A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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OUR SISTER, MARY

I tread very carefully as I write this, because I have enormous love and respect for Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother and our sister. At the same time, I don’t want to trample on the sensibilities of anyone who sees her as something she is not. But it’s important for the sake of the Gospel – God’s Truth – that the record on Mary be set straight. It’s also important for her legacy that she be seen as she is, not as some religious authorities want us to see her.

Mary was a mother first and foremost before she became a follower of Jesus. In fact, her role as Jesus’ mother initially blinded her to who Jesus was. Throughout Jesus’ lifetime, including during his ministry years, Mary saw Jesus as her son and perhaps maybe as a prophet (like his cousin, John), but she didn’t see him as the Messiah. It wasn’t until sometime after Jesus rose from the dead that she understood who he was and became his follower.

I’ve written before about how difficult it is for most people, especially unbelievers, to see born-again believers as the new person they’ve become. If you’re genuinely born-again, you know what I’m talking about. It can be frustrating, but it is what it is. You roll with it, like Jesus did. If they don’t want to hear what you have to say, you move on. If you and God’s Word are not welcome, you move on. You don’t force the Word on anyone; Jesus never did. But he was always adamant that the record be set straight in matters of scriptural Truth. That was his special ministry to his enemies in Jerusalem.

I now offer the same special ministry to my enemies.

Mary did not live her adult life as a virgin. She was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, as we know from Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah and also from the Gospel. As well, we know that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. But after that she assumed her wifely duties with Joseph. The Gospel specifically tells us that Joseph did not “know” Mary until after she had given birth to Jesus. I don’t know how much more explicit the Gospel can be about Mary and Joseph’s conjugal relations, short of dropping a sex tape. So yes, Mary was a virgin when she conceived, carried and bore Jesus, but she then had marital relations with Joseph, from which children were born, of which we know of Joses and James by name, and also Jesus’ sisters.

Mary was not Jesus’ first disciple. She was not anywhere near the front of that line. Yes, she gave Jesus the nudge that had him perform his first public miracle (at the wedding in Cana), but that in no way signalled her discipleship to Jesus. In fact, Mary was more a stumbling block than a disciple throughout Jesus’ ministry years, so much so that she even attempted to stop his ministry work altogether when she, accompanied by her daughters, went to his house in Capernaum to take him back to Nazareth. She knew that what he was doing was dangerous and she was trying to protect him, but so was Peter, and we know what Jesus said to him.

Again, we need to learn and absorb scriptural Truth rather than what some religious authorities want to force-feed us. Nothing I’m saying here is in any way contradicted by scripture. Mary, as we know, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, but we have no evidence that she held his lifeless body in her arms, as Michelangelo would have us believe. What we do know is that Jesus gave her into John’s care while she stood near the foot of the cross, and that she likely joined the disciples from thereon in. But again, even none of the disciples at that point (Jesus’ crucifixion) believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They considered him a great teacher, yes, and a great prophet, but not THE Prophet foretold by Moses in his farewell speeches.

It wasn’t until Jesus rose from the dead and showed himself to them that the penny dropped for most of them and they believed. This likely includes Mary, but that is speculation on my part. What we do know is that Mary was with the disciples and other followers shortly after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost. That scriptural passage (Acts 1-14) also mentions that Jesus’ brethren (her children) were there with the disciples and followers as well.

I love Mary. In temperament and demeanor, we couldn’t be farther apart, but I have utmost respect for the fact that God chose her to bear Jesus and to mother him, and that when it was time, she turned. She converted and became a follower of Jesus. Yes, she was still his mother even then (she is and will eternally be his mother), but she is first and foremost his follower. Her relationship is no longer that of a mother to a son, but that of a follower to the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Messiah.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome back in the 4th century A.D., the figure of Mary was conflated with those of Isis (an Egyptian ‘deity’), Artemis (a Greek ‘goddess’), and Diana (a Roman one) in order to make Christianity more acceptable to the pagan masses. The conflation continues to this day. Rather than the humble mother of Jesus who eventually became his follower, Mary was mischaracterized as a perpetual virgin and “Queen of Heaven” who needs constant worship, petitions, prayers, and offerings. The Roman church authorities superimposed the pagan deities on Mary, mainly because of her storied virginity at Jesus’ conception and birth. Needless to say, those authorities were wrong to teach their adherents to worship Mary. We shouldn’t worship her (she’s our sister and fellow believer; we’re to worship God), and we definitely shouldn’t pray to her or bow down before statues that represent her. If you find yourself mumbling a “vain repetition” addressed to Mary, stop yourself. We pray to God and God only, in Jesus’ name. We do not pray to people and we do not pray to angels: We pray to God and God only, as Jesus did, and in his name.

If you’ve been caught up in the cult of Mary-worship, please consider the above. But be warned: In reading this far, you no longer have a cover for your guilt. It’s only your ego and pride keeping you from acknowledging God’s Truth, and it’s high time you let those things go.

I hope that you get to know Mary someday, if and when you make it Home. I know I’m looking forward to getting to know her, if and when I make it Home. We’re polar opposites in personality, Mary and I, but we’d find our common ground in our love for God and our discipleship of Jesus. There is nothing better, whether here on Earth or in Heaven, than to love God and to follow Jesus wherever God’s Truth leads.

WHO IS YOUR MOTHER?

As was prophesied by Simeon, Jesus caused his mother a lot of heartache.

Jesus didn’t do this on purpose; it was a side-effect of choosing to do his Father’s will rather than the world’s.

We need to be like Jesus in everything we do.

After setting her son on the path to ministry work, Mary got caught up in her motherly instincts and tried to protect Jesus from his enemies (like Peter later did and was called “Satan” for his efforts). This put Mary in direct opposition to Jesus until his resurrection, at which time she turned and became his follower.

In fact, when Jesus asked “Who is my mother? Who are my brethren?… Those who do the will of my Father in Heaven are my brother, sister and mother”, it was in direct reference to Mary and his siblings. He didn’t say this to hurt his family but to show the primacy of the spiritual bond shared by those who do God’s will. Our spiritual brethren are closer to us in kinship than our blood relatives. That’s why ALL (not some, ALL) of the disciples left their blood families, including spouses and children, when they started to follow Jesus. The focus on the blood-relative family that dominates the worldly church is anti-Christ.

Again, we are to follow Jesus in everything we do. We are not to follow the world, even if it calls itself Christian.

It is highly likely that those of you who are genuinely born-again have no born-again blood relatives, or at least none who are still on Earth. Being born-again is a lonely state (or better said, being born-again is an alone state). It puts you in conflict not only with your blood relatives, but also with the world in general. Paul told us to get along as much as possible with everyone, and Jesus said to make friends of the children of mammon so we have a fall-back if we fail, and we’d be wise to follow their advice. But our closest friends cannot be people of the world. That includes members of our family, if they’re not born again.

In any case, if we’re genuine followers of Jesus, people of the world won’t want to be around us. They’ll find any excuse not to be around us. We make their skin crawl, even if we don’t mention God or Jesus. Don’t take it personally (never be offended); it’s a spiritual aversion, not a personal one. Only when they’re on a mission from the devil (and I’m not jesting here) will people of the world seek out our company. Welcome them with the same courtesy and kindness you would anyone else, but be careful not to fall into their trap. If you give into them, you will suffer for it, but so will they for leading you astray.

When Jesus was in his house in Capernaum, Mary came looking for him not to help with his ministry, but to take him home to Nazareth (you know, the place that ran him out of town and tried to kill him). She thought he’d lost his mind in claiming to be the Messiah, and didn’t want him to be arrested. She well knew the penalty for falsely claiming to be the Messiah was death, particularly since the religious powers-that-be at the time were closely aligned with the Roman occupiers and didn’t want to lose their comfortable status quo, even for the genuine King of the Jews.

Mary knew Jesus was special among humans, but she likely considered him to be another prophet, rather than “that Prophet” (as Moses called the Messiah). We shouldn’t fault Mary for this. In most (not all, most) mothers, the instinct to protect their children from harm overrides any other allegiance. Mary was trying to protect Jesus when she came to get him in Capernaum.

We are also guilty, to some extent, of wanting to override God’s Commandments and Jesus’ teachings when it comes to our own loved ones. We don’t want to hurt them. We want to protect them. We tend to see the short-term benefits rather than the long-term ones, the worldly consequences rather than the heavenly ones.

But being a follower of Jesus means that we likely have to turn our backs on our blood relatives, even to the point of not attending our own father’s funeral if it conflicts with God’s will. This is a hard pill for many people to swallow. Worldly Christians will outright refuse, and even born-agains will hesitate and mull it over and maybe ask God if there’s a way around it, a way to compromise that keeps their blood relatives and other loved ones from being hurt. Most times there isn’t: there is only God’s way or the world’s way.

The parable of the wedding guests is a prime example of people who chose what appears to be good (the world’s way) over what is actually good (God’s way). The invitees had any number of excuses why they could not attend the feast, all of which in the eyes of the world (and in the eyes of most Christians today) would have been reasonable, such as just having gotten married or just having purchased land or other possessions that needed looking after. How can you argue with the reasonableness of those responsibilities? And yet Jesus did just that, showing how these people were condemned in God’s eyes for choosing what had value in the world rather than what had value in the Kingdom.

We need always to choose what has value in God’s eyes, even and especially when it conflicts with the world and our loved ones. Jesus didn’t cave to his mother’s pleas to go home to Nazareth; in fact, he dismissed them as inconsequential, just as the invited wedding guests should have dismissed their new wife as inconsequential or their new land as inconsequential, just as Matthew actually did dismiss his tax collector job as inconsequential and Peter his family and fishing business as inconsequential.

All that should matter to us, as born-again believers, is doing God’s will, not the world’s will, and not our family’s will. Yes, you may cause your family some measure of heartache, but the alternative is your eternal damnation. When it comes down to choosing between what pleases God and what pleases your family, always choose to please God, like Jesus did.

Be like Jesus in everything you do.

HEAVEN THIRTEEN

Jesus test

Just before Jesus started his ministry, he thought he wasn’t ready to start. He’d been preparing for years, and had made one aborted attempt when he was 12, but he didn’t know he was ready when he actually was. His mother had to get his motor running, so to speak, by asking him to lend a hand at the wedding at Cana. God asked her to do that, and she did. Mary Mary was quite uncontrary when it came to doing God’s will.

Jesus didn’t know his time had come, and yet in God’s eyes Jesus was ready. God does that; it’s a little trick of his, like a test. The work we need to do in his name has to be done by him. Scripture says that. God works through people. All good things come from God. But in order for God to work through you, you can’t be relying on your own strength or your own understanding. What comes through you needs to come from God.

People who proudly assert that they’re ready are, in fact, not. Jesus thought he was ready to start working for God when he was 12 years old. Certainly, he already was spiritual light-years ahead of the Jewish elders in understanding of scripture, but he wasn’t ready to preach and teach. He had some living to do, some maturing that can only come with time. So his mother and father hauled him back to Nazareth.

But a few decades later, at Cana, when he thought he wasn’t ready, he actually was. He was as ready as he would ever be. He had prepared; he had learned; he had matured. And (and this is the kicker) he wasn’t confident in himself anymore. He hung back. He thought he needed to learn and mature more.

This hesitation and humility is precisely what God is looking for. Jesus not only needed to learn and mature, he needed to lose his confidence in his own abilities and rely solely on God.

It is, after all, God’s work that needs to be done, not ours.

This form of humility is not self-denigration but places all trust and confidence in God rather than in oneself. This has to be learned and then tested over time.

Jesus passed his final test at Cana, and off he went.

He was ready because he didn’t think he was ready.

Are you?

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

Then saith he unto his disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”

Matthew 9:35-38