A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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THAT IS FAITH

I find it interesting that Jesus lambasted his followers not for sinful living or breaking Commandments, but for not having enough FAITH. He didn’t even yell at Judas when he betrayed him, but he did frequently let loose on the disciples for their lack of faith.

If faith is that important to Jesus, then it should be that important to us.

But what is faith?

Paul calls it “evidence of things unseen”; I call it “the means to and measure of our relationship with God”. Faith is difficult to define (or at least to reach a definition consensus on) mainly because its very existence is opposed to fact and logic, the same fact and logic that is applied to creating definitions.

No matter how you define it (or choose not to define it), faith is central to being a follower of Jesus. With no faith, you will sink under the waves like Peter. Remember that he did walk on water for a few seconds, but when he thought about what he was doing (that is, when he tried to rationalize it), he started to drown.

Jesus never engaged in debate with people who tried to rationalize faith. He did not preach to unbelievers or to those who said they were believers but did not welcome his Word. He only preached to those who were open to hearing the gospel on faith.

Faith operates like that – it works only through those who welcome it and are open to receiving it. Uh, oh – did I say “receiving it”? Does that mean that faith is a two-way channel, not something that originates in us but something that flows to as well as from us?

Yes, I did say that. You have to be open to faith to have faith.

See? I warned you not to rationalize it. Faith doesn’t make any sense rationally, but for those who have faith, it’s self-evident.

I mention the importance of having faith because many of us tend to live by the witness of our eyes rather than of our faith. If you, as a believer, view the state of the world today using your physical and rational eyes, you would run into the deepest cave you could find and never come out again. But if you view the world through the “eyes of faith”, you would still see the horrors, but you would also see God’s righteousness moving through people and circumstances, and running and hiding would be the last thing on your mind.

Having faith means never giving up on God, no matter how bleak things look.

Having faith means believing in the expressed and potential goodness in people, regardless of the horrible things they might do and say.

Having faith means believing that God will keep his promises, and that we, as born-agains, live in the long-awaited Kingdom of God, where we are safe from our enemies and able to perform the same miracles Jesus did.

The disciples lacked sufficient faith not because they didn’t love God and didn’t want to follow Jesus, but because they were relying on their understanding rather than their belief.

When I was a little kid, I didn’t know anything about how the mortgage got paid or dinner appeared on the table; I just knew beyond a doubt I would have a roof over my head and food in my mouth, and I always did. In other words, I didn’t have to understand how they got there in order to believe that they would be there. I never doubted for a second.

Jesus tells us to be like little kids. A big part of being a little kid is believing not because we see or understand, but because we simply take it for granted as being self-evident.

There is no doubt in belief.

Doubt is what gets you in trouble. Doubt is the devil getting a toe-hold in you, just enough to keep you from having faith by questioning your belief, by trying to get you to apply fact and logic to something that has no place for fact and logic.

We say we believe in God, but do we really if we don’t have faith?

We say we have faith, but do we really if we don’t believe God’s Word?

We need to stop staring at the waves under our feet, telling ourselves there’s no way we can walk on water, and instead fix our eyes on Jesus and simply believe we can do it.

We walk on water not because we understand how, but because Jesus says we can, and we love and trust Jesus beyond a shadow of a doubt.

That is all.

That is faith.

UNTETHERING

Jesus had two distinct lives when he lived on Earth in a human body.

His first life centered on Nazareth, his blood relatives, and his work as a carpenter.

His second life centered on God, his followers, and preaching and teaching the gospel.

There was a clear separation between his first life and second life. It wasn’t the same life divided into “before and after” getting the call. No. It was two distinctly separate lives lived by the same person in the same body.

All who are called to follow Jesus and to preach and teach the gospel experience a similar progression from one life to the next. This is demonstrated in Peter, Andrew, James and John leaving their fishing business (and in Peter’s case, his wife and family) to follow Jesus. Matthew also dramatically quit his job to follow Jesus, as did Paul and many others.

Some of us try to sit on the fence between these two lives. We work day jobs and preach by night, dividing our energy between the world and God. This works for a while, the same way training wheels work for a while to get a wobbly young cyclist used to the “feel” of a two-wheeled bike. But if you leave the training wheels on too long, the child gets used to the feel of a three- or four-wheeler rather than a two-wheeler, and either fights against the removal of the training wheels or suffers a major crash when the wheels do eventually come off.

For Jesus, the switch from life as a carpenter to life as a preacher involved a great untethering. He had to completely untether himself from the commitments and bonds of his first life. This he did by walking away from them and staying gone. He didn’t go back and he didn’t look back. He simply lived as if his former life no longer existed.

Untethered, Jesus was then able to devote his entire life to God and to his ministry work. He was tied to no one location, no daily responsibilities, and no particular person. He didn’t command his followers to follow him; he invited them, and they were free to leave whenever they wanted. They, too, in following Jesus, progressed to their second lives, untied to any location, responsibilities, or persons. Untethered like Jesus, they could then wholly focus on God.

Untethering is a process. For some, it happens overnight, whereas for others it takes years. Remember that even Jesus – who was born with God’s Spirit — had to wait for the signal before untethering himself from Nazareth. Untethering is not a directive that comes from us but from God. The child doesn’t decide when it’s time for the training wheels to come off; the parents decide. We don’t decide when it’s time to untether from our first life; God decides.

But when God gives you that signal, let go.

Like Jesus and Peter and Paul, let it ALL go.

And never go back.

THIS LITTLE LIGHT

A gentle reminder not to be swayed by the false prophets of doom as we enter another year.

As always, Jesus says it best: “Take heed that no man deceive you, for many will come in my name… and deceive many.”

Why is it that so many who claim to love God focus only on the NEGATIVE? Why are all the so-called revelations by so-called Christian prophets almost always only about gloom and doom?

Part of the reason is that they’re not real prophets (that is, they’re not speaking God’s Truth), but the other part – and I believe the main one – is that they’re pandering to people’s desires. People WANT to hear about gloom and doom, they WANT to hear that we’re entering the Tribulation and that the “Antichrist” is waiting in the wings, and so these “prophets” give them what they want.

In an earlier blog, I called this attraction to doom an addiction to spiritual porn.

Yes, the Old Testament prophets spent a lot of time railing at the Hebrews and warning them what would come if they didn’t change their ways, but the ultimate message of each of those prophets was the good news of God’s mercy to those who willingly choose the good. The New Testament is all about the Good News (“gospel” literally means “good news”), as it is the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promise of spiritual salvation. Even the book of Revelation, for all its dire warnings, ends with the victory of God’s people and their great reward of Heaven.

God does not want us to live in fear or spend our time digging through YouTube for bad news. He wants us to live in the joy and grace of his Holy Spirit, and to teach and preach his Good News. It doesn’t matter how bad things get around us, we can still live our lives in joy, looking for and highlighting the good rather than dwelling on the bad. Jesus was expert at that: Even as an outcast from society and with a bounty on his head, he healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed the storm, fed the famished, taught the illiterate, forgave sinners, blessed his enemies, and just generally lived his life as a bright light rather than a shadow, choosing to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

We all have that choice, to be either a bright light or a shadow. We can seek out gloom and doom and in the process become what we seek, or we can plainly see what is in front of us but choose to see the good in it rather than the bad, and in the process let God’s love and light shine through.

Every night before I go to sleep, I pray for unbelievers. Some of them I know personally and am in contact with nearly every day; some of them I know personally but haven’t spoken to for years; and some of them I know only by name and face. I pray for these people because they need prayers as much as anyone else, and God has put it in my heart to pray for them. As an unbeliever and atheist, I was prayed for for 36 years before I turned and saw the light. I don’t think anyone is beyond God’s mercy (other than those who have consciously and with full intent made a deal with the devil, but I’m not talking about those poor souls here), and I believe there is still time for people to turn. Not much time, mind you, but still enough time. Paul tells us that God is painstakingly patient with us because he wants as many as possible to come to his light.

The start of a new year is a good opportunity for us to realign ourselves to God’s will. If you’ve developed a tendency over the past year to seek out shadows rather than light – the bad news rather than the Good – maybe now you could make the effort to once again highlight the positive, whether in people or in situations. That doesn’t mean being blind to what’s going on around you (Jesus was always hyper-aware and one step ahead of everyone else in that regard), but making a conscious choice to see beyond “what man sees” to what God sees.

God doesn’t look at us and see only the negative; he sees our nearly limitless potential to do good, no matter how deep we are in our sins. I wasn’t born again because I fasted and prayed and purified myself; I was born again because I was in the deepest depths of despair I’d ever been in and cried out for help. Even in the blackness of my spiritual filth, God saw a faint glimmer of light, a tiny flicker that he knew he could work with, and that was enough for him.

As born-again believers, we must see as God sees and do what God does. Jesus says to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We must see in the darkest of nights the promise of dawn. We must hear in the curses of people who hate us the sound of wayward passion that can be set straight and one day sing God’s praises. Paul said that if there be any good in anyone, to dwell on that. This is not an easy task, as it is far easier to give way to spiritual gravity and fall for the negative, the siren call of gloom and doom.

But let this be a challenge to you for the coming year: that no matter what happens – no matter how bad things get – you choose to see the good, you choose to be the light, even if you’re the only one shining.

AS IF UNTO GOD

as if unto God

Imagine how different your life would be if you did everything as if unto God – if you looked after your things as if they were God’s, if you treated others as if they were God in the flesh, if you earned your daily bread as if you were doing it unto God – JUST IMAGINE HOW DIFFERENT YOUR LIFE WOULD BE!

And yet we, as born-agains, are supposed to be living our lives doing everything as if unto God already. That’s our job description. We shouldn’t have to imagine how different our lives would be; we’d know firsthand, because we’d be living it.

What would your life look like if you did everything as if unto God? I’ll tell you what it would look like: It would look like Jesus’ life.

Exactly like that.

Does your life look like Jesus’ life?

Be honest, now.

I know mine doesn’t. Can’t lie about that. Can’t quibble about that, not if I’m doing everything as if unto God, including self-examination. If I squint and turn the spiritual lights way down low, yes, I can say that my life somewhat resembles Jesus’ life, but there are big gaps where “putting God first in everything” and “treating other people as I would want to be treated” should be.

Huge gaps.

Unacceptable gaps.

How about you – are there gaps between your life and Jesus’ life? Does your life run more or less parallel to Jesus’ life, or are you on a different path altogether?

We tend to get caught up in life’s little problems and life’s little joys, forgetting the reason why we’re here in the flesh to begin with. We’re easily distracted. We’re easily rubbed the wrong way. We generally have a low pain threshold, whether for physical or emotional pain. We generally want everything to go our way, and when it doesn’t, we pout and complain. We point fingers. We hold grudges.

(Sound familiar?)

Is any of this – pouting, complaining, and pointing fingers – living our life like Jesus lived his?

Is any of this doing everything as if unto God?

I’m not accusing you. If anything, this is more a self-examination on my part. I wish I had lived my life, post-rebirth, doing everything as if unto God. I wish there were no gaps between my life and Jesus’ life. I wish, if I overlaid my life course with that of Jesus, they would match up, but the fact is they don’t.

We are still here in the flesh, as born-agains, because we still need to learn what it means to be a child of God, what it means to follow Jesus in everything we do. These are the learning and testing years. These are not the years of ease and plenty; these are the laboring years. Jesus laboured; in doing everything unto God, Jesus never stop labouring until his job was done on the cross. He rarely took days off, and then only to spend more time one-on-one with God.

He turned his back on the world – not on the people who were God’s in the world, but on the world’s systems. He lived entirely outside the world’s systems.

If you start with the premise that nothing in your life is a “coincidence”, that the pain you feel is the pain you’ve earned, that all things work for good for those who are the called according to God’s purposes, that where you are now is the best possible outcome of all your previous choices – if you start from there, here is a question for you: Are you happy with your life?

I’m pretty sure if Jesus had been asked that question back in his ministry days, he would have answered “Yes”, quietly, confidently, and without hesitation.

Our answer also needs to be “Yes”, without hesitation.

If it isn’t, we’ve still got work to do.

SPIRITUAL PORN

wink wink

No prophet sent from God hosts a YouTube channel.

Let me repeat that in case you missed it the first time: NO PROPHET SENT FROM GOD HOSTS A YOUTUBE CHANNEL. They are all – every one of them – false prophets. Most of their dreams and visions do not come from God, and the few that do come from God are tests of the so-called prophets’ abilities to discern truth from lies. Needless to say, the “prophets” fail the tests miserably.

The aim of YouTube prophets is not so much to inform as to titillate, so that you’ll hit subscribe and come back for more. YouTube prophecies are that particular kind of “tickling of the ears” mentioned in scripture. The goal is to keep you breathless with fear/excitement/longing over the catastrophic/miraculous/apocalyptic things that are about to happen. Note that these things are always just about to take place (usually within a month or two), but they never actually do take place. And the false prophets just move on to the next dream or vision without missing a beat, hoping you’ll forget about all the earlier ones that didn’t come to pass.

I admit that some of these YouTube prophets are very good at what they do (fooling people). Whether or not they set out to fool people is obvious in some cases but debatable in others. They all seem sincere enough, but so do sociopaths and psychopaths. Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 that many false prophets would come in his name during the tribulation/pre-tribulation years, and here they are, right on cue.

If you’re hooked on one or more “Christian” YouTube channels, you need to wean yourself off, or better still go cold turkey. YouTube prophecies are spiritual porn and it’s leading you down the broad path to perdition. You need to unsubscribe. You need to take the time that you would normally spend on spiritual porn and invest it instead in reading the Bible and talking to God (prayer). That is how you grow in faith. Having someone recite scripture at you and then misapply the scripture to world events will not help you grow in faith; it will, however, help you grow in confusion.

If confusion is your aim, then by all means continue with the YouTube prophets. But if being more like Jesus is your aim, ditch the false prophets, read your Bible, and spend more one-on-one time with God.

THE DEAD

the dead

“But let me first go bury my father.”

“Let the dead bury their dead. Come follow me.”

I remember reading those lines when I was first converted from atheism and thinking how cold Jesus sounded. I mean, the guy just wanted to bury his father! That couldn’t take any more than a day or two. And wasn’t burying his father a form of “honoring” him? Was Jesus not only being cruel here but also breaking a Commandment by telling the guy to forget about his father? (more…)

…WHEN YOU’RE NOT LOOKING

lostandfoundIt’s surprising what you find when you’re not looking.”

Any time I’ve found money on the street or a four-leaf clover, I wasn’t looking for them. They found me. It’s like a light shines on them, separating them from their surroundings. The last time that happened was a few months ago – two glistening 20-dollar bills lay side by side, waving to me from a hotel parking lot, saying: “Here we are! Come get us!”, and I did.

Near the end of the book of Isaiah, God says through the prophet: “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not” (65:1). I wasn’t looking for God the day I was born-again. He found me. People say: “I found God”, but it’s God who finds us (his lost sheep) as much as we find him. It’s a mutual finding. (more…)

GOD’S TREASURE

As you can probably tell by the bad quality of the photography (lol), the picture of the rainbow was taken by me and is the real deal. It has not, as they say, been altered in any way. I really did stand at the end of the rainbow and I really did take a photo of it.

I wasn’t looking for a rainbow that day, let alone for the fabled end of one. It found me, about 10 years ago, on a chilly December morning a few weeks before Christmas.  I was living at the time in an apartment building next to Governor Lake in Halifax. The lake is bordered on one side by a few small buildings and on the other side by a rails-to-trails hiking path and extensive wilderness. At night, I would hear the coyotes howling, and occasionally I would find bear scat behind my building, next to the garbage dumpster.

The morning I took the rainbow photo was like any other morning on the lake. It had rained hard earlier, but heavy rain wasn’t unusual for that time of year. I stepped out on my balcony to get a breath of fresh air, and that’s when I saw the rainbow. I ran inside, grabbed my trusty old second-hand camera, and started snapping.

God does these things occasionally – gives us signs that have meaning mainly only to us but also sometimes to other people as well. It’s his way of saying – on a larger scale than usual – that he’s here, he loves us, and to keep going.

The rainbow landed on the part of the backyard that was marshy and all but impassible except for ducks, and there were quite a few of those living on the lake. Every May, long parades of ducklings, marshalled by their proud mamas, would fan across the water in solemn bobbing processions that sadly grew shorter and shorter as the spring warmed into summer and the ducklings succumbed, one by one, to their many natural predators. Duck families of 12 or more would end up as families of 4, 3, 2, or just mama duck.

On the July preceding the December of the rainbow landing, I was buried under a mountain of work. I was doing text editing for my daily bread, and that summer I had taken on too many assignments for the allotted time. One oppressively hot dull afternoon, I was so frustrated by the heat and by the deadlines I knew I could not possibly meet, I took an unscheduled break and ran outdoors to spend a few minutes by the lake. Cool water lapping against rocks always soothes me.

I flopped down on an outcropping of rocks next to the “rainbow landing” and suddenly started to cry. I hadn’t gone outside intending to cry, but there I was, blubbering away. The tears streamed down in a hot rush and the sobs came thick and loud. As I sat there gasping and snuffling and bemoaning my frustration to some startled dragonflies, a mama duck and her one remaining duckling bobbed into blurry view. The mama stayed a ways from shore, but the little duckling swam closer and closer until finally hopping out of the water and waddling a few steps over to me. To my utter surprise, the little thing plopped itself down next to me. The mama stayed where she was.

By that point, my tears of frustration had turned into tears of joy. I started to laugh, but softly so as not to scare the little one. The duckling just sat there, less than an arm’s length away, watching me. We sat together like that for about three minutes, quietly and companionably, while my breathing returned to normal and my tears dried up. Then the little duckling, its mission accomplished, waddled back to the water, hopped in, and swam out to its mama. Off they both bobbed across the lake.

God does these things occasionally to tell us that he’s here, he loves us, and to keep going. Six months later, in part as a tribute to the little duckling (and its mama), God sent the rainbow to land exactly next to where they had so graciously and unexpectedly comforted me that warm summer afternoon.

God does these things to tell us that he’s here, he loves us, and to keep going.

May your day be blessed with rainbows, ducklings, a trusty old camera, and other priceless treasures from God!

DISCERNING THE JUDASES FROM THE PAULS

Remember that Judas Iscariot was one of the 12.

He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.

That meant he preached and taught the Word. He followed in Jesus’ entourage wherever Jesus went. He was present at many of the miracles. He lived as a follower of Jesus throughout the entire duration of Jesus’ ministry. All of the disciples and other followers accepted him as a fellow believer. No-one doubted his faith. He was among the chorus of voices that claimed they would rather die than betray Jesus.

Remember also that when Jesus said that someone among them would betray him, all of the disciples (except for Judas) were confused as to who that could be. They each, one by one, even considered themselves as possible betrayers (“Is it I?”) rather than point the finger at Judas. He really had them all fooled.

All of them, that is, except for Jesus.

The same spirit that worked through Judas Iscariot is still active among us today, still in the inner and outer sanctums of Christianity, and still deceiving people into believing that everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually a Christian. We need to use discernment if we are to tell the Judases from the real disciples. We need to use the same Spirit that Jesus used.

I have written in earlier blogs about the Judases I have met over the past 21 years as a born-again believer. Most of these were priests, preachers and ministers. They were no shrinking violets; they didn’t sit in pews and let other people carry the burden of ministry. No, they were active and popular and hard-working and engaging. People liked them and responded positively to them, just as, I’m sure, people (including the disciples) liked and responded positively to Judas Iscariot during most of Jesus’ ministry. If they hadn’t liked Judas, surely that would have been a red flag to Jesus’ other disciples that something was “off” about Judas, but no red flags appeared.

The other side of this coin is Paul’s conversion to Christianity. When he first came out as a follower of Jesus, very few of Jesus’ followers believed him. Most of them doubted his conversion and nearly all of them were afraid of him, as he was on record swearing that he would incarcerate and kill any followers of The Way. In fact, it was Paul himself who many of Jesus’ followers were fleeing from.

Paul had a major uphill battle to convince Jesus’ followers that his conversion was genuine and that he was now one of them.

I mention these two sides of the same coin – falsely believing that Judas Iscariot was a genuine follower of Jesus and refusing to believe that Paul was a genuine follower – because we live in an age of profound deception. Every one of us is either being tempted (tested) or will be tempted (tested) into believing lies and delusions, and the lies and delusions will only be discernible as such through the lens of God’s Spirit. We cannot rely on our own intellect or reasoning powers to tell who/what is really from God and who/what is not. We need God’s help with that.

At the same time, remember that Jesus entrusted Judas with preaching and teaching the Word, just as God entrusted the teaching of scripture to the same hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees who had Jesus executed. We are not to reject God’s teachings because of the people who teach them; scripture shows us that even unschooled children and donkeys can be used by God to reveal his Truth. In other words, we are not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

At the same time, when it comes to choosing what is personally right or wrong for ourselves, we must 100% rely on God’s Spirit for guidance. There is no way, without God’s Spirit, that you will be able to outwit the spirit that inhabited Judas Iscariot.

Finally, remember that God’s Way is not considered “wise” in the eyes of the worldly. To those who hate or disbelieve in God, the Spirit-guided choices made by born-again followers of Jesus look very foolish indeed. You will be attacked and even harshly penalized for not following “the science”, but your job is to ignore the attacks and pray for your attackers. Even that response will be considered further evidence of your stupidity, but let the unbelievers believe what they want. The only opinion of you that really matters is God’s.

I LOVE YOU, DADDY

One of the hallmarks of organized religion, including organized mainstream churchianity, is to make God hazy and confusing. He is framed in terms of being so far above us that we cannot possibly understand him, and the only way we can catch his attention is through ritualistic, pompous, and occasionally downright boring ceremonies. Churchianity in particular likes to drone on and on about “the Great Mystery of God”, as if God were a Great Whodunnit and we’re all little spiritual Sherlock Holmeses trying to figure him out.

God my Father is definitely great, but he’s no mystery to me. He’s my Dad. He loves me and I love him. Our relationship is very simple: he protects and guides me, and I follow his advice as best I can. There is nothing confusing or pompous about how we interact. We just do. No ceremony or ritual required.

Jesus’ ministry was all about the simple and close relationship we can have with God. He said that God is looking for worshipers to come to him in Spirit and in Truth, and that going into a building or into the Holy of Holies or to a specific geographic location is no longer required. We just have to go to God with a willing heart, and he takes it from there.

I mention this because along with making God a “Great Mystery”, churchianity and other organized religions like to muddy the water when it comes to God’s will. This is another one of those “great mysteries” that we just have to take on faith, according to the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The truth of the matter is, though, that God’s will is very accessible. All you have to do is ask him what the best choice is, and he will always show and/or tell you, even if you might not like the answer.

What I’m saying is that God’s will is no mystery. He never meant for it to be a mystery. That’s why he always sent us prophets to give us scripture, and he gave us the Commandments. If we don’t know enough to go to him directly in prayer, then we can refer to the prophets and the Commandments. On top of that, as Christians, we also have the examples set by Jesus. We can know God’s will in general by seeing the kinds of choices Jesus made in his life. To know God’s will in particular for each of us, all we have to do is ask him.

God’s will can be defined simply as the best way forward from any given point in time. This applies to everyone in general and to each of us as individuals. Note that God’s plan and God’s will are not the same thing. God’s plan has already been revealed to us through the prophets, including the one who wrote the book of Revelation. God’s plan refers to a set outcome that will not change. His will, on the other hand, is living and fluid and changes according to the situation. Jesus never knew more than a few days in advance what God’s will was, and neither should we know.

God’s will cannot be a mystery to us because aligning our will with God’s is the foundation for building a strong faith. Without aligning our will with God’s, our faith cannot grow. Every time we choose to do God’s will (that is, every time we choose to do what God shows us is the best way forward, even and especially if it doesn’t look like the best way forward to us or to others), our faith grows. Jesus had tremendous faith – the strongest of anyone who ever lived on Earth – because he always did God’s will. He told us he did. Jesus couldn’t have done God’s will if it were a “mystery” to him.

Don’t let the churchians make God hazy or confusing or out of reach to you. Know that God is your Dad and that he’s even more accessible than dialing “0” for the operator or “911” in an emergency. If you want to know what God’s will (advice) is, ask him. His will will never deviate from the prophets, the Commandments, or Jesus’ teachings.

God especially loves it when you tell him that you love him, when you come to him for no other reason than to say “I love you, Daddy”. In those moments, your will and God’s will are perfectly aligned.