He sat slumped in his chair in the waiting hall at Toronto Union Station’s bus terminal. It was already past midnight when I arrived and first noticed him. His pale green hospital johnny shirt, with multiple ties at the back, was the first thing I saw – that, and his bare feet splayed on the cold shiny floor with toenails as long as a coke nail. His upper torso, as he later rather proudly revealed to me, was a patchwork of surgical interventions, the most recent being bright red scars from a pacemaker implant. He was wearing a hospital bracelet. He claimed to be drunk. He also claimed to be undergoing treatment for blood cancer and to be a high-end, in-demand computer programmer (which he may well have been, since he seemed to know all the jargon). He didn’t appear drunk to me and I have no idea whether he was actually undergoing treatment for cancer, but I took him at his word. He seemed honest enough.
We talked for at least two hours. After a while, I didn’t notice the johnny shirt or the bare feet anymore, he was so down-to-earth and engaging. He had the usual problems many middle-aged men have today – messy divorce, vindictive ex-wife, problems getting access to his kids, a drained bank account from lawyers’ fees and support payments. His days, as he told me, were mostly filled with doctors’ visits and cancer treatment sessions. He didn’t say why he was wearing a johnny shirt, and I didn’t ask. His plan was to move back to Ottawa (his hometown) with the financial assistance of his sister, and to start his life over. His plan was to get healthy. His plan was to take a job offered to him in the U.S. His plan was to take a job offered to him just yesterday in Germany. His plan was to start his own business, move to Portugal, and ogle bikini-babes on the beach.
Then reality intervened in the form of four burly police officers. They were the night sweeping crew whose job was to sweep out of the waiting hall everyone who didn’t have a reason to be there. I had a ticket for a 5:29 a.m. bus to Niagara Falls and stated permission from the station staff to be there, so I allegedly had a reason: I was grudgingly allowed to stay. My barefoot johnny-shirted friend, on the other hand, had no such reason. He, along with a dozen or so others, were unceremoniously swept out into the cold dark night. It was around 2:30 in the morning.
I doubt I’ll ever see him again.
My travels often take me places I don’t anticipate. I work as I go, not knowing even a few days in advance where I’ll end up. This often puts me in places like bus stations and airports overnight as I wait for my transportation connection early the next day. It also puts me face-to-face with people I’d otherwise never have a chance to meet or share a word with. I am always astonished at how different the opinions of these people are compared to the alleged prevailing norms fed to us by mainstream media.
A few weeks ago, I overnighted at an airport, waiting for my early a.m. transportation connection. It wasn’t my favourite thing to do, so I asked God if he’d do something to mitigate it, to make the time go by faster and more pleasantly. When I arrived, I found only one sleepable bench (that is, one without intervening armrests) available in the airport’s landside waiting hall, with a woman already camped out on the attached bench behind it. She was talking on her phone, and we nodded a quick greeting, but otherwise minded our own business. But because she was seated so close to me, I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation and wonder what language she was speaking. It sounded like a cross between Arabic and Hebrew. When she got off the phone, we exchanged pleasantries, and I asked her if she was speaking Hebrew. As it turned out, she had been speaking Aramaic.
Aramaic is the language Jesus spoke during his time on Earth. It was the language he spoke at home and the language he preached and taught in. It was the language he spoke to God in.
The woman told me she was from a Christian-majority village in Iraq. Her family had migrated to Canada, the US, Australia, France and Germany. Her mother was in Canada, and the woman had just flown in from Frankfurt to attend to her on her deathbed. She didn’t expect her mother to live beyond the next few days.
Given the situation and the time (it was well past midnight when I’d arrived), our conversation was muted but intense. What do you say to someone in this situation? Despite her apparent jet lag and the sobering reason for her visit to Canada, the woman was remarkably calm and in good spirits. She said she’d been praying during her flight. I told her I would pray for her, too, and for her mother and the rest of her family. She taught me a few words in Aramaic (such as how to say “Jesus” as his mother would have said it) and at some point, exhausted but feeling like giggly friends at a sleepover, we both fell asleep.
At around 4 a.m., I was gently shaken awake by the woman. She whispered that she was leaving to catch her flight, but that she wanted to give me something as a token of the time we’d spent together. She handed me a tiny silver angel on a worn string, which she told me she’d carried with her everywhere for years. She now wanted to give it to me.
I took it as a gift, and it remains with me to this day. I attribute no powers to it, but it reminds of the woman and her mother and our impromptu midnight language lesson. Of all the people I could have sat next to – and of all the languages she could have spoken – it had to be a Christian woman who spoke the language of Jesus.
It was by far the best night I’d ever spent at an airport.
God clearly had a hand in it.
“Ask and ye shall receive.”
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
“Do I have a choice?” My words were curt, but the broad smile on my face showed I was only kidding.
“No,” he responded just as curtly and with as big a smile, “I guess you don’t”.
With that, he settled into the seat next to me, stretched out his legs, and made himself comfortable. We were on a mini-bus heading up from Moncton to Campbellton, a small town in northern New Brunswick. He’d gotten on at a whistle stop about two hours south of Campbellton, which he later told me he works and lives in during the week. On the weekends, he goes home to his reservation just outside Campbellton.
I’d been to the area a few times already in my travels over the years and I was looking forward to visiting again. The region, situated along a river estuary on the north Atlantic, is well known for its seafood industry, especially salmon. I have a particular love for Atlantic salmon because the water the fish live in is so cold, they have to fatten up to survive. The fat is what gives them their distinctive and (to me) incomparably delicious flavour.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to buy wild-caught Atlantic salmon now. Most of the salmon commercially available is farmed and tastes nothing like the wild variety. A moratorium on wild salmon (and other fish) has been ongoing in the Atlantic region for over 30 years. The only fishers exempt from the moratorium are Canada’s aboriginals.
Which brings me back to my bus seat-mate. As we rolled and bumped along the pot-holed highway in the dark, he regaled me with stories of growing up on the reservation and learning how to hunt and fish and other survival skills. He claimed to be able to live off the land, if he had to. He also told me about an aboriginal-run store just outside Campbellton that sells wild salmon caught fresh that morning, along with the smoked variety. My mouth watered just thinking about it. During my last visit to Campbellton, some locals I’d spoken to mentioned the store, but they’d said it was a ways outside town, and I had no means of getting there.
This is one of the reasons I travel – to learn from locals. Sure, you can talk to people working at tourist information centres (many of whom may be locals), but they usually have to stay on script and are paid to push certain attractions.
I travel because I can and because I have to. I can’t always sit still in one place. Like a migrating animal, I move to satisfy my most pressing needs, which in my case are almost always cheap rent and good quality cheap food.
Jesus moved around a lot, too, but not necessarily for cheap rent and good food. He moved around to feed the hungry the only food they really needed. I move around to feed my loner’s soul. Feeding the hungry I can do anywhere from virtual space.
Der Aufbruch (German)
Ich befahl mein Pferd aus dem Stall zu holen. Der Diener verstand mich nicht. Ich ging selbst in den Stall, sattelte mein Pferd und bestieg es. In der Ferne hörte ich eine Trompete blasen, ich fragte ihn, was das bedeutete. Er wusste nichts und hatte nichts gehört. Beim Tore hielt er mich auf und fragte: »Wohin reitet der Herr?«
»Ich weiß es nicht«, sagte ich, »nur weg von hier, nur weg von hier. Immerfort weg von hier, nur so kann ich mein Ziel erreichen.«
»Du kennst also dein Ziel«, fragte er.
»Ja«, antwortete ich, »ich sagte es doch: ›Weg-von-hier‹ – das ist mein Ziel.«
The Departure (English)
I ordered my horse to be brought form the stables. The servant did not understand my orders. So I went to the stables myself, saddled my horse, and mounted. In the distance I heard the sound of a trumpet, and I asked the servant what it meant. He knew nothing and had heard nothing. At the gate he stopped and asked: “Where is the master going?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “just out of here, just out of here. Out of here, nothing else, it’s the only way I can reach my goal.”
“So you know your goal?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve just told you. Out of here – that’s my goal.”
(Excerpted from Franz Kafka’s Der Aufbruch)
“I’m a warrior”, my Campbellton-bound seatmate informed me. “That’s my heritage. Warrior. I come from a long line of warriors.” The guy at the Toronto bus station had said the same thing of me. He called me a warrior. He said I was out there fighting the good fight. I’m not sure what he meant or how he could have known anything beyond what I’d mentioned casually in passing. Most of our conversation was about him. He said his favorite movie was “Gladiator”, and whenever he was feeling down, he’d watch the movie. It energized him.
I vaguely recalled seeing the movie and thinking that killing and taking revenge are no way to get to Heaven, but I said nothing to johnny-shirt guy. Even just the thought of the movie seemed to make him happy, and who was I to take that away from him?
We are all warriors, some braver than others, but all in the same battle for our souls. How we wage that war and the weapons we use is up to us. Our battle isn’t over until we leave this plane of existence, though many of us will stop fighting and wave the white flag long before that. Many of us will declare defeat long before that, just as many of us will declare victory prematurely, only to be shot down in flames.
How is your battle going? Do you stand and fight, or do you move around like I do, like Jesus did, dodging the slings and arrows and feeding those who come to you in sincerity? If you’re here reading this, you’re still fighting. No-one who’s read this far isn’t a warrior.
“I feel so good!” he shouted to no-one and everyone, his voice filled with joy. “I stopped drinking and found the Lord. I’ve never felt so good in my life!”
He stood amidst the bus bays at the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal, a still point among the bustle of morning commuters. He was dressed in filthy rags and leaning on his grocery cart piled high with bulging tattered black garbage bags. Obviously, with that cart, he wasn’t getting on a bus. His job that morning seemed to be informing the commuters about the state of his soul. Most ignored him, but I felt a surge of love that propelled me to go over to him.
“Is Jesus your Lord?”, I asked him, just to make sure we were on the same page.
His face lit up at the mention of the Word. “Yes, Jesus,” he nodded vigorously. “Jesus saved me. I feel so good! I stopped drinking without any 12-step program. Jesus did that.”
He looked like he’d been on the street a long time. He looked like he’d been in the worst of the trench warfare and was still deep in it. But his wide toothless smile was genuine and the glow of his face was not something that came from a bottle or a needle. It came straight from God.
“I love you,” I told him without thinking. The words just poured out. My confession seemed to startle him and he looked almost fearfully at me.
“I mean I love you like a sister”, I explained. “Jesus is my Lord, too, so we’re family. You’re my brother.”
“Then I love you”, he said shyly but with the same joy as his earlier declarations. “I love you, too. You’re my sister.” He seemed happy to say that. He seemed happy to have a sister.
We chatted for a bit about God and Jesus and what they’d done for us, and then my bus pulled up and I reluctantly waved him good-bye.
As I rolled away, I could hear him declaring his joy again to anyone and everyone who had ears to hear.
I had the distinct impression I’d just met Lazarus.
A TALE OF TWO HALLOWEENS
“On Halloween night, I’ll be knocking on your door or ringing your doorbell. I’ll be looking for treats. You’ll know it’s me, because I’ll be hollering “TRICK OR TREAT!” while holding out my treat bag for you to drop the treats in. That’s all I’m interested in – treats. Lots and lots and lots of treats. I’m not in it for anything else. If you like my costume, that’s great, but it’s not the main thing. The main thing is that you give me treats. That’s what Halloween is all about for me.”
“On Halloween night, I won’t come knocking on your door or ringing your bell, but I might lurk around back, in the shadows. You might see me or you might not. I won’t say a word, or if I do, I won’t speak above a hoarse whisper. I might wrap the tree in your front yard in toilet paper; I might smash your lovingly carved pumpkin on your front walk; I might even egg your windows. I’m here to do mischief, or worse. That’s because I’m a trickster from a long line of tricksters, reaching all the way back to the chief Trickster himself. It’s not your attention I’m trying to get; it’s your soul. That’s what Halloween is all about for me.”
I read online that the most popular costume in the United States this Halloween is a witch’s costume. It seems that females of all ages are being drawn to masquerade as Satan’s concubines. This, of course, is nothing new; I dressed up as a witch when I was a kid, way back in the early 1970s. But I was a kid, seven years old. When adults don the gear of a Satan devotee, that’s different. That’s a different kind of Halloween. Kids’ choices shouldn’t be confused with adults’ choices, just as kids’ Halloween shouldn’t be confused with adults’ Halloween.
When I was seven years old, I did not dress up as a witch to be sexy or evil; I just thought it would be fun and easy to do, since I already had the “witchy” long hair. All I needed was a homemade cone hat, a crepe-paper cape, a yard broom, and I was good to go. It wasn’t about the costume, anyway; for me, it was all about the treats.
Which is why we have to acknowledge that there are two Halloweens going on simultaneously – one is for and by kids and has God’s seal of approval; the other is for and by adults, and has Satan’s seal of approval.
We must never confuse the two Halloweens or attribute evil where none exists, any more than we should attribute innocence where none exists.
Kids see Halloween as a free treat bonanza. Full stop. So give them treats when they come knocking on your door or ringing your doorbell. They’re kids, for Heaven’s sake, and they don’t want to hear your long boring convoluted (and, let’s face it, half-hearted) excuse why you don’t want to give them any treats. They’re not worshiping Satan. It’s not a slippery slope into demon worship for them to ask for treats. They just want some treats. That’s it. So give them treats. If nothing else, you owe them big time, considering all the treats that you were ungrudgingly given at Halloween when you were a kid.
But adults – adults are another story. I don’t support adults ‘celebrating’ Halloween as an adult event that’s mainly about vandalism, drinking and drugging to excess, dressing provocatively, and looking for love in all the wrong places. This is not an event I can get behind. And don’t get me started on the wannabe witches and other assorted Satan worshipers who do their rituals and spells and sacrifices behind closed doors. Adults’ Halloween has nothing to do with kids’ Halloween. The two events should never be confused; they happen on the same night, but they’re completely different celebrations with completely different motivations and goals.
Maybe, since they’re such completely different celebrations, they should be renamed to something like “HOLLER-WEEN” (for the kids) and “HELL-O-WEEN” (for the adults).
I would never shoo treat-seeking kids away from my door. I would only turn off my porch light if I were out of treats (may that horror never come to pass!). I would never leave the lights off as a signal that kids weren’t welcome.
Many Christian communities this year are out in full self-righteous regalia, wagging their fingers at those of us who welcome the little ones. I wonder what Jesus would have done in the same circumstance?
Oh, that’s right, we don’t have to wonder. Scripture shows us that he always welcomed the little ones wherever he was and whatever he was doing, even when they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. And even (and especially) when some adults were miffed at their presence.
Maybe Christians should stop seeing a devil in every doorknob. Kids’ Halloween is all about the treats, so welcome the kids with open arms and give ‘em treats!
THE THORNY ISSUE OF HUMAN SUFFERING
Over the years of keeping this blog, I’ve aimed to keep things real. Jesus kept it real when he talked about the Kingdom, and so do I. At the same time, I’ve steered clear of providing overly personal details. They just don’t belong on a public forum; too many bad actors lurking in the wings.
Paul, I think, also had the same informal policy of keeping things real while avoiding making his letters read like confessionals. So when he made a single reference to the “thorn in the flesh” he’d been suffering, the nature of that thorn instantly became a target of speculation.
Two thousand years later, we’re still wondering what it was.
Paul never went into detail about his “thorn”, other than to say he asked God three times to take it away and he refused. God’s reason for refusing Paul’s request was that his strength could work better through Paul’s weakness, and so the thorn remained lodged in Paul’s flesh (we can assume) until the day he went Home.
I mention all this because I’ve been going through some things over the past few weeks. It’s nothing serious, but it brought to mind Paul’s thorn. God doesn’t like to see his children suffer, but he also knows what’s best for us (and what’s best for us is to have God’s strength working through us at maximum capacity). Over the past couple of days, when my thorn started to expand in scope, I was like “Daddy, WTH??!” He laughed, as he always does at my total lack of self-filter (I keep things as real with God as I do with anyone else – no point in trying to hide my thoughts from someone who can read them), and he told me it’s for my benefit and I should just let it proceed. Considering there’s nothing that any human can do for my particular thorn, letting it proceed was my only alternative if prayers didn’t work, and so my own personal thorn in the flesh proceeds. For how long, I don’t know, but if it’s for life, it’s for life: It’s now entirely in God’s hands.
Instead of praying to God to take it away, I now pray to God to help me endure it without complaint (major challenge, that!). The less of me and the more of God, the better.
The role and purpose of suffering is not something that most believers want to talk about. Even some born-agains want to believe that God doesn’t want them sick or otherwise incapacitated, that he put doctors there for their benefit, and they should liberally avail themselves of their services. I don’t happen to agree with that mindset, as I’ve mentioned here over the years. If we come to a time of suffering and try to avoid it by running to doctors or other “experts”, all we’ll accomplish is to shift the suffering to another aspect of our lives. We don’t get out of due suffering because we reject it. And yes, God does permit us to suffer occasionally, as we see with Jesus and with Paul and with all the saints and martyrs throughout the ages. But he’ll take our earthly suffering, work through it, strengthen us, and then use it to our eternal benefit.
That’s not to say you should seek out suffering to get spiritual brownie points. You should never do that. Jesus didn’t seek out his time of suffering and in fact tried to find a way around it. Paul didn’t seek out his thorn and prayed to God to take it away. That is the natural, intuitive, and sane response to the prospect of suffering. Those who purposely look to suffer or pray for God to send them suffering – well, God might well give them what they’ve asked for, but there will be precious little redemptive quality in their pain. Asking God to make you suffer is just plain stupid; if you do that, you have your reward, as Jesus would say (and don’t expect anything else from God).
We live in an age when nearly every infirmity of the flesh can be overcome by medical or other interventions. That’s a shame, because most of the thorns God permits to impact us were intended for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us. Suffering teaches patient endurance and provokes charity in others. But if that’s true, why did Jesus heal so many people? Why didn’t he just let them suffer?
We know, from the case of the man whose blindness was healed, that Jesus performed many of his miracles to glorify God. They were meant as a sign that Jesus was sent from God and was the Prophet foretold by Moses in his farewell speech. Then what about their suffering? When Jesus healed them, did they lose their eternal benefit in suffering?
Not at all. God is faithful in everything he does. If he removes one type of suffering, he’ll replace it with another, if another is warranted. We can see that already with the man whose blindness was healed – he ended up being kicked out of the synagogue and becoming an outcast in his home and community, simply for telling the religious authorities that Jesus had healed him. So his suffering continued, just in a different way.
Likewise, the due suffering of those who’ve turned to worldly interventions to remove or mitigate their thorns will come out in another way. We cannot escape what we’ve earned: We either suffer now or we suffer later.
Are you going through some form of suffering or weakness? Have you asked God to remove it or in some way mitigate it? If so, what was his response?
Accepting the measure of whatever God permits us to endure now ultimately pays it forward into our heavenly reward. If you have a thorn in your flesh, first ask God to remove it or at least to mitigate it; if God suggests you should instead learn to endure it so that he can work through it to strengthen you, take his advice.
Jesus did. Paul did.
So should we.
About 15 years ago, I had a stint of homelessness as a result of some bad things I’d done (not on purpose, but still bad). God punishes his children just as he punishes everyone else. Actually, he punishes his children more, because they should know better. We’re supposed to set a good example.
Being homeless, I spent a lot of time outdoors that year, and being outdoors, I saw a lot of things I hadn’t seen before. One of those things was a murmuration of starlings that took place at a local ballpark in the town where I was living at the time.
I’d gone to the park to catch the last of the day’s rays. It was late September, and the evenings were starting to get chilly. Warm sunshine was becoming a precious commodity again, as it did every fall when the threat of a Canadian winter hit home.
There was no-one at the ballpark except me and some guy who was staring at his phone. I was sitting at the top of the bleachers, eyes closed and face uptilted to the sun. It was one of my favourite perches and one of my favourite pastimes. I found the warmth deeply soothing. Every now and then, I’d open my eyes to see where the sun was in relation to the horizon, to gauge how much more warmth was left in the day.
As I did that, by and by I started to notice birds flocking far off in the distance. I couldn’t tell what kind of birds they were, but I could see them moving towards me, following the long curved line of the railway tracks. They would swoop in from all directions and perch on the power lines next to the tracks, gathering at what looked like muster points. The smaller flocks would wait for the larger flock to fly in from the previous muster point and then join forces with it, the larger flock growing larger and larger and closer and closer with each additional flock. By the time the combined flock – tens of thousands strong – was close enough for me to see they were starlings, the show had already begun.
I had never seen a murmuration live before. I’d certainly never been in the midst of one. As I sat bolt upright on my bleacher seat, eyes wide open, the birds did their famous swooping ballet over my head. What struck me, besides the almost deafening rustling of their wings and the rushing whirlwind they created by their movements as they dipped and swooped in unison around the park, was the sheer joy they were expressing in their synchronized dance. You could tell they were having a blast doing what they were doing, and I can imagine they’d waited all day for this (the younger birds excitedly asking the older ones: “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?”). This was clearly the highlight of their day and they were giving it all they had. They put their whole heart and soul into it.
At some point, I glanced over at the guy with the phone and saw that he was as awestruck as I was by what was taking place over our heads. We sat in silence, our mouths hanging open and our heads shaking back and forth, not knowing what to say. But no words were needed. I was crying without realizing I was crying.
Finally, God gave the signal, and the lead birds headed off to a grove of trees next to the ballpark. The other birds followed behind them, separating into smaller and smaller flocks as they settled onto their chosen branches across dozens of giant stately pines. There was a brief fluttering of settling and resettling, and then the birds grew quiet. They were tuckered out by their performance. The sun had set. Now was time for sleep.
God’s hand was all over that show. He was directing the birds as much as he was guiding and energizing them. It was his Spirit that filled them with such obvious elation as they swooped and dipped and climbed higher and higher, only to swoop and dip some more. It was his Spirit that filled me and the phone guy with such awe. It was his Spirit that made me cry.
I will never forget the great gift of being part of the murmuration. The phone guy and I were not just watching it; we were part of it. The birds came close enough to us that we could have reached out and touched them, but none of them so much as brushed a wing against our cheeks. They acknowledged our presence and invited us to share in their joy. We swooped and dipped and climbed higher and higher with them in Spirit.
And if we make it to Heaven, we’ll be out there flying with them not only in Spirit, but in reality.
(“Is it time yet? Is it time yet?!!”)
HAVE YOU BEEN DUPED BY A FALSE PROPHET?
It’s easy to fool the gullible, and unfortunately most people who consider themselves Christians are highly gullible. Why is that? Because of those who consider themselves Christians, most are not actually Christian, and of those who are, many don’t know scripture and/or don’t know God.
We, as born-again believers, should be none of the above, and if we are, we need to attend to it immediately.
I do not name names here. God knows who the false prophets are; no need to name and shame them. Suffice to say if they charge you money for books or videos that (allegedly) teach you about God’s Kingdom, they’re false prophets. If they solicit donations for any type of project, they’re false prophets. If they solicit donations for their ministry, they’re false prophets. If they charge you even an honorarium to preach at your church or organization, they’re false prophets.
Many will come with grandiose stories of how they became followers of Jesus. They also come with equally grandiose stories of their sordid past, which they unhesitatingly share in gory detail. Rather than simply to say “I was a sinner”, they provide enough background information to write a novel. It’s as if they’re proud of how ‘bad’ they were. Those who genuinely reborn don’t want to talk about how they used to be. They’re ashamed of it. That part of them is dead and gone and buried. It suffices for the genuinely born-again to say “I did horrible things”, and to let the rest be.
I came across a video yesterday featuring a false prophet. As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew he wasn’t speaking on God’s authority. He claimed to be a former Satanist, and yet I had the distinct impression that he still served the dark powers. Everything he said was like a punchline rather than a revelation. He provided immense detail on his years as a Satanist. This should not be. We do not need to know any details about Satanism, and yet this man’s testimony could easily pique the interest of those who are weak in faith. His testimony was like a peephole into Satanism, whereas if he were genuinely reborn, it should be like a brick wall or a bulwark barring even the mention of the term.
It is easy to fall under the spell of someone who claims to have been saved from the clutches of the evil one. We want to rejoice with a newfound brother or sister and to welcome them into the family. We want to share our love of God and Jesus with those who likewise want to share their love with us. And yet our desire to see God’s saving grace working through people in real time makes us vulnerable to deception.
Which is why Jesus warned us that “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” and Paul advised us to test the spirits. We should never simply take someone at his or her word, no matter how successful or established the ministry or how sincere the false prophet claims to be. Jesus says that the Way is narrow and few find it, and that we’d know them by their fruit. What is the fruit of the false prophet? Nearly always mammon. Everything they do is done with the intention of gathering more adherents, as more adherents translates into more money.
Too many Christians today are bedazzled by seeming angels of light, but this is not a new phenomenon; Paul was dealing with it already 2000 years ago. Test the spirits. Take no-one at their word; compare their testimony against scripture. If something seems “off” about someone, it’s probably because it is. We live in an age of great deception, and followers of Jesus are the primary targets.
But what is the end goal of false prophets, beyond acquiring wealth and fame? Satan uses them to lure believers into accepting false teachings. He also uses them to lure believers away from reading the Bible for themselves and to focus on the false prophet rather than on God and Jesus. The mission of the deceived then becomes to serve the false prophet and the false prophet’s church or organization rather than to serve God as a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, the purpose of a false prophet is to lure souls away from God, especially born-again ones.
Are you under the spell of a false prophet? I was, years ago, as a very young born-again believer. I bought the books and the videos, I made the “love donations”, I faithfully watched all the programs on TV and attended the daily services until little by little, what I saw didn’t add up (or rather, what I saw added up to something that didn’t align with scripture or my own personal experience as a convert). That’s the thing about false prophets – they’ll always give themselves away, sooner or later. They’re a test as much as a temptation, and it’s up to us to discern them as such.
Don’t be ashamed if you’ve fallen for the wiles of a false prophet. They’re very good at what they do. Our essential human impulse is to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why psychopaths have such an easy run. Keep in mind, too, that many false prophets sincerely believe in what they’re doing, not as believers, but as people who are (as they see it) giving hope and spreading joy, using Jesus and God as their shtick.
In the end, God can use anything to our benefit, including false prophets. My firsthand experience in falling for false prophets actually drove me to read the Old Testament for myself (rather than to rely on others to spoon-feed it to me) after I’d realized I’d been deceived. Likewise, I got to know God as my Dad only after I ran screaming from institutionalized false prophecy. It’s as if the devil was betting that he’d get me back and God was telling him to dream on, knowing that my desire for Truth would eventually override my gullibility to snake-oil salesmen. And God was right (when is he ever not?). My personal experience with false prophets became for me a cautionary tale and learning experience that God ultimately used to draw me closer to him and to warn others.
If you’re adhering to a ministry that requires you (or guilts you) at any level to fund it, you’re in the clutches of a false prophet. No genuine minister of God requires anyone to pay money to hear his Word and learn from Jesus. God doesn’t even require “free will donations”, as so many false prophets like to phrase it. If God wants you to sow financial seeds into a ministry, he’ll prompt you to do so in his time and in his way; everything else comes from the devil. It’s not a coincidence that of all the followers who could have been in charge of the money bag, it was Judas Iscariot, who also, according to scripture, stole from it.
As Jesus tells us, you cannot serve God and mammon. Every false prophet serves mammon, and they don’t hide it. Just look on their website and see what you can buy or donate. They want you to buy and/or donate – that’s the whole purpose of their ministry.
“B-b-but they do good work! Look at the orphanage they’re running in [fill in the blank]! Look at how they’re inspiring people to be better [fill in the blank]!” That’s precisely why they fit the definition of angels of light. Jesus talks about those at the judgment who are shocked not to be numbered among the saved, as they’d held and attended services and even performed miracles. Yet despite this, Jesus says he never knew them. God does not know false prophets, which means he hasn’t sent them to preach and teach. “By their fruits shall ye know them.” For false prophets, whether institutionalized or independent, it’s all about the money, and you can discern that just by checking out their website or attending a service. Somewhere, at some point, money will be requested. That is the false prophet’s calling card.
It’s not something to be ashamed of, to have been tricked into supporting a false prophet for a time. We’ve all fallen for the smooth words and soulful confessions of at least one of them. But if you know or suspect that a ministry you’re supporting is a false prophet and you continue to support it, then you’ll be answerable for it.
Better to stand alone and true to God than to sit in the congregation of the deceived.
THE UNSHAKEABLE FAITH OF JESUS
There are few things that make me angrier than people lying about Jesus, and one of the biggest lies is that Jesus lost his faith while on the cross.
I have argued here and here and elsewhere that Jesus, in all his time on Earth, was never closer to his Father than in the hours leading up to and during his crucifixion. He did not lose his faith. He did not feel forsaken. He played his Messianic role flawlessly, and in so doing, became the perfect sacrifice that paid the sin debt and paved the way for the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. I have zero doubt about that.
Had Jesus not played his Messianic role flawlessly, he could not have served as the blemish-free offering that was required as the sin debt.
Jesus did not at any time lose his faith in God or in his role as Messiah. How could he lose faith in God? He knew him intimately, one-on-one, as his Dad. To Jesus, God wasn’t out there somewhere, maybe or maybe not hearing prayers, maybe or maybe not answering them, but inside him as an abiding presence, informing his every thought and word. There was no separation between God and Jesus, as Jesus himself said just a few hours before his crucifixion: “The Father and I are one”. Where Jesus was, there was God, through God’s Holy Spirit.
We have the same intimate relationship with God, if we’re genuinely born again.
Those of you who think that Jesus temporarily lost his faith on the cross, could you kindly point out in scripture where precisely he lost it? Because I see no evidence of lost or diminished faith. On the contrary, I see Jesus more focused than ever on what he knew he had to endure, and willing to endure it, knowing that the end was his glorification.
Why is Jesus’ unshakeable faith important to us as his followers? Because Jesus didn’t want to be crucified. He fought against it at the eleventh hour, begging God to find another way for him to accomplish the deed. But when God was adamant that there was no other way, Jesus accepted it and forged ahead, strengthened by God and by the angels God sent to minister to him.
We do not see a weakened Jesus exiting the Garden of Gethsemane. Oh, no – we see a spiritually and physically superhuman Jesus, embracing his betrayer and admonishing his followers for wounding the soldiers who’d come to arrest him. We see a Jesus fully in command of the situation and of himself. This same superhuman Jesus continued as such to his last breath, with no loss of faith. On the contrary, he must have astounded all those present when he continued to minister to those present – to the women who lined his path, to John and his mother, and to the thieves – despite the horrors he was enduring. When the Roman soldier stood at the foot of the cross in awe of Jesus, saying “Truly he was the son of God”, it wasn’t because he’d just witnessed a man losing his faith, but because he’d witnessed a man who against all odds remained true to himself to the end.
This continuance of Jesus’ faith in the face of extreme torture and humiliation is important for us to know, because we will face similar situations as his followers. That is a guarantee. And like Jesus, we may not want to do what God has planned for us and we may try to negotiate a way around it or to find a better (that is, less painful) way to carry out our mission. Chances are, again like Jesus, we’ll have to go through what we have to go through as planned. But knowing that Jesus was able to do it by submitting fully to God should serve as our guide.
I have come across many people in my travels who are angry and bitter at God because they blame him for letting a loved one die or for “not being there” when they were suffering an illness or a bankruptcy or any of the other thousands of crises we humans can go through during our time on Earth. They blame God for their trouble and pain, and in blaming him, close themselves off to him so that he can’t work through them anymore. That is a sad situation, and imagine if Jesus had done it. Imagine if Jesus had closed himself off to God because God wouldn’t find another way for him to accomplish what he had to accomplish. Imagine if Jesus had been bitter at God instead of submitting fully to him. Had Jesus been bitter, he would not have been able to do what he did during his crucifixion, he would not have gained victory over death, as God would not have been able to work through his bitterness.
Without unshakeable faith, Jesus would not have been able to pay the sin price required of him as the Messiah. He didn’t blame God for what he was going through. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t get bitter. He didn’t shut God out. He just put his shoulder to the wheel and let God work through him.
He let God be God.
We must never shut God out, no matter what we’re going through. Some of what we’re facing may be a test, and some of it may be punishment we’ve brought on ourselves. Either way, we must never close ourselves off to God. He must remain our centre and our focus and the source of our strength, as he was for Jesus. No matter how bad things get or how miserable a circumstance you find yourself in, I’m guessing it still won’t rival the pain and suffering Jesus endured at his crucifixion. If he could remain faithful through that trial by submitting fully to God and strengthening as a result, then so can you.
So can we all.
Untested faith is mere boasting. Faith that strengthens under trial is the true measure of faith. In that, as in everything else, let Jesus be your guide.
WHAT RIGHT DO YOU HAVE?
Most people in the Western world love to babble on about their rights. In the Eastern world, people are more cautious about what they consider is owed them merely by virtue of existing, yet even they are still inclined to believe in that hazy little thing called “human rights”.
But we in God’s Kingdom know that humans have no rights beyond the one guaranteed to us by God – the right to choose, which is based on our God-given free will. Every other right comes from some level of governing authority and so is worldly (that is, administered by the devil and his representatives) and can be cancelled at any time.
What most people call or consider “inalienable rights” are actually privileges granted them under certain circumstances. For instance, the American Constitution would be worth next to nothing if there were a Chinese or Russian take-over of the United States. That’s because the American Constitution is only valid while Americans are under the authority of their own government. If that government is taken over by a foreign entity, the Constitution becomes obsolete, regardless of the “inalienability” of the rights contained within it.
It should spin your head around like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist knowing that what we call “rights” are actually privileges granted us by the devil. In Canada, it’s not so much a head-scratcher that our state-sanctioned rights are sourced in evil, considering they involve, for instance, the right to abortion, the right to euthanasia, a man’s right to be called a woman and a woman’s right to be called a man, freedom FROM religion, etc. God’s fingerprints are definitely not on those so-called rights. Even the rights to freedom of speech and a free press, if you dig a little deeper, are clearly not sourced in God, as they give a Satanist the same right to a pulpit as a born-again believer.
Most countries list, in the form of a Constitution, the rights they extend to their citizens. Yet God has limited his list to just 10, and nearly all of them are warnings not to do something rather than license just to do it. Isn’t it interesting that there is no list of human rights coming from God, who loves us more than anyone else can possibly love us and who wants only the best for us? Isn’t it interesting that God considered it more important and more to our benefit to curtail our license rather than to expand it? Isn’t it interesting that God deemed we would be better off with a list stating what NOT to do rather than a list of what to do?
The social contract took a beating over the past few years. Loosely stated, the contract is an informal agreement whereby we, as individuals living within a society, agree to abide by certain laws and social constraints in return for protection from and access to that society. I’ve written here and here and here and here (and elsewhere) about how that contract was all but nullified not only by mandates, but by the vicious zealousness of individuals who took it on themselves to police them. For me, as someone who could not wear a mask and would not get injected, everyday life became a dystopia of socially imposed “thou shalt nots” barring me even from public transit and grocery stores. Unable to get around or to shop in person for my daily needs, and suffering increasingly violent and bizarre attacks for the social sin of baring my face in public, I withdrew to the country and lived in isolation for a year, relying on deliveries until the mandates were dropped.
I read yesterday that the mandates may be coming back to Ontario, where I’m currently holed up, so I’m already making plans to move on. Even the threat of having to relive the social conditions of the past few years is enough to make me want to flee to Egypt under cover of night with just the clothes on my back.
Beyond our right to choose, we have no God-given rights. We have rights granted to us by various levels of government and supra-government organizations like the United Nations, but our God-given right is limited to our inviolable right to exercise our free will, which no-one on Earth can take away from us. If God thought that giving us free will was sufficient as our one and only inviolable right, we also should consider it sufficient.
As for laws and mandates that infringe on our freedom of movement, freedom of expression, etc., there are always ways around those. Sometimes they can be sidestepped and generally ignored, while other times the only way around them is to leave the jurisdiction where they are imposed. But you never have to give into them and you should never fight them, no matter how egregious they may be. If they have been imposed, God has has given them the nod, so if you fight against them, you’re fighting against God. Don’t do that.
At the same time, you never have to do something that you don’t agree with and that you believe violates your right to choose in accordance with your conscience. Yes, there may be worldly consequences for choosing against the prevailing laws and norms, but I’d rather accept those consequences and let God help me deal with them (which he will gladly do) than to violate my conscience before God or break his Commandments.
There is never an excuse for doing something you know is wrong and every reason to do what you know is right. Your free will – your one and only God-given right – is inviolable. You absolutely (in the truest sense of the word) can do what you like. But in so doing, choose wisely, as you’re answerable to God, not to the devil and his representatives on Earth, not to your family and friends, not to your enemies, and not to anyone else.
You are answerable only to God.
WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’
When the children of Israel started to go down the wrong path God-wise, the pagans they lived among started to gain more power over them. The more they disobeyed God’s Commandments and the laws Moses gave them, the worse their lives became and the more pagan-like they grew, learning to value lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, covetousness, honor killings, etc., as acceptable cultural norms.
At some point, God gave them up for lost and let the pagans rule over them until the majority of the children of Israel were indistinguishable from unbelievers. The few faithful who still followed the Commandments God spared, protected, and set aside. The rest he let go.
Former Christendom is undergoing the same mutation process today. It is a spiritual devolvement to move from Christianity to anything else, just as it was a spiritual devolvement thousands of years ago to move from Judaism to anything else. The rewards are the same today as they were thousands of years ago for those who make that shift to paganism, keeping in mind that “paganism” is a euphemism for demonism, and that the deities worshiped by pagans are actually demons and fallen angels in disguise.
Paganism is any form of worship that is not worship of God in Jesus’ name.
In my travels over the past few months, I have found that most of Canada is now owned and run by pagans. They have not been imposed on the country; they were earned as Canada’s just reward for turning away from God and his Commandments. Even their pagan festivals are now being given the same treatment as former Christian festivals and holy days, and in some cases have become more prominent and celebrated.
Scripture shows that the only way for a nation to regain God’s blessings and avoid his judgement is for all people in that nation to sincerely repent and turn back to God. I can’t see this happening in a place like Canada that is now majority pagan. It may happen in small pockets of believers or on a person-by-person basis, but Canada will never return to its earlier spiritual prosperity, as the majority of Canadians no longer believe in God or keep his Commandments.
As a born-again believer, I feel more and more isolated and foreign in my own place of birth. I feel more and more unwelcome and more and more like an oddity. I was forcibly removed from a chapel a few weeks ago while I was reading the Bible and praying. A female security guard who spoke with a very strong Indian accent had reported me for “loitering” in the chapel at Toronto’s Pearson airport. (As if such a thing were possible – to loiter in a chapel!) Two armed police officers showed up and threatened me with arrest unless I left immediately, as otherwise I’d be charged with trespassing (again, as if it were possible for me, as my Father’s daughter, to be trespassing in a place designated as my Father’s house of prayer). Not wanting to be arrested (it’s not yet my time, as Jesus would say), I left the chapel and the airport, but I was profoundly shaken by how dark things have become in Canada when a Christian woman can be threatened with arrest for allegedly loitering and trespassing in a place set aside for Christian prayer and worship. I can’t imagine the same thing happening to a Muslim woman (or man) in a place set aside for Muslim prayer and worship.
I have made it a policy, as a born-again believer, not to go where I’m not welcome. I take my cue from Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to shake the dust from their feet as a sign to places that reject the Gospel. There are many places I’ve discovered that I can’t go anymore, so there’s been a whole lotta foot-shakin’ going on over the past few months. And like Jesus and Paul, I will avoid going places where I’m threatened with arrest until God gives me the cue that it’s my time.
It is not pleasant living among pagans and watching a former Christian nation fall under pagan authority, with God’s approval. It’s deeply and profoundly sad, like mourning. Some of the places I’ve visited God has told me he’s entirely washed his hands of, that he’s given the inhabitants over to their sins and vices and let them be. It’s a terrible thing to have God wash his hands of you, to have him let you be. That is not something you ever want to have happen to you, but it remains a possibility for everyone, as long as they’re still on Earth in human form.
After I left the chapel in Pearson airport, I boarded a local Toronto bus and headed for the subway. I’d heard that it would be running all night to accommodate the revelers at a city-wide arts festival. I’d never “ridden the rails” after midnight, so I was kind of excited to see what it would be like riding around in empty subway cars at 3 a.m. That’s what I’d envisioned, anyway – that the subway cars would be empty and quiet and clean and orderly and I’d be able to have a good nap from one end of the system to the other.
The reality was that the cars were full to bursting – standing room only – until well after 4 a.m. One of the last cars I rode in was taken over by a very drunk and rowdy group of young people of about university age. One of them sat across from me and slumped over with his head between his legs. At some point he opened his mouth and began to spew vomit on the floor between his feet. He didn’t heave; he just left his mouth open and the vomit poured out in a steady stream. I have never seen so much vomit coming from one human. It quickly grew into a pool that covered half the subway car. It was like a horror movie or better said a parody of one. I jumped off at the next stop and notified the driver what was going on. The last I saw, the train was halted at the station to deal with the mess.
So much for Toronto the Good, as it used to be known. So much for Toronto transit being so clean, you could eat off the floor of the vehicles and the stations. That’s how it used to be, back in the days when you could still say “Merry Christmas” without being shushed or accused of bigotry, back in the days when a Christian woman would never have been removed from a chapel at gunpoint for the alleged crime of “loitering”.
When a nation rejects God, he leaves. He shakes the dust from the bottom of his feet, and he leaves. What is left in his wake is a spew of cultural and spiritual filth that eventually drowns out all that was good and holy. There are now whole cities and regions in Canada that have become to me like Sodom and Gomorrah, whole cities and regions that I will never pass through again. But the pagans and neo-pagans haven’t won, because they face the same end as the wayward and fallen former Christians unless they repent.
No-one wins when a nation rejects God. No-one wins when a nation devolves into paganism. The natural end of such an abomination was foretold by Jeremiah and came to pass when the children of Israel were besieged in Jerusalem and ended up cooking and eating their own children, followed by the destruction of Solomon’s temple. It came to pass again when Jerusalem was besieged by Roman soldiers, followed by the destruction of the second temple. And now it’s coming to pass in former Christendom, with women again murdering their own children, this time in the name of reproductive rights, followed by the wholesale destruction of church buildings the world over.
Scripture tells us that God will not be mocked. If he’s not welcome, he’ll leave. If I’m not welcome, I’ll leave. But God help those places that are left bereft of God and his children: They will quickly become previews of the inescapable hell that awaits the fallen forevermore.
TALKING ABOUT GOD
As a born-again believer, I occasionally experience a strange phenomenon that began when I returned home to Canada a few months after my rebirth in Australia – friends and family started to talk about me in front me as if I weren’t there. This had never happened to me before, except as a child (parents famously talk about their children in front of them). The first few times I experienced this after my rebirth, I made a joke about it, but the people kept on talking about me, despite my trying to add my voice to the conversation. Their response was to turn up their voice volume and talk over me, ignoring my input.
As I mentioned, talking about people in front of them is something that parents often do about their children. Adults may also do it about people they think are mentally incompetent or on their deathbed. People under arrest or otherwise detained likewise experience being talked about in front of them by authority figures. But when I returned to Canada as a born-again believer, I wasn’t a child, I wasn’t on my deathbed, and I wasn’t under arrest or being detained, so clearly these people assumed I was mentally incompetent simply for being a believer.
Twenty-three years into my rebirth, some people must still think I’m mentally incompetent, because they still talk about me in front of me. Some even accuse me of being a fraud. This is how unbelievers make sense in their own minds of born-again believers. If I do something stupid or immoral, they point to my stupidity/immorality as evidence that I’m just pretending to be a Christian (because Christians are perfect, never falling to temptation or doing anything wrong, right?). But why would anyone pretend to be a Christian when Christians are treated with such disdain and outright hatred by unbelievers?
Even as we experience being talked about in front of our faces (in addition to liberally being talked about behind our backs lol), we ourselves are guilty of doing the same thing to God. We know that through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, God and Jesus are always with us. That’s a promise given to us by Jesus on the night before his crucifixion and a condition of our being in the Kingdom. Yet just like the people who talk about us in front of us as if we can’t hear them, we are also guilty of talking about God and Jesus that way.
Being ever-conscious of God’s presence is something we need to learn. We can accomplish this by always including God and Jesus in our conversations. When we’re by ourselves or with other born-again believers, we can talk openly and directly to God and Jesus, knowing that they hear us and we can hear them; when we’re with unbelievers, we can simply be aware that God and Jesus are with us, listening. In those situations, we can talk to them in our mind, even as our mouths are saying something different to someone else.
I believe that Jesus operated this way during his time on Earth. Scripture shows that he sometimes spoke openly and directly to God when he was with his followers, and that he sometimes appeared to be talking to God privately in his head, asking his advice. One of those latter instances was when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus while he was teaching in the temple. Her accusers belligerently demanded that the adulterous woman be stoned to death in accordance with Mosaic law. But Jesus seemed to ignore the accusers and continued with his lesson, stooping down to write on the ground. I believe that in his seeming obliviousness to the drama at hand, he was asking God’s advice on how to deal with what appeared to be a legalistic slam-dunk. When Jesus finally did address the accusers, his response (“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”) wielded such spiritual authority that it shut them all up and sent them away with their tails between their legs. Only a Word straight from God has the power to do that.
As born-again believers, we need to learn (yes, it is a learning process) not only to be aware that God and Jesus are always with us (hearing our every word and thought and seeing our every action), but to include them in our conversations, whether spoken aloud or in our mind. A large part of the process is simply being reminded of their constant presence. In technological terms, the microphone and speakers are always set to “ON”. How you choose to remind yourself is up to you, but a string tied around the finger or wrist is a tried-and-trued classic option that works. Or you can carry a Bible with you wherever you go. It’s nearly impossible to carry a Bible and not be aware that God and Jesus are right there with you.
I thank God that he and Jesus are always with me, and that they can hear my every word and thought and see my every action. When I was a young and oftentimes foolish born-again believer, I wasn’t always aware of God and Jesus’ presence, and so I did some things I shouldn’t have done and suffered the earned rewards for them. We can avoid those situations (and the suffering they bring) by always being aware of the presence of God and Jesus. If you talk about them, do so knowing they hear you and make them part of the conversation. Don’t just talk to them during designated prayer time or when you’re alone; talk to them all the time.