A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?

ARE YOU BORN AGAIN? This may seem a strange question to ask readers of a blog that is intended for born-again believers, but ask it I must. You don’t have to answer me. I’m not looking for an outward answer. You need to answer within yourselves.

Jesus said that we need to be born again. He said that if we’re not born again, we can’t see the Kingdom and can’t enter into it. And if we can’t see the Kingdom and can’t enter into it, we won’t make it home.

That’s why the question of whether or not you’re born again is so important and needs to be asked, even on a blog that’s written for born-again believers.

And if you’ve answered with “No” or “I think I am” or “I’m not sure”, you need to drop everything you’re doing and focus entirely on getting reborn.

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Spiritual rebirth is not something that you can arrange like a play date. You can’t order spiritual rebirth online. You can’t buy it – not with all the money in the world – and you can’t learn it from all the world’s wisdom. Even your minister or priest can’t make you born again, no matter how hard they try. Spiritual rebirth, as John tells us, comes from the will of God only, not from the will of man.

So how can you get born again?

Good question.

And the answer is: Ask God.

Since God is in charge of spiritual rebirth, it only makes sense to ask him how to get reborn.

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Spiritual rebirth happens at a time and place of God’s choosing. It won’t happen simply because you want it or because you recite something or do an altar call. I’ve had arguments with people about this. I’ve also had arguments with people who claim that spiritual rebirth is a long drawn-out process that happens over time rather than an instantaneous miracle. Gestation happens over time, yes, but birth happens suddenly and with a great cry and push. It’s the same with spiritual rebirth. The long process of spiritual gestation is not rebirth: the great final cry and push that brings a new being into life is rebirth.

Ask a mother who still has a child in her womb whether her baby’s been born. She’ll look at you all kinds of strange. The same holds true for spiritual rebirth. The born-again soul is something entirely different from the soul that is still gestating.

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Many people who claim to be born again are actually in a state of spiritual gestation. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not rebirth, so it’s not enough. Jesus said you must be born again. If you stop at the gestation stage, it will be no different than if you’d lived a life of unrepentant sin and died unrepentant. You’ll be like the people Jesus mentions in scripture who knock at the Master’s door, trying desperately to get in and saying: “We’ve eaten and drunk at your table, and you’ve taught in our streets”, to which the Master responds: “I never knew you.”

Imagine the horror of hearing Jesus say to you on Judgement Day “I never knew you”, knowing that because he never knew you, you weren’t going to Heaven.

I can’t think of anything worse.

And at that point, it will be too late to get to know to Jesus.

If your aim is Heaven, you need to be born again while you’re still on Earth. There is no other way to get where you want to go. Jesus says those who try to climb up some other way rather than entering through the door will not make it home. Jesus is the door, and God’s Way is how you enter.

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If you’re not born-again, you need to let God know that you want to be born again. You need to let him know that you want a relationship with him as your Dad and with Jesus as your Lord, teacher, brother, and best friend. You can only have these relationships if you’re born again, and if you don’t have them, you won’t make it home. It’s that simple.

So I ask you one more time: ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?

Don’t tell me the answer. Tell yourself. And if your response isn’t a resounding “YES, THANK GOD!”, tell God in prayer that you want to be reborn. Then make being born again your one and only priority until you are.

CHRISTIAN SURVIVAL PREPPING

I’m paraphrasing here, but Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) once said that it wasn’t the obscure parts of the Bible that troubled him, it was the parts that were plain and clear and that he knew he wasn’t abiding by.

Jesus taught people in two ways: in parables for those who were still on the spiritual fence, and plainly for those who could handle the truth.

One of the plainest verses in the New Testament is about what to do when you get the order from God to flee. Let’s look at it:

“Let no one on the housetop come down to retrieve anything from his house.  And let no one in the field return for his cloak.” (Matthew 24:17-18)

Jesus says straight out what to expect and what to do. He doesn’t say “if you have time, go back and get what you need”, he tells us don’t even think about going back, not even for your coat.

So how does this plain-spoken warning from Jesus align with so-called Christian prepping? It doesn’t. A whole industry has grown up around “Christian end-time survival” that flies in the face of Jesus’ teachings on fleeing at a moment’s notice and with just the clothes on your back.

Jesus lived the last three years of his life on the run. He was constantly under threat of arrest, he had no possessions other than what he wore, and he never stayed for more than a few days in any one place. And yet so-called Christian preppers are, for instance, trying to sell you seeds that presumably you’re going to need more than a few days to plant, grow, and harvest. Or do you think God wants us to go on the run clutching an armful of potted tomatoes?

Let me be plain here. When things get really crazy over the next few years and the persecutions ramp up against those who won’t accept the “new normal” world order, you won’t be planting seeds, and if you do, you won’t be hanging around to watch them grow. You’ll be on the run, like Jesus, and the only thing you’ll be watching is your back to see who’s gaining on you. Whatever preps you’ve stockpiled you’ll have to leave behind for someone else. God will provide for you on the run, like he did for Jesus. But forget about bugging out to a fully-stocked and fortified bunker where you’ll be left in peace to ride out the coming purge. It ain’t gonna happen that way – not for you, and not for any real Christian.

Christian preppers are living in a fantasy world. Don’t fall for their lies. If you want to survive what’s coming, you’ll have to live like Jesus – ready to leave at a moment’s notice, constantly on the run, and traveling light. And while you’re on the run, you’ll be preaching and teaching and modeling the Word. The prepper lifestyle and the Christian-on-the-run lifestyle are dead opposite.

My advice on how to “prep” for what’s coming? Let me be plain-spoken, like Jesus: We need to do less stockpiling and more abiding by what’s in the Bible.

ALPHA OMEGA

Jesus tells us to be offended in nothing. My grandmother used to call this “water off a duck’s back” or having a “thick skin”. But today we live in an age when being offended is a full-time job and considered a social virtue. Rather than to let the offence slide off us like water, we’re encouraged to trumpet it across every form of media and to never let it go.

We born-agains, however, are not to do that. Jesus tells us we’re to be offended in nothing and to love those who try to offend us. We do this by forgiving them, blessing them, and praying for them.

Again – we’re to be offended in nothing.

In a wolf pack, the alphas are the lead male and female, and the omegas are the lowly scapegoats. The alphas get to lord over the pack, eat first, make the decisions, and breed. The omegas, on the other hand, get sneered at by the rest of the pack, are bullied and beaten, are last in line for food, and never get to breed. That’s the agreement, anyway, within the pack. All the wolves have their established roles to play: the alphas are first, and the omegas are last.

In scripture, we read that God is “Alpha and Omega, first and last”. For years I assumed it meant that God was at the beginning of time and will be at the end of time, and endures forever. I saw “Alpha” and “Omega” as a chronological thing. But when I read about the wolf pack pecking order, I remembered what Jesus told us in the gospels – that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” – and I saw the scriptural concept of Alpha and Omega in a whole new light.

So I did a little more digging into the traits of omega wolves, and what I found was jaw-dropping. While most of the omegas are submissive by character (that is, they’re born that way), every now and then an omega comes along that has a whole different agenda. This omega is the “dark horse”, the wild card, the one that’s temporarily agreed to the lowly position because the role he was born to play (alpha) is currently occupied. These omegas are submissive only to avoid conflict and to halt the chain of aggression. Over time, some of them will leave to start another pack as the alpha, some will leave to become the fabled lone wolf, and some will eventually rise to challenge their own alphas and take over the pack.

Far from being a weakling or a pushover, the “wild card” omegas are the quintessential free spirits. They don’t fit into the wolf hierarchy and so choose to remain on the fringes, biding their time. They permit the other wolves to abuse them not because they’re weak, but because the abuse is inconsequential to them. They’re offended in nothing. They have a thick skin and another agenda.

When he came out as the Messiah at the start of his ministry, Jesus adopted the role of omega. There was no room for an alpha Messiah in the deeply entrenched hierarchy of Judaism, any more than there was room for Jesus in Bethlehem at his birth. And so he was pushed to the edges of established religion and hounded and mocked by the temple alphas, all the while playing the role of a lowly itinerant preacher, the son of a lowly carpenter, all the while biding his time, knowing who he was in God’s eyes, and one by one gathering a new pack around him.

God is the Creator and Lord over all, and yet he permits people to curse him, to disobey his commands, to act as if he doesn’t exist, and to destroy his creation. He permits all this not because he’s weak, but because he’s patient. He’s biding his time. God could easily stop all human acts of cruelty and stupidity, but then he wouldn’t be honoring his promise of free will to us. And so the Eternal Alpha Of All Alphas plays the lowly role of Omega, just as Jesus the Messiah played the lowly role of omega, and just as we, as Jesus’ followers, play the lowly role of omegas in the world, turning the other cheek not because we’re weak, but because we’re offended in nothing.

It takes more strength to endure abuse and not to return it than to be an abuser. It takes more strength to be patient than to lash out. We born-agains are spiritual alphas who appear to the world as lowly omegas because we’re offended in nothing, and we love our enemies, and we submit to offences. If our Lord and Creator can play the role of Omega when it serves his good purpose, and if Jesus could play the role of omega to further the Kingdom, then we should have no problem playing omegas for our short time on Earth.

We know who we are in God’s eyes. We know who we are in God’s Kingdom. What the world thinks of us is just water off a duck’s back.

WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

Jesus spent the entirety of his ministry years teaching about God’s Kingdom. His focus was showing his followers how to live and thrive within the spiritual realm of the Kingdom while they were still in an earthly body. He taught that it was not practical to apply the laws of God’s Kingdom to the earthly realm, any more than it was advisable to apply the laws of the earthly realm to God’s Kingdom. These are two separate but interwoven jurisdictions, both of which must be dealt with appropriately.

Jesus emphasized that the Kingdom of God cannot be seen with the eyes, as it was “within” us. It’s a spiritual realm, not an earthly one. He also likened it to a speck of yeast hidden in dough that makes it rise, or the tiniest of seeds that grows to become a massive spreading tree. These are things that either cannot be seen or are difficult to see, as they are hidden in dough or in the ground. At no time did Jesus describe God’s Kingdom in worldly political terms or as something that was far off in the distant future. In fact, he stated the opposite, declaring: “My kingdom is not of this world”, and that: “If I, by the finger of God, cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you”.

If the Kingdom had not already come, Jesus wouldn’t have spent all his ministry years teaching about it. His lessons were meant to be applied soon after he taught them (that is, within the lifetime of his followers), not in some hazy distant future 2,000 or 3,000 years down the road. Jesus taught about the Kingdom not only because it had already come, but because it required a whole new way of living that in many respects was opposite to the world’s ways and to what had been taught in the Law.

Let’s take, for instance, how to deal with enemies. The Old Testament was clear that you are to exact revenge on an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” basis, but the Kingdom requires that you let your enemies keep their eyes and teeth, and that you love them instead. You do this by praying for them and blessing them, even while they’re cursing and killing you. This was a hard teaching for many of Jesus’ followers then, and it remains a hard teaching for many today. Nonetheless, like the Commandments, it is a core tenet of the Kingdom, and as such is non-negotiable.

Another controversial teaching is Jesus’ advice to sell everything you have to buy a sword. Many have taken this teaching to mean that you should not only arm yourself, but that you have God’s blessing to harm others in self-defence, in violation of the Commandment. But Jesus didn’t say that we should use weapons to hurt others. In fact, he demonstrated the opposite when he told his followers to put up their swords and then healed the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest him. He also stated at that time (a very teachable moment): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. We are to live by God’s Word and Commandments, not by revenge or self-defence. Jesus’ advice to arm ourselves meant that we should carry weapons as a deterrent only – not to kill or maim, but as a visible deterrent.

Despite Jesus openly stating during his ministry that God’s Kingdom had already come, many Christians today still believe that God’s Kingdom will only be established at Jesus’ second coming, and that in fact the whole purpose of the second coming is for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. This belief is a-scriptural: In other words, it ain’t in the Bible. Along with Jesus explicitly stating in the gospels that the Kingdom had already come, Paul mentioned several times that we followers of Jesus are priests and prophets in that Kingdom. He never once said that we should pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom because he, as as born-again believer, was only too aware that it had already come: He was living in it, as are we, if we are born-again.

What Jesus actually advised us to wait for was his coming in glory. This event will occur with great fanfare, the kind that those who rejected Jesus 2,000 years ago had expected the first time around when he revealed himself as the Messiah and established his kingdom. This glorious revelation of Jesus’ messiahship THAT EVERYONE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE will be the open manifestation of the spiritual realm in the earthly realm for all to see. The Kingdom will no longer be invisible or “hidden”, but will blaze from horizon to horizon and be heralded by a blast of trumpets.

And what will Jesus do when he comes in glory? Will he give it all up to establish an earthly kingdom, even though he said time and time again that his kingdom is not of this world? I highly doubt that sitting on an earthly throne in Jerusalem will be at the top of his to-do list at that point. Jesus tells us that he will send his angels to gather together the last of his followers and take them all home. Or as Paul says, they will be caught up in the air, like Jesus was at his ascension, or as Elijah at his. Jesus’ second coming will not mark the establishment of a worldly geo-political kingdom, but rather the end of the world.

As we know from scripture, the long-awaited second coming will only occur after a time of great tribulation of natural and man-made disasters. So while we look forward to Jesus’ return in glory, we should not look forward to the horrors that will precede it. God’s people will be protected spiritually during the tribulation, though not necessarily physically. Christianity will be outlawed and persecution of Christians will become the norm again. And by “persecution”, I don’t just mean that people will be rude to you or force you to bake a cake for them. It will be full-on persecution that includes imprisonment, torture, and execution, as it was in the early years of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, or as it was during the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or as it is today in the Middle East, some Asian countries, and parts of Africa. The persecution of Christians hasn’t stopped for 2,000 years, which should not surprise us, as Jesus warned it would be like that for his followers. As he was treated, so will his followers be treated.

Finally, we should keep in mind that while we, as born-agains, live and move spiritually within God’s Kingdom, we are not yet citizens of it but rather immigrants and refugees. And like earthly immigrants and refugees in earthly countries, we have certain protections in God’s spiritual realm, though not yet full-status protection. Immigrants and refugees can still be denied citizenship, if they break the laws of their adoptive country or don’t comply with immigration policies. As long as they’re not citizens, they can be kicked out.

The same goes for us in God’s Kingdom while we’re yet in earthly bodies. We’re given great privileges as born-agains, and much is expected of us in return. Paul talks about all the things we once did, pre-rebirth, that we should no longer do. In fact, if God’s Spirit is strong enough within us, we’ll have no desire to do those things any more. That is what we should strive for – to have such a large measure of God’s Spirit that doing those things we used to do doesn’t occur to us anymore. Whatever hold they had over us is now gone. We don’t want to be like the person who was “swept clean” but then backslid until his end was worse than his beginning. We don’t want God to tell us at our judgement that it would have been better for us not to have been born at all.

Living life day-to-day in God’s Kingdom on Earth doesn’t need to involve a long and growing list of do’s and don’ts that we’re either constantly forgetting or failing to abide by. All we need is the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and the very short list of God’s Commandments. That is the core of what Jesus taught during his ministry years, and therefore the core that we, as his followers, should learn, practice, model, and teach others. In fact, all of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in one brief sentence: Keep all the Commandments, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in everything you do.  If you genuinely do this (and by “genuinely” I mean sincerely and from the heart, not just for show), chances are good that one day, when your time here is up, you’ll be awarded full citizenship in God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

“THE FATHER AND I ARE ONE”

Before the coming of Jesus, God would visit his prophets on occasion to give them a word or a vision through his Holy Spirit. The prophets would then go forth to the people and proclaim what God had told them. This proclamation was usually preceded with “Thus saith the Lord”, indicating that the word or vision had been given to the prophets some time before it was proclaimed. In other words, there was a gap in time between when the prophets received the word or vision from God, and when they proclaimed it to the people. God’s Spirit did not remain with the prophets, but only visited them now and then. This distinction between Old Testament prophets and all prophets since Jesus is critically important.

With Jesus, there was no need for “Thus saith the Lord” because God’s Spirit was with him 24/7. God didn’t just occasionally visit Jesus with a prophetic word or vision, he was with Jesus all the time, through his Holy Spirit. So when Jesus opened his mouth to speak a word or vision, God was speaking directly through him at that time. There was no delay between when Jesus received the word or vision from God and when he proclaimed it to the people. The receiving of the word from God and the proclamation to the people were simultaneous, which is why Jesus didn’t have to say “Thus saith the Lord”.

However, this form of proclamation, enabled through the constant presence of God’s Spirit with Jesus, has confused many into believing that Jesus is God. This deification of Jesus would have puzzled not only his followers but also Jesus himself. In fact, Jesus is very clear that “the Father” is greater than he, and that he is the “one who was to come”, meaning that he is God’s Messiah, God’s son, God’s suffering servant, and God’s Prophet, as prophesied throughout the Old Testament by various prophets. Jesus himself referred to his role on Earth as “son of man”, which means “prophet” or speaker and revealer of God’s Truth. This was in reference to Moses’ renowned prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:15-18) that a mighty “Prophet” (note the upper-case “P”) would one day arise, and that God would put his words in his mouth and the Prophet would speak all that God commands him.

Similarly, the prophet Isaiah’s reference to the Messiah as “Immanuel” or “God with us” doesn’t mean that Jesus is God, but that God was with Jesus through his Holy Spirit. In the same way, God is with born-again believers through his Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised us he would be. In fact, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit with someone is the key indicator that the soul is reborn. The main difference between us born-agains and Jesus is that Jesus had the fullness of God’s Spirit with him, having been born with it (not born-again), whereas we have only a portion of God’s Spirit with us, depending on the strength of our relationship with God and the depth of our faith.

As with Jesus, when God gives us a word or vision, we also don’t have to precede it with “Thus saith the Lord”, because God speaks directly through us at any given time. His Spirit is always with us. However, it’s up to us how much we allow God to speak or work through us. We make that decision through our thoughts and actions, that is, our will. The more our will aligns with God’s, the more he can work through us, through his Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I want God to work through me as much as possible, so I want to align my will with God’s as much as I can. When Jesus stated that “the Father and I are one”, he meant that his will and God’s will were so aligned that what Jesus wanted was exactly what God wanted, and vice-versa. Jesus, in everything his did and said, reflected God’s will.

We need to strive for the same.

KEEPING GOD ON HAND

The coming of spring, with the return of brighter and warmer days, has always been a joyful time of year for cultures around the world. Even so, spring is the deadliest time in nature. Animals that made it through the worst of the winter have been weakened by scarce food and harsh weather, so when the winds turn cold again and the rains morph back into snow (as they often do in spring), those that have mustered all their strength to make it through the dark months find they can go no further. Far from being joyful, spring in the animal kingdom marks a time of mass culling of the weakest.

The deadliness of spring is mirrored in the deadliness of our final spiritual tests. As I’ve mentioned before, our tests don’t get easier the closer we get to Heaven; they get much harder. In scripture, this stage is known as the “refining fire”, a burning off of inferior elements until all that remains is gold. There is no retirement in God’s Kingdom on Earth. If you’re “going for the gold”, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got to the very end, even if you don’t think you have anything left to give. Jesus says: “Those who endure to the end will be saved”, not those who give up before the end. You don’t win a marathon by collapsing 5 feet from the finish line.

So, if our tests get harder the closer we get to our end, and if only those who endure to the end will be saved, how do we survive the culling that will strike down the spiritually weak? We survive it the same way Jesus survived it – by relying on the strength of God’s Holy Spirit not just in times of trouble but at ALL times. We build that dependency now as a daily habit, so that when the worst of our tests come (and we never know when that will be), relying on God will be second-nature to us.

Hebrews used to bind scrolls of scripture onto their hands and forehead, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:8. Some still do. They did this as a reminder of God’s Commandments for the wearer and for those looking at the wearer. The wearer of the scrolls would see them on his own hand, while those looking at him would see them on his forehead. These physical signs would then trigger a reminder of what was important and how they should respond to provocations.

We could use similar reminder-triggers about the importance of relying on God’s Spirit on a day-to-day basis, not just in times of crisis. Ask yourself these questions: When you are insulted or attacked, do you run to social media to complain, or do you run to God? When things don’t go as planned, do you seek out your friends and family for sympathy and commiseration, or do you take your complaints to God? When you’ve had a hard day at work, do you find solace in feeling sorry for yourself and having a drink or two, or do you thank God for the tests he’s putting you through to strengthen you spiritually?

If you haven’t honestly answered “God”, “God”, “God” to those three questions, you need to change now how you respond to adversity. Relying on any other source but God for support and comfort on a day-to-day basis will not serve you well when the final tests come. And come they will, if Heaven is your goal. You don’t get a guaranteed ticket to Heaven just because you’re born-again, any more than the Hebrews got a guaranteed ticket to Heaven for being children of Abraham. What you get for being born-again is God’s Holy Spirit as a constant companion and source of strength. That is your guarantee. You are then meant to make full use of God’s Spirit at all times. If you don’t make full use of God’s Spirit, you won’t develop either the habit of running to God for help, or the spiritual fortitude (strength) that you’ll need to make it through to the end.

If your tendency is still to go to people for help and healing, here is what I suggest: Take a marker and write on your left hand “God”. Write it in whatever color you want and whatever size you want, but write it so that you plainly see it, and leave it there. It’s meant as a reminder for you, not for others. When it wears away, replace it. Keep doing this until your first response to every adversity that you encounter is to run to God for help, just as your first response to every joy and blessing should be to thank God.

We can’t stop the hard tests from coming, if our aim is Heaven, but we can be ready for them.

The time to prepare is now.

GO FISH: HOW TO SURVIVE THE COMING PERSECUTION

Jesus was an itinerant preacher. He didn’t have a home synagogue or church, and he clearly wasn’t interested in building one. He moved from place to place as God guided him, going where he was needed when he was needed. He preached in the wilderness, on boats, in the town square, in synagogues, in the temple – wherever God led him. If he was in danger of getting arrested in one place, he went to another. He didn’t hang around where he wasn’t welcome. He didn’t force himself on people, and he didn’t bait law enforcement.

Setting up a permanent gathering site was never part of Jesus’ teachings.

When we read in Acts about the church in various cities like Rome and Corinth, we should be aware that the mentioned church was not an actual building; it was the believers living in those cities. The church (read “believers”) met in different locations, depending on the security risk. Again – there was no one permanent gathering site, mainly because most of the church was being persecuted and the members were constantly in hiding or on the run.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately about ‘churches’ getting shut down and fined, and pastors getting arrested for violating lockdown mandates. As much as I want to sympathize with the pastors, I just cannot. Jesus taught his followers ONLY TO GO WHERE THEY ARE WELCOME. He told them if they aren’t welcome in one town, go to the next. Fleeing persecution is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus and preaching the Word – that is, part and parcel of being a Christian. And since it is part and parcel of being a Christian, you need to know how to avoid the main pitfalls of persecution, which today are being arrested, fined, or imprisoned. Because if you don’t avoid them, you won’t survive as a Christian.

Reports from all over the world indicate that we are again entering a time of widespread persecution. This means we have to be especially wise. If we’re threatened with arrest or fines for meeting in a particular place, we meet somewhere else. Remember that the early church lived under constant threat not only of arrest and imprisonment, but of torture and execution. These believers were always on the run and living in hiding. They gathered wherever they felt it was safe to do so, but they did it secretly. THEY DID IT SECRETLY. If they knew their gathering would get them arrested, they kept quiet about it or moved to a different location. They were wise, not foolish. They followed Jesus’ example of how to avoid arrest.

These ‘church buildings’ where pastors are being arrested should never have been designated as such. There is no reason to have a church building. Jesus never had one. The church is the people, not a building. The pastors and church members getting themselves arrested during the lockdowns are not heroes. They are not acting wisely or following Jesus’ example. They are acting the opposite of wise. Instead of defying local mandates, they need to adopt the methods of the early church and go underground. If the church members feel the need to meet to worship, they need to do it in secret, in houses or in a location other than the publicly known ‘church building’. Worshiping at a site where you’ve been threatened with arrest or fines for worshiping there is just plain pig-headed and not in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus.

So this is my advice for those who are purposely getting arrested: READ SCRIPTURE. Get to know Jesus’ teachings on persecution and how to deal with it. Don’t be a sitting duck. If the early church had refused to go into hiding or flee from threats of arrest, Christianity may never have survived. Fleeing and secrecy are long-standing survival tools used by the church throughout the ages, and they need to be dusted off now and put into action. You’re not doing anyone any good if you’re sitting in a jail cell or selling everything you have to pay a fine.

So, to sum up:

1) The people – not a building – are the church.

2) Doing what you can to avoid potential arrest, fleeing, going into hiding, and worshiping in secret are all longstanding traditions of Jesus’ followers.

3) Being persecuted is part of what it means to be a Christian and shouldn’t be fought against. Instead, those who are experiencing persecution should flee to where the Word is welcome and where they are safe to worship and gather, even if only in secret. This is how, as Christians, we live to fight another day.

Jesus clearly demonstrated, through his teachings and by avoiding certain areas during his ministry years, that you are to stand your spiritual ground, not your physical ground. If Jesus didn’t have or didn’t encourage the building of permanent physical meeting sites, neither should we. Our permanent meeting site, as born-again believers, is God’s Holy Spirit, and he is anywhere we are.

No building required.

I KEEP THE SABBATH FOR MY BENEFIT, NOT FOR GOD’S

When Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, it was considered blasphemy by the religious powers-that-be. This is not surprising, given how fanatical they were not only about keeping the Sabbath, but about forcing their views on others regarding precisely how to keep it. Stiff penalties were imposed on those who violated their dictates. As a result, the Sabbath became a heavy burden of restrictions and obligations, which was the opposite of what God had intended when he handed down the Sabbath law through Moses.

A whiff of that same fanaticism can be found in some Christians today. Yes, sanctifying the Sabbath is a Commandment, but I’m firmly on the side of Jesus in believing that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, not for his. If we love God and make him the center of our lives, spending a day only with him and his Word is pure pleasure and rejuvenation, in the same way as spending time with someone we deeply love is pleasurable and rejuvenating. There is no burden in being with those we genuinely love and who genuinely love us in return. There is no grudging sense of obligation or feeling that we’re missing out on something, or that we’d rather be somewhere else. If we love God, we look forward to the Sabbath each week, we don’t dread it.

As I’ve mentioned throughout this blog, I’m a relatively new believer. I was raised an atheist, so keeping the Sabbath was never ingrained in me as a child. I had to learn it as an adult, after I was reborn. But that learning process was slow. Initially, the Sabbath for me just meant going to church on Sunday morning and then doing whatever I pleased on Sunday afternoon, including working. I didn’t see it as a day of rest and rejuvenation or a time to spend with God. That understanding only came later when I noticed that far from being rested on Monday morning, I was still tired from the previous week’s labours. Technically, I considered the Sabbath only as a church day, and nothing more. The “day of rest” part escaped me.

As I my faith grew and I started to get to know God as my Dad (which only happened after I’d left Catholicism, three and a half years after my rebirth), I found that I wanted to spend more and more time with him and his Word. In fact, I was taking time off from my work to spend with God, as being with him and reading the Bible were such pleasures. However, as much as God wants us to put him at the center of our lives, we still need to work. The Sabbath law not only stipulates one day of rest, it also stipulates six days of labour. In taking time off from work to spend with God and his Word, I was shirking the part of the Commandment about labouring. Just like working too much, not working enough became problematic for me.

But growing in faith is a learning process for born-agains. Babies don’t come out of the womb diaper-trained and fully able to walk and talk. It takes time and lots of boo-boos. Learning about God’s Sabbath and how to keep it as Jesus taught us to keep it was a very long learning process for me, mainly because I didn’t take it seriously enough. Seriously, yes, but not seriously enough to consider exactly what Jesus meant when he said the Sabbath was made for us.

I am happy to report that I am now out of the diaper stage with regard to the Sabbath, and that the worst of the messy boo-boos appear to be behind me. The Sabbath for me is now something I look forward to all week, not something that happens every day. I labour for six days, as required, and completely rest on the seventh (I don’t even do the dishes!). Sometimes, on rare occasion, I am called to work on a seventh or an eighth day in a row, but I never purposely schedule work. If an emergency arises, I deal with it, but then I take my Sabbath afterwards. This is what Jesus taught us to do in scripture.

The result of adopting and living what I believe is the spirit of the Sabbath Commandment is that I LOVE SABBATH! It is by far my favourite time of the week, and I look forward to it the way I used to look forward to Christmas when I was a kid. In fact, I love Sabbath so much, I start it already on Saturday evening, after sunset. (I believe that is biblically sound, for you purists out there.) During Sabbath, I keep meal preparation to a minimum, and as I mentioned, I don’t do dishes or any housework at all, including making my bed. I am a completely lazy slob for a whole day, and I love it! Even just the sight of my messy bed makes me smile, because it’s a clear sign that it’s Sabbath.

As for being with God, there is no greater pleasure than spending an entire day with him without feeling like I’m shirking my work duties in some way. It took me a while to get there, but I’m now like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying his company and learning from him, rather than like Martha, running around doing all kinds of unnecessary chores that only make me tired, cranky, and frustrated.

If your day off is not a pleasure for you, if it is not restful and rejuvenating, if it is not deepening and strengthening your faith and your relationship with God and his Word, you might want to reconsider how you’re keeping your Sabbath.

Now when Monday morning rolls around, I’m ready to face the work week again. I don’t dread it; I’m ready for it, and I look forward to whatever the week may bring. This, I think, is proof not only of the importance of keeping the Sabbath, but of keeping it as God intended and as Jesus taught us.

THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

Scripture gives us an example of the unforgivable sin in the expulsion of Satan and his followers from Heaven. We don’t (yet) know the exact story of what happened to Satan to turn him away from God, but we do know the consequences of that turning – the loss of Heaven, the fall to Earth, and the guarantee of eternal hellfire. We also know that these disembodied fallen beings are beyond redemption and that no intervention can save them. This is the darkest of all sentences: the place of no hope. In the moment before I was reborn, I was on the doorstep of that place (not inside the door, but just outside it), and I never want to be there again. Nor would I wish that on anyone.

But the fact remains that the unforgivable sin is one that Jesus tells us we still have the capacity to commit, which means we too may end up in the same place as Satan. Much has been written about the unforgivable sin, about what it might be and whether or not the writer speculating on it may already have committed it.

I admittedly don’t know much about anything, but I do know this: if you had committed the unforgivable sin, you would not be wondering whether or not you had committed it. You would know, and you would also know the end that awaits you. These facts would not be hidden from you: You would know them just as surely as I know that I’m born-again, because God himself would tell you in person, clearly and unequivocally. There would be no mystery and no doubt, any more than there is mystery and doubt when a judge renders a verdict to the accused in a court of law: The accusation and evidence are summarized, the judgement is stated, and the sentence is passed. Your judgement will be just as clear to you if you commit the unforgivable sin.

But what is that sin? We know the consequences of it, but what exactly is the sin itself? We want to know what it is for no other reason than to avoid committing it, and by avoiding committing it, avoid its consequences.

Jesus tells us that to speak against him or against God is not unforgivable. We also know that God is merciful and patient beyond anything we can imagine, and that spiritual rebirth is God extending to us a second chance to go home. These are all good things and show how much God loves us and takes into consideration our weaknesses. He does everything he can to mitigate them while still allowing us free will.

And yet even this good and patient and merciful and loving Father has a no-go zone that we dare not pass. I know, because I was at its border, and it stopped me (thank God) in my tracks. It happened a few years after my rebirth, when I was old enough spiritually to know better, but just couldn’t help myself. I’d fallen into a series of temptations that in my mind I kept dressing up as a chance to witness. The temptations continued over a span of months, dragging me deeper and deeper into its quicksand. But it wasn’t the temptation that was the unforgivable sin – it was something that happened afterwards in relation to it.

I am not at liberty to reveal what it was (that is between me and God), but I can say this much: if I had crossed over the border into the no-go zone, I would have lost my grace, like Satan, grace being the presence of God’s Spirit with you and the promise of eternal life in Heaven. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have lost my grace, because as I was riding along on my bike that day, heading for an afternoon of skating at the local arena and thinking about that thing I would do (which in my mind at the time was an honest thing to do), God said to me very clearly: “If you do it, you will lose your grace.”

I slammed on my brakes and came to a hard stop. It had not occurred to me that doing this what I thought was an honest thing could have lost me my grace. How could honesty be a bad thing? Which is when God showed me that the pain I would cause by doing what I thought was an honest thing would come back to me amplified with such ferocity that it would equate to lost grace. I could still do that thing (I still had free will), but in doing it, my grace would be irretrievably lost – irretrievable, as in lost forever. No chance of getting it back. The same state as Satan. I would have knowingly sinned against God’s Holy Spirit by purposefully doing what I had been explicitly warned by God – in person – was wrong to do, and in the process purposely causing unimaginable pain to others.

And that was the crux of it – the pain that my “honest” gesture would have caused to others and my knowingly inflicting that pain. If I had proceeded knowing the measure of pain I would have caused, God would have had no choice but to return that pain to me in the measure that I, as a reborn soul, had earned, which would have been sufficient for me to lose grace.

Even today, I shiver at how close I came to this final fallen state.

God will not let you, as his born-again child, wander unknowingly across the border into the no-go zone of the unforgivable sin. You will be warned not by vague signs or third-party notices, but by an in-person cameo appearance by God. It will be just as memorable to you as God speaking from the burning bush was for Moses. It will stop you in your tracks. And it will remain with you for the rest of your days.

The unforgivable sin is different for each of us. There is no one unforgivable sin, but all of them are premised on the same thing: purposefully and unremorsefully doing what we have been explicitly warned by God – one-on-one – not to do, with an equally explicit warning of the consequences that will follow if we proceed. The warning comes not through a third party, but directly from God through his Holy Spirit. To blaspheme and speak against God’s Holy Spirit is to do that one thing you have been warned by God explicitly and in-person and beyond a shadow of a doubt not to do.

There is no remedy for this level of informed disobedience. There is no course of appeal. Satan and his condemned followers know that.

May you never join them.

“ARE YOU HAPPY?”

It’s a strange thing for me, as a former atheist, to hear about someone who is a self-described “former Christian”.

I cannot imagine life without Jesus and God. What I mean to say is that there is no life outside of Jesus and God. Without them, all you do is stumble from one disaster to the next, one drink to the next, one obsession to the next, never really understanding why things are the way they are or why your life is so full of pain. And so you look for an explanation by blaming others or political systems or (worst of all) yourself. Without Jesus and God, there is no real peace and no real joy, because the presence of Jesus and God, through God’s Holy Spirit, is the sole source of happiness. Jesus called this a “wellspring” surging up inside you that never runs dry.

So when I hear about people who claim to be former Christians, I can only assume they were never Christians to begin with. Because having been a born-again adult for nearly the same length of time as I was an atheist adult, I’m able to compare the two states of being, and there is no way I would give up being a Christian. There is nothing that anyone could offer me to stop being a Christian – no amount of money, and no degree of threat. And yes, I will likely be tested on this (and I pray to God that I’ll hold my spiritual ground when the time comes), but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being miserable and 10 being happy, I easily rate my born-again years as a solid 10 and my godless years, sadly, as a 1.

It’s not that there weren’t occasional flashes of something approaching happiness when I was an atheist. I found a certain measure of peace walking through the woods or along a shoreline. Sometimes I would find that same fleeting peace roaming deserted city streets at night or, oddly enough, in a library. Reading was my main escape from the omnipresent emotional pain of my atheist years, along with men, booze, travel, and learning about things (that is, learning about everything except God). I was perpetually chasing one lust after the other, one enthusiasm after the other, hoping for I don’t even know what, maybe some kind of resolution or eureka moment when “the truth” would suddenly burst into view, or someone would tenderly confirm that I had value beyond the fading desirability of my youth.

When you’re young and outwardly confident, as I was as an unbeliever, things come to you easily. People bend to you. When you mess up, they make allowances for you. You get second chances, and then third chances. I was always an exception to the rule; whatever charm I had, I worked it, and it worked well for me, or so I thought at the time. I rode the heady wave of pride, thinking I had it all figured out, thinking I could get whatever or whoever I wanted just by sheer force of will. But waves have troughs as well as crests, and all waves eventually come crashing down on a shoreline somewhere, leaving nothing behind but a bit of froth and a few bubbles.

I mention these things not because I remember my atheist years fondly (I definitely do not), but because I cannot fathom on any level that someone would consciously want to give up being born-again. Being in God’s Kingdom is exactly as Jesus says it is – the pearl of such great value that you sell everything you have to buy it, or the treasure that you hide in a field and then sell everything to buy that field so you can possess the treasure forever. Being born-again, you unhesitatingly give up everything in exchange for the presence of God’s Spirit, because there is nothing of greater value on Earth. Nothing comes close. My worst day of being a believer is still leaps and bounds better than my best day of being an unbeliever.

Do I still get sad as a Christian? Of course I do. I still have free will and emotions. People can still hurt me, and I can still do stupid things and hurt myself. But instead of running to a bottle or to other people for comfort when I get sad, or running into the woods or down to the ocean, I run to God and am healed in an instant. As an atheist, it took me days, months, or even years to get over things, and some wounds festered for decades until I was finally healed at my rebirth.

So you see, I’ve seen life from both sides – as an unbeliever and a believer. As an atheist, I was afforded all the privileges of youth, while as a believer, those privileges are long gone. But if I had all those privileges of youth as an atheist, why was I so miserable? Even more mysteriously, if I no longer have those youthful privileges as a believer, why am I so happy? Am I crazy? Certainly, there are those who knew me as an atheist and who see me now who think I’m crazy, because I’m cheerful without apparent cause. No-one can have as little as I have materially and still be happy. Right?

There was a professor in university I was inordinately fond of (to put it politely). When I was no longer his student, I wrote him a long letter, to which he responded with a few lines of pleasantries, ending with the (for me at the time) jarring question: “Are you happy?” It was an odd inquiry, given our history, and I remember being angered by it. In writing to him, I had hoped to reignite something, not discuss “happiness”, which was to me at that time a thing of little value.

That was a long time ago. I still have the letter somewhere, though I haven’t read it for years. I think if I received such a letter (or one like it) today, I would be thrilled that someone took the time to write to me, and so grateful for the extension of kindness underlying the pleasantries. As for the very pointed question at the end, I would immediately have grabbed a pen and piece of paper and scribbled in response: “Yes, yes I’m happy! Thank you so much for asking! And I hope you’re happy, too!”

These words I could never have written with any sincerity as an unbeliever, though as a believer not to write them would be a lie.

Yes, I am happy. I have been happy since the day I was born again over 20 years ago. This simple fact would have been unfathomable to me as an unbeliever. The presence of God’s Spirit makes you happy. Happiness that endures through decades is not craziness; it’s “evidence of things unseen”.

Which is why I cannot understand why someone would want to be a “former Christian”. Why would you give up the pearl of great price or the eternal treasure buried in your field? There is nothing in the world that comes close to being born-again. God’s Holy Spirit is the greatest of all treasures, which is why Jesus turned down the temptation to own “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” in exchange for giving up God. Think about it – Jesus was offered EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD and the power that goes with having everything in the world, and he turned it all down because the presence of God’s Spirit was of greater value.

We born-agains live every moment of our lives with God’s Spirit. How incomprehensibly blessed we are! “All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” still fall short in value to what each of us has inside of us here and now, and to what God has promised us if we stay the course to the end. Those who are genuinely born-again would NEVER give this up.

We need to reaffirm what it means to be a Christian.