Even as my life has progressed I have not only been faithful to my "new birth" moment but have never doubted that what happend on that fateful night was authentic and real. Only lately have I tried to analyze the process of faith-filled followership more deeply. I don't question that there are landmark moments in peoples' lives at which time a renewed and more developed discipleship emerges. I do wonder, though, how much of the "salvation" process is infected with an unhealthy virus that has become part and parcel to the culture of Christianity and is therefore suspect to some scrutiny. I think it is safe to say that many who "accept Jesus" after an emotionally charged sermon combined with an abundance supply of internal guilt have not experienced the life that Jesus wanted his followers to know. The Kingdom values may be acknowledged but not necesssarily lived. The seed was sown but for a number of reasons (see Mark 4) it has failed to bear the kind of fruit it was meant to when it landed in the soil, generally speaking. What worked for me doesn't seem to have worked for others who followed the same formula.
So at this stage of my life I'm asking a more transcendent question: What is the transcendent/universal process (if one exists) that all humans would follow if and when they are to become true citizens of God's eternal kingdom? And if there is a deeper understanding of how to see more fruit borne in God's design, how did my experience fit into it and how can others be encouraged to experience the authentic conversion of which Jesus speaks in John 3?
If the bottom line (an American metaphor for sure!) for God's economy is love (and does anyone disagree with this?), what is the process by which this fruit matures and blossoms in our lives to the same degree as it was manifested in Jesus' humanity? Anything less than this falls short of the plan God demonstrated and fulfilled in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Simply attending a church, serving on a committee, voting as a republican, and paying your taxes does not define citizenship in God's Kingdom. Devotion to God through mimicking Jesus in our earthly existance does!
So my thoughts have meandered into considering the possibility that perhaps what we see in biblical history offers hints into this "conversion" process. Perhaps from Genesis to Jesus we see God maturing to the place where what we see recorded about Jesus is a the "fullness of God", i.e., love.
Follow this idea and see what you think:
- A happening occurs "in the beginning" in which the Spirit of God hovers over darkness and chaos and a "word" is spoken that brings life and light into the chaotic darkness. Could this not be compared to the prevenient grace of God and the way a faith perspective starts in us? It starts with God giving us life and we respond to his "word".
- The Bible records a period of bliss and spiritual interaction that follows this moment of "birth". Perhaps this is taken for granted to the point that when pride tempts us, we fall victim to our own sense of worth and grandeur. At this point, a new sense of chaos takes hold without denying us the favored status we hold with God as his creatures. God again provides what we need to continue to live.
- As time passes, the human spiritual journey evolves to need some form of legislation to continue. We struggle apart from some code that we can turn to and rely on. Of course the downside is that the code becomes a burden that we cannot bear. Yet we are not given permission to ignore the code. It apparently has a role to play in this process toward "salvation" (re: maturity). Unfortunately, the comfort provided by the "code" prevents us from moving forward. We remain adolescents at best, infants at worst.
- Prior to Jesus' birth, there are plenty of periods recorded in Scripture where God's people experience some form of "wilderness" . Like those we read about this can cause rebellion or a simple succombing to enormous confusion and fear. Inevitably, we turn to some form of "idol", be it tangible or theological to offer us a means of comfort and hope. We are uncertain about a God we cannot touch, feel or figure out. These periods can be extensive and burdensome. Thankfully, God is present in each of them in hopes that the culmination of them will yield the kind of life he initiated in Genesis 1. God hopes we don't get stuck here but courageously step forward in our explorations.
- Enter Jesus. Finally humanity is privy to seeing a full-grown God. And not just a full grown God, but a full grown human who is living the life God originally designed. Apart from legal restrictions and unecessary human codification, we are given permission to wonder and walk with a God that we will not have to please but are still driven to try because of love and gratitude.
What I experienced as an eight year old boy could be seen in light of this process. God spoke to my darkness and I came to life. My journey over the next 40+ years was frought with legalism and theological infection yet I can see God's presence patiently moving me along. I am happily in a new wilderness but this one is on the other side of the resurrection. I am discovering the abundant life Jesus revealed in simple love of God and others. I am detoxing from the viruses and live in hope of exhibiting an incarnation of Jesus that transcends the boxes, tools, and formulas that have been successfully embedded in our institutionalized Christian experience.
While it may be relatively easy to identify both the beginning and the end of this process, it is the middle area in which we will continue to struggle. Yet if we can see the bookends- and agree on them- perhaps we can take responsibility for the middle by encouraging one another in the process toward fruitfullness.
At the risk of an over-simplified suggestion, it seems that for this process to move in the right direction all it takes is courage- courage to not allow ourselves to get stuck or comfortable. Courage to move toward the Mysterious and Unknown. Courage to be a resurrected human.