This week I've been getting some things ready for this fall's Youth Discipleship Training. As I've been preparing, a couple of comments from last year's YDT Guides or parents keep coming to mind. One is that some would prefer more learning direct from the catechism. The other is that at least one of our guides wants me to be clearer as to whether we need to be "born again."
I tend to focus more on the Bible than on the catechism in my teaching. That's true. And I don't try to push every adult and child to a decision for the Lord. I'm more into the process, more into what God does in our lives over the long haul.
This week's gospel lesson contains five parables from Matthew 13. Jesus tells us of his kingdom. He says it's like a mustard seed or yeast, tiny yet full of transformative power. Like a hidden treasure or a most valuable pearl, the kingdom of heaven worth giving everything else up to get it. And, strangely, it's like a net full of... well... full of whatever. Just think of what a net might find after having been dragged along. It still needs to be sorted out.
If I "fudge" on the need to be "born again" it's because, when we push it, it can make it seem everyone is ready to be sorted now. But how can we know for sure now whether the mustard seed or yeast of faith is at work? Can we be sure the kingdom of heaven isn't hidden in this person or that? I think we need to always rely on the amazing grace of God, whether it's at the hour we first believe or during the long life of faith.
I prefer to think of being born again as a lifelong process. It's like Martin Luther said in his catechism: the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Sure, there are critical moments along the way, but to push someone to "accept Jesus" now seems like unnecessary violence. When people continue to have the word planted, they will discover its value and they will be transformed to be a blessing -- even if they still look pretty rough to us.
In February I preached on this topic. You can find it in my miscellaneous resources.
Beginning tomorrow evening Toni and I, our boys and a couple of teens from church will be at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp. The topic of study will be Biblical Faith. In the adult sessions we'll be contrasting (a) the passionate devotion of hymnwriters like Frances Ridley Havergal, whose hymns such as “Take My Life that I May Be” long for deep intimacy with God and (b) the “antidote” for spiritual perfectionism that Mike Yaconelli advocates in Messy Spirituality.
I hope to share more during the week. But, in any case, it seems that I'm still not done being born again.