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Jesus said: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus said: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Jesus also said: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Without a doubt, and from the evidence of Jesus’ own words, God’s prophesied Kingdom has come. It was heralded by Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, who is now ruling over the Kingdom from the right hand of the Father. God’s Kingdom – the Age of the Messiah – is here and now and has been for the past nearly 2000 years. Those of us who are born again are priests and prophets in the Kingdom. We are protected from our spiritual enemies. We live in profound peace that the world cannot match. The Kingdom cannot be taken away, as it is an eternal Kingdom and our enemies are under our feet. They must steer clear of us and have no jurisdiction over us. We truly are free in that we live free of fear within God’s perfect protection. These are promises made by God through his Old Testament prophets, and all these promises have come true in Jesus and through Jesus in the very present Messianic Age. (more…)
This is all I know: Before I was born again, I hated that book. I wanted nothing to do with it and I didn’t want it around me. The few times I tried reading it (for a class assignment), I could not. The words ran together and seemed to be written in a foreign language. I did not speak God.
After I was born again, the first thing I reached for was a Bible, like a newborn reaching for a teat. I read all four gospels in one sitting. It was the first time I’d heard the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank God he spoke English.
While I was reading through the gospels, God showed me what had happened to me. I read: “And seven devils were driven out of Mary Magdalene”, and God said: “That’s what happened to you, only there were a lot more than seven.” Then I understood: I was a Jesus freak. That’s the only way I could frame it: “Jesus freak”. As a former atheist, I had no other reference point. Over time, I learned to call myself a “follower of Jesus” and “born again”. But for the first while, I was just a Jesus freak.
Since the day of my rebirth, I have not let go of that book. It’s always within arm’s reach or in viewing range. I have a Bible by my bed and one by my computer, and another halfway between my bed and my computer. There are two more in my closet, carefully wrapped in clean white plastic bags. I read them so much, the pages fell out. I taped them back in, but then the covers fell off. Sometimes you just have to let go, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. So I keep them swaddled in plastic, next to my swaddled dolls.
I read the Bible every day. Sometimes, I read whole books within the Bible, and sometimes I read only a few lines. I let God guide me as to what I should read. And then every once in a while I’ll read the whole Bible again, from cover to cover.
No matter how many times I read it, I never tire of it. Just like the first day, it feeds me. It’s always fresh. It’s always new. I always see something I hadn’t seen before. How is that possible? How can you read the same words every day, and yet every day see something new?
If God said: “You can have only one earthly possession”, I would have a Bible. There’s something about that book. It’s just a book, but it can’t be just a book. If it were just a book, I could have read it as easily as all the other books I read when I was an atheist. But I couldn’t read that book. I didn’t want it anywhere near me. The words all swam together. If it were just a book, those things would not have happened.
This is all I know: “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” I’m a Jesus freak. You can tape pages back into a book, but you can’t stop the cover from falling off. You can learn something new from the Bible no matter how many times you read it. And the Bible is not just a book.
I was “baptized” a Roman Catholic when I was three weeks old, but I was raised an atheist. I mention this because, when I was born again at age 36, I had no idea whatsoever what it meant to be a Christian. I wasn’t, as they say, “raised in the faith”. Everything I’ve learned about being a follower of Jesus has come from the Bible, my conversations with God and Jesus, and my own experience as a born-again.
This is why I’m always a wee bit surprised when I come across doctrinal arguments that have already been dealt with and resolved by Jesus in the gospels. If Jesus has already resolved these issues, why are people who call themselves Christians still arguing about them?
One favorite issue that rigid legalists like to bring up again and again is the concept of “keeping the Sabbath”. They argue over which day is the ‘real’ sabbath day. They argue about what is and is not permitted to be done on that sabbath day. And then they warn that if you don’t strictly adhere to their interpretation of “keeping the sabbath”, you’re going straight to hell, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect 200 dollars.
What did Jesus have to say about the sabbath?
He said: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
He said this in response to some rigid legalists (in this case, Pharisees) who were peeved that he and his disciples had picked and eaten a few ears of corn while walking through a cornfield. Jesus used as a justification how David and his men had eaten food offerings from an altar when they were hungry and had no other food source. In eating the food that was meant only for priests, David was breaking a rule. Jesus’ point here was that expediency and urgency of human need are greater even than altar rules. Jesus and his disciples were hungry; the corn was there; they ate it. End of story. Just like David and his men were hungry; the food was there; they ate it. God had put the food there not to tempt them but to satisfy their need.
Jesus reiterated his stand on how human need trumps the rigid rules around “keeping the Sabbath” when later the same day he healed a man in the local synagogue (I’m using Mark’s gospel here, the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3). The same Pharisees were there to witness this “Sabbath violation” and it set them off on the warpath to “destroy” Jesus. Even after Jesus had explained to them in simple terms that it was better to do good than evil on the sabbath and better to save a life than take it, they still didn’t get it. All they could see was their beloved rule and that Jesus had broken it.
Jesus was totally exasperated with their “hardness of heart” and their inability to grasp even the simplest concepts of who God is and how we are to serve him. This kind of rigid legalistic interpretation of “keeping the Sabbath” persists to this day, despite Jesus having dealt with it once and for all. And not surprising, the same type of people who gave Jesus grief all those years ago are still giving Christians grief about the sabbath today.
As I mentioned, everything I know about being a follower of Jesus, I learned from the Bible or directly from God and Jesus. Regarding the sabbath, I usually take one day off a week, and it’s usually Sunday, but not always. If I end up having to work on Sunday, I take the next day off that I can. I know that if I don’t get my ‘day of rest’, I’ll be a nightmare to be around, just like I’ll be a nightmare to be around if I don’t get my 8 hours’ sleep. I’ve tried splitting my sabbath day into two by taking two half-days off, but that doesn’t work as well. I don’t get the same level of rejuvenation as I do when I take a whole day to ‘do nothing’.
Because I’m a follower of Jesus, I prefer to spend my entire day off just hanging with God and Jesus and the holy rellies (you know, that cloud of witnesses Paul was talking about). If I had my druthers, I’d spend every day doing nothing but just hanging with God and Jesus and the holy rellies, but that’s not advisable, since we do still have work that needs to be done. God loves it when we just spend time with him for no other reason than that we love him, but we can’t do that 24/7. We still have work to do during our time here, just like Jesus had work to do during his time here.
I’m not telling you what to do or not to do on your sabbath. That’s up to you to decide. As for me, I look to Jesus and my own conscience as to how I spend my weekly day off. Jesus states quite clearly that the sabbath is meant for our benefit and that it’s not so set in stone that it can’t be altered if the situation calls for it. I’ve worked through days that I should have taken off, and I’ve suffered for it by getting tired and cranky. I look forward to my ‘day of rest’ once a week, but if an emergency comes up that can’t be put off (and I get clearance from God to deal with it), I deal with the emergency. I don’t think twice about it, and neither does God.
For any of you legalists out there reading this and tearing your robes – lighten up. Get to know God and Jesus better. Read the gospels. Jesus said that “the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath”. Anyone who’s a born-again follower of Jesus is a “Son of man”, meaning a prophet (meaning, a revealer of God’s truth). If Jesus could dictate what could and could not be done on the sabbath, so can we. Jesus didn’t arbitrarily and just for the sake of it do whatever he wanted to do on the sabbath – no. But if circumstances were such that he had to do something that could not be delayed, he did it, and so should we.
And yes, I do know the commandment about keeping the sabbath day holy. Nothing I’ve said here violates that, any more than anything Jesus said or did violated the holiness of the sabbath day. As a born-again, you should live EVERY day in holiness, not just one day in seven. Jesus certainly did. Living in holiness just means keeping your will aligned with God’s so that you make the right (God-inspired) choices. This isn’t possible without consciously being in God’s presence, through his spirit. So, in a sense, born-agains, who by definition always have God’s spirit with them and should always be conscious of his presence, “keep the Sabbath day” all week long, and every day is a holy day.
Even so, I’m still looking forward to my day off!
All of my life I’ve been a voracious reader. Before I was born again, I had a private library of about 3,000 volumes, some of which were signed first editions. I had a Bible, too, that had been given to me by a neighbor (it had been her grandparents’, but she didn’t want it), and I dutifully added God’s Word to the collection. But I never read it.
I worshiped a constantly changing stable of writers and philosophers, all of whom were either suicidal or dead (or both). Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, J.D. Salinger, Margaret Laurence, Anthony Burgess, Jean Rhys – these were the sad souls I looked to for help as I groped and stumbled my way through the darkness. I faithfully memorized their words and tried to apply them to my life, but their ‘guidance’ only led me to share in their despair. I, too, became suicidal. I, too, threw myself into loveless ‘love affairs’. I, too, became booze-addicted. I, too, thought it was romantic to live outside the bounds of society’s norms. I, too, simultaneously disbelieved in and hated God, not realizing it was illogical to do so. I, too, learned to hate myself.
Most of these writers’ works were introduced to me through school assignments. Before I was even in my teens, I was force-fed what I know now is potent spiritual poison: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; Shakespeare’s MacBeth; Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I read these works because I was told to read them. It never occurred to me that I had a choice in the matter. If my teachers had said: “Here’s a bottle of poison; drink it”, I certainly wouldn’t have drunk it. But no-one ever said to me: “Here’s some spiritual poison; read it.” The essay assignments came with no warning labels or disclaimers, though they certainly should have. Spiritual poison is far deadlier than physical poison, and far easier to swallow.
Of the millions upon millions of words I had to consume as a student, I was told to read from the Bible only once. It was for a university course, and by that time I was so demon-addled, I couldn’t read the Bible even though I tried. All the words ran together. They made no sense. I gave up and relied on what I’d heard in class to answer the Bible-related exam questions.
In one of those curious episodes that only make sense in hindsight through a born-again perspective, I came to read about Jesus while searching for a book of essays on Jean Rhys. I have no idea why I decided to take books on Jesus out of the library, but I did. I read them while sitting at the kitchen table smoking and drinking. I can still see the look my boyfriend gave me when he saw the books on the table. “Jesus?” he sneered. I don’t remember what I said to him in response, but I do remember reading the books. They characterized Jesus as a rebel and a champion of the underdog, not as the son of God. They were Jesus from an historical and atheistic perspective. He came across as a pretty cool guy. I liked him.
Six months later, I was born again.
Since being born again, the only book I own is the Bible. I’m as voracious a reader as ever, but now I have no desire to read anything but the Bible (and the occasional blog or newspaper). My favorite writers are Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, John and Paul. Unlike when I was an atheist, I now understand the power of words to poison or to feed a soul. I also see writing not as a craft for impressing people, but as a means to deliver God’s truth through words, the plainer the better.
In the movie The Day After Tomorrow, some characters are holed up in the New York Public Library, burning books to keep from freezing to death. Interestingly, the only book the atheist librarian chooses not to burn is the Bible. His reasoning is that this particular Bible was the first book produced on a printing press and therefore represented a seminal moment in human achievement that should be preserved at all costs. As noble as it sounds, I’m not buying his explanation. I think that he, like me when I was an atheist, recognizes that there’s something special about the Bible, something that sets it apart from all other written works. As an unbeliever, I didn’t want to read the Bible but I still knew I had to have one in my collection. I know now that the feeling of “having to have a Bible”, for whatever reason, was God sticking his foot in the door, refusing to let me shut him out entirely.