Well, I’m officially crazy: I just baked an organic pizza for the local sea gulls.
Let me explain.
It’s almost Passover, which means it’s also almost the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate the Passover, which includes eating unleavened bread during the meal.
For the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we’re supposed to remove all yeasted products from our home. I had a frozen pizza sitting in my freezer for the past few months, so out it goes (yeast in the crust). But I couldn’t just throw it in the garbage (what a waste!) and I couldn’t give it to the birds frozen (they might complain…), so I baked it for them.
Passover begins this evening at sundown. I wrote last year about how important it is for Christians to celebrate Passover and by extension the Feast of Unleavened Bread. While it’s true we’re no longer under the Law (meaning, we don’t have to sacrifice animals to atone for our sins), God did direct his people to celebrate the Lord’s Passover for all time. It’s a directive that has as much weight as a Commandment.
In keeping the Passover, we commemorate the Hebrews’ final night in Egypt before the Exodus. On that night, the people were directed to eat a special meal in haste and to smear their doorposts with the blood of a slaughtered lamb to protect them from God, who would at midnight “pass over” them and their animals while killing every first-born among the Egyptians. The Passover also involves the reading of certain Bible passages and the singing of psalms, all to be done with shoes on and “loins girded” in expectation of a hasty departure.
Jesus urged his followers to continue keeping the Passover, but to keep it as he showed us during his final meal on Earth. The wine was to represent his blood instead of the ritual lamb’s blood, and the unleavened bread was to represent his body instead of the ritual lamb’s meat. This new Passover meal of Jesus’ blood and body was to commemorate the sacrifice that would take place the next day, with Jesus himself as the sacrificial offering. Remember that, by God’s decree, no bone was to broken in the Passover lamb, so even though the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, they left Jesus’ legs intact.
The Lord’s Passover is a bittersweet festival. As much as it celebrates God’s rescue of his people from slavery, it also commemorates the slaughter of millions of first-borns, including Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I tend to speed through the description of Jesus’ crucifixion as fast as I can when I read the gospels, just as I speed through the description of the slaughter of the firstborns. I don’t think these events should be dwelt on or even looked upon (see what happened to Lot’s wife when she turned to watch the destruction of Sodom). God’s judgement in action can be brutal for those on the receiving end. It’s enough for us to know that it does happen, and that it’s perfect.
I hope you choose to commemorate the Passover as God and Jesus directed us to do. If you still have yeasted products in your home, now’s a good time to remove them. I’m sure you can find some hungry birds who would be only too happy to take them off your hands.
His own people, at the time of his first coming, didn’t recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy because he was of such low birth. How could a carpenter – and the son of a carpenter, at that – be the Messiah? The Israelites had built up in their minds a vision of the Messiah as a great military leader who would overthrow the Roman invaders and fortify the borders of the Promised Land, keeping them safe from their enemies for all time. But Jesus had no intention of instigating a military coup. His kingdom, as he told his followers repeatedly, is a spiritual realm that is not of this world. Those who refused to accept him as Messiah had misinterpreted prophetic scripture because they had hardened their hearts to the truth. In other words, they believed a lie.
Many Christians today also suffer from the same false expectations, and for the same reason. They’ve built up in their minds a vision of end-time scenarios that must unfold, and in so doing have hardened their hearts to everything but the latest popular interpretations of prophetic scripture. Can it be that the exact same worldly misinterpretation of scripture that prevented his own people (the Israelites) from recognizing Jesus as “the one who was to come” is again playing out today for Jesus’ second coming, and again with Jesus’ own people (the Christians)?
Just like 2,000 years ago, people are expecting Jesus to set up a worldly kingdom based on superior (or even supernatural) military strength. I guess the Devil thinks if his lie worked so well the first time around, it will work again, and he’s right. Many have fallen for the same old shtick. And they’ve fallen for it because they’ve hardened their hearts to the truth and read scripture (if they read it at all) through the eyes of the world rather than through the eyes of God’s Holy Spirit.
I have written before about how the lie of Jesus coming back to set up a worldly kingdom is a relatively new misinterpretation of scripture, and how it dovetails nicely with the likewise relatively new misinterpretation of Jesus being God. At the same time, other worldly belief systems are expecting a great leader to establish a powerful earthly kingdom; some even expect that leader to be called “Jesus”. For Christians, scripture had to be slickly “reinterpreted” so that their end-time beliefs align with those of other worldly religions. Considering that most Christians today do actually believe that Jesus is coming back to set up a worldly kingdom, I would say “mission accomplished” to everyone who propagated the lie.
Jesus tells us explicitly to look at Daniel’s prophecy of end times. There is no mention of a benign Messiah setting up a worldly kingdom in the book of Daniel. What we see instead is a series of worldly kingdoms, each one worse than the one before, culminating in a thoroughly evil kingdom that overthrows all others and whose chief accomplishment is the persecution and purging of God’s people. This final kingdom is led by a “vile person” who sets himself up as God and is eventually overthrown. After his demise comes a time of great trouble, followed by the annihilation of the planet.
There is no mention in Daniel of a 1,000-year worldly kingdom led by a Messiah. There are, however, two passages about a kingdom that will be set up in the midst of the other kingdoms, but this kingdom will smash down the others and last forever. Jesus told us to read Daniel. He also told us many times that his kingdom is not of this world. If you read Daniel’s prophecies of the end times and of the kingdom that has no end, and if you take Jesus at his word that his kingdom is a spiritual realm that is not of this world, you will have no choice but to accept that Jesus is not coming back to set up a worldly kingdom.
Jesus himself tells us that he’s coming back in glory – not in a mortal body, but in a heavenly one – and that all eyes will see him when he does come back. He makes zero mention of setting up a kingdom upon his return. What he does say is that he’ll be sending his angels to the four corners of the earth to gather the last of his faithful followers. Paul says that at that time our bodies will change “in an instant” from mortal to immortal (that is, from earthly to glorified). This is what many call the “rapture”, although that phrase doesn’t exist in the Bible. Rapture is just another word for a collective ascension.
The second coming will be in glory and with trumpets blaring, and all eyes will see Jesus, just as all souls, whether believers or not, will know in an instant and beyond a doubt who he is. Those who love and follow him will be gathered by his angels and whisked home to Heaven, while those who hate and reject him will be left behind in a God-less world soon to be destroyed, and mourning forever what they’ve lost.
Read Daniel. Read the gospels. There is no 1,000-year worldly kingdom led by a Messiah in those scriptures. But there is in Daniel a kingdom led by someone posing as God just before the final destruction of the world, and there is in the gospels reminders from Jesus that his kingdom is a spiritual realm and warnings that we should read Daniel about end-time prophecy so that we’re not led astray.
In the end, what you choose to believe is up to you. We all have God-given free will. With my free will, I choose to believe Jesus and to follow his guidance in everything I do, including what I believe about end-time scenarios. I do not believe that Jesus is coming back to Earth to set up a worldly kingdom because Jesus and the Bible tell me he’s not going to do that. If you find a source that says something different and has higher authority than God, Jesus, and Holy Scripture, please let me know.
You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand high and nodding in agreement. Yes, I’m guilty of trying to micromanage God on occasion, making vast and detailed plans that I expect him to follow to the letter. Of course I know I should wait for his inspiration to plan anything, but I still sometimes find myself galloping ahead at full speed and then looking over my shoulder wondering where God is and what’s taking him so long to catch up.
Well, God is right here where he’s always been, and when I do the galloping thing, he’s not going to catch up with me. He’s going to let me keep going on my own until I run out of steam, and then he’s going to very gently haul me back to the starting line and remind me again to wait for his cue and his blessing before I start my run.
Many of us find ourselves running on our own steam, wondering where God is and why he isn’t blessing our efforts. I see this especially in new Christians, just as I saw it in myself when I was first born-again. Truth be told, I was so prone to galloping off in all different directions as a newborn-again that God took away my ability to write for three years. I went from generating a dozen or so pages a day pre-rebirth to generating nothing longer than a grocery list post-rebirth. It was the strangest thing, but I didn’t fight it or question it. When the words finally came again, God gave me the funds to take a year off from work, and I wrote a book called Faith Revolution. I had to learn how to write by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit rather than the goading of the fallen spirits. I never did publish the book in its entirety, but I’ve used parts of it in this blog.
God is a great planner, and we’ve inherited that drive from him. I love making plans so much that I have to remind myself again and again to wait for God’s blessing before formulating the plans past the fantasy stage. If the plans are inspired by God, they come with God’s blessing baked in. That means you don’t have to ask for his blessing; the plans will come pre-approved and everything will fall into place. It’s only when we move ahead without God’s inspiration and therefore without God’s blessing that we fall into trouble.
Jesus did nothing without God’s inspiration. Everything he did was blessed by God because Jesus waited for God’s go-ahead before acting rather than running ahead and expecting God to bless his efforts after the fact. The one time that Jesus got ahead of himself was when he left his parents without telling them and went to Jerusalem to hang out with the temple elders. His parents were frantic, looking everywhere for him and thinking something horrible had happened to him. This is not the outcome of plans blessed by God.
Jesus never did that again to his parents, and I believe it was a very teachable moment for him about the importance of waiting for God’s signal. In fact, he learned his lesson so well that years later, when the time actually came for him to start his ministry work, his mother had to gently push him to start. The outcome was his first miracle of turning water into wine.
We need to wait for God’s inspiration and direction if we want similarly good outcomes for our efforts. It’s OK to make plans (sometimes there’s more pleasure in making plans than in actually doing them), but before you put anything into action, make sure it’s inspired by God and not just a figment of your imagination. You’ll know it’s inspired by God because it will unfold easily and without resistance. Things will just fall into place as if they were meant to be, because they are.
Your job in God’s great and perfect plan is to be ready and willing for whatever God knows you can handle. Let him know you’re waiting for his signal, and then leave the details and timing to God.
Wait on the Lord:
Be of good courage, and he will strengthen thine heart:
Wait, I say, on the Lord. (Psalm 27)
A big part of being born-again is witnessing our faith. God wants us not only to be a believer but to share our belief with the believing and unbelieving world. But what does “witnessing” actually mean? Is it giving a formal or informal presentation, like a speech or a lecture? Is it cornering unbelieving friends and relatives and grilling them on their sins? Is it going door to door or standing on a street corner handing out pamphlets to strangers?
Most Christians believe that witnessing is something you do extraneous to your everyday life, something special that you prepare in advance. But the truth is, witnessing is what you do all day, every day: In other words, it’s your life.
With our every word and every deed and every thought and every click, we witness before God and before the world of believers and unbelievers. We also witness before the spiritual realm of the fallen (whose sole goal is to get us to lose our grace), and before artificial intelligence algorithms that follow us around cyberspace and real space through internet-connected devices. Witnessing is not something you prepare in advance or do “special” – it’s everything you do. It’s how you spend your waking hours in the sight of other people, but also (and more importantly) what you do when you think no-one sees you.
That is your witness. You witness before God, people, fallen spirits, and advanced technology. When I was an atheist, one of the main reasons I dismissed Christianity was the witness of the people I knew who called themselves Christians. Sure, they went to “church” every Sunday, but Monday to Saturday they lived like me, and I was deep in sin. They never preached to me or tried to slip me a pamphlet – they just lived sinful lives in front of me. That was their witness.
We need to be aware of this. And we especially need to be aware that what we do behind closed doors, online, and in our head is just as much part of our witness as what we do in public. There is no “OFF” button to witnessing.
ARE YOU BORN AGAIN? This may seem a strange question to ask readers of a blog that is intended for born-again believers, but ask it I must. You don’t have to answer me. I’m not looking for an outward answer. You need to answer within yourselves.
Jesus said that we need to be born again. He said that if we’re not born again, we can’t see the Kingdom and can’t enter into it. And if we can’t see the Kingdom and can’t enter into it, we won’t make it home.
That’s why the question of whether or not you’re born again is so important and needs to be asked, even on a blog that’s written for born-again believers.
And if you’ve answered with “No” or “I think I am” or “I’m not sure”, you need to drop everything you’re doing and focus entirely on getting reborn.
Spiritual rebirth is not something that you can arrange like a play date. You can’t order spiritual rebirth online. You can’t buy it – not with all the money in the world – and you can’t learn it from all the world’s wisdom. Even your minister or priest can’t make you born again, no matter how hard they try. Spiritual rebirth, as John tells us, comes from the will of God only, not from the will of man.
So how can you get born again?
And the answer is: Ask God.
Since God is in charge of spiritual rebirth, it only makes sense to ask him how to get reborn.
Spiritual rebirth happens at a time and place of God’s choosing. It won’t happen simply because you want it or because you recite something or do an altar call. I’ve had arguments with people about this. I’ve also had arguments with people who claim that spiritual rebirth is a long drawn-out process that happens over time rather than an instantaneous miracle. Gestation happens over time, yes, but birth happens suddenly and with a great cry and push. It’s the same with spiritual rebirth. The long process of spiritual gestation is not rebirth: the great final cry and push that brings a new being into life is rebirth.
Ask a mother who still has a child in her womb whether her baby’s been born. She’ll look at you all kinds of strange. The same holds true for spiritual rebirth. The born-again soul is something entirely different from the soul that is still gestating.
Many people who claim to be born again are actually in a state of spiritual gestation. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not rebirth, so it’s not enough. Jesus said you must be born again. If you stop at the gestation stage, it will be no different than if you’d lived a life of unrepentant sin and died unrepentant. You’ll be like the people Jesus mentions in scripture who knock at the Master’s door, trying desperately to get in and saying: “We’ve eaten and drunk at your table, and you’ve taught in our streets”, to which the Master responds: “I never knew you.”
Imagine the horror of hearing Jesus say to you on Judgement Day “I never knew you”, knowing that because he never knew you, you weren’t going to Heaven.
I can’t think of anything worse.
And at that point, it will be too late to get to know to Jesus.
If your aim is Heaven, you need to be born again while you’re still on Earth. There is no other way to get where you want to go. Jesus says those who try to climb up some other way rather than entering through the door will not make it home. Jesus is the door, and God’s Way is how you enter.
If you’re not born-again, you need to let God know that you want to be born again. You need to let him know that you want a relationship with him as your Dad and with Jesus as your Lord, teacher, brother, and best friend. You can only have these relationships if you’re born again, and if you don’t have them, you won’t make it home. It’s that simple.
So I ask you one more time: ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?
Don’t tell me the answer. Tell yourself. And if your response isn’t a resounding “YES, THANK GOD!”, tell God in prayer that you want to be reborn. Then make being born again your one and only priority until you are.
I’m paraphrasing here, but Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) once said that it wasn’t the obscure parts of the Bible that troubled him, it was the parts that were plain and clear and that he knew he wasn’t abiding by.
Jesus taught people in two ways: in parables for those who were still on the spiritual fence, and plainly for those who could handle the truth.
One of the plainest verses in the New Testament is about what to do when you get the order from God to flee. Let’s look at it:
“Let no one on the housetop come down to retrieve anything from his house. And let no one in the field return for his cloak.” (Matthew 24:17-18)
Jesus says straight out what to expect and what to do. He doesn’t say “if you have time, go back and get what you need”, he tells us don’t even think about going back, not even for your coat.
So how does this plain-spoken warning from Jesus align with so-called Christian prepping? It doesn’t. A whole industry has grown up around “Christian end-time survival” that flies in the face of Jesus’ teachings on fleeing at a moment’s notice and with just the clothes on your back.
Jesus lived the last three years of his life on the run. He was constantly under threat of arrest, he had no possessions other than what he wore, and he never stayed for more than a few days in any one place. And yet so-called Christian preppers are, for instance, trying to sell you seeds that presumably you’re going to need more than a few days to plant, grow, and harvest. Or do you think God wants us to go on the run clutching an armful of potted tomatoes?
Let me be plain here. When things get really crazy over the next few years and the persecutions ramp up against those who won’t accept the “new normal” world order, you won’t be planting seeds, and if you do, you won’t be hanging around to watch them grow. You’ll be on the run, like Jesus, and the only thing you’ll be watching is your back to see who’s gaining on you. Whatever preps you’ve stockpiled you’ll have to leave behind for someone else. God will provide for you on the run, like he did for Jesus. But forget about bugging out to a fully-stocked and fortified bunker where you’ll be left in peace to ride out the coming purge. It ain’t gonna happen that way – not for you, and not for any real Christian.
Christian preppers are living in a fantasy world. Don’t fall for their lies. If you want to survive what’s coming, you’ll have to live like Jesus – ready to leave at a moment’s notice, constantly on the run, and traveling light. And while you’re on the run, you’ll be preaching and teaching and modeling the Word. The prepper lifestyle and the Christian-on-the-run lifestyle are dead opposite.
My advice on how to “prep” for what’s coming? Let me be plain-spoken, like Jesus: We need to do less stockpiling and more abiding by what’s in the Bible.
Jesus tells us to be offended in nothing. My grandmother used to call this “water off a duck’s back” or having a “thick skin”. But today we live in an age when being offended is a full-time job and considered a social virtue. Rather than to let the offence slide off us like water, we’re encouraged to trumpet it across every form of media and to never let it go.
We born-agains, however, are not to do that. Jesus tells us we’re to be offended in nothing and to love those who try to offend us. We do this by forgiving them, blessing them, and praying for them.
Again – we’re to be offended in nothing.
In a wolf pack, the alphas are the lead male and female, and the omegas are the lowly scapegoats. The alphas get to lord over the pack, eat first, make the decisions, and breed. The omegas, on the other hand, get sneered at by the rest of the pack, are bullied and beaten, are last in line for food, and never get to breed. That’s the agreement, anyway, within the pack. All the wolves have their established roles to play: the alphas are first, and the omegas are last.
In scripture, we read that God is “Alpha and Omega, first and last”. For years I assumed it meant that God was at the beginning of time and will be at the end of time, and endures forever. I saw “Alpha” and “Omega” as a chronological thing. But when I read about the wolf pack pecking order, I remembered what Jesus told us in the gospels – that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” – and I saw the scriptural concept of Alpha and Omega in a whole new light.
So I did a little more digging into the traits of omega wolves, and what I found was jaw-dropping. While most of the omegas are submissive by character (that is, they’re born that way), every now and then an omega comes along that has a whole different agenda. This omega is the “dark horse”, the wild card, the one that’s temporarily agreed to the lowly position because the role he was born to play (alpha) is currently occupied. These omegas are submissive only to avoid conflict and to halt the chain of aggression. Over time, some of them will leave to start another pack as the alpha, some will leave to become the fabled lone wolf, and some will eventually rise to challenge their own alphas and take over the pack.
Far from being a weakling or a pushover, the “wild card” omegas are the quintessential free spirits. They don’t fit into the wolf hierarchy and so choose to remain on the fringes, biding their time. They permit the other wolves to abuse them not because they’re weak, but because the abuse is inconsequential to them. They’re offended in nothing. They have a thick skin and another agenda.
When he came out as the Messiah at the start of his ministry, Jesus adopted the role of omega. There was no room for an alpha Messiah in the deeply entrenched hierarchy of Judaism, any more than there was room for Jesus in Bethlehem at his birth. And so he was pushed to the edges of established religion and hounded and mocked by the temple alphas, all the while playing the role of a lowly itinerant preacher, the son of a lowly carpenter, all the while biding his time, knowing who he was in God’s eyes, and one by one gathering a new pack around him.
God is the Creator and Lord over all, and yet he permits people to curse him, to disobey his commands, to act as if he doesn’t exist, and to destroy his creation. He permits all this not because he’s weak, but because he’s patient. He’s biding his time. God could easily stop all human acts of cruelty and stupidity, but then he wouldn’t be honoring his promise of free will to us. And so the Eternal Alpha Of All Alphas plays the lowly role of Omega, just as Jesus the Messiah played the lowly role of omega, and just as we, as Jesus’ followers, play the lowly role of omegas in the world, turning the other cheek not because we’re weak, but because we’re offended in nothing.
It takes more strength to endure abuse and not to return it than to be an abuser. It takes more strength to be patient than to lash out. We born-agains are spiritual alphas who appear to the world as lowly omegas because we’re offended in nothing, and we love our enemies, and we submit to offences. If our Lord and Creator can play the role of Omega when it serves his good purpose, and if Jesus could play the role of omega to further the Kingdom, then we should have no problem playing omegas for our short time on Earth.
We know who we are in God’s eyes. We know who we are in God’s Kingdom. What the world thinks of us is just water off a duck’s back.
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.
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.
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.