A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

Jesus spent the entirety of his ministry years teaching about God’s Kingdom. His focus was showing his followers how to live and thrive within the spiritual realm of the Kingdom while they were still in an earthly body. He taught that it was not practical to apply the laws of God’s Kingdom to the earthly realm, any more than it was advisable to apply the laws of the earthly realm to God’s Kingdom. These are two separate but interwoven jurisdictions, both of which must be dealt with appropriately.

Jesus emphasized that the Kingdom of God cannot be seen with the eyes, as it was “within” us. It’s a spiritual realm, not an earthly one. He also likened it to a speck of yeast hidden in dough that makes it rise, or the tiniest of seeds that grows to become a massive spreading tree. These are things that either cannot be seen or are difficult to see, as they are hidden in dough or in the ground. At no time did Jesus describe God’s Kingdom in worldly political terms or as something that was far off in the distant future. In fact, he stated the opposite, declaring: “My kingdom is not of this world”, and that: “If I, by the finger of God, cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you”.

If the Kingdom had not already come, Jesus wouldn’t have spent all his ministry years teaching about it. His lessons were meant to be applied soon after he taught them (that is, within the lifetime of his followers), not in some hazy distant future 2,000 or 3,000 years down the road. Jesus taught about the Kingdom not only because it had already come, but because it required a whole new way of living that in many respects was opposite to the world’s ways and to what had been taught in the Law.

Let’s take, for instance, how to deal with enemies. The Old Testament was clear that you are to exact revenge on an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” basis, but the Kingdom requires that you let your enemies keep their eyes and teeth, and that you love them instead. You do this by praying for them and blessing them, even while they’re cursing and killing you. This was a hard teaching for many of Jesus’ followers then, and it remains a hard teaching for many today. Nonetheless, like the Commandments, it is a core tenet of the Kingdom, and as such is non-negotiable.

Another controversial teaching is Jesus’ advice to sell everything you have to buy a sword. Many have taken this teaching to mean that you should not only arm yourself, but that you have God’s blessing to harm others in self-defence, in violation of the Commandment. But Jesus didn’t say that we should use weapons to hurt others. In fact, he demonstrated the opposite when he told his followers to put up their swords and then healed the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest him. He also stated at that time (a very teachable moment): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. We are to live by God’s Word and Commandments, not by revenge or self-defence. Jesus’ advice to arm ourselves meant that we should carry weapons as a deterrent only – not to kill or maim, but as a visible deterrent.

Despite Jesus openly stating during his ministry that God’s Kingdom had already come, many Christians today still believe that God’s Kingdom will only be established at Jesus’ second coming, and that in fact the whole purpose of the second coming is for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. This belief is a-scriptural: In other words, it ain’t in the Bible. Along with Jesus explicitly stating in the gospels that the Kingdom had already come, Paul mentioned several times that we followers of Jesus are priests and prophets in that Kingdom. He never once said that we should pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom because he, as as born-again believer, was only too aware that it had already come: He was living in it, as are we, if we are born-again.

What Jesus actually advised us to wait for was his coming in glory. This event will occur with great fanfare, the kind that those who rejected Jesus 2,000 years ago had expected the first time around when he revealed himself as the Messiah and established his kingdom. This glorious revelation of Jesus’ messiahship THAT EVERYONE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE will be the open manifestation of the spiritual realm in the earthly realm for all to see. The Kingdom will no longer be invisible or “hidden”, but will blaze from horizon to horizon and be heralded by a blast of trumpets.

And what will Jesus do when he comes in glory? Will he give it all up to establish an earthly kingdom, even though he said time and time again that his kingdom is not of this world? I highly doubt that sitting on an earthly throne in Jerusalem will be at the top of his to-do list at that point. Jesus tells us that he will send his angels to gather together the last of his followers and take them all home. Or as Paul says, they will be caught up in the air, like Jesus was at his ascension, or as Elijah at his. Jesus’ second coming will not mark the establishment of a worldly geo-political kingdom, but rather the end of the world.

As we know from scripture, the long-awaited second coming will only occur after a time of great tribulation of natural and man-made disasters. So while we look forward to Jesus’ return in glory, we should not look forward to the horrors that will precede it. God’s people will be protected spiritually during the tribulation, though not necessarily physically. Christianity will be outlawed and persecution of Christians will become the norm again. And by “persecution”, I don’t just mean that people will be rude to you or force you to bake a cake for them. It will be full-on persecution that includes imprisonment, torture, and execution, as it was in the early years of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, or as it was during the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or as it is today in the Middle East, some Asian countries, and parts of Africa. The persecution of Christians hasn’t stopped for 2,000 years, which should not surprise us, as Jesus warned it would be like that for his followers. As he was treated, so will his followers be treated.

Finally, we should keep in mind that while we, as born-agains, live and move spiritually within God’s Kingdom, we are not yet citizens of it but rather immigrants and refugees. And like earthly immigrants and refugees in earthly countries, we have certain protections in God’s spiritual realm, though not yet full-status protection. Immigrants and refugees can still be denied citizenship, if they break the laws of their adoptive country or don’t comply with immigration policies. As long as they’re not citizens, they can be kicked out.

The same goes for us in God’s Kingdom while we’re yet in earthly bodies. We’re given great privileges as born-agains, and much is expected of us in return. Paul talks about all the things we once did, pre-rebirth, that we should no longer do. In fact, if God’s Spirit is strong enough within us, we’ll have no desire to do those things any more. That is what we should strive for – to have such a large measure of God’s Spirit that doing those things we used to do doesn’t occur to us anymore. Whatever hold they had over us is now gone. We don’t want to be like the person who was “swept clean” but then backslid until his end was worse than his beginning. We don’t want God to tell us at our judgement that it would have been better for us not to have been born at all.

Living life day-to-day in God’s Kingdom on Earth doesn’t need to involve a long and growing list of do’s and don’ts that we’re either constantly forgetting or failing to abide by. All we need is the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and the very short list of God’s Commandments. That is the core of what Jesus taught during his ministry years, and therefore the core that we, as his followers, should learn, practice, model, and teach others. In fact, all of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in one brief sentence: Keep all the Commandments, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in everything you do.  If you genuinely do this (and by “genuinely” I mean sincerely and from the heart, not just for show), chances are good that one day, when your time here is up, you’ll be awarded full citizenship in God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

“THE FATHER AND I ARE ONE”

Before the coming of Jesus, God would visit his prophets on occasion to give them a word or a vision through his Holy Spirit. The prophets would then go forth to the people and proclaim what God had told them. This proclamation was usually preceded with “Thus saith the Lord”, indicating that the word or vision had been given to the prophets some time before it was proclaimed. In other words, there was a gap in time between when the prophets received the word or vision from God, and when they proclaimed it to the people. God’s Spirit did not remain with the prophets, but only visited them now and then. This distinction between Old Testament prophets and all prophets since Jesus is critically important.

With Jesus, there was no need for “Thus saith the Lord” because God’s Spirit was with him 24/7. God didn’t just occasionally visit Jesus with a prophetic word or vision, he was with Jesus all the time, through his Holy Spirit. So when Jesus opened his mouth to speak a word or vision, God was speaking directly through him at that time. There was no delay between when Jesus received the word or vision from God and when he proclaimed it to the people. The receiving of the word from God and the proclamation to the people were simultaneous, which is why Jesus didn’t have to say “Thus saith the Lord”.

However, this form of proclamation, enabled through the constant presence of God’s Spirit with Jesus, has confused many into believing that Jesus is God. This deification of Jesus would have puzzled not only his followers but also Jesus himself. In fact, Jesus is very clear that “the Father” is greater than he, and that he is the “one who was to come”, meaning that he is God’s Messiah, God’s son, God’s suffering servant, and God’s Prophet, as prophesied throughout the Old Testament by various prophets. Jesus himself referred to his role on Earth as “son of man”, which means “prophet” or speaker and revealer of God’s Truth. This was in reference to Moses’ renowned prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:15-18) that a mighty “Prophet” (note the upper-case “P”) would one day arise, and that God would put his words in his mouth and the Prophet would speak all that God commands him.

Similarly, the prophet Isaiah’s reference to the Messiah as “Immanuel” or “God with us” doesn’t mean that Jesus is God, but that God was with Jesus through his Holy Spirit. In the same way, God is with born-again believers through his Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised us he would be. In fact, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit with someone is the key indicator that the soul is reborn. The main difference between us born-agains and Jesus is that Jesus had the fullness of God’s Spirit with him, having been born with it (not born-again), whereas we have only a portion of God’s Spirit with us, depending on the strength of our relationship with God and the depth of our faith.

As with Jesus, when God gives us a word or vision, we also don’t have to precede it with “Thus saith the Lord”, because God speaks directly through us at any given time. His Spirit is always with us. However, it’s up to us how much we allow God to speak or work through us. We make that decision through our thoughts and actions, that is, our will. The more our will aligns with God’s, the more he can work through us, through his Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I want God to work through me as much as possible, so I want to align my will with God’s as much as I can. When Jesus stated that “the Father and I are one”, he meant that his will and God’s will were so aligned that what Jesus wanted was exactly what God wanted, and vice-versa. Jesus, in everything his did and said, reflected God’s will.

We need to strive for the same.

KEEPING GOD ON HAND

The coming of spring, with the return of brighter and warmer days, has always been a joyful time of year for cultures around the world. Even so, spring is the deadliest time in nature. Animals that made it through the worst of the winter have been weakened by scarce food and harsh weather, so when the winds turn cold again and the rains morph back into snow (as they often do in spring), those that have mustered all their strength to make it through the dark months find they can go no further. Far from being joyful, spring in the animal kingdom marks a time of mass culling of the weakest.

The deadliness of spring is mirrored in the deadliness of our final spiritual tests. As I’ve mentioned before, our tests don’t get easier the closer we get to Heaven; they get much harder. In scripture, this stage is known as the “refining fire”, a burning off of inferior elements until all that remains is gold. There is no retirement in God’s Kingdom on Earth. If you’re “going for the gold”, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got to the very end, even if you don’t think you have anything left to give. Jesus says: “Those who endure to the end will be saved”, not those who give up before the end. You don’t win a marathon by collapsing 5 feet from the finish line.

So, if our tests get harder the closer we get to our end, and if only those who endure to the end will be saved, how do we survive the culling that will strike down the spiritually weak? We survive it the same way Jesus survived it – by relying on the strength of God’s Holy Spirit not just in times of trouble but at ALL times. We build that dependency now as a daily habit, so that when the worst of our tests come (and we never know when that will be), relying on God will be second-nature to us.

Hebrews used to bind scrolls of scripture onto their hands and forehead, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:8. Some still do. They did this as a reminder of God’s Commandments for the wearer and for those looking at the wearer. The wearer of the scrolls would see them on his own hand, while those looking at him would see them on his forehead. These physical signs would then trigger a reminder of what was important and how they should respond to provocations.

We could use similar reminder-triggers about the importance of relying on God’s Spirit on a day-to-day basis, not just in times of crisis. Ask yourself these questions: When you are insulted or attacked, do you run to social media to complain, or do you run to God? When things don’t go as planned, do you seek out your friends and family for sympathy and commiseration, or do you take your complaints to God? When you’ve had a hard day at work, do you find solace in feeling sorry for yourself and having a drink or two, or do you thank God for the tests he’s putting you through to strengthen you spiritually?

If you haven’t honestly answered “God”, “God”, “God” to those three questions, you need to change now how you respond to adversity. Relying on any other source but God for support and comfort on a day-to-day basis will not serve you well when the final tests come. And come they will, if Heaven is your goal. You don’t get a guaranteed ticket to Heaven just because you’re born-again, any more than the Hebrews got a guaranteed ticket to Heaven for being children of Abraham. What you get for being born-again is God’s Holy Spirit as a constant companion and source of strength. That is your guarantee. You are then meant to make full use of God’s Spirit at all times. If you don’t make full use of God’s Spirit, you won’t develop either the habit of running to God for help, or the spiritual fortitude (strength) that you’ll need to make it through to the end.

If your tendency is still to go to people for help and healing, here is what I suggest: Take a marker and write on your left hand “God”. Write it in whatever color you want and whatever size you want, but write it so that you plainly see it, and leave it there. It’s meant as a reminder for you, not for others. When it wears away, replace it. Keep doing this until your first response to every adversity that you encounter is to run to God for help, just as your first response to every joy and blessing should be to thank God.

We can’t stop the hard tests from coming, if our aim is Heaven, but we can be ready for them.

The time to prepare is now.

GO FISH: HOW TO SURVIVE THE COMING PERSECUTION

Jesus was an itinerant preacher. He didn’t have a home synagogue or church, and he clearly wasn’t interested in building one. He moved from place to place as God guided him, going where he was needed when he was needed. He preached in the wilderness, on boats, in the town square, in synagogues, in the temple – wherever God led him. If he was in danger of getting arrested in one place, he went to another. He didn’t hang around where he wasn’t welcome. He didn’t force himself on people, and he didn’t bait law enforcement.

Setting up a permanent gathering site was never part of Jesus’ teachings.

When we read in Acts about the church in various cities like Rome and Corinth, we should be aware that the mentioned church was not an actual building; it was the believers living in those cities. The church (read “believers”) met in different locations, depending on the security risk. Again – there was no one permanent gathering site, mainly because most of the church was being persecuted and the members were constantly in hiding or on the run.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately about ‘churches’ getting shut down and fined, and pastors getting arrested for violating lockdown mandates. As much as I want to sympathize with the pastors, I just cannot. Jesus taught his followers ONLY TO GO WHERE THEY ARE WELCOME. He told them if they aren’t welcome in one town, go to the next. Fleeing persecution is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus and preaching the Word – that is, part and parcel of being a Christian. And since it is part and parcel of being a Christian, you need to know how to avoid the main pitfalls of persecution, which today are being arrested, fined, or imprisoned. Because if you don’t avoid them, you won’t survive as a Christian.

Reports from all over the world indicate that we are again entering a time of widespread persecution. This means we have to be especially wise. If we’re threatened with arrest or fines for meeting in a particular place, we meet somewhere else. Remember that the early church lived under constant threat not only of arrest and imprisonment, but of torture and execution. These believers were always on the run and living in hiding. They gathered wherever they felt it was safe to do so, but they did it secretly. THEY DID IT SECRETLY. If they knew their gathering would get them arrested, they kept quiet about it or moved to a different location. They were wise, not foolish. They followed Jesus’ example of how to avoid arrest.

These ‘church buildings’ where pastors are being arrested should never have been designated as such. There is no reason to have a church building. Jesus never had one. The church is the people, not a building. The pastors and church members getting themselves arrested during the lockdowns are not heroes. They are not acting wisely or following Jesus’ example. They are acting the opposite of wise. Instead of defying local mandates, they need to adopt the methods of the early church and go underground. If the church members feel the need to meet to worship, they need to do it in secret, in houses or in a location other than the publicly known ‘church building’. Worshiping at a site where you’ve been threatened with arrest or fines for worshiping there is just plain pig-headed and not in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus.

So this is my advice for those who are purposely getting arrested: READ SCRIPTURE. Get to know Jesus’ teachings on persecution and how to deal with it. Don’t be a sitting duck. If the early church had refused to go into hiding or flee from threats of arrest, Christianity may never have survived. Fleeing and secrecy are long-standing survival tools used by the church throughout the ages, and they need to be dusted off now and put into action. You’re not doing anyone any good if you’re sitting in a jail cell or selling everything you have to pay a fine.

So, to sum up:

1) The people – not a building – are the church.

2) Doing what you can to avoid potential arrest, fleeing, going into hiding, and worshiping in secret are all longstanding traditions of Jesus’ followers.

3) Being persecuted is part of what it means to be a Christian and shouldn’t be fought against. Instead, those who are experiencing persecution should flee to where the Word is welcome and where they are safe to worship and gather, even if only in secret. This is how, as Christians, we live to fight another day.

Jesus clearly demonstrated, through his teachings and by avoiding certain areas during his ministry years, that you are to stand your spiritual ground, not your physical ground. If Jesus didn’t have or didn’t encourage the building of permanent physical meeting sites, neither should we. Our permanent meeting site, as born-again believers, is God’s Holy Spirit, and he is anywhere we are.

No building required.

I KEEP THE SABBATH FOR MY BENEFIT, NOT FOR GOD’S

When Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, it was considered blasphemy by the religious powers-that-be. This is not surprising, given how fanatical they were not only about keeping the Sabbath, but about forcing their views on others regarding precisely how to keep it. Stiff penalties were imposed on those who violated their dictates. As a result, the Sabbath became a heavy burden of restrictions and obligations, which was the opposite of what God had intended when he handed down the Sabbath law through Moses.

A whiff of that same fanaticism can be found in some Christians today. Yes, sanctifying the Sabbath is a Commandment, but I’m firmly on the side of Jesus in believing that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, not for his. If we love God and make him the center of our lives, spending a day only with him and his Word is pure pleasure and rejuvenation, in the same way as spending time with someone we deeply love is pleasurable and rejuvenating. There is no burden in being with those we genuinely love and who genuinely love us in return. There is no grudging sense of obligation or feeling that we’re missing out on something, or that we’d rather be somewhere else. If we love God, we look forward to the Sabbath each week, we don’t dread it.

As I’ve mentioned throughout this blog, I’m a relatively new believer. I was raised an atheist, so keeping the Sabbath was never ingrained in me as a child. I had to learn it as an adult, after I was reborn. But that learning process was slow. Initially, the Sabbath for me just meant going to church on Sunday morning and then doing whatever I pleased on Sunday afternoon, including working. I didn’t see it as a day of rest and rejuvenation or a time to spend with God. That understanding only came later when I noticed that far from being rested on Monday morning, I was still tired from the previous week’s labours. Technically, I considered the Sabbath only as a church day, and nothing more. The “day of rest” part escaped me.

As I my faith grew and I started to get to know God as my Dad (which only happened after I’d left Catholicism, three and a half years after my rebirth), I found that I wanted to spend more and more time with him and his Word. In fact, I was taking time off from my work to spend with God, as being with him and reading the Bible were such pleasures. However, as much as God wants us to put him at the center of our lives, we still need to work. The Sabbath law not only stipulates one day of rest, it also stipulates six days of labour. In taking time off from work to spend with God and his Word, I was shirking the part of the Commandment about labouring. Just like working too much, not working enough became problematic for me.

But growing in faith is a learning process for born-agains. Babies don’t come out of the womb diaper-trained and fully able to walk and talk. It takes time and lots of boo-boos. Learning about God’s Sabbath and how to keep it as Jesus taught us to keep it was a very long learning process for me, mainly because I didn’t take it seriously enough. Seriously, yes, but not seriously enough to consider exactly what Jesus meant when he said the Sabbath was made for us.

I am happy to report that I am now out of the diaper stage with regard to the Sabbath, and that the worst of the messy boo-boos appear to be behind me. The Sabbath for me is now something I look forward to all week, not something that happens every day. I labour for six days, as required, and completely rest on the seventh (I don’t even do the dishes!). Sometimes, on rare occasion, I am called to work on a seventh or an eighth day in a row, but I never purposely schedule work. If an emergency arises, I deal with it, but then I take my Sabbath afterwards. This is what Jesus taught us to do in scripture.

The result of adopting and living what I believe is the spirit of the Sabbath Commandment is that I LOVE SABBATH! It is by far my favourite time of the week, and I look forward to it the way I used to look forward to Christmas when I was a kid. In fact, I love Sabbath so much, I start it already on Saturday evening, after sunset. (I believe that is biblically sound, for you purists out there.) During Sabbath, I keep meal preparation to a minimum, and as I mentioned, I don’t do dishes or any housework at all, including making my bed. I am a completely lazy slob for a whole day, and I love it! Even just the sight of my messy bed makes me smile, because it’s a clear sign that it’s Sabbath.

As for being with God, there is no greater pleasure than spending an entire day with him without feeling like I’m shirking my work duties in some way. It took me a while to get there, but I’m now like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying his company and learning from him, rather than like Martha, running around doing all kinds of unnecessary chores that only make me tired, cranky, and frustrated.

If your day off is not a pleasure for you, if it is not restful and rejuvenating, if it is not deepening and strengthening your faith and your relationship with God and his Word, you might want to reconsider how you’re keeping your Sabbath.

Now when Monday morning rolls around, I’m ready to face the work week again. I don’t dread it; I’m ready for it, and I look forward to whatever the week may bring. This, I think, is proof not only of the importance of keeping the Sabbath, but of keeping it as God intended and as Jesus taught us.

THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

Scripture gives us an example of the unforgivable sin in the expulsion of Satan and his followers from Heaven. We don’t (yet) know the exact story of what happened to Satan to turn him away from God, but we do know the consequences of that turning – the loss of Heaven, the fall to Earth, and the guarantee of eternal hellfire. We also know that these disembodied fallen beings are beyond redemption and that no intervention can save them. This is the darkest of all sentences: the place of no hope. In the moment before I was reborn, I was on the doorstep of that place (not inside the door, but just outside it), and I never want to be there again. Nor would I wish that on anyone.

But the fact remains that the unforgivable sin is one that Jesus tells us we still have the capacity to commit, which means we too may end up in the same place as Satan. Much has been written about the unforgivable sin, about what it might be and whether or not the writer speculating on it may already have committed it.

I admittedly don’t know much about anything, but I do know this: if you had committed the unforgivable sin, you would not be wondering whether or not you had committed it. You would know, and you would also know the end that awaits you. These facts would not be hidden from you: You would know them just as surely as I know that I’m born-again, because God himself would tell you in person, clearly and unequivocally. There would be no mystery and no doubt, any more than there is mystery and doubt when a judge renders a verdict to the accused in a court of law: The accusation and evidence are summarized, the judgement is stated, and the sentence is passed. Your judgement will be just as clear to you if you commit the unforgivable sin.

But what is that sin? We know the consequences of it, but what exactly is the sin itself? We want to know what it is for no other reason than to avoid committing it, and by avoiding committing it, avoid its consequences.

Jesus tells us that to speak against him or against God is not unforgivable. We also know that God is merciful and patient beyond anything we can imagine, and that spiritual rebirth is God extending to us a second chance to go home. These are all good things and show how much God loves us and takes into consideration our weaknesses. He does everything he can to mitigate them while still allowing us free will.

And yet even this good and patient and merciful and loving Father has a no-go zone that we dare not pass. I know, because I was at its border, and it stopped me (thank God) in my tracks. It happened a few years after my rebirth, when I was old enough spiritually to know better, but just couldn’t help myself. I’d fallen into a series of temptations that in my mind I kept dressing up as a chance to witness. The temptations continued over a span of months, dragging me deeper and deeper into its quicksand. But it wasn’t the temptation that was the unforgivable sin – it was something that happened afterwards in relation to it.

I am not at liberty to reveal what it was (that is between me and God), but I can say this much: if I had crossed over the border into the no-go zone, I would have lost my grace, like Satan, grace being the presence of God’s Spirit with you and the promise of eternal life in Heaven. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have lost my grace, because as I was riding along on my bike that day, heading for an afternoon of skating at the local arena and thinking about that thing I would do (which in my mind at the time was an honest thing to do), God said to me very clearly: “If you do it, you will lose your grace.”

I slammed on my brakes and came to a hard stop. It had not occurred to me that doing this what I thought was an honest thing could have lost me my grace. How could honesty be a bad thing? Which is when God showed me that the pain I would cause by doing what I thought was an honest thing would come back to me amplified with such ferocity that it would equate to lost grace. I could still do that thing (I still had free will), but in doing it, my grace would be irretrievably lost – irretrievable, as in lost forever. No chance of getting it back. The same state as Satan. I would have knowingly sinned against God’s Holy Spirit by purposefully doing what I had been explicitly warned by God – in person – was wrong to do, and in the process purposely causing unimaginable pain to others.

And that was the crux of it – the pain that my “honest” gesture would have caused to others and my knowingly inflicting that pain. If I had proceeded knowing the measure of pain I would have caused, God would have had no choice but to return that pain to me in the measure that I, as a reborn soul, had earned, which would have been sufficient for me to lose grace.

Even today, I shiver at how close I came to this final fallen state.

God will not let you, as his born-again child, wander unknowingly across the border into the no-go zone of the unforgivable sin. You will be warned not by vague signs or third-party notices, but by an in-person cameo appearance by God. It will be just as memorable to you as God speaking from the burning bush was for Moses. It will stop you in your tracks. And it will remain with you for the rest of your days.

The unforgivable sin is different for each of us. There is no one unforgivable sin, but all of them are premised on the same thing: purposefully and unremorsefully doing what we have been explicitly warned by God – one-on-one – not to do, with an equally explicit warning of the consequences that will follow if we proceed. The warning comes not through a third party, but directly from God through his Holy Spirit. To blaspheme and speak against God’s Holy Spirit is to do that one thing you have been warned by God explicitly and in-person and beyond a shadow of a doubt not to do.

There is no remedy for this level of informed disobedience. There is no course of appeal. Satan and his condemned followers know that.

May you never join them.

“ARE YOU HAPPY?”

It’s a strange thing for me, as a former atheist, to hear about someone who is a self-described “former Christian”.

I cannot imagine life without Jesus and God. What I mean to say is that there is no life outside of Jesus and God. Without them, all you do is stumble from one disaster to the next, one drink to the next, one obsession to the next, never really understanding why things are the way they are or why your life is so full of pain. And so you look for an explanation by blaming others or political systems or (worst of all) yourself. Without Jesus and God, there is no real peace and no real joy, because the presence of Jesus and God, through God’s Holy Spirit, is the sole source of happiness. Jesus called this a “wellspring” surging up inside you that never runs dry.

So when I hear about people who claim to be former Christians, I can only assume they were never Christians to begin with. Because having been a born-again adult for nearly the same length of time as I was an atheist adult, I’m able to compare the two states of being, and there is no way I would give up being a Christian. There is nothing that anyone could offer me to stop being a Christian – no amount of money, and no degree of threat. And yes, I will likely be tested on this (and I pray to God that I’ll hold my spiritual ground when the time comes), but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being miserable and 10 being happy, I easily rate my born-again years as a solid 10 and my godless years, sadly, as a 1.

It’s not that there weren’t occasional flashes of something approaching happiness when I was an atheist. I found a certain measure of peace walking through the woods or along a shoreline. Sometimes I would find that same fleeting peace roaming deserted city streets at night or, oddly enough, in a library. Reading was my main escape from the omnipresent emotional pain of my atheist years, along with men, booze, travel, and learning about things (that is, learning about everything except God). I was perpetually chasing one lust after the other, one enthusiasm after the other, hoping for I don’t even know what, maybe some kind of resolution or eureka moment when “the truth” would suddenly burst into view, or someone would tenderly confirm that I had value beyond the fading desirability of my youth.

When you’re young and outwardly confident, as I was as an unbeliever, things come to you easily. People bend to you. When you mess up, they make allowances for you. You get second chances, and then third chances. I was always an exception to the rule; whatever charm I had, I worked it, and it worked well for me, or so I thought at the time. I rode the heady wave of pride, thinking I had it all figured out, thinking I could get whatever or whoever I wanted just by sheer force of will. But waves have troughs as well as crests, and all waves eventually come crashing down on a shoreline somewhere, leaving nothing behind but a bit of froth and a few bubbles.

I mention these things not because I remember my atheist years fondly (I definitely do not), but because I cannot fathom on any level that someone would consciously want to give up being born-again. Being in God’s Kingdom is exactly as Jesus says it is – the pearl of such great value that you sell everything you have to buy it, or the treasure that you hide in a field and then sell everything to buy that field so you can possess the treasure forever. Being born-again, you unhesitatingly give up everything in exchange for the presence of God’s Spirit, because there is nothing of greater value on Earth. Nothing comes close. My worst day of being a believer is still leaps and bounds better than my best day of being an unbeliever.

Do I still get sad as a Christian? Of course I do. I still have free will and emotions. People can still hurt me, and I can still do stupid things and hurt myself. But instead of running to a bottle or to other people for comfort when I get sad, or running into the woods or down to the ocean, I run to God and am healed in an instant. As an atheist, it took me days, months, or even years to get over things, and some wounds festered for decades until I was finally healed at my rebirth.

So you see, I’ve seen life from both sides – as an unbeliever and a believer. As an atheist, I was afforded all the privileges of youth, while as a believer, those privileges are long gone. But if I had all those privileges of youth as an atheist, why was I so miserable? Even more mysteriously, if I no longer have those youthful privileges as a believer, why am I so happy? Am I crazy? Certainly, there are those who knew me as an atheist and who see me now who think I’m crazy, because I’m cheerful without apparent cause. No-one can have as little as I have materially and still be happy. Right?

There was a professor in university I was inordinately fond of (to put it politely). When I was no longer his student, I wrote him a long letter, to which he responded with a few lines of pleasantries, ending with the (for me at the time) jarring question: “Are you happy?” It was an odd inquiry, given our history, and I remember being angered by it. In writing to him, I had hoped to reignite something, not discuss “happiness”, which was to me at that time a thing of little value.

That was a long time ago. I still have the letter somewhere, though I haven’t read it for years. I think if I received such a letter (or one like it) today, I would be thrilled that someone took the time to write to me, and so grateful for the extension of kindness underlying the pleasantries. As for the very pointed question at the end, I would immediately have grabbed a pen and piece of paper and scribbled in response: “Yes, yes I’m happy! Thank you so much for asking! And I hope you’re happy, too!”

These words I could never have written with any sincerity as an unbeliever, though as a believer not to write them would be a lie.

Yes, I am happy. I have been happy since the day I was born again over 20 years ago. This simple fact would have been unfathomable to me as an unbeliever. The presence of God’s Spirit makes you happy. Happiness that endures through decades is not craziness; it’s “evidence of things unseen”.

Which is why I cannot understand why someone would want to be a “former Christian”. Why would you give up the pearl of great price or the eternal treasure buried in your field? There is nothing in the world that comes close to being born-again. God’s Holy Spirit is the greatest of all treasures, which is why Jesus turned down the temptation to own “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” in exchange for giving up God. Think about it – Jesus was offered EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD and the power that goes with having everything in the world, and he turned it all down because the presence of God’s Spirit was of greater value.

We born-agains live every moment of our lives with God’s Spirit. How incomprehensibly blessed we are! “All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” still fall short in value to what each of us has inside of us here and now, and to what God has promised us if we stay the course to the end. Those who are genuinely born-again would NEVER give this up.

We need to reaffirm what it means to be a Christian.

THIS GENERATION’S HARD FORK: THE GREAT RESET

Ours is a history of hard forks in the road.

It stretches all the way back to the time outside of time when God separated light from darkness and saw that the light was good.

From there, one hard fork followed another, each one following the Light, each one following the Good.

From Adam, who was the fork in the road separating mankind from the rest of creation, came Eve, who was the fork that enabled mankind to continue his kind.

Then came the hard fork out of Adam and Eve’s home in the Garden of Eden and the start of the long trek towards Heaven.

Noah was the hard fork out of a fallen world to a renewed one, Abraham the hard fork out of heathen nations to a Hebrew one, Joseph the hard fork into Egypt as a safe haven, and Jacob the hard fork birthing the nation of Israel.

Centuries later, Moses hard-forked the nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, King David’s hard fork established the throne of the messiah, and Jesus took upon himself the hard fork of all hard forks that continues to this day, ushering in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

For the past 2000 years, since the coming of the Kingdom, the hard forks have consistently separated those who genuinely follow Jesus from those who don’t. Jesus’ first followers hard-forked from those who rejected him and became Christians; within the geopolitical realm of Christendom that evolved from the Holy Roman Empire, genuine Christians hard-forked and became Protestants; within Protestantism, genuine believers hard-forked and became various smaller denominations; from which individuals, time and time again, hard-forked into home churches and ministries, wanting only to follow Jesus rather than the doctrines of men.

Today, we face yet another monumental hard fork in the road. Through an unrelenting world-wide campaign of media-induced fear, coupled with the controlled demolition of economies, livelihoods and cultures, those who maneuver governments from behind the scenes have laid the groundwork for a “great reset”. But it won’t only be the economies, livelihoods and cultures that are reset – no, it will be us, or better said, mankind. And those who refuse to go along with the reset will initially be shut out of society (just as those who refuse to wear masks are now shut out) and then forcibly relocated to isolation facilities until they change their mind. Those who continue to oppose the reset will be deemed public security risks and locked up indefinitely, or killed.

This is the hard fork in the road that we now approach. The wide path follows the so-called great reset, and the narrow path follows Jesus. Like most of the other hard forks, the narrow path will be difficult and few will choose it. Of those few, even fewer will follow it to the end.

Satan has not much changed either his aims or his tactics since the Garden of Eden when he tempted Eve by promising her that eating something that appeared to be good would make her better. The great reset likewise appears to be good and is promising to make us better, but at what cost?

Eve took the bait and lost Paradise.

Satan has not much changed either his aims or his tactics, and our outcome will be the same as Eve’s if we take the bait now.

ENEMIES WITHIN

Christians are constantly bombarded with propaganda about their “enemies”, which we are led to believe are unbelievers (or what used to be called heathens). What I find interesting is that Jesus never had anything to do with unbelievers. He rarely mentioned them and he never tried converting them. He simply let them be.

There’s no indication in scripture that Jesus considered unbelievers to be his enemies. He didn’t rail against the Roman occupying forces. He didn’t chastise the Romans for their pagan beliefs. Again, he just let them be because he didn’t see them as his enemies. Had he considered them his enemies, he would have said so, but he didn’t. They were of no concern to him.

On the other hand, Jesus was very clear about who he considered to be his enemies: He said our worst enemies are those under our own roof. In saying that, he wasn’t referring only to people who physically live under our roof, but to those who are (or say they are) closest to us in professed belief.

After all, it wasn’t Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus to death; it was the temple elders, the religious powers-that-be in Jerusalem at the time, who demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, the pagan, found nothing in Jesus’ behavior that warranted execution and was resolved to let him go, but the temple elders of the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead. These were some of the same men Jesus had dined with on occasion and debated with on the streets and in the synagogues and temple. He was not a stranger to them, nor they to him. They were all children of Israel and children of Abraham, supposedly professing the same beliefs as Jesus, but that was clearly not the case when they had him arrested, tortured, and then crucified.

Another group constantly getting the finger pointed at them as “enemies” are the demonic (unholy) spirits. These unseen but still very potent beings have been blamed for everything from lost car keys to mass murder, but at no point are they actually to blame. Demonic spirits, under God’s guidance and with God’s permission, can tempt, but they cannot coerce; they can do what is asked of them or is permitted by God, but they cannot do anything of their own free will because they no longer have free will. Demonic spirits have no power or agency of their own; they only have what God gives them: in other words, they can only do God’s will.

Note that Jesus never once blamed the unholy spirits for any of his problems. He spent a good deal of time casting them out of people (the demons were entirely under his authority, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit), but he never told his followers to mount any kind of spiritual warfare against them. Even so, many Christians today ignore Jesus’ example and continue to wage prayer battles against these unseen forces, thinking they are accomplishing something useful by wearing amulets to ward them off or reciting pre-scripted “prayers” as protection.

So, if unbelievers and demons aren’t our enemies, who are?

Our enemies are the same as Jesus’ enemies – namely, those who say they believe, but are either lying or have been deceived into believing lies. Just as Saul (before his conversion) was the disciples’ worst nightmare, our worst nightmare will also be those who believe they are doing God’s will. In other words, our worst enemies are not unbelievers or demons, but people who call themselves Christians.

Remember that Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve. Like Jesus and his genuine followers throughout the ages, we will likely also one day be betrayed by those who say they’re believers. And our response will have to be the same as that of Jesus and all martyrs – to forgive and bless our tormentors, even as they’re killing us.

TEMPTATIONS AND TESTS

Your body lives in the world, but your soul lives in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Your body is constantly tempted by things of the world, but it is your soul that is being tested.

Your body is tempted; your soul is tested.

That is life in the Earthly Kingdom.

Most of the temptations are of the garden variety and involve relatively unimportant things like food, sex, and money. These are things your body may crave but your soul, if you’re born-again, generally ignores. Jesus ate the food that was offered to him, but he didn’t line up for it. He said: “I have meat to eat that you know not of”. Jesus by-passed the sexual aspect in his relationships with women, saying: “Those who are considered worthy of the Kingdom neither marry nor are given in marriage”. Jesus used the money that was given to him, but he didn’t focus on making any. He said: “Render onto Caesar the things that are Caesars, and unto God the things that are God’s”.

These temptations of food, sex, and money are of low importance in the Kingdom. You are expected to want what your body wants, but not to be driven by those desires. You should limit them by God’s Commandments, and if you don’t, you’ll suffer for it. You’ll know what I mean when it happens to you (and yes, I speak from experience).

Your emotions, on the other hand, are not garden-variety temptations. Your emotions, and the actions that result from them, may very well be the things that get you condemned, even if you are born-again.

We live in an age where raw emotional expression is strongly encouraged and considered a sign of good mental health. Suppressing emotions is now generally frowned upon and “feelings” are deemed of higher importance – even in a court of law – than verifiable facts. However, if you live in the Kingdom, you should beware of your emotions, as most of them are in fact temptations.

You cannot live your life based on your feelings. As a born-again believer, you have the power, through God’s Spirit, to overcome the temptations that sometimes well up and threaten to overcome you. You don’t need to be offended. You don’t need to want revenge. You don’t need to desire something or someone so much that you lose all reason and become obsessed. These are temptations. These are tests. You can learn how to pass all of them.

Here’s how:

When someone insults you, don’t be offended. Paul says if there’s anything good about someone, think about that. Focus on that. Remember only that. Jesus says to love your enemies by blessing them instead of cursing them. You love them simply by blessing and praying for them. You don’t have to like them. The liking part may or may not come later (it usually does). Your job is to choose to forgive, and to choose to bless, and to choose to pray. These are all decisions of your will that you can make even while you continue to dislike the person you’re forgiving, blessing, and praying for. You don’t have to feel like doing these things; you choose to do them. And God will take it from there.

The same with revenge. When you feel the urge to get back at someone either through words or actions, choose to see only the good in them, choose to forgive them, choose to bless them, and choose to pray for them. Again, these are all choices. Simple choices; simple decisions of the will. You probably won’t feel like making these choices, but you’ll do them anyway because you understand that your body is being tempted, and you want your spirit to pass the test.

Obsession means that you’re wallowing in temptation. Obsession means that you’ve been tempted and tempted and tempted and tempted, and each time you’ve given into the temptation and failed the test. By the time you’ve reached the point of obsession, you’re neck-deep in temptation and it’s almost too late for you.

Note that I said “almost” too late. You can still choose not to give into the temptation. No matter how compromised you’ve become, you can still choose not to think or speak or do what you know has no place in the Kingdom. There is still time to make the right choice and pass the test, but not much time. Reaching the stage of obsession is a big red flag that you’re nearing a crisis point that will resolve either in your favour or not in your favour. It’s up to you.

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When we leave one country and enter another, our belongings are usually searched at the border. The authority doing the searching is looking for things that are not permitted to be brought into the country. If some unpermitted thing is found, we are turned away or sometimes even arrested.

The same thing happens when we leave this world, only instead of our luggage being searched, it’s our souls. And if anything is found in them that can’t be brought into Heaven, we’ll be turned away.

Don’t let emotional temptations keep you from getting into Heaven. Failed tests are unrepentant sin. You cannot get into Heaven with unrepentant sin on your soul.

Recognize emotional temptations for what they are. Hatred, revenge, self-pity, manipulation, jealousy, resentment, lust, obsession – these are all temptations. Don’t let them overcome you; overcome them through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. No emotion, no matter how overwhelming, is stronger than you if God is working through you.

Let him.

When temptations goad you into thinking, saying or doing things that you know you shouldn’t, fight back by choosing to see the good, choosing to forgive, choosing to bless, and choosing to pray. That’s how you’ll overcome your temptations and pass your tests, until the day comes when you’re waved through the border, unobstructed, into God’s Heavenly Kingdom.