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When you’re born again, you leave the human race.
You are no longer quite human.
Your focus is no longer human-focused endeavors, but God-focused endeavors.
You live somewhere between Earth and Heaven, not completely in either place.
This is God’s Kingdom on Earth.
The closer I grow to God, the farther I grow from humans. This is the natural progression of born-again believers. Jesus also grew farther and farther away from humans. We can see this in how he distanced himself from his family and village, and then from his religion and culture. During his ministry, he engaged with the world not as a fellow human but as God’s suffering servant. Ultimately, he distanced himself even from the so-called normal human response of self-defense. At his crucifixion, he willingly permitted others to abuse and debase him as if it meant nothing to him, because it actually did mean nothing to him.
At that point, Jesus was no longer human.
This is what we are all aiming for – to be no longer human, to get to the point where what people do or say to us no longer matters because we’ve moved beyond being human and responding as a human.
Stephen got there. He was stoned to death for preaching the Word. Just before he died, he saw a vision of God and Jesus. The ecstasy of God’s presence sustained him as his enraged executioners buried him alive under a hail of stones. It’s an excruciating way to die, being stoned to death, and yet like Jesus at his crucifixion, Stephen simply let it be done to him. He didn’t try to flee, he put up no fight, and he even prayed for those who were killing him.
Jesus did the same.
And we’ll be expected to do likewise.
Paul called this process of dehumanization as “dying to the world”. In dying to the world, our focus shifts from desiring the values of the world (buying houses, getting married, building a career, making money, having children, accumulating possessions, protecting our possessions, protecting our loved ones, etc.) to desiring the values of Heaven (mercy, compassion, truth, honor, self-sacrifice, etc.).
Ironically, the farther away we grow from humans, the more merciful and compassionate we become towards them.
This is a great mystery.
We are not hard-wired to understand this mystery, but we are able, with God’s help, to become part of it – to extend mercy to the unmerciful, compassion to the uncompassionate, truth to liars. This is the opposite of what we are hard-wired to do. Being born-again rewires us spiritually and enables us to do what we couldn’t do before.
This, too, is a great mystery but one that we born-agains can understand because we live the reality of our spiritual rewiring every day.
I do not pretend to know how it is, but I do know that it is.
If it were not so, I, a former atheist, would not be writing this to you.
If you are truly born again, you know what I mean.
You, too, are no longer quite human and are aiming to become no longer human at all, like Jesus.
When you get there, nothing will be able to touch you – neither stick nor stone – because you’ll finally see as God sees and you’ll love everyone unconditionally.
And then you’ll get to go home.
This is all I know: Before I was born again, I hated that book. I wanted nothing to do with it and I didn’t want it around me. The few times I tried reading it (for a class assignment), I could not. The words ran together and seemed to be written in a foreign language. I did not speak God.
After I was born again, the first thing I reached for was a Bible, like a newborn reaching for a teat. I read all four gospels in one sitting. It was the first time I’d heard the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank God he spoke English.
While I was reading through the gospels, God showed me what had happened to me. I read: “And seven devils were driven out of Mary Magdalene”, and God said: “That’s what happened to you, only there were a lot more than seven.” Then I understood: I was a Jesus freak. That’s the only way I could frame it: “Jesus freak”. As a former atheist, I had no other reference point. Over time, I learned to call myself a “follower of Jesus” and “born again”. But for the first while, I was just a Jesus freak.
Since the day of my rebirth, I have not let go of that book. It’s always within arm’s reach or in viewing range. I have a Bible by my bed and one by my computer, and another halfway between my bed and my computer. There are two more in my closet, carefully wrapped in clean white plastic bags. I read them so much, the pages fell out. I taped them back in, but then the covers fell off. Sometimes you just have to let go, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. So I keep them swaddled in plastic, next to my swaddled dolls.
I read the Bible every day. Sometimes, I read whole books within the Bible, and sometimes I read only a few lines. I let God guide me as to what I should read. And then every once in a while I’ll read the whole Bible again, from cover to cover.
No matter how many times I read it, I never tire of it. Just like the first day, it feeds me. It’s always fresh. It’s always new. I always see something I hadn’t seen before. How is that possible? How can you read the same words every day, and yet every day see something new?
If God said: “You can have only one earthly possession”, I would have a Bible. There’s something about that book. It’s just a book, but it can’t be just a book. If it were just a book, I could have read it as easily as all the other books I read when I was an atheist. But I couldn’t read that book. I didn’t want it anywhere near me. The words all swam together. If it were just a book, those things would not have happened.
This is all I know: “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” I’m a Jesus freak. You can tape pages back into a book, but you can’t stop the cover from falling off. You can learn something new from the Bible no matter how many times you read it. And the Bible is not just a book.