sad

Well, Konstantin has one issue with his new potty palace: He can’t figure out how to get out of it. Despite pushing the swinging door open with his paw, he can’t deduce to push it open with his head to escape. I guess he needs the automatic door-opening sensor option on his next litter box.

The baptism of Jesus: Perspective

waterI want to conclude this series within a series by trying to put the baptism of Jesus into its proper place. I’m a strong believer in observing what emphasis Scripture itself puts on certain stories and certain ideas (a lesson I learned from Dr. Tom Olbricht) It can be very telling to study what biblical writers emphasized and what they didn’t.

Jesus’ baptism is recorded in three of the gospels and alluded to indirectly in the fourth. That shows that it was a significant moment in Jesus’ ministry. But it’s interesting that we never find the early church saying, “Jesus was baptized, so we should be as well.” (I’m limiting myself to the New Testament canon; if someone wants to bring in evidence from early church writers from later centuries, I’d be interested to hear it)

The baptism of Jesus is important as a watershed moment in Jesus’ ministry. It reminds us of the importance of baptism in the Christian movement (as does John’s ministry in general). But I don’t know that it’s a WWJD moment that should lead people to the water. In and of itself, I don’t think it provides sufficient reason for someone to be baptized in a Christian way.