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I’ve almost cussed (more than once).

I have a neighbor who is stopping by my house regularly and driving me crazy! He picks away at my nerves and cannot get the hint: “LEAVE ME ALONE!” No matter what signals I send or barriers I erect, he persists in assuming the role of chief thorn in my life.

He bangs on my windows incessantly at all times of the day. I have never experienced such rudeness. I have tried every humane way to shoo him away. If it weren’t for my wife, I would have taken care of business once and for all with my shotgun. (Sorry to shatter whatever possible illusions of niceness you might have had about me.)

I’ve sneaked up on him more times than I can count. I’ve both chili-scented (talk about odious!) and bar-soaped my windows. I’ve put gooey stuff on my ledges (hoping he’ll slip and fall or at least get sticky stuff all over his feet and think twice about coming back). I’ve hung up shiny CDs to dangle in the wind to blind him. I’ve even pumped high decibel level praise and worship music into my back yard to annoy him. (Btw: That worked for a few days until he got saved and came back. I must confess, I was never so disappointed at someone’s conversion as his.)

Yes, he’s in heat, but I don’t care. Go bug someone else. I just want some peace and quiet. I’ve got many wonderful neighbors around me with whom he can make friends. Why me?!

And so, the words “Stupid bird!” have issued forth from my tongue multiple times.

If you haven’t guessed, I have a robin who sees his reflection in my windows and is doing only what is in his nature to do . . . drive away a rival. Robins (like all other creatures) are rigged to perpetuate their species.

If I’m honest and objective, maybe he’s not really so stupid after all. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to accuse him of being a “bird brain.”

If you’re a parent I’m sure you’ve heard one of your children say more than once after doing something he or she wasn’t supposed to do, “I couldn’t help myself.” In fact, I’m sure you’ve said that a time or two yourself. I certainly have! That statement, though it may feel like a lame excuse when said to you, is not altogether false.

I have been in recovery for over fifty years, and I wish I could tell you I’ve been clean the whole time. Not even close! While I’ve never had a drug or drinking problem, I know all about pride, greed, bigotry, lust, envy, anger, laziness, stinginess, judgmentalism, cynicism, legalism, . . . and I relapse every day in multiple categories.

I’m not making excuses or minimizing my missteps, but I truly can’t help myself sometimes (in fact, a lot of times). I think you understand. St. Paul did. In one of my absolute favorite passages (misery loves company) he wrote, “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work with my members. What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:21-24)

“Houston, we have a problem!” But unlike what could have been tragic for the astronauts of Apollo 13, our predicament is not humanly solvable.

Something is deeply off about us. We not only do bad things, there is something fundamentally flawed in our very being. Theologians call this our sinful, fallen nature. We have an inward predisposition to evil because there is an instinct within us bent on self- and other-destruction. Francis Spufford, an irreverent but witty author puts it in very colloquial (street-language) terms. In his book, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, Spufford calls this inward principle “HPtMtU”—the “Human Propensity to Muck Up” (only he uses a different word for muck).

If we are going to make any real, lasting headway in our recovery, we need to face our sinful condition. Therapy will be critical. Cognitive-behavioral training important. Proper diet, exercise, and rest vital. Assertive training and communication skills helpful. Medication, perhaps necessary. Along with new habit formation, forgiveness, friendship, contemplation, service, Sabbath-keeping, generosity, accountability, vocational holiness, community, etc. Yes, yes, and amen. But all this without a heart transplant is just cosmetic.

What Jesus said to a man by the name of Nicodemus 2,000 years ago still holds true for each one of us, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). In fact, we cannot enter the kingdom of God—that realm of peace, joy, harmony, and goodness within God’s reign—unless we are born anew.

Our situation is far worse than we could have imagined. We need redemption . . . not just rehabilitation. Salvation . . . not just sobriety. Righteousness . . . not just recovery.

Though fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, we are born with a plethora of destructive urges making us constantly self-sabotage. Our problems go beyond our social conditioning, biochemistry, neurological deficiencies, and a defunct id. We suffer from more than a psychological disorder or disease. There is a “sinner” within each one of us. Without this knowledge we remain miserably lost as to what our problem is and the way forward. Renowned psychologist and professor, O Hobart Mowrer, argued in his book, The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, is, “Just so long as we deny the reality of sin, we cut ourselves off, it seems, from the possibility of radical redemption (recovery).”

We are in desperate need of a complete overhaul of our “mission control center,” as theologian Bernard Ramm stated in his classic, Offense to Reason: The Theology of Sin. We need a new nature with new loves, appetites, longings, and impulses. This is what it means to be born again. Spiritual birth brings about a distinctly new life. Paul sums it like this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Becoming a child of God is not just a legal change, it is an ontological change—not just a new status but a new being.

Of course, being born again isn’t instant deliverance from our sinful proclivities. We are not suddenly cured by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Our healing begins with the miracle of regeneration and continues with our participation in this divine work through life-long apprenticeship under Jesus (discipleship). These new drives and spiritual capacities must be nourished and developed through various practices and rhythms if this new nature planted within us is to become increasingly second nature to us. This is what it means to grow up in our salvation.

The “sinner” within us brings both guilt and bondage. Thus, we need both forgiveness and freedom, pardon and power. And these two indispensables can only be provided by the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ the Lord. The good news is that he has come to offer just that!

Any recovery without righted-relationship with and incorporation into God is incomplete and unable to fulfill your and my deepest needs and desires. Any progress in our quality of life apart from conversion to Christ is both delusional and unsustainable. It is like dancing and merrymaking on the Titanic.

You—Me—US . . . must be born again!


“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness
through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises,
so that through them you may participate in the divine nature
and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
(2 Peter 1:3-4)


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