A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

I HAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE

I have a confession to make: I don’t spend time on Christian forums. In fact, I can’t stand them.

Same with Christian churches. I haven’t been in one for years. Can’t stand those, either. I was in an Anglican chapel a few years back, but only because I was the only one there (I checked before going in). It was empty except for me. I liked it that way.

I don’t purposely avoid Christian-designated spaces. I just don’t go out of my way to spend time in them, mainly because there are usually no genuine Christians there. There’s something cold and cloying about those spaces. They don’t feel blessed by God. They tend to have an oddly vacant feel even when they’re full, as if the space is not loved, just passed through and tolerated. It does God a disservice, those spaces being like that. That’s one of the main reasons I avoid them.

I used to live in a Catholic church. Not really, but basically yes, I lived there. I was given a key by a priest so I could come and go as I pleased. I spent more of my time there than I did at home, which at that time was a converted garage that I shared with my little five-and-a-half-pound calico cat, Pumpkin. She’s gone home now to her real forever home, so this piece isn’t about her; I just mention her in passing because we had a very cozy time sharing the converted garage together.

I was living in the garage when God showed me the truth about Catholicism (that it’s a pagan cult). He didn’t show me in the garage; he showed me in the church. Even so, the garage at that time was like a shrine or an off-site chapel of the church, full of crucifixes, pictures of the pope, alleged pictures of Jesus and the saints, prayer beads, prayer cards, blessed candles, blessed salt, and even a little blessed cat (yes, I took Pumpkin to the church one day and had her blessed in a private ceremony). I thought I had to have and do all these things because the Pope said I should have and do them, and I always (in those days) did what the Pope told me to do. The Pope said that pets were to be blessed by a priest, so off I dutifully carted Pumpkin to the priest to be blessed, even though Pumpkin hated her carry case and also superstitiously believed bad things would happen to her if I put her into it. (She was usually right about that.)

Jesus tells us that God is looking for people to worship him not in a building but in Spirit and in Truth. You don’t usually find that kind of worshiping going on in church buildings. In most cases, you find people who are there out of obligation or just going through the motions, or you find people who are trying to outdo each other in spiritual enthusiasm, like cheerleaders. But people who are there just because they love God and actually want to be there? Those people are few and far between. That’s been my experience, anyway.

Same with online Christian forums. BORING! Not to mention ill-informed and tyrannical. I can be as tyrannical as the best of them, but only for the Truth. The tyranny on some Christian forums in support of outright scripture-defying lies is, to me, intolerable. You know who hangs out and dominates Christian forums (besides the occasional spook)? Modern-day Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers. All the ones Jesus locked horns with. That’s who you’ll find on most Christian forums. They’re the gatekeepers that Jesus warned us would be trying to keep us from finding and proceeding along the Way. There have been gatekeepers in some guise or other since Jesus’ day. Another name for gatekeepers is wolves.

But what you choose to do is up to you. If you like your church building, go into it. If you like your Christian forums, hang out on them. Maybe because I came to Christianity directly from atheism without any bridge other than God and Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit, I have no use for people who say they’re Christians but live as if they’re not. I have no time for hypocrites. And I have zero patience for people who teach doctrines that are a-scriptural. Most people who call themselves Christian are, by their words and actions, doing more to keep people away from Jesus and God than drawing them to them.

Jesus only taught those who wanted to learn what he was teaching. Yet he also drew people to him just by the way he was. They came to him without him trying to draw them. At one point, even people who’d been sent to arrest him forgot they were supposed to be arresting him, they were so captivated by his words. In fact, they even left without arresting him. This is the effect we should have on people, too.

We are not Jesus, but we are to be like Jesus. That’s what it means to be a Christian. People may come at us as enemies, to oppose us, but we should be able at least to give them pause. There should be something about us, something about our words and actions that makes them stop and reconsider. If the world and the hypocrites love us, we’re not doing our job. If we’re welcomed by the worldly church and feel comfortable on Christian forums, we’re not doing our job: We’re not being like Jesus.

Being a Christian means to be hated by the world and loved by those who love God and Truth, just like Jesus was. You can’t be a Christian and at the same time be loved and accepted by the world. It doesn’t work that way. But you can be a type of curiosity that draws some people who love Truth but are still in the world, like Jesus drew Nicodemus.

Jesus went to the pubs not to preach but to comfort. He knew that the people there would not be among those who followed him from place to place, and he knew they didn’t want to be preached to. But they might want to share a drink with him and shoot the breeze. So Jesus spent some time at the pubs, doing an informal ministry that mostly involved just listening rather than talking. I’m saying that’s what he likely did (though the evidence is not blatantly presented in scripture) because that’s what you do when you want to minister to people who don’t want to be ministered to – you listen to them, you offer a kind word, you buy them a drink, you spend time with them, you show them they have value.

Of course, Jesus was castigated by the Pharisees & Co. for spending time in pubs, yet their disapproval didn’t stop him from going. Nothing they said stopped him from doing God’s will, and going to the pubs to spend time with and comfort the lost was definitely God’s will or Jesus wouldn’t have done it.

There is a big difference between those who say they see and are lost, and those who are just plain lost. Jesus used discernment to know the difference between the two, and so should we. Don’t waste your time arguing with the blind who claim to see (you’ll find them hanging out on Christian forums and warming pews in church buildings); help those who God puts in your path, the ones who’ve rejected the world but can’t find the way forward because they haven’t been taught the true Gospel. These are the lost sheep Jesus came to minister to, and we must continue his work.

I have another confession to make. I prefer hanging out with atheists than fake Christians. Atheists reject organized religion, which is the right thing to do, but equate religion with God and Jesus, which is the wrong thing to do. But this is an error in judgment, not an attempt at pretence. I prefer to spend time with people who are honestly wrong about something than with people who pretend to be what they’re not or to know what they don’t. Hypocrites are just as despicable now as they were in Jesus’ day.

I know from personal experience that those who genuinely love and seek the truth eventually come to God, because what they’re seeking is God and can only be found in God.

So what is your confession? And how do you not fit the worldly Christian mold?

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY: THE TURNING OF A PROPHET

When Jesus burst on the scene in the early days of his ministry, it was like a honey moon for him and his followers. He could do no wrong. They hung on his every word and the mood was constantly upbeat. These were the days of the Sermon on the Mount that included the oft-quoted beatitudes about blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the meek. Jesus was hailed as a great prophet and champion of the underdog, the long-awaited leader of his people. Everyone loved him and wanted to be near him, and his reputation as a healer drew thousands wherever he went.

But as the months turned into years, the promised kingdom materialized not as a geopolitical realm but as a spiritual one, and the followers started to drift away. This happened slowly at first and then more quickly as the doctrines grew less feel-good and more demanding. At the same time, Jesus expected more of his followers. He grew increasingly impatient and occasionally angry with them. He even openly voiced his desire to be finished his work so he could get back to Heaven and not have to deal with them anymore. This was a different Jesus than the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” who’d fed thousands from a few loaves and fishes. This was a Jesus who was whittling his followers down to a core group of believers, down to those who truly wanted to buy what he was selling and were willing to pay whatever it cost.

In the final days before his execution, Jesus again changed. He became distant but magnanimous towards his followers. He was preparing for his transition to Heaven and also steeling himself to endure his final agonizing hours on Earth. It was then that the first fruit of his Messiahship fully ripened from the flowers that had bloomed earlier in his ministry. While the kingdom had already come (as was witnessed in his casting out of demons by the power of God’s Holy Spirit), it was only in his last days on Earth that Jesus ascended the spiritual throne as King. No more Mr. Nice Guy – in his place was the Great Messiah who was to rule over the prophesied Kingdom that would have no end. He had truly become King of the Jews, just as the sign over his crucifix proclaimed.

The lives of all true believers follow a similar trajectory. Their early days of spiritual rebirth are full of joy and wonder and miracles, and they are a blessing to be around. This phase is followed by a long trek of ups and downs, mistakes and repentance, reaffirmations of promises made and a steady deepening of the commitment to God and his Messiah. How long this second stage lasts is entirely up to God. Sadly, many fall away during this time, even those who were once fervent believers.

But those who remain faithful to God finally enter a transition phase that is glorious to behold: They grow more powerful in their witness, more assured of their salvation, and more formidable in their presence. This is Stephen before being stoned to death and Paul in his final letters in Rome. This third phase may last either a few days or a few decades, again depending on God’s judgement, but God’s Spirit is strong with these tried and trued believers and they are an immovable force for good on Earth.

This is what we’re aiming for – to endure to the end, as Jesus said we must, so that we may stand strong and immovable and with a full measure of God’s Spirit, witnessing the Kingdom to all who want to hear: No more Mr. Nice Guy, but instead a powerful prophet of God, moving mountains and people with God’s Word.

SUNDAY SERMON

Jesus tells us that the time of his second coming will be much like the days of Noah, that is, people going about their daily lives, buying, selling, marrying, and giving in marriage. Most people will be caught unawares by the destruction, if you can call repeatedly being warned to repent and constantly ignoring those warnings being caught unawares. Maybe it’s better to say that most people will claim to be caught unawares.

We know that God is patient. But there is a certain measure of evil, the threshold of which God will not permit to be surpassed. It’s like an hourglass that has only a certain number of sand grains. When all the grains pass through the conduit, there are no more grains left to pass through. Time is up. No matter how much you wish there were more grains, there are none. The hourglass must be turned upside down for the grains to pass through again.

The exact measure and threshold of evil in a person’s soul is known only to God. But we can still know two general things about it: 1) The measure and threshold are perfect in their formulation, and 2) the measure and threshold are mitigated by God’s mercy. There is room for God’s mercy as long as there is time. But when time is up, mercy is no longer an option. You can no longer appeal to God’s mercy.

I mention all this not to teach you anything that you don’t already know, but simply to remind you about it. We all need reminding every now and then. God’s mercy is available to anyone who asks sincerely, but it is a time-limited offer. The people in Noah’s day found that out when they were drowning in the tsunamis, and the people in Sodom found that out when they were incinerating in brimstone.

There is an expectation (even among some of God’s own people) that God should fix everything for everyone all the time, without limit, but scripture is very clear that there are provisos and time limits to God’s help and mercy. Scripture tells us over and over again that you must seek the good to get the good. You can’t live a sinful life, purposely breaking Commandments and refusing to repent, and then demand that God heal all your wounds and prevent all calamities. It doesn’t work that way. Even those who love God and follow Jesus are still subject to pain and suffering. Their pain and suffering are, however, mitigated by the presence of God’s Spirit, a blessed balm that is not available to those who reject God.

Destruction comes in an instant, but it never comes without warning. God doesn’t just one day get up on the wrong side of the throne and decide to mess up people’s life on a whim: He gives them fair warning. In fact, he gives them more than fair warning, until the threshold of evil is reached, and there is no more sand in the hourglass.

When the end comes, it will seemingly come without warning to those who defy God, though those of us who love God and keep his Commandments will know somewhat in advance, the way Jesus during his ministry years always knew somewhat in advance what was coming. We will know because God will tell us, just as he told Noah, and just as he told Lot.

The old and new Testaments are full of warnings about what happens to people who defy God and his Commandments, and the world is full of old and new Testaments and of people teaching from them. No-one can say they weren’t warned. Even if people claim they don’t have access to an old or a new Testament or to hearing people teaching from them, God has put his Commandments in everyone’s heart, so they know right from wrong even without someone teaching it to them. If they are old enough to know how to defy the right, they are old enough to know right from wrong.

I guess you could say this Sunday sermon is in defence of God and his Way. I get tired sometimes of hearing people asking why God permits evil and destruction, as if God were some kind of spiritual anti-virus whose whole purpose is to prevent and eradicate all evil all the time. But God invented evil. He uses it as a testing tool and as a reward for wrong behavior.

The world is fallen and cannot be fixed. Only individual souls, one by one, if they embrace Truth and choose the good, can be fixed. Otherwise, the world is the valley of shadow and death, and was made to be such.

I get tired of people who openly and purposely and consistently defy God and then petulantly demand that he help them when they need help, all the while refusing to repent or in any way change their evil ways. Knowing what they do is evil, consistently choosing the evil, and then demanding that God help them even when they remain defiantly unrepentant – this is the worst kind of human behavior and deserves the worst kind of punishment.

God shows mercy to the merciful. That is scriptural. But mercy has to come first from the merciful before God imparts his mercy. We are always to take the first step. God will not override our free will. We are always to take the first step and make the first gesture, like the prodigal son who realizes he would be better off living as his father’s servant and so makes the long journey home to his father to tell him that. The son makes the first gesture, and then his father joyfully races out to meet him and shower him with gifts. God is ever-ready to shower everyone with gifts, but they must take the first step, make the first gesture, and it must be sincere.

Even so, there is an expiration to God’s mercy. When the time of mercy expires, those who love God will know, but those who hate him won’t know what’s going on. For me, some of the most poignant words in scripture are those describing people crying out for God’s help and mercy too late. They left it too late. And God could no longer help them.

What do you say to those people? They will only curse you and God all the more, blame you and God all the more. So when people ask you “Why does God permit evil?” or “Why has he done this to me?”, tell them what Jesus said during his ministry: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” If they don’t want to repent and believe the Gospel, then they don’t want to know the Truth or to be set free from lies, so nothing you say will make any sense or any difference to them. They are blind and deaf and going the way of all blind and deaf. You must let them be. As hard as it is, you must respect their free will right to choose evil and to earn the rewards of that choice. You must let them be.

But if they do choose to repent and believe the Gospel, you have won a friend.

One spirit unites all true believers – there are different talents, different opinions, different likes and dislikes, different hair and skin colors, but the same Spirit of God unites us all, and so we share the same values and are all friends. You cannot but be friends with those who sincerely love God and follow Jesus. I have yet to meet a true believer I haven’t felt an instant and overwhelming connection with, even if I don’t know anything about them, and even if our contact is just for a few minutes. There’s something about the presence of a true believer that makes me respond like John the Baptist jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when he hears Mary’s voice, knowing Jesus is right there beside him.

The time of the end of God’s mercy will come, and we as true believers will know that time has come, but until and even after then we must continue to treat everyone as we want to be treated. As long as there is time, we need to be like Jesus and point the way home. When time is up, we still need to be kind, even to the condemned, and even amidst the unleashing of Hell on Earth.

And that, my friends, will be our greatest test of all.

THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING BORN-AGAIN

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest of all Commandments, he didn’t hesitate in answering that it was to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This directive was so ingrained in Jesus that is was, for him, self-explanatory. He didn’t have to think about it: He lived it.

If someone asked me what’s the best thing about being born-again, I would say that it was the inbuilt desire to love God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength. You see, when you’re born-again, you don’t have to be commanded to love God. You just love him. It’s part of the state of being born-again.

If you’re not born-again, you have to consciously work at putting God at the center of your life. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort and time to form that habit, but form it you must. That’s why God made it a Commandment.

But when you’re born-again, you just love God. You can’t help it. It’s like Jeremiah lamenting about preaching the Word – if you try to stop yourself from doing it because of all the problems it causes you, it burns you up like a fire on the inside. You can’t contain it. You have to love God and speak his Word because it is who you are. It’s become the core of your being. It’s more you than you.

Loving God is part and parcel of being a born-again believer. It’s not something you can turn on and off: it’s perpetually on as long as you’re in the state of grace. And with it comes the enormous rewards of God’s ferocious love and protection, joy under every circumstance, and the sure hope (not yet a guarantee, but a sure hope) of Heaven when your time on Earth is up. While hope does leave some wiggle-room for failure, being born-again ups the ante of the hope into nearly a sure thing. At the very least, you can know that you’re firmly on the road that leads to Heaven. This is your sure hope and the best guarantee that God can give you for the time being.

So go ahead – ask me. Ask me what’s the best thing about being born-again. Ask me again and again and again, because I love talking about God and I love being born-again and I love talking about all the things God does for me as a born-again believer. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me and remains the best thing, no matter what’s going on in my life. No matter what stupid thing I do to bring crap on myself, God hauls me through it by the seat of my pants and sets me upright on the other side with a hug and a kind word and a tissue for my sniffles. And then he gives me a gentle push to keep me going in the right direction.

Being born-again is the greatest state of being on Earth. There is nothing greater. How do I know this? Because Jesus, during his temptation in the desert, turned down the devil’s offer to control the world and all its resources if Jesus would just worship him. Jesus instead chose loving God and the rewards that come with loving God as being greater than the rewards that come with having all the wealth and power in the world. That’s how I know that being born-again is the greatest state of being on Earth.

We need to thank God every day, all day, for this very great gift that no amount of money can buy.

So what’s the greatest of all Commandments? To love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.

And what’s the best thing about being born-again? Loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and all the rewards that come with it.

“ARE WE THERE YET?” The Seemingly Endless Journey to the End of Time

Jesus tells us that the end of time is unknown to everyone but God. Nonetheless, an entire field of theology called eschatology (“ess-ke-TOL-ogy”) is devoted to it, and countless self-professed prophets have been trying to pinpoint the end date for millennia, to no avail.

There are two problems with trying to find out the end date: 1) God won’t tell you, and 2) God still won’t tell you.

If all the angels in Heaven don’t know, and even Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father doesn’t know, why would people on Earth think they can know? Even more puzzling, why would other people believe them?

Yes, we can know the “season”, but the predictors that indicate the season are quite general (war and rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, etc.). Was there ever an age when we didn’t have wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines? Jesus also mentioned that the Gospel must be preached in all the world before the end can come, but with hundreds of babies being born every minute, the preaching will go on for a while yet.

The beings with probably the biggest stake in wanting to pinpoint the end date are the fallen angels and demons, because they have a strong motivation for wanting to delay it, namely forestalling eternity in the lake of fire. And it appears that delaying is exactly what they’re doing. As mentioned, Jesus says that the Gospel first has to be preached in all the world before the end can come, so one of the two main ways that the dark spirits are trying to delay the end is to prevent the Gospel from being preached.

And how are they doing that?

By outlawing it, changing it, and bringing it into disrepute (“it’s out-dated”, “it’s irrelevant”, “it’s racist”, “it’s homophobic”, “it’s hate speech”, etc.). Their plan seems to be working. Even in places where the Gospel isn’t outright banned, it’s been removed from public spaces and hounded off public and private Internet forums. To our dire detriment, God and Jesus are no longer welcome in formerly Christian nations.

Along with getting rid of the Bible and stifling or perverting the Gospel, another way that the times of the gentiles are being dragged out is preventing souls from coming into the world. And how is that being accomplished? Through birth control, abortion, vaccines, and sterilizing chemicals in the food, water, air, and everyday household products.  At the same time, non-stop propaganda informs us that having children is not only selfish but also bad for the environment, and families are a thing of the past.

I’m not entirely convinced that these stalling tactics will be successful, however. Remember how the legion of demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of swine rather than to be cast back into Hell? Jesus gave them their wish, but then drove the herd over the cliff and into a lake, drowning them. No matter how clever the devil and his hordes think they are, God and Jesus are always one step ahead.

The takeaway from all this is that the end will come when God says it will. He’s in the driver’s seat. We can know the signs of the season, but seasons themselves can be fickle. Yes, eschatology has a place in the life of believers, but it’s better to focus on doing God’s will both in and out of season than on constantly looking for and trying to interpret the signs of the end.

“Are we there yet?”

Nope, not yet.

We’ll get there when we get there.

FROM HORROR TO LOVE: The Story of King Manasseh

Being under the power of Satan can lead you to do some horrible things.

I knew this intimately before I was born-again because I did horrible things myself, and now, since my rebirth, I see those horrible things being done by others.

But some take the horror to extremes, like Manasseh, King of Judah.

We know from scripture that Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah. He co-reigned with his dad from the age of 12, and then became king upon Hezekiah’s death. We also know from scripture that Hezekiah did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, but that Manasseh did that which was evil, overturning, for a time, all of Hezekiah’s reforms.

If you don’t know the story of King Hezekiah and his son Manasseh, please take a few moments to read through 2 Chronicles 29-33:20.

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God is patient. Even in the face of extreme evil, God gives people time to repent of the horror they inflict on others. God has also promised to look after the children and children’s children and children’s children’s children of those who love him and keep his Commandments.

The prophet Isaiah was related to Manasseh on his mother’s side. Some sources claim that Isaiah was Manasseh’s maternal grandfather. Isaiah was a very great prophet in the eyes of the Lord and also greatly beloved by Jesus. In fact, Jesus quoted a passage from Isaiah when he publicly came out as the Messiah in his home synagogue in Nazareth. Isaiah’s prophecies speak intimately and personally of Jesus.

And yet Manasseh, while under the spell of evil, had the prophet Isaiah, his grandfather, sawed in half with a wood saw.

Let that sink in for a moment.

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God is patient. He was with me and still is with me. But God was also patient with Manasseh, even despite all the horror he unleashed on his people, including his grandfather. As a reward for his evil, Manasseh was captured by the Assyrians and imprisoned.

While in prison, weighed down by heavy chains and the full horror of his sins, Manasseh cried out to God, and God heard him. Manasseh then repented of his evil, and God forgave him.

As a token of his forgiveness, God released Manasseh from the Assyrian prison and reinstated him as King of Judah. Manasseh then spent the remainder of his reign undoing all the evil he had done, faithfully keeping his promise to God and showing the sincerity of his repentance.

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The story of King Manasseh is intertwined with the story of the prophet Isaiah, his grandfather, and the story of King Hezekiah, his father. It starts out as a horror story, but then turns into a love story showing God’s great mercy and forgiveness. We don’t hear much about Manasseh’s conversion from evil to good, but we should. It’s a reminder that God looks after the children and children’s children and children’s children’s children, and so on, of those who do God’s will and die in God’s grace. It is also a reminder of God’s great mercy even to those who do profound evil to those who die in God’s grace.

As a final gesture of humility, King Manasseh requested that he be buried in the grounds of his own house rather than in the City of David, where kings traditionally were buried.

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I know that if I make it home to Heaven, I will find Manasseh there among the living, and that all the horror he did before his conversion will have been forgotten by everyone there, including God, just as what I did will be forgotten. Here on Earth, we still read about the horrors inflicted by Manasseh before his conversion because we need to learn from his mistakes, just as we need to learn from the mistakes of others and (hopefully) from our own. At the same time, we need to take hope in how Manasseh found forgiveness through sincere repentance, and how he made good on that repentance for the rest of his life.

Manasseh’s is a horror story that turned into a love story with a happily-ever-after ending. I pray that our stories – however they started out – will end the same.

SPIRITUAL REAL ESTATE

There’s no such thing as a spiritual vacuum.

If someone refuses to have God and Jesus in their life (remember, God and Jesus are a two-fer, you can’t just get one or the other) – if someone refuses to have God and Jesus in their life, some other spiritual entity will take over that spiritual real estate, and it won’t be a good entity.

The same happens with nations.

When a certain percentage of people in a country turn against God, the blessings and protections that God brings to that nation are removed. We see that over and over again in scripture. God doesn’t even spare his own people, if they continuously choose evil and refuse to repent. Born-agains, too, can fall away, if they choose to.

What we are witnessing now is the spiritual, economic, and cultural implosion of formerly Christian nations under the guise of a “pandemic”, all leading to a global revolution that is at heart demonically inspired. None of this could have happened if the people in those nations had chosen the good rather than the evil. When evil is chosen, it is welcomed, and when it is welcomed, it comes in and makes itself at home.

Over the short term, evil may have the appearance of good, calling itself “equity” and “justice” and “inclusion” as a rallying cry. But at some point, the rallying becomes bullying and the suggestions for “fair treatment” become doctrines of man enshrined into laws, replacing God’s Law. And suddenly we are threatened with arrest for calling a man a man instead of the woman he prefers to be called.

Evil always reveals itself eventually, though at first it usually comes masked. This is why Paul says to test the spirits, so you can see what is underneath the mask. We well know that Satan appears as an angel of light to non-believers and believers alike.

Spiritual real estate is the most precious commodity on Earth. It’s not bought or sold on any stock exchange, but there is not one soul that is not under some form of speculation. Born-again souls are of especially high value in this market. We are fully protected by God’s Spirit, yes, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be tested, that doesn’t mean that our souls aren’t coveted by evil spirits. Remember how Jesus said to Peter that Satan desired to have him. Satan desires to have us all. Just as there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents, there is a similar celebration among the evil spirits when the righteous fall.

So you can imagine the celebration going on now as church buildings and the Bibles in them burn and the children and grandchildren of God’s faithful turn their backs on God – whole nations turn their backs on God – and choose evil.

There is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum. When God’s Spirit and protection leave a place, devils rush in to claim it, and its end is death. As Jesus said, it would have been better for that spiritual real estate never to have existed at all.

WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

Whenever I hear about someone leaving Christianity, I know that they were never really Christian to begin with. It would be like Jesus saying during his ministry years that he was parting ways with the Father. Can you imagine him saying that? Why would he say that? Who would give him a better deal than God?

Who would give us a better deal than God?

This is the danger of luring people to Christianity when they don’t really want what God is offering. Scripture tells us that only those who are called can come to God, but it’s God doing the calling. When we lead people to God, we need to be sure that God is actually asking us to lead them, because if we lead them on our own volition (that is, without God calling them), the mission is ultimately going to fail, and we’ll pay the price for it.

Not only doctors play God these days. Christians do, too, when they try to evangelize the reluctant. Jesus never instructed us to lure or cajole people into choosing God’s Way. In fact, he told us to let those people be and to shake the dust off our feet as a warning to them. Our job is simply to present the Gospel so that it’s understandable, not to tart it up and sell it at half-price with a free bonus gift for the first 100 customers. Those who truly want to accept God’s invitation will do so without tricks or bribes or signing bonuses.

God lures because he knows how to do it perfectly; we, on our own steam, only mess it up, and also tend to do it for our ego’s sake.

When Jesus first hit the ministry scene, he was like the new prophet in town. Everyone wanted a piece of him. But most of those early Jesus fans were only in it for the miracle healings and good feels. So when Jesus started preaching about persecution and loving your enemies, they wanted out.

Today’s Jesus fans are much the same, caught up in the good feels and promises of material abundance. But serving God, while never without good feels, also involves a life of itinerancy, poverty, rejection, and persecution. There are no good feels in those things in and of themselves, though the constant presence of God’s Spirit does lighten the load. Christians who fall away from following Jesus do so because they were not called in the first place and are not reborn, and so God’s Spirit is not with them. Absent God’s Spirit, the Gospel message doesn’t make much sense to them, and so these fair-weather followers see no point in trailing after Jesus after the initial rush is over.

Jesus’ three-year ministry started with just a few people, swelled into tens of thousands, and then dwindled to a handful by the time of his execution. The same trajectory has been playing out since his resurrection – a few passionate followers eventually became billions of nominal Christians, though today only few genuine followers remain. As an indication of the extent of the falling away that he knew would happen at the end of time, Jesus wondered if he would even find faith on Earth at his second coming.

The falling away is happening now.

Are you a fair-weather fan of Jesus, just in it for the good feels and promise of abundance, or are you a sincere born-again believer who follows Jesus because you can’t conceive of doing anything else? When Jesus asked his disciples if they, too, would leave him, Peter responded: “Where would we go? Who else has the words of eternal life?”

Indeed: Where would you go? And in going, where would you end up?

Those who fall away from Christianity were never Christians to begin with.

There is no life outside of God’s Spirit, and there’s nothing better on Earth than being a born-again follower of Jesus and a child of God.

WILL YOU BE LEFT BEHIND?

When I was 17, I belonged to a musical group that was preparing to go on tour in the US. But I hadn’t been to rehearsals for a while, so the group leader pulled me aside a few weeks before the group’s departure and told me I couldn’t go with them. I remember feeling an unreal feeling, as if this wasn’t happening to me, and that at any moment the leader would burst out laughing and yell “KIDDING! Of course you’re coming with us!”, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I was unceremoniously escorted to the door, and that was that.

Two weeks later the group went on tour without me.

I was left behind.

I could go into details about why I hadn’t gone to rehearsals for a while, but let’s just say that some things were beyond my control, and some weren’t. The long and the short of it was that I wasn’t prepared for the trip. I didn’t know the music. It wouldn’t be fair to the other people, the leader pointed out, if they worked so hard to go and I didn’t work as hard (or even at all) and still got to go.

It wouldn’t be fair to them, was the argument.

I was well aware that I wasn’t prepared, but I figured I would get a break. I always got a break. I was used to getting breaks all my life to that point, and frankly I counted on them. I expected them. Exceptions were always made for me. Even if I lagged at something, I got pushed through. People vouched for me. Room was made.

But not this time. In fact, this time set the tone for the next 19 years until my rebirth. I had grown up being made an exception, but I had finally hit the wall. Very few exceptions were made for me from that day forward.

We will all die someday, and after that comes the judgement. We can’t avoid either, though we can prepare now, like the five wise virgins who had enough oil in their lamps. But there are those (and they are the vast majority) who think they are somehow the exception and that even if they’re not prepared, they’ll get pushed through, rules will be bent for them. And so they continue to live as if they have every right to go on tour, even though they haven’t rehearsed and don’t know the music.

Heaven is a reward that is so far above and beyond our greatest expectations that all we can really do when we talk about it is grunt and point. Anything we say is just filthy rags in comparison to the beauty and perfection and unspeakable joy that awaits those who go to rehearsals and fill their lamps ahead of time. There will be no exceptions when, as Johnny Cash puts it, the man comes around. We will be judged not on our expectations but on what we did or didn’t do with the very great privilege of time and space and talents and free will that God so graciously gave us, though we deserved none of it.

You can imagine that I did not learn my lesson about preparing when I was kicked out of the music group. I got angry instead, and the anger grew and grew with each subsequent kick to the teeth. In the final moments before my rebirth 19 years later, I was so full of anger and resentment and outrage at how people treated me, I died from it. Yes, you can die from misplaced pride. I know, because I did. It never occurred to me in all the years leading up to that physical death that I was in fact to blame for every problem that hounded me. Not one thing had been done to me that I hadn’t earned, including getting excluded from the music tour all those years ago.

I know now that when things get uneasy, I need to look at the choices I’ve made leading up to the unease and rectify any wrong ones as best I can. This is a process I’ve learned since my rebirth over 20 years ago. I take nothing for granted now and expect no exceptions to be made for me, any more than they were made for the foolish virgins with no oil in their lamps. Some things are serious and real, and going to Heaven (or not going to Heaven) is the most serious and real of them all.

I pray to God that you won’t be called aside one day and told you can’t go to Heaven because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do when you had the grace of time to do it, and that no exceptions will be made for you.

I pray to God that I won’t be called aside, either.

PERSECUTION: A Time for Rejoicing!

Jesus warned us that we would face persecution as his followers. If you’re genuinely following Jesus, then you’ve likely already experienced it. And while it may not feel good while it’s happening, persecution is actually a good sign: It indicates that you’re “over the target” and making headway for the Kingdom.

Regardless of the form that persecution takes, you’re always to respond to it as Jesus taught us: praying for your persecutors and blessing them. You are NEVER to report the persecution to an authority, including law enforcement, and you are NEVER to try to get revenge on your persecutor. Instead, you’re to put your personal feelings aside and be kind and courteous.

I knew a woman who was mercilessly persecuted for decades, but not once did she speak an unkind word either to or about her persecutors. On the contrary, she always found some reason to praise and encourage them. The kinder she was to her persecutors, the crueler they were to her, but she never swayed from her approach. To her dying breath, she continued to bless and pray for those who hated and persecuted her. Of all the people I know, she is the only one I know for sure made it home.

Blessing someone while they’re abusing you for your beliefs is one of the most difficult things in the world to do, and you will not succeed at it without relying on God for help. Persecution is a test to see how well you’ve learned the lesson about not being offended by anything. Very few people can stand quiet and motionless while being beaten and spat on, but Jesus did. We’re also expected to do the same under similar circumstances.

My grandmother used to say: “The proof is in the pudding.” We can claim to be born-again followers of Jesus, but if we respond to persecution by pushing back at our enemies instead of blessing and praying for them, then we’re not as Christian as we claim to be. I don’t say this to discourage you but to remind you (and to remind myself) what is expected of us in the world. Being a born-again believer has enormous privileges as well as enormous responsibilities, including being the one designated to stop the cycle of violence.

One of the best ways to successfully handle persecution is to remind yourself that God is in control. If he permits you to be persecuted, he is testing you. Go to him for help, like you would a trusted teacher. God is the only one who’s going to get you through the attack. Remember that Jesus never did anything without first asking for God’s help. Asking for help from God was his default and it should be ours as well.

Long story short – don’t fight back against persecution and don’t report it to any authority: ENDURE IT. It is meant for your strengthening. Also, those persecuting you need your intervening prayers, which are not going to be of any value (that is, God won’t hear them) if at the same time you’re confronting your persecutors, beating them, reporting them, suing them, or having them arrested. Even telling other people what someone did to you will nullify any good that might have come from it. Keep it between you, your persecutors, and God.

Persecution is a given as a follower of Jesus. We are told to be offended in nothing, so don’t be offended by persecution. If we are being persecuted, it’s because we’re over the target and making great strides for the Kingdom. Rejoice at that. Don’t complain about persecution or try to eradicate it – REJOICE!