A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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TREASURES ON EARTH

I have a houseplant named Florence. She’s a poinsettia. My mother gave her to me last Christmas. I’ve moved 6 times since last Christmas, and each time Florence has moved with me. She just had her first birthday on Christmas Day, celebrating in grand style by showing off her brand new red leaves.

Poinsettias are fascinating plants. Many of us buy them at Christmas time and then discard them before Easter, but I can’t kill things that are still alive and breathing. Not even bugs. I let them live until God takes them home. So Florence will be with me for as long as she keeps breathing.

I didn’t know much about poinsettias until I got Florence. As you may or may not know, poinsettias are native to Mexico, so they’re not big fans of the Canadian climate. Florence would die if I planted her outside, even in the summertime. She was born in a pot and she’ll die in a pot.

Plants can teach you many things about life. I’ve moved so often over the past several decades that I’ve never bothered to get any plants. It wasn’t practical for me to have them. The few plants I did get were given to me by my mother, maybe in a subconscious attempt on her part to get me to stay in one place for more than a few months. So when Florence was deposited on my doorstep last Christmas, my first impulse was to give her away. I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s what she’s taught me so far.

Plants have friends. When I first moved out to the country, I rented a furnished house that came with a live potted cactus. It was just a little wee thing that I called Shorty. I set Florence down next to Shorty, and over the next few months, the strangest thing happened: They started growing towards each other. I had set them in front of an east-facing window, but instead of growing towards the window, they grew towards each other until their leaves were touching. At one point, I turned the plants around so that their “backs” were towards each other, but their leaves on that side started doing the same thing. They were friends.

Unfortunately, I had to leave Shorty behind when we moved to where we are now, but that was a life lesson for Florence, I guess. She’ll make other friends someday, and she’ll see Shorty again when she gets to Heaven.

Plants need down-time. Poinsettias are primarily green plants when they are thriving. They only turn red during their down-time, which is the cooler and darker months of the year. The red color of their leaves indicates an absence of chlorophyll. In the cooler darker months, poinsettias shut down most of their chlorophyll production in order to survive as a plant. The lack of chlorophyll results in the brilliant red leaves that are the plant’s calling card. So what we’ve come to associate poinsettias with (brilliant red leaves) is actually a sign of their partial hibernation in survival mode. Poinsettias turn red for much the same reason as trees turn red in the fall.

To get Florence to turn red for her first birthday (December 25), I had to give her her own bedroom and put her to bed at sundown every day, starting in October. She needed total rest and darkness for at least 12 hours out of 24, followed by indirect sunlight only, so I gave her the northeast-facing bedroom. She seems to like it there. I’ve been rewarded for my diligence with a burst of red bracts just in time for Christmas.

Plants do not like to move. They are rooted for a reason. Every time I move Florence, she weeps white liquid and her leaves completely droop. I guess that’s her stress response to rapid changes in lighting, humidity, air pressure, etc. As soon as I set her down someplace that isn’t moving, the weeping stops and her leaves slowly return to their normal position. Florence doesn’t even like a breeze. I set her outside a few times in the spring, on warm days with the lightest of breezes, but she completely drooped then, too. She is decidedly a houseplant.

I was a reluctant plant-mother, but I’ve grown into my role nicely. Poinsettias are a relatively low maintenance plant-child. The only other time I had a plant was when my mother gave me one to put into a hanging pot outside of a house I was renting one summer in downtown Halifax, nearly 10 years ago. I didn’t have a place to hang the plant, so I would set it down on the doorstep each morning and take it into the house each evening (I didn’t want it to get stolen). I called the plant “Flower”, and that was that. Once you name them, they’re yours for life.

Unlike Florence, who is growing upwards, Flower was a spreading plant. It was her nature to spread out. Within a year, she’d outgrown three pots, and by the time I moved her to her final resting place, I had to move her in a wagon on the back of a pick-up truck (lol). I had bought the wagon specifically for her.

Flower’s in Heaven now. Shortly after her first birthday, I planted her in a location that she did not take to, and she died soon afterwards. I guess, like Florence, Flower was a houseplant at heart, too. I know for sure she’s in Heaven and flourishing, and I’ll see her again when I get there.

God surrounds us with living things that we can share our time on Earth with. Each of these things we can have a relationship with and learn from. We can show them good stewardship and treat them as we would want to be treated, if we were them. If God puts them into our hands in some way, he wants us to look after them, so we have to look after them. They’ll look after us, too. Then, when it’s their time to go home, God will take them, but we’ll see them again when we get there.

I have lots of treasures in Heaven. Jesus says that Heaven is where we should be storing our treasures, so that’s where I’m storing mine. Flower’s in Heaven with Pumpkin (my pet cat) and Priscilla (my pet fly), and someday Florence will be there, too, waiting for me. They’ve all shared their life with me, as I’ve shared my life with them, some for a short time, and some for a longer time. In Heaven, we’ll be together forever. That’s the joy of it. And that’s a big part of what draws me home.

I HAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE

I have a confession to make: I don’t spend time on Christian forums. In fact, I can’t stand them.

Same with Christian churches. I haven’t been in one for years. Can’t stand those, either. I was in an Anglican chapel a few years back, but only because I was the only one there (I checked before going in). It was empty except for me. I liked it that way.

I don’t purposely avoid Christian-designated spaces. I just don’t go out of my way to spend time in them, mainly because there are usually no genuine Christians there. There’s something cold and cloying about those spaces. They don’t feel blessed by God. They tend to have an oddly vacant feel even when they’re full, as if the space is not loved, just passed through and tolerated. It does God a disservice, those spaces being like that. That’s one of the main reasons I avoid them.

I used to live in a Catholic church. Not really, but basically yes, I lived there. I was given a key by a priest so I could come and go as I pleased. I spent more of my time there than I did at home, which at that time was a converted garage that I shared with my little five-and-a-half-pound calico cat, Pumpkin. She’s gone home now to her real forever home, so this piece isn’t about her; I just mention her in passing because we had a very cozy time sharing the converted garage together.

I was living in the garage when God showed me the truth about Catholicism (that it’s a pagan cult). He didn’t show me in the garage; he showed me in the church. Even so, the garage at that time was like a shrine or an off-site chapel of the church, full of crucifixes, pictures of the pope, alleged pictures of Jesus and the saints, prayer beads, prayer cards, blessed candles, blessed salt, and even a little blessed cat (yes, I took Pumpkin to the church one day and had her blessed in a private ceremony). I thought I had to have and do all these things because the Pope said I should have and do them, and I always (in those days) did what the Pope told me to do. The Pope said that pets were to be blessed by a priest, so off I dutifully carted Pumpkin to the priest to be blessed, even though Pumpkin hated her carry case and also superstitiously believed bad things would happen to her if I put her into it. (She was usually right about that.)

Jesus tells us that God is looking for people to worship him not in a building but in Spirit and in Truth. You don’t usually find that kind of worshiping going on in church buildings. In most cases, you find people who are there out of obligation or just going through the motions, or you find people who are trying to outdo each other in spiritual enthusiasm, like cheerleaders. But people who are there just because they love God and actually want to be there? Those people are few and far between. That’s been my experience, anyway.

Same with online Christian forums. BORING! Not to mention ill-informed and tyrannical. I can be as tyrannical as the best of them, but only for the Truth. The tyranny on some Christian forums in support of outright scripture-defying lies is, to me, intolerable. You know who hangs out and dominates Christian forums (besides the occasional spook)? Modern-day Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers. All the ones Jesus locked horns with. That’s who you’ll find on most Christian forums. They’re the gatekeepers that Jesus warned us would be trying to keep us from finding and proceeding along the Way. There have been gatekeepers in some guise or other since Jesus’ day. Another name for gatekeepers is wolves.

But what you choose to do is up to you. If you like your church building, go into it. If you like your Christian forums, hang out on them. Maybe because I came to Christianity directly from atheism without any bridge other than God and Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit, I have no use for people who say they’re Christians but live as if they’re not. I have no time for hypocrites. And I have zero patience for people who teach doctrines that are a-scriptural. Most people who call themselves Christian are, by their words and actions, doing more to keep people away from Jesus and God than drawing them to them.

Jesus only taught those who wanted to learn what he was teaching. Yet he also drew people to him just by the way he was. They came to him without him trying to draw them. At one point, even people who’d been sent to arrest him forgot they were supposed to be arresting him, they were so captivated by his words. In fact, they even left without arresting him. This is the effect we should have on people, too.

We are not Jesus, but we are to be like Jesus. That’s what it means to be a Christian. People may come at us as enemies, to oppose us, but we should be able at least to give them pause. There should be something about us, something about our words and actions that makes them stop and reconsider. If the world and the hypocrites love us, we’re not doing our job. If we’re welcomed by the worldly church and feel comfortable on Christian forums, we’re not doing our job: We’re not being like Jesus.

Being a Christian means to be hated by the world and loved by those who love God and Truth, just like Jesus was. You can’t be a Christian and at the same time be loved and accepted by the world. It doesn’t work that way. But you can be a type of curiosity that draws some people who love Truth but are still in the world, like Jesus drew Nicodemus.

Jesus went to the pubs not to preach but to comfort. He knew that the people there would not be among those who followed him from place to place, and he knew they didn’t want to be preached to. But they might want to share a drink with him and shoot the breeze. So Jesus spent some time at the pubs, doing an informal ministry that mostly involved just listening rather than talking. I’m saying that’s what he likely did (though the evidence is not blatantly presented in scripture) because that’s what you do when you want to minister to people who don’t want to be ministered to – you listen to them, you offer a kind word, you buy them a drink, you spend time with them, you show them they have value.

Of course, Jesus was castigated by the Pharisees & Co. for spending time in pubs, yet their disapproval didn’t stop him from going. Nothing they said stopped him from doing God’s will, and going to the pubs to spend time with and comfort the lost was definitely God’s will or Jesus wouldn’t have done it.

There is a big difference between those who say they see and are lost, and those who are just plain lost. Jesus used discernment to know the difference between the two, and so should we. Don’t waste your time arguing with the blind who claim to see (you’ll find them hanging out on Christian forums and warming pews in church buildings); help those who God puts in your path, the ones who’ve rejected the world but can’t find the way forward because they haven’t been taught the true Gospel. These are the lost sheep Jesus came to minister to, and we must continue his work.

I have another confession to make. I prefer hanging out with atheists than fake Christians. Atheists reject organized religion, which is the right thing to do, but equate religion with God and Jesus, which is the wrong thing to do. But this is an error in judgment, not an attempt at pretence. I prefer to spend time with people who are honestly wrong about something than with people who pretend to be what they’re not or to know what they don’t. Hypocrites are just as despicable now as they were in Jesus’ day.

I know from personal experience that those who genuinely love and seek the truth eventually come to God, because what they’re seeking is God and can only be found in God.

So what is your confession? And how do you not fit the worldly Christian mold?