March 23, 1999
When ABC reported last month’s Grammy Award winners, they noted how much better the ceremonies were than last year. They said, “even the acceptance speeches had class” and went on to describe the responses of Sheryl Crow, Will Smith, Madonna, the Dixie Chicks, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. They missed the classiest of them all.
Hip-hop artist and surprised at her wins, Lauryn Hill was named Best New Artist. Her album won Album of the Year. When she received her Grammy, she choose to acknowledge her heavenly Father. Apparently most news services did not consider this as “class.”
Christians are almost always surprised when God is left out of the news. We know the wonderful things He does and the glory of His character. He is worthy of our praise. When reporters omit that praise, it seems they do not hear the words or at least do not realize their significance. They seem blind and deaf to God.
Yet if Christians are surprised by that, it is because we have forgotten an important truth. Apart from the grace of God and His transforming power, we would not ‘see’ or hear Him either.
A religious leader came to see Jesus at night. Perhaps he was afraid of his peers but he was curious. He began with, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus did not respond to his comments. He could have expounded on His qualifications as a teacher or miracle worker, or that God had sent Him, but instead told the man, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Today, those last two words have become a huge turn-off for many people. Some recall television preachers who claimed to be “born again” yet behaved as badly or worse than the sinners they condemned. Others recall the loud claims of celebrities naming the name of Christ but living as if He never existed.
Who can blame people who cringe at the term “born again” when pride-filled people hold it up as a spiritual status symbol: “I am born-again and you are not. You need to be like me.”
Put aside those conceptions and look again at what Jesus is saying. Especially notice the preceding words. He says no one can “see” God’s realm unless their life changes. A few verses later, He adds that no one can “enter” this realm without this same change.
To understand what spiritual birth is, we need to know more about the kingdom of God. One theologian explains it as a parallel reality. God (and what He is doing) is all around us yet unless He opens our eyes we cannot see Him or His activities. We are born spiritually blind.
Think of physically blind people. They know nothing of color. Red and green are foreign to them. They may see some light and shadow but not clearly. In the same way, those who are spiritually blind also see shadows and some light, yet the realm of God (who is Spirit and Light) is closed to them unless God transforms their hearing and vision.
Christians are foolish if we expect everyone to see what we see. Others observe many of the same things; we are aware of the failures of those TV evangelists, just as we are aware of our own failures. However, God has reserved some things for Himself and some for our eyes only. The Bible says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us (His people) and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
Rather than being upset or perplexed at the media for not including Hill’s classy speech, we need to remember that those reporters may not have ‘heard’ it. But, if we did hear and join her in praise, we need to thank God for opening our eyes and our ears to the wonder of His kingdom.