March 27

John 3:4-6

Romans 6:3-4

If our births were etched into our memory banks, we might remember meeting a frayed and exhausted mother who just minutes before we arrived was screaming at the doctor to just get us out.

We might remember meeting a father who thought he was tough as nails but had to be escorted out of the delivery room because he’d gotten a little wobble kneed.

We’d remember meeting a lot of the family members who apparently couldn’t speak plain every time they held us.

Isn’t it a good thing our memory banks aren’t switched on then, or earlier when our mother’s water broke? The first emotions we would be introduced to would be a mixture of panic, stress, and th-3excitement.

I find it amazing that for 40 weeks we live surrounded by water in an embryonic world. Water knits us together as we inhale and exhale embryonic fluid into our lungs, protecting us from an outside world, allowing us to grow into human beings.

We are completely dependent and connected to our mothers in this water-filled world. Then within a matter of minutes, or maybe hours, we are pushed out into the world and cut free, never to have that kind of protection or dependence again.

Birth is a gift. It is not something we can give ourselves. Not a single one of us got here on our own. We had help, in case you missed that part.

Just as we cannot birth ourselves physically into this world, we cannot birth ourselves spiritually, either. We cannot make ourselves Christian.  We cannot do enough to be accepted by God or given access into heaven.  That comes as a gift, a free gift of God, through Jesus, his Son.

Witnessing the birth of my children were two of the most wonderful and amazing events of my life.  Those were the days when husbands attended Lamaze classes with their wives during pregnancy.  They gave us a role to play in the birthing process.  We were supposed to coach our wives how to breath properly during birth.

That seemed to go well in practice but we didn’t have any game-time simulations in Lamaze class, so we were not prepared when our wives become these angry, mean, crazy, women who didn’t like taking advice from husbands who didn’t have a clue what they were feeling or experiencing during birth.

th-4A mother needs help to bring a child into this world but unless a husband can give an epidural, he might as well stand back and keep any advice about breathing to himself.  If not, strong overtones are sent that this might be his first and last child.

On one of my trips to Liberia it occurred to me that none of the children in those villages were born in a hospital. Who helped those expectant mothers give birth?  I discovered that every village had a midwife. Near Ricks Institute I met the midwife for that area. She was an older woman who had assisted hundreds of women bring children into the world, just like it used to be done here in America before every community had a doctor.

We all needed help to come into this world.  Likewise, every person who comes to faith needs assistance.  We do not birth ourselves into God’s kingdom.

Jesus was explaining this once to a man named Nicodemus, a religious man who understood the Law of Moses.   However, Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed a new birth.

th-5This was confusing to Nicodemus.  So he said to Jesus, “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:4-6)

I know you cannot remember your physical birth but others can.  Just ask them.   We all know we were born in case there is a dispute to   who and where, we all have that little certificate called a birth certificate that gives us this information.

But what can tell me something about your spiritual birth?

Can you tell me how the Spirit of God connected with your spirit to show you how special you are and how loved you are?

Can you tell me how God showed you how to be forgiven of your sins and empowered you by his Spirit to share his love with others?

Can you tell me when the process began?  Has a spiritual birth taken place in your life?

For most of us this process takes place over years.  All of us that have the Spirit have a story of how God convinced us of His love.

However, not everyone was raised in church or by parents who helped us understand that we are made in God’s image, that we are made for a purpose, and that God desires for us to have a spiritual birth that will change our lives.  Those people are very fortunate, but that may not be your story.

Last month at the Clubhouse here in Jefferson during the Gideons’ appreciation banquet for pastors, I met Pat Shelton.

Pat, a man in his fifties, sported blue jeans, cowboy boots, a bolo tie with a white shirt, and a denim jacket.  He had a big white and gray goatee and a bald head. He talked with a Southern country drawl that left no doubt that he didn’t have much use for anything citified.

Pat tasted his first alcohol at age eight and from that day he stayed in trouble.

He was selling drugs in school by age 14. By age 17 he was collecting money for other drug dealers.

Jail became a second home for Pat but it didn’t serve as a deterrent.

When he was 17 years old, a man named Charlie Waters visited him in jail. Charlie had a Bible in his hand and tears in his eyes and the first thing he said to Pat was “Jesus loves you and I love you.”Unknown

Pat said, “Well, evidently, he don’t know me,” and he sent Charlie on his way.

Pat continued a life of crime that included arson, robbery, assault, and dealing drugs. He was so mean that his own father was afraid of him and threatened him harm if he didn’t leave his property.

At age 18 Pat was in jail again and this same man, Charlie Waters, came back to visit him. He had the same message, “Jesus loves you and I love you.” Pat didn’t want any of Charlie’s religion.

For twenty-seven years, Pat Shelton was in and out of jail and for twenty-seven years, this same Charlie Waters kept visiting Pat with the same message, “Jesus loves you and I love you.”

When the law caught Pat on his second meth charge he was facing a long prison term and in walked Charlie Waters. He asked what Pat was in for this time and he told him that he’d given a bad urine test, but Pat said, “Seven people turned me in,” as if it were their fault.

Charlie asked, “Well, if your urine test would have been clean what would have happened?” Pat said, “Well, they would have turned me loose.” Chth-8arlie responded, “Well, son, who put you in here?”

At that moment, Pat knew he had to admit that he was responsible for his mistakes. Who else could he blame?

Charlie asked Pat if he had a Bible and Pat said he did not, so Charlie gave him his own Bible.

Charlie asked Pat if he would read the book of John and see if he could find himself a real friend.  Pat said, “OK,” and he wasn’t really going to read it, but because of that man’s love and compassion he had seen in him all of those years, he decided to read it.

Pat Shelton read about Jesus making the lame to walk, the blind to see, about his raising Lazarus from the dead.  When Pat got over to the part where he discovered that Jesus died for him, and that he was raised to life, he discovered a new definition for a friend.

Pat got down on his knees in cell four and he prayed, “Jesus, I don’t know you. I don’t know nothing about you, but if you can do what your word says; if you can take the pain; if you can take this anger; if you can take this suffering that’s going on in my life right now, I won’t give you my life; I’ll surrender it.”

Pat said that a word came to him in that cell while he was on his knees, “You are forgiven.”th-7

Pat got so excited and made so much noise that seven jailers were sent to his cell to see what was wrong with this crazy meth dealer. What had happened was that he had just been born again. He was given a gift, something he could not have given himself. He met the risen Lord!

It began because one man named Charlie Waters cared enough to weep for him and continue to tell him that Jesus loved him. That night with a Bible in his hand that had been given to him by a Gideon, the waters broke, and Spirit gave birth to spirit.

Charlie Waters was the midwife, but the birth that took place was the spiritual birth of Pat Shelton.

We are all called to help others meet Jesus so the Spirit can be born into the hearts of broken and suffering people.

We are called to be like the woman who went down to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus but instead had a rebirth when they met the risen Lord.

We are called to be a Charlie Waters and tell people, “Jesus loves you and I love you.”

But before we are called to be a midwife, we are called to be born of the Spirit.  If the spiritual waters have not broken in your life, it does not matter what age you are, all God wants from you is some humility to receive the gift of life that He offers to you.

I wish I knew how many people have told Tina and me about the joy that we were going to experience by the birth of our first grandchild.  Yes, it is true.  Still, it does not compare to the joy of being embraced by God and his love and having the Spirit born within us.

Jesus called the discovery of that joy a new birth.

It is the reason Zacchaeus gave his money away that he had taken from the people after having a meal with Jesus.

It is the reason the Woman at the Well went back to her village and told the people, “Let me tell you about a man who told me all I’ve ever done.”

It is the reason the demon demonic was ready to get into the boat with Jesus and travel with him as his disciple.

It is the reason the Centurion looked up at the cross and said, “Surely, this man was the son of God.”

It was the reason Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, took Jesus’ body down from the cross and prepared it for burial.

It is the reason the women ran to find the disciples and tell them the Good News of the resurrection.

It is the reason that the church was born, because these disciples that once huddled in fear, had a new birth.  They gave their lives sharing about the risen Lord.

Pat Shelton eventually took over the prison ministry from Charlie Waters and he has seen over 500 men give their lives to Jesus.

God used him to lead his parents to the Lord before they died and he baptized them both.

After being on probation for 39 years, last year three judges, two commissioners, and a man that chased him for 27 years came to him and offered him a job as community service coordinator of Gilmer County.

This began when God sent a man to him named Charlie Waters to him to tell him over and over: “Jesus loves you and I love you.”

At that man’s invitation, Pat eventually read these words in the book of John: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In cell four, Pat Shelton was born again.

Have you had a rebirth? I didn’t ask if you believed in God. I want to know if the spiritual waters in your life have broken.

God wants to pour his love out on you.  Regardless of what bad things have happened to you or what bad things you have done, God wants you to feel loved, to be loved, to be forgiven, and to know that He has a plan to use you to love others.

th-9Can you tell me the story of how your spiritual birth happened?

This Easter Sunday can be a part of that story.   You might be feeling the birth pains of God’s Spirit saying to you today that you need to be born anew, that you need to accept the love of Jesus:  Will you accept his forgiveness, his acceptance, his protection, and his understanding?  Don’t ignore his voice.

If you feel these signs in your soul, I invite you right today to make this Easter Sunday the day you invite the resurrected Lord to give you new life.