A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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HARD TRUTH

 I spend some time every now and then watching videos uploaded to various social media channels. Most of the videos bemoan the state of modern life and suggest alternatives (stop consuming, stop using your smart phone, spend more time in the woods, etc.) that are impractical for most people. The common theme that runs through these presentations is that certain people or organizations are to blame for the dismal state of the world, that we are the victims of their wiles and whims, and there’s very little we can do about their evil deeds other than to escape them in any way we can. Fair enough, these are not Christian channels, or at least not overtly so. Some of the presenters even identify as “pagan”, though I’m sure if I told them what pagan really meant, they might back off from identifying as such. Or not.

For those who see through the eyes of the world – even for those who have rejected the world but still refuse to turn back to God – these are dreary times indeed. I personally cannot imagine how I would have handled the lockdowns and the worldwide, non-stop, fear-driven propaganda of the past two years if I were not a born-again believer. I try to imagine how atheist Charlotte would have responded to the muzzling, the socially enforced distancing, the mass injection campaigns, etc., and I hope that she would have given the whole thing the proverbial finger, as born-again Charlotte did. I imagine that atheist Charlotte would have been much less polite and much more vocal than born-again Charlotte, not shying away from getting into the faces of those who tried to get her to cover hers.

There’s still a lot of the atheist Charlotte in born-again Charlotte, not in the values, but in the force of personality and the refusal to swallow what is patently BS. That part of me did not change when I changed from atheist to believer. I got polite and patient as a believer; I did not get pussified. The part of me that doesn’t shy away from standing up and speaking the truth even when it goes against everyone else in the room God can use for Kingdom work; he already has.

But the part of me that blames others for my own problems or for the general state of the world did, thank God, change. It is a hard truth to get people to accept that the pain they feel is the pain they’ve earned, and that their own depression or other mental malady is not the result of a chemical imbalance in their brain. Rather, the chemical imbalance in their brain is the result of a sin-burdened soul expressing its pain through negative emotions and enabling evil to work directly through them. This is what causes the chemical imbalance. Likewise with the state of the world – the world is the way it is not because of the whims of a few deranged powerful people, but because nearly everyone in the world is unrepentantly doing evil, and they’re all simply getting back what they put out. This is a hard truth for most people to accept, mainly because it’s so simplistic. I guess they expect the guru at the top of the mountain to be more profound.

So I watch these videos that bemoan the state of the world with a sense of compassion for those who are suffering, but my compassion is also mixed with a sense of frustration. How do you get people to repent? The band-aid solutions of running away into the woods or rejecting modern technology will not help these people; they will only shift their suffering to a different environment to be expressed in other ways. The only way to truly get rid of pain and suffering is to sincerely repent and believe the Gospel, as Jesus advised. There is no other way.

*****

We know what’s coming, if not in the short-term, then definitely in the long-term. Jesus told us and scripture tells us. The future, for the world, is not bright. Everyday life will become more and more controlled and monitored, as much to keep people in line as to weed out who won’t play along. The past two years have been a beta test of sorts to weed out the non-players, and I guess I’ve shown my hand. I will not play.

The people who make the videos I watch every now and then and those who comment below the videos are not unlike atheist Charlotte. They see that something is terribly wrong with the world and they refuse to accept the way things are, to go along to get along. But they stop short of genuinely wanting to know the truth at all costs, because if they did want to know the truth at all costs, they wouldn’t be blaming the world (or those who run it) for their problems; they’d be blaming themselves. And in so doing, they’d sooner or later be turning back to God, who is the one and only source of Truth. Everyone who genuinely wants the Truth eventually comes to God.

The hard truth is not that Truth is hard, but that it requires submission, like a little child submits, believing beyond doubt. It requires the opposite of pride and self-sufficiency. Atheist Charlotte turned into born-again believer Charlotte not from anything she read or listened to, or anything she ate or drank, or any ritual she engaged in or observed, but simply by saying “yes”. What exactly did she say
“yes” to? To whatever it took to make the pain go away. And that “yes”, as explained by God himself to atheist Charlotte, was saying “yes” to choosing to forgive. It was really that simple, and in an instant all the pain and confusion were gone.

Permanently.

And I didn’t even have to give up my cell phone.

*****

I watch these videos as a born-again believer the same way that Jesus went to pubs – to keep in touch with people and their concerns. I don’t leave “religious” messages in the comment sections, any more than Jesus preached the Kingdom in the pubs. There would be no point. But every now and then God guides me to leave a word of encouragement or thanks, the way that Jesus would buy someone a drink or lend a sympathetic ear. The suffering people of the world are not our enemies – even those in positions of authority who impose hardships on us are not our enemies. We know who our real enemies are; Paul pointed them out: he said they weren’t flesh and blood, but were principalities and dominions in high places.

Our enemies are very real, but we can’t see them because they have no body. They’ve been disembodied, which is why they’re always trying to possess one of ours. Those are our enemies, but we don’t fight them directly. We can’t fight them directly, other than to cast them out, as Jesus did. But we can surely gain ground against them simply by being kind to the unkind. That’s another simple hard truth most people (even Christians) don’t want to hear.

*****

You can’t escape pain by running from it. It follows you wherever you go and compounds the more you try to avoid or suppress it, including through medications. Band-aid measures like “going back to nature” are palliative to a certain extent and for a certain time, but the pain always finds you eventually. It is a spiritual guarantee. These methods – avoiding, suppressing, running from – are desperate attempts to treat the symptoms. To get rid of pain, you have to get rid of the cause of the pain, and that cause is ALWAYS sin.

I asked earlier how we can get people to repent, and there’s no single answer to that question. I repented 23 years ago because I hit rock-bottom, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially, etc., but that way isn’t optimal for everyone. Some people when they hit rock-bottom kill themselves and take others with them. So sitting back and letting people hit rock-bottom might not be the best way to handle the situation in all cases. Guiding people to repentance is a case-by-case process.

There are many ways to get to God; in fact, there are as many ways as there are souls. As each soul makes its way through its allotted time and space on Earth, most are content to be controlled by the forces of the world. These souls will rarely value truth and most will never come to God. Conversely, the souls that are not content to be controlled by worldly forces or embrace worldly norms and values (I was among that lot) will actively look for ways out. These are the souls that do value truth. These are the souls that make the videos that I watch occasionally on various channels and the souls that comment on the videos. These are the souls that are open to Genuine Change, though they may resist it initially.

In Jesus’ day, these were the souls that hung back from actively following Jesus, but still somehow found themselves in the periphery of the crowds wherever Jesus went, and so overheard what he was saying. These were the souls that eventually came to Jesus, secretly, and under cover of night, looking for more answers. Some of these souls then eventually did come to God.

*****

A hard truth is not something that’s difficult to understand; it’s something that’s difficult to accept. I rebelled against the world as an atheist, and in so doing I also rebelled against even the idea of God, because I equated God with the authorities of the world, as represented by the worldly church. That’s the devil’s doing and God permits it as a way to weed out those who genuinely want the Truth rather than those who just say they do. The worldly church is about as far removed from my experience of God as atheism is from the worldly church; it’s like they’re all totally different things. The God of the worldly church is not the God I have come to know and love as a born-again believer.

I wish that the people who make the videos that I watch every now and then would come to know my God as I know him. I wish they would repent and believe the Gospel. I wish they would follow Jesus. Then they wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore or feel like running off into the woods or trashing their cell phones to find peace: they would find it anywhere, anytime, under any circumstance just by being in God’s presence through his Spirit.

Hard truth isn’t so hard when you’ve got such a soft landing place as God’s hands.

GOD’S SECRETS

I’ve written before, here and here and here, about the importance of private revelation, about keeping to yourself what God tells you in confidence or speaking out loud what God tells you to share. Sometimes he’ll tell you to keep it quiet for a while before revealing it to others, and sometimes he’ll tell you not to say anything at all about it, ever, that it’s a secret just between you and him. I like those secrets best, the ones that stay quiet. I like having secrets with God.

I remember, in the weeks after I was first born-again, God would tell me secret after secret, and again and again what he told me would come to pass. He was showing me how he works. He was teaching me that I could trust him. I learned to trust him in part because everything he told me came to pass just as he predicted.

It still does.

When God confides in us, tells us a secret that we’re to keep to ourselves or share later with others, we are in the same position with God as Jesus was during his time on Earth. God also shared secrets with Jesus, more than we can imagine. We know this because Jesus said to his disciples that there were many things they needed to know, but he couldn’t tell them yet because they couldn’t bear it. Several times he even told them to keep quiet the revelation that he was the Christ. Several times he told them “I tell you this now, so that when the time comes, you will know that I am he who was to come.” But after his resurrection, Jesus commanded his followers to tell the world everything he’d told them, most importantly that he is the Christ.

Being a follower of Jesus necessarily requires you to hold tight some secrets and reveal others, to always be in communication with God: to hear from him as well as to speak to him. To the world, a born-again believer bears a striking resemblance to a nutcase. Jesus was considered crazy not just by the powers-that-be in general, but also by those closest to him in blood. Even though his mother and siblings knew he could do things that defied natural laws (the water-into-wine trick must have been a big hit at family gatherings long before the wedding at Cana, since his mother seemed to be intimately aware of just how it worked), they were still afraid he’d lost his mind when he made the very public leap from being a prophet to being The Prophet foretold by Moses.

And there’s the rub: the difference between keeping it between you and God, and going public.

Jesus went public already when he was 12 years old, or at least he tried. He didn’t get very far, as it wasn’t his time yet to go public. God had to send his mother and father to reel him back in. That passionate part of Jesus that breaks through every so often even when he was an adult was difficult for the boy Jesus to restrain. It’s that same passionate part of Jesus that the Holy Spirit had a field day with during Jesus’ ministry years, particularly when Jesus was dealing with the religious hypocrites and with those who were sincerely penitent. God, through his Holy Spirit, could reach out through Jesus’ passion and actually touch people the way they needed to be touched – either as a well-timed and perfectly worded reprimand, or as a perfect healing. Those words were God’s words coming directly out of Jesus’ mouth, just as the healings were God’s healings coming directly out of Jesus’ hands.

Read through the Old and New testaments and you’ll find example after example of believers who spoke to and heard from God. We wouldn’t have a Bible if those people hadn’t spoken to and heard from God. Most of them were initially thought crazy or continued to be thought so by unbelievers, but when God told them to go public with his revelations, they did. Their revelations form the lion’s share of scripture.

We born-again believers by very definition speak to and hear from God on a daily basis. That is what it means to be born-again – to have God’s Holy Spirit constantly with us, so that we don’t need to perform a ritual or seek the services of an intermediary to get God’s attention. He’s always with us through his Spirit, the way he was with Jesus. This is an unfathomable privilege that even the Old Testament prophets did not have. They were visited only occasionally by God’s Spirit; they didn’t have the Spirit 24/7, as we do.

Most of what God tells me I keep to myself. Some of it I write in this blog, and some I tell specific people, as God guides me. This is no different from what Jesus did – keep some revelations to himself, reveal some to certain individuals, and go public with others, all in God’s time. What Jesus did, we’re to do. He was our example during his time on Earth. He told us: If they think I’m crazy, they’re going to think you’re crazy, too. And so “they” do. That’s in part why God tells us to keep some secrets to ourselves and to reveal others only at a certain time and place. Elsewise, the dogs might tear us to pieces, and the swine might steal our pearls.

REDEEMING LESSONS

If you’re born-again, Jesus is not only your Lord, he’s your Master.

In other words, he’s your schoolmaster, and the Holy Bible is your schoolbook.

Jesus came to Earth for two main reasons: to pay the sin price (redemption) and to teach his followers how to live in the Kingdom.

Both of these reasons – redemption and teaching about the Kingdom – are equally important.

Most people are at least vaguely aware of Jesus’ role as redeemer, but his teaching role is much less well known.

We, as born-again believers, know about Jesus being our teacher because we refer to his lessons and examples to guide us in our day-to-day lives.

We know that the Kingdom has come because we live in it. Jesus taught us how.

*****

There’s a troubling assumption among some Christians that “Jesus is coming back soon” to set up his kingdom. They see the ever-worsening spiritual state of the world and consider this a precursor to Jesus’ second coming. Certainly, Jesus himself told us that he would be returning at the end of time, but he never said anything about setting up a worldly kingdom. In fact, he pointedly stated that his Kingdom is not of this world. The assumption that Jesus will set up a worldly kingdom is based solely on the misinterpretation of a single passage in the book of Revelation. Everything else in the Bible points to Jesus setting up a spiritual Kingdom that exists parallel to worldly kingdoms. That crucial task he’s already accomplished; if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

The lessons Jesus taught his followers were intended to be applied immediately, not in some hazy future, millennia away. This is in part why Jesus occasionally got so impatient with his disciples. They weren’t applying the lessons he’d taught them, but were instead defaulting to the ways of the world. Jesus intended his lessons on the Kingdom to be applied immediately after they were taught, because the Kingdom had already come and would be expanding after his resurrection. Believers needed to know how to live in the Kingdom, as living in the Kingdom requires a different set of rules than living in the world.

An equally troubling assumption is that “Jesus did it all”, so we don’t have to do anything but “believe” and “have faith” and our eternal reward is handed to us on a silver platter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus taught us our lessons so that we’d apply them; applying them means doing something beyond simply believing or having faith. Applying our lessons means living them day by day, in everything we do.

*****

There’s no point in giving lessons unless tests are also given to see how well the lessons have been learned. God specializes in allowing “surprise” tests to be given to his children as the need arises. As I mentioned in an earlier article, we’re supernaturally shielded from knowing that they are tests; the shielding is done so that our response is organic. If we knew in advance that we’re being tested, we’d be able to prepare a carefully appropriate response, but God doesn’t want that. He wants to see our raw response, not our cooked or half-baked one. He wants to see how we really are, not how we say or think we are.

Have you been tested lately? Of course you have; we’re tested nearly every day. Think of a recent test you had and the circumstances that led up to it. How did you do? Be honest, now! I blush recalling how badly I’ve done on some of my tests. But thank God I’ve at least learned this: that no matter how dismally I do, I get back on my feet, brush myself off, and keep going.

That’s all God expects of us – not that we pass our tests with flying colors, like Jesus did, but that we do our best and don’t give up. Each of us has a different best, but we all have the capacity not to give up, we all have the capacity to keep going regardless of how dark our present circumstances. All it requires of us is a simple decision of the will, a silent “yes” to God, an inner nod that’s seen and understood only in the spiritual realm. Then God can strengthen us and we can keep going.

*****

We need to remember that Jesus came to teach us as much as he came to redeem us. Teaching necessarily requires testing, and testing occasionally ends in less than satisfactory results. But our failures needn’t be the end of us; sometimes our failures are themselves meant to be our lessons.

So learn your lessons as Jesus taught them, do your best to apply them every day, and no matter how well or how badly you do on your tests, keep going.

Just get back up on your feet, brush yourself off, and keep going.

“Those who endure to the end will be saved.”

THE GREATEST TEMPTATIONS

As we born-again believers make our way – God’s Way – along the strait and narrow of this life, we need to keep in mind that our greatest temptations probably won’t look like temptations; they’ll look like everyday concerns or ways of the world. They might even look like shortcuts that promise to get us to Heaven faster and with less effort.

Satan, for all his brilliance, still relies on the same old tricks that he used with Eve all those years ago: He finds our weaknesses and exploits them. He relabels forbidden fruit as “New!” and “Improved!”, burying the truth of the matter deep in the endless fine print that no-one bothers to read.

One of the worst things about temptations (if avoiding them is your goal) is that God supernaturally hides from you that they are temptations. You go into a temptation spiritually blind. God does that on purpose so that we’ll react organically to the scenario, not in a pre-processed way. I have been tempted on numerous occasions since I was reborn, and I’m sorry to report that I fell for many of them. The only positive thing I can take from my spiritual failures is that I learned from them by suffering the consequences of my bad choices, and the failures humbled me.

As we get closer and closer to our time to go Home (or in the other direction), we can be sure that our temptations won’t be the over-the-top type that Jesus was subjected to in the wilderness just before the start of his ministry. No, they’ll be much more subtle, which makes them that much more dangerous to us. For example, we might be tempted to break one or more of the Commandments, but it won’t appear as if we’re breaking them, either because “everyone is doing it” or the law of the land permits it. This is why we need to very clearly distinguish between God’s Law and worldly laws, between what is right in God’s eyes and what is right in the eyes of the world. Taking up arms with the intent to kill is a major temptation that born-again followers of Jesus hopefully never fall for, regardless of whether it has the blessing of the state.

Another temptation that comes to us disguised as something good is earning money. How much money do we need? Based on Jesus’ example, I’d say we need as much as it takes to put a roof over our head, food in our mouth, and clothes on our back, with a few extra pennies to pay for incidentals. Anything we earn beyond that is a temptation from the devil. God told me once that it’s useful to think of money as cancer cells, in which case we wouldn’t want to have any money at all, or at least no more than what we need to keep our immune system primed and pumped and humming along.

For many people, earning more money than you need is a lifelong temptation, though I’ve yet to hear of a deathbed confession that mentions any regret over not earning more. It’s like impending death completely cuts through the delusion that money has any real value beyond a roof, food, and clothing. If you take money concerns out of your life and let God dictate the amount you need, you free up a good portion of your day and your mind. For born-again believers, money should only be a tool; it should never be an end in itself beyond the bare minimum requirements.

Probably one of the biggest temptations in most people’s lives these days is complaining, especially publicly and before giving the offending person a chance to correct the wrong. Social media is usually the vehicle of choice for the complaining. Scripture tells us that if someone does something wrong, we need to go to that person and talk to him or her PRIVATELY. We’re not to make a show of it by standing up in public and thundering “J’ACCUSE!” That’s Satan’s job, to accuse. Our job is to take someone aside and quietly suggest that a change of behavior might be in order. If that doesn’t work, we’re to take a few more people to that person and quietly suggest the same. If even that fails, we need to pray for that person, but keep our distance. You don’t complain about them, not publicly and not privately. You pray for them.

Keep this in mind the next time you feel the urge to leave a bad review on social media. It’s a temptation. Best not to leave any review and let God deal with your grievance in his time and his way.

This category of temptations is called provocations, because they’re intended to provoke you into acting badly.

For the past month, I’ve been traveling for the first time in nearly two years, and I can tell you that the attitude of the people working in the hospitality industry in particular has changed drastically. I’ve suffered rudeness and arrogance that I’ve never experienced in all of my previous travels combined. Each time someone snaps at me or studiously ignores me, I have to bite my lip not to say anything that I’ll regret, just as I have to physically restrain my fingers not to type anything on a review that I’ll feel bad about later. So I instead step back and look at the goodness and kindness of the situation, if there is any (and there is always something), and I choose to overlook what wasn’t so good and kind. I choose to be grateful for small mercies rather than to be resentful. Note that I say “I choose” to do these things. Sometimes I have to make the choice with my nails digging into the palms of my hands. I have to learn (and relearn [and re-relearn]) to do this, because my default tends to be to get provoked, at which point my back goes up, my mouth opens, and out pours the invective. Mind you, what comes out isn’t necessarily inaccurate; it’s just not the best way to handle the situation.  

These are temptations in the form of provocations, and they are everywhere these days. We need to be on our guard, even knowing that God will prevent us from seeing these temptations as provocations, watching to see how we respond. I think that when we get to the point where our default is to have compassion for the offender rather than condemnation, we’ve passed that particular test, overcome that particular temptation.

And then on we move to the next one.

HONOR YOUR MOTHER KINDLY

Yes, I know this is a commercialized holiday.

And yes, I know not everyone has their mother with them anymore.

But even if your mother has passed from this world, you still need to honor her.

You do that by speaking of her kindly and thinking of her kindly. You do that by honoring her presence if she’s still here on Earth, or by honoring her memory if she’s passed on.

If nothing else, Mother’s Day is a good reminder of the Commandment to honor your mother.

If your mother’s still alive, send her some flowers.

If your mother’s passed on, take some flowers to her grave.

It’s that simple.

Or send her some flowery words. Mothers like that kind of thing.

But whatever you do, and whether your mother’s still here or passed on, always speak kindly of her.

Always speak kindly to her and kindly of her, regardless of whether you feel you have reason not to.

That’s why God made honoring your mother a Commandment, because you might be tempted not to speak kindly on occasion, for whatever reason. You might be tempted to remember things that you should let go. You might be tempted not to honor your mother.

Don’t do that.

Every mother should sound like a superhero in the mouth of her child.

Always honor your mother, and God’s promised rewards will follow.

GOD’S HOLY SPRING

Spring is a curious thing: out of the seemingly dead ground, green shoots emerge; out of the seemingly dead branches, buds burst through. Birds build nests and fill them with their eggs. The combination of longer warmer days and the angle of the sun triggers this activity.

Or so the story goes.

God has hardwired into his earthly creation new growth out of old. Renewal is part of the life cycle. We can expect it and celebrate it and thank God for it: as long as there is life in a living thing, there will be cyclical renewal, whether based on the sun’s position or not.

We humans are no different. We are hardwired for physical renewal on a regular basis. Some Christians talk about renewing their faith, and I believe that the desire and ability for faith renewal is also hardwired into us – the desire to want a refreshing, a plumping and smoothing of our belief pillows.

But what isn’t hardwired into us is spiritual rebirth. Rebirth is a process that comes from without – from God. We can’t direct it; we can’t demand it; and we can’t plan it to happen: it is 100% organized and enabled by God as an “add-on” feature to the human experience.

Spiritual rebirth isn’t the same as spring: some people compare rebirth to the renewal of spring, but that’s not an accurate comparison. Spring is hardwired into God’s creation; spiritual rebirth is not. Jesus says the Spirit goes where it wills, not where we will it to go. Paul says we become a new creature at rebirth, so that we are no longer Greek or Roman, or Black or White, or male or female: We are no longer quite human. That part of us that was hardwired to want to reproduce is overwritten. That part of us that was hardwired to want to protect our own (through violence, if necessary) is overwritten. That part of us that was hardwired to want to accumulate the world’s resources into personal wealth is overwritten. We become, as Jesus says, eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, enemy-lovers for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, and poor for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, and we do it all as if it’s our default, because it becomes our default when we’re reborn.

We are all born of the same Spirit at rebirth – God’s Holy Spirit – so born-again believers are all the same spiritual family and an entirely new spiritual creation. This family forms and inhabits God’s Kingdom on Earth. We humans have been hardwired in such a way that rebirth can be added to us, but our factory settings don’t include rebirth. That’s why most people never experience it.

We didn’t always have rebirth as an add-on option. It was launched with Jesus 2000 years ago. John the Baptist, according to Jesus, was the greatest of all people who were born of a woman, but even the least of those in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist. That’s because God’s Spirit inhabits born-again believers, whereas those who aren’t born-again can, at most, have only temporary visits from the Spirit. Not being born-again (Jesus’ sacrifice not yet having been made to enable it), John had only temporary visits from the Spirit; we born-agains have God’s Spirit with us full-time.

It’s God’s Spirit within born-again souls that makes those souls great, not anything they do or are on their own.

Born-again believers should embrace and welcome the cyclical renewal of the earth as well as of their own mind and body. But refreshing ourselves in God’s Spirit is something that should be done every day (or even several times a day, as required), not once a year. Every day we should be renewing our faith and re-examining our conscience. Every day we should be consciously in God’s Spirit, open to advice and encouragement and reprimand. What did I do wrong yesterday? How can I make up for it? How can I avoid doing that wrong thing today? What did I do right yesterday? How can I make sure I keep on doing it?

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, as Jesus tells us. We take our lives day by day, and learn and apply our lessons day by day. In the same way, we should examine our conscience and spend time with God and Jesus through God’s Spirit day by day. For born-again believers, our spring renewal comes every day through the spring of the Holy Spirit that is constantly welling up inside of us, as Jesus promised us it would. Even in the dead of our own personal winter, the Holy Spring is there within us, ever ready to wash away what doesn’t belong and to renew our faith and promises and set us firmly back on the road Home. This spiritual healing and rejuvenation we have access to every day, all day. It is a very great gift of God to his children, given to us at rebirth.

We must never forget that we have this gift of perpetual renewal and cleansing, and we must never let it go to waste.

BEAUTY

Lucifer, as we’ve been told, was the most beautiful of all the angels. But when the angels and their followers fell, they became disembodied spirits. They fell into a spiritual void. Their state of disembodiment is precisely why they keep trying to possess bodies on Earth. They lost their heavenly perfected beauty of form and everything that goes with that supreme level of perfection.

That’s also why Satan had to appear in the Garden of Eden as a serpent. He had to possess the serpent, as he had no body of his own. In the garden, Adam and Eve spoke and interacted with animals just as people talk to each other, so Eve would have thought nothing of the serpent talking to her. We’ll be able to talk with animals again in Heaven – not like we do now (“Heel!” “Down, boy!” “Whoa!”), but full conversations.

In Heaven, everyone is beautiful. Not just the face, but the body as well. There are no flaws in anyone or anything in Heaven, and the state of perfection never ends. The perfected physical beauty is matched by athletic grace and skill that comes from a body in perfect proportions. For me, as someone who was born not beautiful and not athletic, these rewards in Heaven are a huge motivation. I don’t care if that makes me sound shallow. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be perfectly beautiful and perfectly athletic forever.

The physical perfection also translates to perfect pitch and perfect intonation. That’s why angels are such beautiful singers. If you make it to Heaven, you’ll sing like an angel, too, along with being beautiful and athletically gifted beyond anyone on Earth. All of your senses – hearing, vision, taste, etc. – will be perfected.

You’ll also have a beautiful speaking voice. The most beautiful voice I ever heard came from the heavenly spheres. I heard it while I was attending a church service in Toronto a few months after I was born again. Halfway through the sermon, I was suddenly struck by an intense pressure that pushed in on me from the outside while at the same time pushing out from the inside. I can’t describe it any other way. It threw me into a momentary tizzy, as I had no idea what was happening.

Then I heard the voice. It was beautiful beyond compare and spoke directly into my right ear (the one that doesn’t hear very well). The voice said: “Do not be afraid. I am with you.” I looked around, thinking there was someone behind me whispering directly into my ear, but there was no-one there. The pew to my right was empty, as were the pews several rows back.

The feeling of pressure disappeared as quickly as it had started and I was flooded with a glorious ecstasy. My childhood friend was sitting to my left. She was the only friend I had who was raised as a believer, so I’d made contact with her after I was born again.  She had graciously invited me to stay with her and even looked after me financially for a while. I glanced over at my friend, thinking she must have heard the voice, too, but she just smiled at me quizzically. I smiled and nodded back, saying nothing.

*****

What we know of Jesus during his time on Earth in a human body is that he was not good-looking. Isaiah says that Jesus had “no form or comeliness that we should desire him”. Being unattractive in a world that prizes physical beauty was part of his challenge in becoming the Messiah. Jesus chose this role knowing he would be unattractive, knowing he was handicapping himself right out of the gate. People wouldn’t follow him because of his good looks, but because they believed in him and knew he spoke the Truth.

Attractive people have a different experience of reality. I’m not particularly attractive, though I’ve learned how to create the illusion that I am. Some people in my family are model attractive, and I’ve seen up close and personal how differently the world responds to them than to me. I’m not jealous of their beauty, and in fact I used to use their looks to my advantage. They were my secret weapon. Their beauty and the social power it afforded them got me out of many scrapes when I was younger.

Beautiful people command respect without trying. People generally listen to them and do their bidding, and are more prone to giving them the benefit of the doubt. Their beauty gives them a natural authority that spills over into other areas like believing everything they tell you, even when it beggars belief. The most accomplished and successful liars I know are physically beautiful people.

Jesus did not have the advantage of beauty during his ministry years. If people listened to him, it was because of the Truth of his words. That same advantage – speaking God’s Truth – we can all have, regardless of how we look.

*****

By the way, Jesus is beautiful now. He started gaining his heavenly body after his resurrection, which is why none of his disciples or followers initially recognized him. If and when we make it to Heaven and we stand with Jesus face to face, we will see his beauty in all its glory. I am certain that even in a place of perfect beauty, Jesus is still the most beautiful of all.

TRUST

Trust is one of the most underrated character features, despite being the one that most people demand in others and the one that makes human societies thrive.

It’s not money that creates wealth in a society; it’s people trusting each other, and based on that trust, living and working together in good faith towards each other’s mutual benefit.

Without trust, there is no basis for a relationship, and without firmly based relationships, society falls apart.

I trust God and I trust Jesus, but I don’t really trust anyone else. When I say “trust”, I mean I trust them to keep their promises, I trust them not to trash-talk me behind my back, and I trust them not to do something that’s purposely to my detriment. I can’t say that about anyone else I know, which is a sad commentary perhaps more on me and the people I attract into my life than on humanity in general.

But why are so many humans so untrustworthy? Why do they betray each other?

God went out of his way to let us know that he would never leave us or betray us. He went out of his way to let us know that we can trust him. He commanded us to love him, but he went out of his way to let us know that we can trust him. He made it personal. He didn’t command us to trust him, but he made sure that we knew we could.

This is a very great gift and privilege to know we can trust God. If I had been alive 2000 years ago, trailing behind Jesus, I’m sure I would have trusted him, too, even before his resurrection. I would have known I could trust him because nothing he said or did was contradictory. He didn’t gossip or belittle people; he didn’t argue for the sake of arguing or twist words just to come out on top; and if he had a beef against someone, he told them outright – he wasn’t sweet to their face while trash-talking them behind their back. He showed, in his words and actions, a strength of character that was trustworthy to the core. How sad that someone so unconditionally trustworthy could be so betrayed by those closest to him.

We can’t know what goes on in people’s minds. We can ask them questions or hook them up to a machine and try to interpret their brain waves, but knowing for sure what they think about this or that or about this person or that person or whether or not they’re lying is beyond us.

But Jesus knew. By the power of God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus knew what people were thinking and what was in their hearts. And because he knew, he entrusted himself to no-one but God.

Think about that for a second – because Jesus could read people’s hearts and minds, he trusted no-one but God.

Maybe my experience of humans is not so far off the mark.

Even so, God wants us to trust people at least enough to do business with them, to use their services, to exchange pleasantries with them, and to live and move among them during the rest of our time on Earth. He doesn’t want his children to cloister themselves away, other than for occasional retreats. He wants them to serve even the untrustworthy.

Jesus was the prime example of how to serve. No cloistering, other than for the occasional retreat, though he still kept his thoughts mostly to himself. About the Kingdom, he was generous to a fault in sharing. He gave far more information about it than even most of us now are able to bear. But he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. And he didn’t reveal a lot of what God told him, because he knew it would be misunderstood and misapplied.

We can always – without exception – trust God and Jesus. As for everyone else, I’d recommend committing to serve them, but otherwise playing your personal cards close to your chest, like Jesus did.

MY 600-POUND SOUL

FACT CHECK: When Jesus said that we cannot live by bread alone, he meant that we should put some butter and jam on it or maybe make a sandwich.

KIDDING!

He actually meant that we should feed on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus lived solely on “God food” for 40 days and nights in the wilderness before starting his ministry work, so he certainly practiced what he preached. To illustrate his point about the importance of thinking beyond earthly food, Jesus called himself the bread of life that needs to be eaten. He lost quite a few followers when he said that, as they didn’t understand what he meant.

Well, what did he mean? That we should cannibalize him?

Clearly not. The bread (that is, the life-giving sustenance) of his body was his Spirit, which in his case was God’s Holy Spirit. He was telling us that we need to feed on his spiritual substance, which is every bit as real as his physical substance. In fact, the spiritual substance is even more real, because it’s eternal. It lasts forever.

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you are spirit and are life.”

We feed in order to live. We can go without food for weeks, but past a certain point of food deprivation, our body will die. It needs to be fed. God made us like that. In just the same way, God made us so that our soul needs to be fed, and in fact we do feed it every day by what we choose to listen to and read and watch, which then becomes part of us.

Feeding on every word that comes from the mouth of God is obviously preferable to feeding on what the world spews at us. When we feed on Jesus spiritually – that is, when we chew on his teachings (or better yet swallow them whole) – we absorb his wisdom and advice, which then become part of us. In so doing, we live and grow spiritually in the way that God means for us to live and grow – his Way.

It is the spirit that quickeneth…” – to quicken means to bring to life or make alive. We know that before we were reborn, we had the spirit of death in us. God exorcised that spirit at our rebirth and put his Spirit in us. That is the very definition of rebirth: replacing the spirit of the world with the Spirit of God. We are then spiritually alive for the first time in our earthly lives and we can hear the Word of God. When I say we can “hear” it, I mean it finally makes sense to us.

Jesus also likened his spiritual feeding to eating meat (that is, eating food in general, not just bread). In one passage, he tells his disciples “I have meat to eat that ye know not of”. Of course, they immediately assume he means he’s eaten a meal somewhere else without them. He corrects their assumption by clarifying: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Here, we see Jesus being fed not by feeding on God’s Word, but by doing God’s will. This concept – that you can feed not by consuming but by expending – is as revolutionary as “love your enemies”. Feeding usually involves bringing in substances to the body, whether physical or spiritual, but Jesus instead claims that doing precisely what God directs him to do is a form of food in itself – that by expending physical energy to do God’s will, he gains from it spiritually.

If Jesus can be fed by doing God’s explicit will for him, we can also be fed that way. Our meat can also be to do God’s explicit will for us. Isaiah 55 talks about bread that is so rich it makes your soul fat; this spiritually rich bread is free to all:

Hearken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”

This is what Jesus did – he first hearkened diligently unto God by welcoming God’s Word into his soul, and then he fed on it by doing it. Hearing God’s Word is only part of the equation; the balance is to do what God directs you to do. When you not only welcome God’s will but do it, the heavenly bread of God’s Spirit melds with your soul through the alignment of Gods’ will with yours. The greater the melding (that is, the more aligned your will is with God’s), the greater the measure of God’s Spirit you’ll receive. This spiritual “fattening” of your soul leads to the further building of your faith, which is your own personal reserve of spiritual energy.

We should aim to be as spiritually fat as we can be. Jesus had by far the fattest soul of anyone either before or since him. Our souls may never be as fat as Jesus’ soul was during his time on Earth – scripture says he had the full measure of God’s Spirit at that time – but we can certainly do everything within our reach to fatten them up. We start by welcoming and absorbing God’s Word, and we continue by doing God’s will to the end.

SECOND CHANCE

As born-again believers, we don’t live our faith once a week at a church service. We don’t save it up for special occasions like the annual commemoration celebrations of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. We live our faith day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and second by second. Every breath we breathe is a gesture of faith. Every word we speak should reflect our faith. I don’t mean that we should be phony, like many religious people are prone to be, peppering their speech with phrases like “I love you with the love of the Lord”. I just mean we should choose our words to be kind and helpful, rather than rude and disparaging. Jesus says we’re judged by our words and will be held accountable for every single one of them, even those we use when we speak to our own personal Judas Iscariots.

There are those who believe that Jesus accomplished everything that needs to be done for our redemption on the cross and we don’t have to do anything else. We can live more or less however we want to live, as long as we claim to be “with Jesus” or to “believe in Jesus”. While it’s true beyond a doubt that Jesus accomplished the mission God sent him to do (pay humanity’s sin debt long owed from the fall of Adam), we still need to, as Paul puts it, work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

The works of the law weren’t sufficient to pay the sin debt, but they were required for a time. Similarly, as we now work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as we measure and weigh each and every one of our words before we let them slip out of our mouth or fingertips, those gestures are not enough on their own to pay for us to cover our own personal sins, but we still need to do them. We still need to treat others as we want to be treated, because Jesus told us we had to. We still need to keep the 10 Commandments and love our enemies, because Jesus told us we had to. We are not exempted from keeping our end of the bargain because Jesus kept his. He did the heavy lifting, but we’re still required to give it everything we’ve got. We’re still required to put in our best effort not once or twice a year, but every day, all day.

That means hour by hour, minute by minute, and second by second we are to live as if God is watching and taking notes of everything we do, because he is. He’s even taking notes of our thoughts. We don’t have to go out looking for good deeds to do; God will bring them to us. And they won’t be good deeds: they’ll be tests of our faith. They’ll be tests to see if we actually mean what we say or are just hypocrites and lipservers.

The rubber truly hits the road in our tests. That’s when we show our true colors, especially when we don’t have time to weigh and measure our words before they escape us. I get down on my face and thank God for his tests, because they show me where I am spiritually, not where I say I am or think I am or tell myself I am, to comfort myself. I need to know exactly where I am spiritually – in God’s eyes – so that I know what I need to improve (which, as it turns out, is pretty much everything lol).

Whether or not I actually succeed at improving what needs to be improved is not the point; the point is that I give everything I’ve got to do my best as I work towards improving what needs to be improved. It’s my humble acknowledgement that I fall far short of the bar even while I’m giving every ounce of my strength to reach up to it that God is looking for. That’s what God is looking for – that we give our best even while knowing it will never be enough. We don’t let our own perceived and unperceived inadequacies stop us. We give our all, all the time.

*****

When Jesus tasked his disciples with leaving their homes and families and jobs, he was in effect asking them to give him their all. He was saying: Everything you are, everything you’ve built and accumulated in this world, I want you to walk away from, I want you to let go, even relationships. I absolve you from all responsibility towards them, but in return you have to invest everything in me. You have to give me everything you’ve got. Everything you previously invested in your possessions, your families and your work, you now need to invest in me.

Everything, holding nothing back.

In return, I will give you everything you need to survive, but it will come with persecutions and hardship. You will also likely die an outcast from society and a martyr: You will be killed for the sole reason that you gave me your all. But your reward will be great in Heaven.

Not a lot of people want to sign on to such a deal. Jesus, by God’s guidance, knew in advance who would, and so he hand-picked them, one by one.

He’s still hand-picking them.

*****

If you’re a born-again believer, you’ve been hand-picked, plucked out the fires of your own self-induced sin conflagration. You’ve been given a second chance by none other than Jesus himself, with the blessings of God Almighty. Someone once asked me why I was born-again, why this happened to me, and I couldn’t answer at the time. I can answer now: I didn’t choose it; it chose me. I was hand-picked in the same way the disciples were hand-picked, not because I was better than anyone else or holier than anyone else, but because God knew when he directed Jesus to hand-pick me that I would (eventually) give everything I had to him, that I would hold nothing back. That I would be kicked in the teeth and keep smiling. That I would labor in obscurity and keep laboring. That I would live for the Truth and then (eventually) die for the Truth. God is looking for people like that. I pray he’s found it in me.

*****

We do not live our faith once or twice a year or around other people, for show. We live it hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, day in and day out. We give everything we’ve got to God, even knowing that everything isn’t enough to save our soul. We still give it, and while we’re giving it, we thank God for plucking us out of the fire and giving us a second chance.