A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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…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.

IF YOU’RE GENUINELY FOLLOWING JESUS

one way

If you’re genuinely following Jesus, very few people want to hear what you say.

The first thing that all of Jesus’ disciples did was leave their jobs, their wives, their children, their homes, and their stuff. None of Jesus’ followers had property or spouses or children. THERE WERE NO CHILDREN LIVING AMONG THE FOLLOWERS. There were children who came to listen to Jesus as he taught (and he welcomed them with open arms and blessed them), but there were no children living among the followers, just as there were no people living with spouses. Jesus’ followers lived childless, celibate and without stuff, as Jesus did.

If you’re genuinely following Jesus, very few people want to hear what you say. (more…)

MARK 11:12-26: THE ONE WHERE JESUS GETS HANGRY

Grab your whip

There’s a curious but pivotal scripture that “gentle Jesus, meek and mind” Christians tend to skip because it doesn’t fit their image of Jesus. You know the one I mean – where a hungry Jesus curses a fig tree to death and then goes on a hangry rampage in the temple, overturning tables and whipping the moneychangers for violating God’s law.

Ya gotta admit – when Jesus does hangry, he does it memorably. Most of us when we’re hangry just snap at people and then head to the corner store for a candy bar or a bag of Doritos, but Jesus let it all out. And when he did, he did it with such impact and such righteousness that we’re still talking about it today. (more…)

THE GREAT TYLENOL BOTTLE IN THE SKY

painkiller in the sky

In his letters, Paul was very clear about one thing: No earthly suffering is too much if it leads to Heaven as the reward.

Heaven is our reward if God judges that we’ve earned it. Most Christians have lost sight of that. Instead of longing for Heaven, they do everything in their power to postpone death. They run to the doctor, they demand a cure, they beg for prayers so they won’t die. Why is that? (more…)

SCRIPTURE AND GOD

scripture

When Jesus was 12, he gave his parents the slip and snuck off to the temple in Jerusalem to talk scripture. The learned elders were amazed at his knowledge and perceived he was clearly a prodigy destined for great things. But his parents experienced this event somewhat differently. For three days and nights, they frantically searched for their son. When they eventually found him, instead of apologizing, Jesus simply stated that he needed to be about his Father’s business. His parents, however, discerned otherwise, and back under their wing Jesus went. We hear nothing further about him until his “coming out” miracle at the wedding at Cana 18 years later (prompted, tellingly, by his mother, who signaled to Jesus that yes, it is finally time to be about your Father’s business).

Like the precocious 12-year-old Jesus who reveled in his knowledge of scripture, fully-grown men and women today engage in the same type of display. But instead of using temples, they vie to one-up each other on blogs, online forums or YouTube videos. And in so doing, they completely miss the point of knowing scripture. (more…)

KEEPING THE LORD’S NEW PASSOVER

 

bread and wine

On his last night on Earth in a mortal body, Jesus gave us a new Commandment to add to God’s Big Ten – to love one another as he loves us.  He also asked us to do something in memory of him. That something he asked us to do was to perform a new ceremony during the annual meal commemorating Passover. He asked us to raise a cup in his name and to share it among ourselves, and to acknowledge that this cup represents his blood. But unlike the blood of the lamb that is smeared on the doorposts, this “blood” we are to drink in spiritual solidarity with Jesus, in memory of him. Same with the bread, which Jesus broke apart and shared among his followers; we are to eat the bread as if it were Jesus’ “body”. This is not an act of spiritual cannibalism but a recognition that Jesus is God’s sacrificial lamb, and that if we want the benefits of that sacrifice, we must do as Jesus’ told us to do – to drink the blood of the lamb and to eat its flesh so that it becomes a part of us, so that Jesus becomes part of us. (more…)

ARE YOU PROTECTED?

safe-in-gods-hand

In one of his final prayers before his crucifixion, Jesus asked God to protect his followers. He was very specific that they were to be protected – not taken out of the world, but protected while in the world. This request echoes God’s promise throughout the Old Testament that he would prosper and protect those who do his will and keep his Commandments. Jesus was inferring by his prayer that his followers would, in fact, do just that.

So here we are, nearly 2000 years later, and God is still making good on Jesus’ prayer. Genuine followers of Jesus are still prospering in everything they do and still being protected, AS LONG AS THEY CONSISTENTLY AND WILLINGLY CHOOSE TO DO GOD’S WILL AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. (more…)