Born of the Spirit
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I’m all about apologetics. Fired up, as a scientist, by proving that faith is justified--even demanded--by science. After all, God told us to worship Him with not only our heart and soul, but our mind as well. Ultimately, however, I need to remember that it is Spirit that gives birth to spirit.
My first lesson in John 3:6 was as a fairly new believer. I grew up in an non-religious household (we were Presbyterian, meaning that was the church we didn’t go to) and met the Lord through the ministry of The Navigators at The Ohio State University.
(Who, by the way, just finished the season undefeated at 12 and 0. I’m just sayin…)
Anyway, in addition to a Navigator Bible study I was plugged into, I was expected to report for witnessing night once a week, to be paired with a more mature believer, to go and make disciples on campus. Or at least to share the Gospel.
But I didn’t. It was too intimidating for me as a new believer, and (I blush to admit this now) Mork and Mindy was in its first season and it was on Monday nights too. (Mork hooked the geneticist in me from the premier episode, when he put two of his cornflakes aside for breeding purposes. )
Fast forward about two years. I had finally decided witnessing was a bigger priority than my sitcom schedule and started showing up for witnessing. Downside: since I was a Senior now (that made me an “elder”) I was paired with a baby Christian and sent out into the dorms. And I was petrified. I knew what Maggie, my partner, didn't.
Since I had never really gone before, I knew I didn’t really know anymore than she did about witnessing.
We knocked on our first door.
Maggie (said spiritual infant) was deficient in many areas but enthusiasm was never one of them. (I love her dearly to this day, BTW.) She launched right in with the Gospel. Her Gerber Christian version.
My three years of Bible had given me, at least, a pretty good understanding of the Gospel. I knew the Gospel, had actually responded to it myself. But I still couldn't make much sense of what Maggie was saying. Panic time. I started to edge towards the door.
And then a weird thing happened.
The girl began to cry. Expressed conviction over some things that had happened since she got to campus. Expressed a need to repent and get right with God.
Maggie and I had our Bridge Diagram booklets ready. We bowed our heads and (with no one more shocked than we were) the girl asked God’s forgiveness and thanked Jesus for dying for her sin.
And passed from death to life. (And I would have practically sworn that Maggie was speaking Swahili.)
Maggie and I saw that theme repeated in one form or another more than a few times before we finally developed some skill at evangelism, but we had learned the most important lesson. Our skill didn’t really matter. I think we could have recited the Gettysburg address and seen people saved, because it wasn’t us that were talking. That’s why Jesus told His disciples not to worry what they would say. It’s not what they are saying. It’s what the Holy Spirit is saying that matters.
Because only Spirit gives birth to spirit. Our flesh gives birth to flesh.
30 years later, God gave me another insight into this verse; this time in the death of my mother-in-law (actually my husband’s stepmother), who died a lingering death from cancer after my seeing her only a handful of times.
She was a simple women who loved her grandkids with a passion, and the limited contact I did have with her generally involved their coming from out of town to attend my kids; birthday celebrations or his family’s Christmas gatherings.
Her focus was always on the kids. She loved them unabashedly, unconditionally and I was pretty much wallpaper.
Which was absolutely as it should have been.
She was also a devout "Christian" of the variety whose hope of glory lies in" religion": church attendance, confession, baptism, soup kitchens, etc. Then she got sick.
We had moved to Mississippi by then (far removed from Lafayette, IN), and saw them even more rarely. She got sicker, and her treatments obviously weren’t going to work. We started trying to figure out how to get home to see her. Hospice took over. We couldn’t get free. She went in and out of a coma.
We got in the car.
In Lafayette, we joined the vigil in the kitchen, with Marie, unconscious, in the hospice bed in the living room. Tiring of the family talk around the table (by a family I barely knew) I adjourned to Marie's bed.
Looking down at my children’s grandmother, I had very little hope that Marie knew the Lord. I knew that her hope for eternity rested in the rituals of her church. And then I had a thought.
Her body was unresponsive, her soul was not. Her ears may not be able to hear me, but her spirit would.
So, feeling like an absolute idiot, I began to talk to Marie’s spirit. I told her that God longed to hold her in His arms, but heaven could not be gained by religious rituals or our own righteousness, but only by the blood of Jesus, which washes our sins away. That it wasn’t about our works, but His. Not our righteousness, but His. At this point her daughters came in to see what I was doing in there so, feeling more than a little silly, I returned to the dinette. Another hour or two passed.
Marie woke up.
Knowing full well that we were paying our last regards, the whole family dutifully filed past. Both her daughters hugged her. Long past the capacity for speech, Marie dutifully hugged them back. Then both my girls. Marie embraced them almost like she didn’t recognize them. Then me. To my astonishment, Marie wrapped her arms around me and squeezed me as if she never wanted to let me go. Looking at me like she desperately wanted to tell me something. But couldn't. And she didn’t let go, refused to, until her daughters again, looking rather miffed at this point, pried me loose.
She mechanically embraced her own daughters and her beloved grandchildren, and clung to me. Who she had probably not exchanged a thousand words with in her lifetime.
And there is no explanation in my mind except that, unconscious, her spirit heard the Gospel and responded.
Marie died two days later.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
I have every expectation of seeing her in heaven.
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: Country on a Hill
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