A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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.

SAY HIS NAME

Names are important, and the Bible is full of them. I never went to Sunday school as a kid, so I’m just now (“better late than never”, right, Nanny?) memorizing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples of Jesus. The problem is, the names change spelling, depending on the source; even more confusing, one person can have multiple names, or the same name can be applied to multiple people. (And don’t get me started on ALL THE MARY’S!)

People also underwent name changes when they underwent spiritual transformation. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul, Hebrews became Christians. Getting sold into slavery also got you a new name. When Joseph lived among the Egyptians he was called Zaphnathpaaneah, and Daniel among the Babylonians was Belteshazzar.

Names are important. Sometimes they’re so important that angels show up months before a birth to tell you exactly what to call your kid. That happened to John the Baptist’s father and to Jesus’ mother. So much for the element of surprise, but at least it saved the parents the hassle of knitting yellow booties; they just went straight for the blue wool!

When Jesus exorcised demons, he always demanded to know their name, and they had to tell him. They had no choice. Jesus would then speak their name when commanding them to leave (they also had no choice about leaving). Their name became part of the exorcism, because names are important.

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On Earth, there are many other people, both alive and dead, who have the same name as us. In Heaven (if we make it there), we will all have unique names given to us by God. Just as our DNA is unique, as reflected in the one-of-a-kindness of our fingerprints, ears, irises, and every other natural part of us (including our gait and our scent), there will only be one of us in Heaven with that God-given name for all eternity. However, we will not know our name before we arrive in Heaven, so forget about bugging God to know it. I can share from personal experience that he won’t tell you.

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God has nearly an infinite number of names. He reveals some of them in scripture (Heavenly Father, Almighty God, Jehovah, Jah, Jahweh, I Am) which we use publicly, while others he shares with his children privately. In fact, he invites his children to name him in the same way we give pet names to those we love. In this, the power is not so much in the names we choose, but in the force of our love as we speak those names. Jesus called God “Abba”, which is Aramaic for “Father” or better said “Daddy”. It denotes a deeply personal relationship with God not as a “being” who is “out there somewhere” and to be visited only on occasion through formalized rituals, but as someone who is ever-present, intimately known, profoundly loved, and needed on a visceral level. This is how I know God, and I have many names for him that only we know.

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The Christian naming ceremony (called “christening”) used to be a big thing in the Western world. It was combined with infant baptism and occurred around the third week after birth. My parents are Roman Catholic, so when I was three weeks old, they dutifully carried me, godparents and other witnesses in tow, to the church basement to be baptised. However, little did they know that the name they’d chosen for me was not considered “Christian” by the church officials, and so away I was sent, still unbaptised and officially unnamed. Over the next few weeks, my godmother came up with a name that could use my originally chosen moniker as a nick-name. The second trip to the church basement was not done with as much fanfare (no cake that time), but at least I had some water splashed on me and was entered into the church roll of names, where I imagine I still exist, despite my best and ongoing efforts to be excommunicated.

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Many people share the same name. I’ve had the opportunity to meet my name-twin virtually when I started getting emails that were meant for her. I still get some of her emails on occasion and find it amusing when I forward them to her. Our own name is such an intimate identifier of us that to see it applied to someone else can be jarring. Within our own families, we hand down names along with wealth, property, and treasured belongings, but to share the same name with strangers just feels, well, strange.

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Names are important, and the world, like the Bible, is full of them. Even so, God tells us that only one name really matters – the name that we pray in, the name that we come before God in, the name of the Messiah, and the name that is above all names: the name of JESUS.

JESUS THE CARPENTER, THE SON OF GOD

Nothing happens by chance in God’s economy. Free will and divine intervention do not cancel each other out. So it wasn’t just “blind luck” that Jesus was born and raised a carpenter’s son. As his followers, we tend to focus on Jesus as Lord, teacher, Messiah, and Son of God, but before he was all those, he was the son of a carpenter who then grew to become a carpenter in his own right, with all the skills, aptitudes, and duties that come with it.

So I got to thinking about Jesus the son of a carpenter and Jesus the carpenter. Because his father was a carpenter and he the family’s first-born son, Jesus would have been expected to carry on his father’s trade. That meant that Jesus would have grown up trailing around behind his father doing carpentry work. Jesus’ first memories probably involved carpentry, either while the family was still in Egypt or back in Nazareth.

I’m not a carpenter, so to get a better idea of what a carpenter does, I looked up the job description for carpenter online. I was surprised to see that it emphasizes math skills. You need to be good at math and calculations to do carpentry work. You also need to be able to read blueprints and take instruction from supervisors on job specifications, so you need a good memory and the ability to “see” what is not yet there based on someone else’s description and guidance. Carpentry is an intensely physical job. You need to be physically strong, but not like an ox, more like a lion, as carpenters need to crouch, bend, kneel, and stretch, and have good upper-body strength. As well, carpentry requires good hand-eye coordination, the ability to gauge and estimate measurements, and a good sense of balance, with no vertigo tendencies.

Reading about these skills and aptitudes opened up a whole new “Jesus window” for me. Jesus was not only spiritually strong, he was physically strong. He had good upper body strength along with good strong legs that enabled him to carry and place heavy loads and stand for hours while doing his work. He had good hand-eye coordination, good visual acuity, and good balance, like an athlete. He could reckon measurements with his eyes and then translate those measurements into form. His hands would have been calloused, but strong and nimble. How do I know all these things about Jesus? If he hadn’t had those skills and traits, he wouldn’t have been a carpenter.

This was not a weak man. This was not an effeminate man. Jesus was not born the son of a carpenter by chance, but by design. The skills he learned at his father’s side from the time he was old enough to remember were skills that he eventually transferred to his ministry work. Ministry also requires a strong and agile body along with strong faith. Ministry also requires a sharp mind with good reckoning and gauging skills and the ability to see what is not in front of your eyes. And ministry also requires the unwavering ability to take instruction and guidance from God the Ultimate Supervisor, and to ensure a foundation is strong and true before it is built on.

So after I looked up all the traits and skills that are required of a carpenter, I thought about Jesus the Son of God and what he would have brought to the carpentry trade. I thought about how hard he worked at his ministry, often not even stopping for meals or rest, and how everything he did was uncompromising and done to his best ability. I thought about how he was always ministering to the needs of others and spent his nights and days helping whoever came to him for help. I thought about his sharp wit (sharp enough to outwit even the temple elders) and his love for children. I thought about his fondness for wine and good food. I thought about his gentleness and respect towards women, and how he defended them over and over again, whether before a mob or his own disciples. I thought about how he consistently championed the honest and the lowly over the hypocritical and the rich.

And I took all these qualities and traits and fondnesses of Jesus the Son of God and applied them to his carpentry work. And I thought – Oh, to have just one piece that was created by Jesus! It would have been made with such love and to perfection! There would have been no flaws in it, no cut corners. The foundation would have been true, the joints smooth, and the finish like glass. He would have formed it with the same care and meticulousness as if he were making it for God, because that’s how Jesus was, whether as the son of a carpenter or the Son of God: He did everything as if unto God. And he would always have finished his work on time and to specification.

I thought of all the pieces he possibly made – the cups, the plates, the platters, the bowls, the frames for doorways and the doors themselves, the frames for windows and the shutters themselves. I thought about the furniture – the tables, the chairs, the stools, the cupboards. I thought about how he helped build people’s homes and sheds and barns and fences, and how he helped build the tools to build them. I thought about how he learned to hitch animals to the plow and how those animals would have welcomed Jesus’ gentle touch and low murmurs, thinking this human was different from the others. I thought about all the gifts and toys he would have made as surprises for his family and friends, and for the children in the village, because Jesus would not have made things just for money; he would have made them to help people and to make them happy.

Oh, to have just one piece that Jesus made! But those relics of his carpenter years are long gone. Wood, unless petrified, is not meant to last.

And then my mind took a turn, and I thought about Jesus the Son of God and the hastily hacked, crudely assembled wood pieces that were his execution device. I wonder, as he hung on the cross, if he thought about how poorly the wood was cut, and whether his inner carpenter was appalled at the crudeness of the huge nails and how inappropriate their size was to their use. I can see Jesus – not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, but strong and capable carpenter Jesus – shaking his head at the poor workmanship he had to suffer in his final hours after all those years of striving for perfection. I wonder if he gave God an earful about that, and if they had a good silent chuckle together, the way only a father and son who love each other without restraint can share a laugh even under the direst of circumstances.

You don’t forget the skills that you learn at your father’s feet. The smell of freshly cut wood would have been in Jesus’ blood. It would have been for him the smell of home. And so I think the fragrance of the green wood and the almost comical crudeness of the cross would have brought a measure of comfort and welcome distraction to Jesus in his final agonizing moments in human form. And I think God did all of this for this very reason, to comfort Jesus, and that Jesus was not born the son of a carpenter by chance, but by design.

I remember reading a while back about the ritual gesture carpenters make when they finish a job: They take the cloth that they used to clean the dust from the wood, fold it neatly, and place it to the side of the finished piece. This indicates that the work is done.

When Peter entered the tomb on the third day, he saw the burial cloths lying in a heap together, but the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face was separate, folded neatly and set to one side. Who but a carpenter would have sent such a clear and unmistakable sign not only that his work was accomplished, but that he – the son of a carpenter, the Son of God – had done this?

Nothing happens by chance in God’s economy.

Jesus was a carpenter by design.

LOYALTY TO GOD

Just a reminder that we, as born-again followers of Jesus, live in God’s kingdom on Earth.

Our loyalty should be first and foremost and ONLY to God, as it was for Jesus.

That means we put God before everything and everyone. So if someone asks you to do something that conflicts with what God would want you to do, you say no.

You don’t apologize and you don’t explain; you just say “no”.

God comes before family.

God comes before friends.

God comes before country.

God comes before work.

God comes before possessions, including bank accounts and investments.

 God comes before everything and everyone that is “not God”.

Your full loyalty should be to God and God only.

If your family, friends, country, work, or possessions are somehow coming between you and God, leading you to do something that you know is not right, separate yourself from them.

Remove them from your life.

Put them far, far away from you.

Remember also that Jesus told us not to swear oaths of any kind (including oaths of allegiance), and that our answers should be a simple “yes” or “no”, as “anything more comes from the devil.”

We serve a great God. He deserves all our loyalty, and he will never (unlike people and worldly systems) betray us.

If you make the choice to give God your full loyalty, he will honor your choice by giving back to you a hundred-fold in blessings.

There is no downside in giving your loyalty to God. No other kingdom on Earth – no matter how rich and powerful – can rival God’s kingdom on Earth.

You are blessed beyond measure to be part of it.

When you give your loyalty to God, he gives his loyalty to you.

You make a deal.

(And if you had even the slightest inkling of what that meant, you would be down on your face thanking and worshiping God night and day, like the 24 elders in the book of Revelation.)

Your loyalty should be first and foremost and ONLY to God, as it was for Jesus.

Just a timely reminder for those who need it.