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The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus goes much deeper than mere blood. They were cousins, but we only hear of them interacting in the womb, at Jesus’ baptism, and then shortly before John’s beheading. We can assume that, as cousins, they spent time together growing up and then later, as young men, probably passionately debated scriptures, with Jesus (the younger by a few months) likely besting his older cousin at every turn. At Jesus’ baptism at the River Jordan, John is obviously in awe of his younger cousin and openly considers himself to be so low as to not even to be worthy to put Jesus’ sandals on his feet. When John tells Jesus that he should be the one getting baptized, Jesus gently chides him to go ahead with the baptism in order to fulfill scripture. We catch there a glimpse of the younger cousin again schooling his older cousin.
Jesus calls John the greatest of those born of women, but then also calls him lowest in the kingdom (that is, born of the Spirit). What did Jesus mean by that? It almost sounds like an insult, just as John sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if he were actually “the one” sounds like an insult. Did the cousins have a falling-out that is not recorded in scripture? (more…)
Being born again is a definitive marker in a person’s history. It is that “moment outside of time” when the spirits of the world are cast out and God’s spirit enters in. The entrance of God’s spirit into a soul means that the soul has come to life, as there is no life outside of God.
You literally become a new person not by your own hand but by God’s.
But this new person still lives in the world, with all its decay, filth, and problems. Even worse, the possibility to go back to one’s “old ways” is constantly a temptation not because the old ways are better than God’s ways but because they’re familiar and habitual. Familiarity and habit are strong temptations, if they’re against God. When you become born again, you need to establish new God-centered familiarities and habits, but that takes time. (more…)
Do you put God first?
When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, he said:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.
Do you do that? Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, more than you love anyone or anything else?
Do you put God first in everything?
What does it even mean to put God first? (more…)
I’ve been born-again for 20 years.
Being born-again is the best thing — by far and without question — that ever happened to me. I lived as an atheist into adulthood, and then one day suddenly I was born again.
I woke up one morning an atheist and went to bed that night a believer.
It can happen that fast.
What also happened fast was the sea-change in the words that came out of my mouth and out of my pen. My voice stayed the same, but a whole different vocabulary emerged. (more…)
The dividing of Christians into denominations is not God’s work; it is the work of the devil.
Those who adhere to one denomination or another rather than cleave to God in Jesus’ name are doing the devil’s work, not God’s.
If you are a born-again Christian, you are to stand on God as your rock and follow Jesus as your Lord and high priest, master, teacher, brother, and best friend.
Following the tenets of this denomination or that, adhering to creeds rather than to God’s Word is like swearing an oath, which Jesus tells us not to do. Denominational creeds come from the devil. (more…)
I have spent the past couple of days reading online blog postings and listening to audio recordings of what Jesus meant when he called his disciples to forsake all. This is a major sticking point for many people, and their interpretation of that particular scripture can be very telling. (more…)
When I was a kid in the 1970s, I did the trick-or-treating thing every Hallowe’en, along with all the other kids in my neighbourhood. For many of us, it was the highlight of the fall season and second only to Christmas on the annual excitement scale. Other than for our masks, our costumes were mostly hand-made by us and pretty low-tech (two hangers taped together at the hooks were angel wings; an upside-down ice-cream container with a rayon scarf trailing from it was Maid Marion’s headpiece; a big cardboard box with holes cut out for the arms was a TV set, etc.), but we didn’t care how ridiculous we looked because, for most of us, Hallowe’en was all about the free chips, candy and chocolate bars. The costumes were just a means to that end.
We saw our neighbourhood homes as dispensers of the free treats we so craved (and considered our birthright on that one amazing night), and for that reason all the houses we intended to hit were considered friendly turf. We didn’t anticipate having any problems when we stomped up the steps with our pillowcases bulging with loot; we didn’t expect to be challenged when we shouted “TRICK OR TREAT!”; we just expected to be given free grub, and we’d be on our way.
But there was this one house in our subdivision that gave me the creeps. Every Hallowe’en, I would go there only because the older kids I was trick-or-treating with would go there, but it bothered me. It was the only house I wanted to get away from as quickly as I could. I don’t even remember whether they gave good treats or not; I just remember that I thought the place and the people in it were creepy.
Here’s why: (more…)
I’m traveling again.
A few days ago, while on an airport bus, I noticed a middle-aged couple sitting across the aisle from me. They were holding hands. It was just a simple pose, supported by companionable silence, but it struck me to the core.
I hadn’t held someone’s hand for nearly 20 years. (more…)
There are two types of words: the ones you speak, and the ones you mean.
You know what I’m talking about. You can say something or write something, but inside you’re thinking something quite different, maybe even the opposite.
God is not a lip reader. He reads hearts. He is aware of the words that come out of your mouth or flow through your fingers, but they count for far less than the words he hears coming from inside you. He knows and records every single one of your heart words, and he’ll use them as evidence against you (if he must) come Judgment Day.
Jesus warned us not to be hypocrites. We might fool some people, but we won’t fool God.
Our heart words have the power to justify our salvation in God’s eyes, and they have the power to condemn us and cause us to lose our salvation.
If our heart words justify us in God’s eyes, we go to heaven.
If our heart words condemn us in God’s eyes, we go to hell.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that.
Jesus said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
We need to pay very, very close attention to this. He didn’t say: “Just believe in me, have faith in me, and you’ll be fine.”
No, he said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
He didn’t say if you’re baptised in my name or born again, everything’s fine and you have nothing to worry about.
He said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
He didn’t say he’ll do everything for us so that all we need to do when we get to the pearly gates is to say: “I’m with Jesus!”, and we’ll be fine.
No, he said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
You determine your salvation by the words you choose to speak and the thoughts you choose to permit. You can ALWAYS choose your spoken or written words. No-one can force you to speak or write anything. That power is yours.
And while you can’t always prevent thoughts from coming to your mind, you can choose whether or not you permit them to stay there. That power is also yours.
As with everything in life, the only way you’re going to get through this minefield of heart words is with God’s help. Paul says to pray without ceasing. He means, never cease being conscious that God’s spirit is with you. If you’re constantly aware of God’s presence, you’ll be more likely to ask for his advice and also more likely to heed it.
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you … whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. He didn’t say you’re born again, so you’re good to go and heaven’s a sure thing.
No, he says: work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
Watch what you say.
Watch what you write.
But even more so, watch what you choose to think.
“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
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!