Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…. Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. John 3:3,5
When he went to federal prison in 1974, Charles Colson, the infamous Watergate conspirator and “hatchet man” of President Richard Nixon, was a defeated and empty man. An ex-Marine and accomplished attorney, he had been favored by Nixon, given free-reign to undermine political opponents even through acts of violence. Now he had fallen from the height of that power.
In Colson’s best-selling book, Born Again, published when “born again” was a relatively unfamiliar phrase in American culture, he said:
In one sense I had lost everything—power, prestige, freedom, even my identity. In the summer of 1974, as prisoner number 23226 at Maxwell Federal Prison Camp, I stared at the screen of a small black-and-white television set. Along with the rest of the country, I watched as President Richard Nixon, whom I had served faithfully for three and a half years, resigned his office. It was one of the most desolate experiences of my life. But in another sense I had found everything, all that really matters: a personal relationship with the living God. My life had been dramatically transformed by Jesus Christ.
What exactly does it mean to be “born again”? Jesus meant that, in order to “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God, we must gain a brand-new life from God. To have a spiritual birth, to be “born from above.” What this tells us is that coming under the benevolent reign of God is not a nod of the head or a best effort at following some rules. It is about new life.
Chuck Colson worked in the halls of power of an earthly kingdom called America. It is thus profound for a man like him to say:
One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder if what I do matters. I live every day to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.
PONDER: How will new life in Christ make this day different for you?
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• LIFE AND DEATH •
Craig Husar walked into the pond where he was about to be baptized. He was overwhelmed with emotion as he looked past Barker Road just to the east, a hawk circling overhead, drawing his attention to the very spot where his friend Dave Cerami was killed in an auto accident many years earlier. As he looked toward the west he saw the cross on the facade of Elmbrook Church looming high above the pond.
Dave and Craig had become great friends their senior year of high school and were enthused about their plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the fall. They had spent countless hours that summer fully restoring a 1976 MGB-GT car, but tragedy hit one early morning. On his way home, Dave lost control of the car near the main entrance of Elmbrook Church. It veered across Barker Road and flipped several times, end over end. Police officers later showed up at Craig’s parents’ house, thinking that it was Craig who had died in the crash. But it was Dave, not yet 19 years old.
For many months thereafter, Craig came to sit at the side of Barker Road—contemplating, mourning, crying, praying. He always looked across the road, his eyes fixed on the cross at Elmbrook Church. One day, he felt guided by God to cross the road, enter the empty sanctuary, and pray by himself. That is where Pastor Stuart Briscoe found young Craig, approached him, heard his tear-choked story, and prayed with him.
What he was yet to learn is that as a young teenager, Dave had also found faith in Christ at Elmbrook Church, and he had been baptized there as well.
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The concept of being born again can be complicated, especially for children who are concrete thinkers. The way in which Jesus talks about being born again, he shows us that our lives will look different after we come to know him. He is our fresh start, and through the Holy Spirit he transforms our lives.
Read John 3:3, 5. When Jesus says we need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, he means that we need to be changed. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17. What are some of the “old” things that are gone (e.g., gossip, anger, etc.)? What are new things that come when you have a friendship with Jesus (e.g., love, kindness, etc.)?