Posted by: robertartemenko | February 26, 2015

“Born Again” Revisited

I have been teaching Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren’s small group study, TRANSFORMED: How God Changes Us. It’s primary focus is on one’s own personal spiritual reformation, but it’s scope encompasses other dimensions of the self, taking on disciplines necessary to thrive mentally, physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally and financially. This whirlwind survey is completed in just seven lessons, and it’s challenging scope seemed to defy operationalizing. My first reaction was to try to summarize major movements, so as to harvest and seal-in key truths and habits that might hopefully become the new-normal or at least the aspirational-normal for our group. I’m a bit of a “summary” freak. I think any written work has an essence that can be boiled down to the size of a Bazooka Bubble Gum comic. Sure you leave things out, leave nuances unaccounted for, but my fascination is something left over from simplifying algebraic equations and reducing fractions … and I love the challenge of super-editing. It’s the ultimate intellectual puzzle because the quest involves cracking the code of the creator’s original thinking, somehow joining him or her back at the source of their inspiration. So in boiling the 200 page study guide to one landscape PowerPoint screen with a seven column table, I was confronted with what Rick had been talking about in all it’s small font horizontal-ness. Attempting to digest it, I realized that none of us could actually ever really do enough of in the seven columns, short of a miracle, to get through what was this microfiche set of instructions for the good life.

Warren One Pager 201503290828-pd (PDF File)

Warren One Pager 201503290828

It’s like taking your wife golfing for the first time and brow-beating her with top 100 swing thoughts from your Tiger Woods coffee table book, thinking that you will get her on the PGA tour. Truth is, IT WON’T REALLY WORK FOR ANY OF US short of being miraculously reborn with the aptitude and attitude to pull it off. Try as we may, most will hit a ceiling beyond which we both will and can not go. “Will” being operative because the ceiling is a total and absolute boundary, the area above never to be inhabited by us and “can” being operative because of our personal incapacity to deliver on the requirements. Spiritual directors and philosophers like NT Wright or the late Dallas Willard suggest that to pull off meaningful life transformation, you cannot just be proficient in intentionally turning on and off the long list of skills associated with your improvement plan. No, no, no, that never really works, instead you have to become the kind-of-person where the mastery of these behaviors just mysteriously and automatically oozes forth, coming out of you correctly as required. Sort of like realizing that a humming-bird or a bumble-bee is not looking at each wing during each stroke and telling it to go up and then down to keep it hovering, and then give a whole new set of directions when it supposed to turn (let alone go backwards). Nope, it just automatically comes out of these creatures with no planned set of micro-movements, they were born to “just do it!”

  • I like the way Dallas talks about the apostle Peter. Things just seem to “come out of him.” Leaving his net to go be a fisher of men, putting his shirt ON before he jumps OUT of the boat to meet Jesus, slashing out to remove the ear of one of Caiaphas’s guard come to arrest the Prince of Peace. These were just Peter-uptions, seemingly unfiltered from his core being, denying Christ one moment, asking to be crucified the next because he felt he did not deserve a more honorable handling of his Savior and Lord.
  • NT Wright talks about Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who in 2009, ditched US Airways #1549 fouled Airbus into the Hudson without losing any of the 155 souls aboard. Clearly with no time to research best practices, the A320 operating manual or preferred switch settings for his estuarial escapade, he just had to let the right stuff “come out of him.” No specific planning or intentionality, it just flowed from who he was at that moment.

As Dallas said, at the moment of crisis or decision, outcomes are not determined by a cookbook list you are scrambling to fulfill, but what is baked “in you.” It’s only, always about “what’s in you,” for that’s what always seeps out, out of your nature, your being. After all, we are not human DOings, we are human BEings. The old US Army recruiting slogan had it right! It’s ultimately the same thing with us as it relates to Warren’s web of almost 50 habits and as many Bible verses that made their way onto my final one pager. I can’t really “get transformed” by attempting to execute all these activities apart from an innate instinctual inclination, capacity and power which enable them in our nature, in our being.  Resident desire, mental wiring and physical agility are prerequisites for the unified, integrated, whole being from whom missions are accomplished in through the natural outflow of their “Right Stuff.” Without heart, mind and body preconditioning, one will never be able to “just do it,” that way, automatically, unconsciously. Our only hope is to find the sponsorship, exercises and power to transform to the kind of person that naturally, totally “organically,” can’t help but do these things in knee-jerk-hardly-have-to-be-awake mode. The punch line … If you don’t have it when you are born, there’s no recapturing it no matter how good the instructional manual if. I realize my audience is probably like myself, with a number of decades to think about such assertions. I’ve breezed past many assumptions, definitions, premises, theories, experiences, references. That said, it’s amazing how you can see vapors of this truth play out in parallel in both the Kingdom of God and kingdom of man. Back to the Tiger Woods coffee table book and my wife. We can read, comprehend every detail of said book and actually implement mechanically much of whats written, but we will most likely not get on the Tour. That’s not a surprise, but that’s not the point. The point is that we simply cannot recover from not being initially endowed, created, born be so capable. That 2+2 has to be there in the birth canal to get that “4,” out of yourself. “2+1” never going to be anything but 3 without God’s divine action. There is no going back to supplement the original sum. But you say, “Yeah, so what, we know you cannot re-enter our mother’s womb, and come out genetically Tiger.” (Apologies all around for the mental images I may have precipitated). You have to be a tiger from the beginning to growl like him, there are no do-overs!

But the point is in God’s Domain, in God’s Kingdom, there is the promise of a second chance to reconstitute yourself, to appropriate God’s love to become one of these marvelously integrated whole beings, whole souls, who are reformed from the inside out, and uniquely by grace from above, to soar as children of God, “born from above.” Yes, there is the opportunity of divine re-creation, which Jesus compels us to consider in being the best version of ourselves. We can be reborn from “above,” and that is the only way to have the many detailed things required of us to live the good life naturally flow from our being. The list of activities and duties can be derived, and even well understood, but they won’t ever be natural as flying or hovering like that bee or humming-bird, until it has become our nature.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again [born from above (Greek, anothen)].’

This reflections here relate to things common place that we see around us that might help us see both the power of being born right and whole, and the wonder of the opportunity before us.

I’ve probably overused Tiger Woods here, especially with his recent fall from the leader boards, but what he did in the first decade of the millennium, similarly amazing to what Michael Jordan did in the prior decade, are examples of “naturals.” Of whole, integrated, high performance beings whose unmatched performance flowed from a rare hyper-integrated heart-body-mind-strength essence. Who they were during those great years all but guaranteed what they did, and it would have been more unusual if they did not excel, because of how dominant their BEINGS were.

I point out their athletic supremacy and records not to laud them, but to call attention to God’s offer to ALL Christ followers to BE every bit as naturally empowered to deliver results, as these extraordinary athletic phenoms.

Woods and Jordan give us a small window into what happens in creation when all the dimensions, all the parts of a person harmonize, fuses into whole souls to do things go way beyond the ordinary. While only in the games they play, and during certain moments of active competition, they rise above counterparts not so uniquely constituted.

Way beyond a sports highlight reel, God offers to all who love Him and want to be like Him the unique proposal to be reborn from above. This new life is genuine, and promises to reform our being such that the life that thrives in Him is not so much extra work and effort, but just something we can naturally do out of who we are.

It’s an amazing offer. It’s been there for more than two thousand years, coming from a gracious Father who wants the best for us, wants our love, and wants us to love others as we love ourselves.

That very busy page summarizing Rick Warren’s suggestions to live the good life, and be all we can be is a daunting set of lists that strain the brain. To keep them in mind and try to do them all is an exercise in futility. I imagine after a low key weekend, a good night’s sleep, with sun shining, our best iTunes mix be-bopping in our ear and a designer coffee in our hand, we could plow through a good number of these to-dos.

Thankfully, there’s a way better way to flourish – to become that kind of person that just naturally accomplishes these things. I’m not talking about perfection, nor a path that’s always easy, but availing ourselves to be “reborn” as the kind of people who can’t help but do these things because of divine realignment of our souls.

We may not wear championship rings, nor green Master’s jacket’s, but we will share the power of being whole souls, like some of the ones who were gifted as earthly naturals, versus some of us who were graciously offered the opportunity to be reborn from above by our HugeGOD.


  1. Thought provoking, Bob. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit (born of the Spirit) that we can ever hope to consistently lead a life that honors God. I’m so glad that God doesn’t have such an extensive list of behaviors. Since you’re into summaries, God’s list has two items, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” As we all work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) it is important to understand the depth of the two great commandments through topics such as contained in your PowerPoint, but as important to pray that our hearts are positioned first and foremost to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors. As always, I love reading your reflections and thoughts. There are moments that I wistfully look back at our years together and wish we had captured some of these discussions during those times. Blessings to you and yours.

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