To dissect something, you first have to kill it. If it’s not dead before you start dissecting it, it will die shortly into the procedure, the way that people declared “brain dead” will physically (that is, actually) die shortly AFTER the organ harvesting procedure begins.
But I digress.
To humanely dissect something you first have to kill it. Then you affix it so that it won’t be jarred out of position during the dissection procedure. Then you can start the incisions.
I hated biology class when I was in high school. I refused to dissect the frog that I was supposed to dissect as part of the course requirements. Even as an atheist, I didn’t see the frog as a thing, but as a living being that had been “sacrificed” (actual scientific terminology) and preserved in formaldehyde solely so that I could get at least a passing grade in a course I had no desire to be taking in the first place. This didn’t sit well with me, and anything that didn’t sit well, I rejected. My reward for sparing the frog was expulsion from biology class, which contributed to my failing the course, which caused me to fail the year, which led me to dropping out of high school.
But again I digress.
We cannot approach God as a dead thing, affixed and immovable, to be dissected like a biology course sacrifice. This, I would argue, is the way that most theologians approach God. I had to throw “most” in front of “theologians”, because God’s been on my case to be kinder to those who make a career out of studying him. Some theologians actually are believers, though they make up a tiny minority. So, in deference to God’s wishes and respect for the few theologians who do believe, I will be kinder.
In Jesus’ day, theologians went by the names of “Sadducees”, “Pharisees”, “Scribes” and “Lawyers”, and we know what Jesus thought of (most of) them. Even so, Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion. Paul’s background training is important for me to remember and helps me stay on course to be kinder to theologians.
God cannot be dissected, because he is eternally alive. The most we can do is describe what we know are some of his characteristics, such as being all-powerful, perfect, merciful, and just. Those of us who know him as our heavenly Dad can describe his voice (the most beautiful you’ll ever hear!) and his playfulness with his children. To me, his daughter, he is indulgent but also at times very firm. I don’t get away with anything, and in fact get a harsher punishment than someone who does the same thing but is not a believer. This is just, as I should know better. Those of us who are graced with grace and God’s Spirit should always know better and set the good example, the way Jesus always did. I’m learning, but I have a ways to go before I catch up to Jesus.
The majority of theologians are not believers and so come by their knowledge of God mainly from the Bible. I cannot imagine poring over scripture for the sole purpose of winning an argument or finding some ‘angle’ to exploit for academic brownie points. I know people who read the Bible just to memorize it. This is a mystery to me, why someone who doesn’t believe in God would want to memorize the Bible. As an atheist, I couldn’t stand to have a Bible anywhere near me, let alone to read it enough to memorize it. Nowadays, I can’t stand not having a Bible near me. I always travel with at least one, as most hotels and motels in Canada don’t provide a Bible in their rooms anymore.
Scripture is not a dead thing to those who love God. We believers read the Bible with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, who is very much alive and “quickens” our understanding of scripture. There is no other way to read the Bible, if gaining a better understanding God and his Word is your intention. Sure, you can read it as just a collection of facts encapsulated in words, but that’s not how it was intended to be read. It was written to be digested and absorbed. You are to feed on God’s Word, which is filled with spiritual nutrients. You are to take a bite, chew on it, swallow it down, and let it become part of you.
Jesus suggested we do the same with him – chew on his flesh and drink his blood. Some of his followers were disturbed by this dinner invitation, but Jesus didn’t back down. He insisted that those who wouldn’t ingest and absorb him had no part in his mission. He later explained that he meant we should ingest the words he was speaking, “as they are spirit, and they are life”.
Scripture is a dead, fixed thing only to those who don’t love God. For those of us who do, scripture is very much alive and cannot be affixed to anything, as it moves and morphs and changes with each reading. God’s Word is eternal and his Truth is unchanging, but our understanding of it is fluid: as our faith deepens, so, too, does our understanding of God.
I am not sure that this dynamic happens to those who read the Bible not to feed on it but to exploit it for personal or professional gain. I think they receive only a very superficial understanding of it, if their interpretation is to be classified as an “understanding” at all. This is why they are constantly squabbling over minutia that God never intended to be squabbled over. The deeper meaning – the Holy Spirit-conveyed meaning – evades them, and all they’re left with is the spiritual equivalent of a crucified frog with its sad little fastidiously labeled guts hanging out.
It is infinitely better to know God one-on-one than to know of him only by hearsay. We cannot study God like a dead thing or like fixed words on a page, because God is not only alive, but Life itself. He evades being known by those whose reasons for seeking him are not righteous. They’re like little kids pressing their noses against the display counter at the pastry shop, eyeing the wedding cake. Little do they know that the “cake” is only cardboard covered in icing and was made just for show.
The real wedding cake is kept out back, in a room only the baker and his apprentices can enter.
The physicality of God, in addition to his spirituality, is a contentious issue among theologians. I’m not – THANK GOD – a theologian, so I’m more interested in approaching this topic from the perspective of Truth (that is, from God’s perspective) than from the perspective of stubborn adherence to creed (that is, from man’s perspective).
God has a body. In fact, he doesn’t just have one body, he has an infinite number of bodies, and all of them are perfect. He can manifest into the bodies whenever he chooses to. They’re different shapes and sizes and colors, but each is totally flawless. It would be impossible for God to be in an imperfect body because his very nature is perfection. Each of God’s perfect bodies aligns perfectly with the situation he is manifesting into. That is, he’ll appear to you as you wish to see him or believe him to be or in the way that he knows you need to see him. That’s why there are so many different descriptions of God in the Bible.
Recall that we’re made in God’s image. If we ideally have two arms, two legs, one head, etc., then so does God in his infinite number of perfect bodies. But God, being God, to whom all things are possible, might also possibly manifest as a perfect form of something else. It would be his perfect prerogative to do so. Recall that God appeared to Adam and Eve, habitually walking with them in the Garden of Eden. Recall that God appeared to Moses and that Moses spoke to him face to face on occasion. Recall that Moses once witnessed God’s body from the back. How anyone can read the Bible and still assert that God doesn’t have a body is beyond me.
Jesus famously stated that God is a spirit, and as such should be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. For most of us mere mortals, God will be to us a spirit during our time on Earth. He is to me. We born-agains know God as a spirit, because that is the fulfillment of the promise. God is with his children through his Spirit, in the same way he was with the OT prophets on occasion. The difference between born-again followers of Jesus and (most) of the OT prophets is that we have God’s Spirit with us continuously; most of the earlier prophets had to make do with cameo appearances and “sneak peeks”.
But if we make it to Heaven, I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll be talking to God face to face. I have no doubt that we’ll be hugging him and getting hugged in return. And I have no doubt that we’ll be dancing with him – you won’t know what it means to dance until you’ve danced with God in Heaven! His perfect body will be perfectly matched to your perfect body. He will anticipate your every move and move with you in perfect rhythm and perfect form. There will be no time but the beat of the music, no faltering, no missteps. There will just be perfect fluid movement in perfect motion, with feet barely touching the floor. It will be more like floating than dancing, because it will actually be more like floating. No earthly laws of gravity in Heaven!
“But Charlotte, how can you know this?”, whines every theologian everywhere.
Well, you could say I’ve had a vision, or you could say I’m just dreaming, or maybe you could say it’s a little of both. We know there’s going to be a wedding feast for those who make it to Heaven. Scripture says so. What would a wedding feast be without dancing? And what would dancing at a wedding feast be without a Father-Daughter dance?
These are the dreams and visions that sustain me. Paul says we see God now as through a glass darkly, that is, we can only have a vague idea of him; we’re not made to know him as he really is. Not yet. Not while we’re in an imperfect body with limited senses. But Paul also says that when we get Home, we’ll see God “face to face”. Paul doesn’t say we’ll “perceive” him as he is, but that we’ll SEE him as he is. Only the physically manifested can be seen.
We tend to focus entirely on Jesus, which is understandable, considering that he is our Leader and the one whose example we’re to follow. But Jesus himself focused on God during his time on Earth and promised us that we’d have the same relationship with the Father as he did. He was insistent that we get to know God as our Father – not just as our God, but as our Father. So the more we focus on God, the more we become like Jesus and the clearer God becomes to us. And the clearer God becomes to us, the closer we draw to him and to Home.
We will not be dancing with God as a spirit in Heaven, but with God in a very real, very touchable body that is the most perfect among perfected beings. And to you, he’ll look exactly as you imagine him, and to me, he’ll look exactly as I imagine him, because that’s what God does: He fits himself perfectly to each one of us, whether we’re still here on Earth in our flawed human body or in Heaven in our perfected one. Or perhaps he’ll appear as he wants us to see him, because he can do that, too.
As Jesus told us, God is Spirit. That fact is indisputable. But just as indisputable is God’s ability to manifest as a body, as scripture well attests. God will appear to you as you believe him to be, and he’ll appear to me as I believe him to be. When we’re speaking to a baby or a young child, we adjust our tone and facial expressions to soothe and engage. We don’t want to frighten the little ones; we want to make them smile. God does the same with us. His aim is not to overwhelm us, his children, but to connect with us and let his love flow through us.
That is like dancing: the flow of love across and between bodies in motion. We can do that now with God, in Spirit; but in Heaven, oh, in Heaven, that’s when the real dance begins.
I’ve mentioned here and here and here and here that the way things are is the way things have to be, as they’ve been earned. The way things are is God’s perfect justice playing out in real-time. But that’s bitter medicine for most people to swallow, so they spend the majority of whatever precious time they have left here on Earth fighting the way things are instead of changing the way they themselves are. Even alleged Christians do this. (Even some born-agains do it.)
But the only way to change the way things are is to change the way YOU are. There’s no getting around that. You cannot make things better unless YOU first become a better person. That is Kingdom Law 101.
I speak without a filter here because we’re all born-again believers and we can take reminders of God’s Truth straight up with no mixer or chaser. I have no bedside manner and I sugar-coat nothing. We need to hear God’s Truth without hand-holding or hand-patting. We need to hear it the way Jesus taught his most loyal disciples behind closed doors.
We need to hear it the way God speaks directly to his people.
Yes, we want to mitigate suffering. Jesus first and foremost healed those who came to him for healing. But if you mitigate suffering without dealing with its root cause, all you do is push the suffering somewhere else. That’s why Jesus also warned those he healed not to sin again.
The root of all suffering is sin.
The Old Testament prophets were intimately aware of this. They were also intimately aware that the remedy for sin – especially backsliding – is genuine repentance (not lukewarm repentance, not forced repentance, not lip-serving repentance parroted on command – GENUINE repentance). Being aware of that the root of all suffering is sin, the prophets knew it was their duty to inform others, and they did, liberally, at every chance they got, and with no sugar-coating or hand-patting. They poured God’s Truth straight out with no mixer or chaser, like I do.
Most of them were ignored.
And there’s the crux of it – not that people aren’t informed and therefore don’t know the way to make things better; they choose to ignore God’s Truth and latch on instead to the devil’s sweet little lies. Because the devil, you see, will let you keep sinning. The devil will not only let you keep sinning, he’ll encourage and enable you to keep sinning and tell you you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to repent of, that your sins are not even sins at all, just your unique expression of your lived experience and a reasonable response to the pressures of life. He’ll assure you that YOU are the victim – always the victim – and so deserve reparations for whatever you’ve suffered. And he’ll also tell you that things can be made better simply with a change of government or a change of government policy or with a redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots. These are just some of the sweet little lies the devil will tell you to keep you in your sins. And with most people, he succeeds.
Turning back to God is always an option until it’s not. The OT prophets were very clear about that, too. God’s generous offer to take you back is time-limited, so you not only have to be sincere in your repentance, you have to do it while there’s still time. God and God alone decides whether or not your repentance is sincere and whether or not you still have time to turn back to him.
There is not one area of your life that you can’t improve simply by choosing to be a better person. What do I mean by being a better person? Keeping the Commandments. Following Jesus’ example in everything you do. Keeping it real with God. Submitting to God, even and especially when you don’t want to. Getting back up when you fall. And helping others to get back up, while reminding them not to sin again. That’s what it means to be a better person.
Well, you say, I do all that already. That may well be, but perhaps there’s still something you’re holding onto that you need to get rid of? Remember Jesus’ advice to the wealthy young ruler who came to him for help? It was his wealth and ‘stuff’ that were holding him back. So Jesus told him to get rid of it. Remember the wealthy young ruler’s response to Jesus’ advice? I’ve been there. I know what it is to be told to do something I don’t want to do. I know what it means to say: “Anything but that!” But eventually I relented and submitted to God, in the process becoming a better person for it – stronger in faith, closer to God, and following closer in Jesus’ footsteps.
Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place? Jesus came to tell the world about a better place, but while he was doing that, he also by default made the world better simply by choosing to be the best person he could be. He didn’t waste his time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; he manned the life boats.
The world is the way it is because of the people in it. Most people don’t want to hear that, but we born-agains need to hear it and act on it. The devil will frame God’s perfect justice as being “unfair” and even unjust, goading us to fight against the way things are, which is ultimately fighting against God. Don’t fall for the devil’s lies. Jesus says we can help the poor anytime we want to, and so we can. But if we really want to change the world for the better, we need to start with ourselves.
Jesus never stopped demanding more from himself or from his followers during his ministry years. No-one got a free ride or was told they’d done enough and could just coast from that point onward. Wherever you are today in your Homeward journey, you can always become a better person. You can always one-up yourself. That is how you make the world a better place while also showing and telling the world about a better place.
And there’s no better time to start doing that than right now.
God is having me read through the Bible again, but I’m stuck on page 1. What kind of light did God create on the first day before he created the sun on the fourth day? For thousands of years, people have been asking this question, and there is still no definitive answer.
But do we need one?
I’ve been reading the Bible more or less daily for over 20 years, and it has never occurred to me to question the source of the light that God created on the first day. God is omnipotent; he can do what we consider to be the impossible. He can do things we cannot even conceive, because we don’t have the capacity to conceive them, the way we don’t have the capacity to hear certain sounds outside our hearing range or see certain colors outside our visual range. We’ve been given limited senses as human beings, and why that is I neither know nor care. It’s enough for me to know that God knows why he gave us limited senses. I trust him implicitly, even though I don’t always understand what he does or why he’s doing it.
The book of Revelation tells us that God’s glory provides the light in Heaven, so there is no need for the sun or the moon. What is God’s glory? It’s usually depicted as a light emanating from whatever body God’s Spirit is lighting on. So it emanates from God when he’s on his throne; it emanates from God’s anointed and blessed; it emanates from whatever is the focus of God’s presence. God, I maintain, manifests in time and space as his Holy Spirit, though occasionally he also manifests in a body, as witnessed by Moses. So is God’s Holy Spirit and his glory one and the same? As I said, God can do anything, so we should never be surprised by anything God is said to have done, even though we may not understand it with our limited senses and intellect.
Which brings us back to the light that God divided from the darkness and called “Day”. Was that his glory manifesting in time and space, the way his spirit moved over the face of the waters? Or was the light simply a thing called “light” that exists separate from God, the way that rocks and water exist separate from him? Or perhaps the light was the proverbial “big bang”?
Just before I was born-again, I died on a beach. In my death, I was surrounded by darkness. There was no light. I did not see a light, like most people claim to see during near-death experiences. I was not drawn to a light. I was steeped in darkness. Was the darkness I saw in my death the same darkness that God separated from the light he created on the first day? Maybe. Maybe the light he created was simply the essence of light, the way that the darkness that pre-existed the light was simply the essence of darkness. Note that God did not call the darkness “bad”, but he did call the light “good”. Was the darkness I was plunged into at my death simply the absence of good, or rather the absence of God, my being an atheist at the time?
I’m just thinking out loud here. I have no problems confessing my human limitations. Theologians have pored over scripture for centuries, trying to find a definitive answer to what kind of light God created on the first day, and while they’ve devised some interesting theories, none of them are scripture-based. They are all speculation bouncing off scripture rather than speculation based on scripture.
Here’s what I think (bounce bounce). I think that we won’t find everything we need to know about God and his creation in scripture. Jesus told his followers that he had many things to reveal to them, but that they couldn’t understand them at that time; they’d have to wait for God’s Spirit to reveal God’s Truth to them when they were ready to receive it.
Which means that much of God’s revelation is not found in scripture. It comes instead through God’s Holy Spirit, which God gives in measure to his children. Some receive more, some receive less. But these revelations from God’s Spirit to his children do not appear in scripture. If these revelations don’t appear in scripture, then we can’t point to scripture as the one and only source for learning God’s Truth.
If scripture is not the one and only source for learning God’s Truth, then we should not be surprised that scripture does not contain a definitive answer to what kind of light God created on the first day.
To me, the light God created is just simply light. I accept it at face value and don’t need to know more than that. The source of that light is, of course, God. Whether that means the light is the light of his glory, as it is in Heaven (according to the book of Revelation), or simply the light of “Day” as a created entity separated from darkness is irrelevant. What I think doesn’t matter. Truth matters, and for that I lean entirely on God’s understanding, not mine.
All I know, as my personal lived experience as a born-again believer, was that I died on a beach in Australia and was plunged into darkness. There was no light in my death. The light only appeared when I came back to life as a believer.
It has not gone out since then.
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.
“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!
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?!!”)
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.