Tag Archive: gospel


(This one is a little long. For a speedy reading, start with part 1, part 2, and part 3. Peace be with you.)

Every day God tests us, and offers us the chance to be born again: If we fail, and yet repent, we get another test; if we pass, yet sin again, we get another test; if we pass, and stay true to Jesus’ teachings, then we gain access to more difficult tests-with every one of these, we are born again.

When we succeed, we enter the Promised Land. And with every success, we conquer another city, another weakness. When we fail, we wander in the wilderness, until we pass…over the Jordan river, into a land flowing with milk and honey.

Before we pass over, and see Heaven as Jesus described it, we must pause and acknowledge God’s glory: For Moses failed that test, and the Lord refused him access. We must learn from Moses, then we move forward.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

We are reborn, with a new purpose and perspective, when we seek to please God. But how can we know His will?

He placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the center of Eden (Genesis 3:3), where Adam and Eve couldn’t miss it. He made all creatures (Genesis 1:25), and so He made the serpent. He knows the future (Isaiah 45:11), and, therefore, knew they ate the fruit. Why punish them when He made them and their desires (Exodus 14:17)?

The Old Testament confronts us, again and again, with God’s inexplicable will.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”-Isaiah 55:8.

To understand, we must accept that we’re unable to understand.

Humility is paramount. Remember Moses and the burning bush.

“And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”-Exodus 3:5.

If we insist, persist in our self-important ways, then we fail to acknowledge everyone else: Life becomes (and has become) a pointless, endless battle of wills, wherein we insist that others believe as we do. Many paths exist to the right answer, but there is only one answer.

Love is the answer, and love is God’s will.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:35.

When we fail to receive and share love, then we sin: Party A shows love; party B chooses whether or not to acknowledge it. Round and round. Forever. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel failed in both receiving and sharing God’s will; taking this as an allegory, we are the Israelites. What happened to them is now happening to us.

“Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; / Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”-Numbers 14:22, 23.

Glorify God: Acknowledge His will, praise His love. When someone says, I love you, we say, I love you too. When we see the Lord’s glory, and witness miracles, when we’re saved from slavery to sin, deafness to mercy, or blindness to suffering, be thankful.

Ten lepers approached Jesus, and begged to be healed.

“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. / And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God.”-Luke 17:14, 15.

Only one of the cured, the saved acknowledged the miracle, thanking God.

Whatever happens, it is love: God’s will, a miracle. We misunderstand what miracles are. We misunderstand everything when we live by our own will. We think of miracles as being out of the ordinary, which is true, to an extent; they are beyond our capabilities.

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”-Luke 1:37.

His ways are not our ways. But if we start with love, and stay mindful of how to share and receive it, and understand that we do not understand, then our blind eyes see.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”-John 3:19

We don’t want to be healed, because healing requires work, and admitting we were wrong. We’d rather follow our own limited understanding, even if that means wandering in the wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land of milk and honey. This is our pride, which is a lie; humility is true wisdom.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

Pride blinds us and leads us astray. We are so turned around, and lost in the wilderness, we can no longer find our way. Like the Pharisees in the Gospels, we fail to recognize our savior.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”-John 1:11.

The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? / Jesus saith unto him, I am the way….”-John 14:5, 6.

When we fail the tests, and lose our sense of direction, we lose hope, which happened to the children of Israel.

“Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards…. // And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.”-Numbers 16:14; 20:5.

Patience isn’t waiting; it’s how we act while we wait.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

Patience is our faith in God, ourselves, and each other. Patience is our greatest test, because only when we suffer from fatigue and frustration do we see ourselves at our worst; and our best can only be known when we’re at our worst.

After they failed ten times, and God punished them by making them wander for 40 years, the Israelites failed again. Instead of correcting their weak points, as we do in school, they refused to study, and failed again.

We only get so many do-overs. Our tests are meant to prepare us for a greater trial: This is God’s mercy, and promise to not give us more than we can handle. But when we meet our ultimate test unprepared, because we didn’t study after flunking each daily quiz, the result is catastrophic. God doesn’t punish us so much as we punish ourselves. Jesus doesn’t condemn us, rather, we condemn ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

One ultimate trial leads to another, and another. If we fail to understand arithmetic, then we can’t do algebra. And if we don’t understand multiplication, then we can’t do trigonometry. Without algebra and trigonometry, we’re unable to understand calculus. Eventually, we flunk out of the math program.

Such a catastrophe came upon Moses and the Israelites.

“But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in the wilderness.”-Numbers 14:32.

They failed too many times, pushed God too far. Failures multiply, just as successes do.

Remember, God placed his power in Moses’ staff.

“And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.”-Exodus 4:17.

With that staff, Moses used God’s power to turn Egypt’s water into blood, part the Red Sea, and so on.

With the Israelites once again complaining, demanding water, even after God sentenced them to 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai (that is, Sin), Moses took his ultimate, final test; all others led to this one. Everything he saw, heard, and accomplished came down to one decisive moment.

And he failed.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”-Numbers 20:7, 8.

There is no nourishment in the valley of the shadow of death, except love.

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

Jesus is the living water, the miracle manna, the pillar of fire guiding us at night, and the cloud leading us by day.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”-Exodus 13:21.

Believing Jesus is the bread of life is not enough. Anyone can believe anything, or claim they do.

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”-Matthew 15:8.

I know, at the end of Mark, we’re told….

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”-Mark 16:16.

But Mark’s gospel is the only one to end with such a simplified summary of Jesus. In the others, Jesus tells his apostles, and us, to do as He did, to share and teach what He taught.

“…freely ye have received, freely give.”-Matthew 10:8.

So we can’t stop with Mark. After all, what does it mean to believe? How are we saved? By what means are we damned? If we follow our own interpretation, if we make up our own minds as to the definitions of these crucial concepts, then, even in our supposed piety, we’ve sinned-because we’ve followed our will, not God’s.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? / And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”-Matthew 7:22, 23.

Jesus warns us here about our beliefs: They mean nothing without love in our hearts, and the actions to share our love.

“And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”-Luke 8:21.

.This is how Moses failed his final test, and why God refused him access to the Promised Land. He failed in his actions. His pride conquered his humility.

The greatest of us fail to do God’s will, which is to love one another: Adam, who was the son of God (Luke 3:38) followed his own will, and Eve’s; King David sent a good, honest man on a suicide mission, killing him, to satisfy David’s adulterous lust for that man’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3, 15, 24); Sampson betrayed his Nazarite oath (Numbers 6:2-21; Judges 13:4, 5; 16:17); and Jacob, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), tricked his brother (Genesis 25:33) and father (Genesis 27:19); Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We don’t think too highly of Judas, of course, but he was one of the twelve.

Everything is God’s will; accept that, and, thereby, answer all your questions.

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”-Luke 12:2.

Solomon was born of the illicit union between David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon’s forbidden affair and marriage (Dueteronomy 7:1, 3) with an Ammorite Princess, Naamah, produced their son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21).

“And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, none shall open.”-Isaiah 22:22.

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, descended from Rehoboam (Matthew 1:7, 16). So if David and Solomon had not defied God’s will, then we would be without Jesus. If Jacob had not been so sneaky, crafty, and full of deceit, then we would be without the twelve tribes of Israel, and, again, without Jesus.

How can the ultimate good come from lies, murder, and adultery? All we can do is look to the Bible.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

God is so much more than all of us, throughout all time, have ever dreamed.

“…he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”-Matthew 5:45.

God created evil: We can’t blame it on “the Devil.” What’s more, God loves evil people, and good people.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”-John 10:10.

Jesus came for all of us, but especially for the lost sheep. His love for us is God’s love, which exists for all: the whole world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”-John 3:16.

Nevertheless, Judgment Day comes. We judge and condemn ourselves by our actions, that is, whether or not we share and acknowledge love.

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? / And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”-Numbers 20:10, 11.

Did you catch it? Did you see Moses’ mistake? Read it again.

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

He made a joke; that’s all. He never did anything wrong. He angered God a little, at the beginning, by the burning bush.

Like Jonah, Moses didn’t want to accept his calling.

What if you heard a voice from a burning bush, which wasn’t consumed by the flame, telling you to rescue an entire nation from (at the time) the greatest military power on earth? He kept saying, I can’t do it; it won’t work; I can’t even talk right.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well….”-Exodus 4:14.

But, afterwards, he did every crazy thing God wanted him to do.

God loved Moses.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”-Exodus 33:11.

Face to face! No other prophet could claim such a thing. Moses is the ultimate hero of the Jews and the Old Testament. So what went wrong?

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”-Numbers 20:12.

Did you catch it? Did you understand what God said, and what Moses did wrong?

The truth is very simple, once we accept it. And acceptance is essential to being born again, because, with it, we love what we don’t understand.

Acceptance comes from humility, without which we’d be unable to enter the Promised Land, and follow God’s will by loving one another.

Remember the ten lepers.

Why do we say, I love you too, when someone says they love us?

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, and plague Egypt?

“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”-Exodus 9:16.

Why did Jesus wait two days, after hearing that Lazarus was sick and dying? Indeed, Jesus waited until Lazarus died, before saving him. Why?

“…This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”-John 11:4

And why did Jesus come at all?

“…If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”-John 14:23.

He came to teach us to accept and share love, to praise God, and acknowledge that His will was done, which is Bible shorthand for us sharing love.

Having love in our hearts means nothing, if we don’t share it. Believing in Jesus means nothing, if we don’t follow his teachings. Saying, Thy will be done, means very little if we don’t also stop and see His miracles, accept His will, and understand it is good.

“.…and God saw that it was good.”-Genesis 1:10.

We acknowledge God’s will by doing God’s will. And we do God’s will by loving every one and every thing.

Therefore, if we hate each other, or we’re indifferent, unmoved by suffering, then we aren’t returning the love that God gives freely.

If we take credit for what God did, which was Moses’ big mistake, then we have not only failed to acknowledge the Lord, but have failed to witness and minister that supreme love to others.

The Father gave this work to His Son.

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”-John 17:4.

Like the children of Israel, Jesus’ story is an allegory for our lives.

“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

If the Israelites are an allegory for us, and Jesus is our model, our example of how to live with and love one another….

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”-John 13:15.

…Then we are God’s firstborn. Or, perhaps, rather, He loves us that much. And what is God, but everything, the entire universe? When everything says they love us, how do we respond? I love you, too.

This response is praise, glorification, acceptance, and humility, in knowing that the vast, mind-bogglingly huge universe loves us; and all It requires is that we don’t praise ourselves, but return love to It, by sharing love with everything.

Like the Pharisee (in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican), Moses praised himself, and Aaron-who was also denied entrance into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:24). Since Jesus, Moses, and the Israelites are all meant to be our examples, the work that the Father gave the Son is the work that Jesus gives to us.

Every day God tests us with more work to do. He does this out of love, to prepare us, strengthen us for our greater trials. Think of them as “pop quizzes.”

“Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”-Luke 12:40.

Our best is only as good as our worst. Fatigue and frustration often accompany Judgment Day. And at such times, we are at our worst. When we are tired, we tend to be more honest, even brutally so. Our defenses collapse, our well-meaning intentions vanish, and what’s left is not what we wish to be, or what we’re supposed to be, but what we truly are.

Not a pretty picture. But Jesus loves the truth. I am the truth, He said. God loves us for who we are. He loves the thief and the murderer, the publican, prostitutes, Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, Buddhists, black, brown, yellow, white, and so on: everything.

He loves us when we are born again, and when we’re not ready. Perhaps, the reason why we’re unable to understand God’s will is because we can’t comprehend, or act on, such all-embracing love.

“ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”-Matthew 5:48.

Jesus said we could understand such love, eventually. But it takes a lot of work. We possess a natural, instinctual love. If we refuse to work on it, if we ignore it, then the “talent” remains in its infant stage.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”-Matthew 13:12.

But if we use that talent, it grows.

So here is the challenge, the key to the door, the narrow path that leads to Paradise, being born again, the Kingdom of Heaven:

When God says, I love you: Stop, feel that love all the way down to your soul; know that love sometimes plagues us, like with Pharaoh in Egypt, but it is still love, which is the greatest gift-because we receive love by sharing it. So stop, and say, I love you, too.

And sing along with King David:

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”-Psalm 40:8.

We must learn from our mistakes, accept our sin, even if it means we never get to pass over the Jordan. Learn from Moses:

“I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.”-Deuteronomy 3:25.

The best of us sin; and our greatest repent. Repentance is the key that opens the door.

“Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.”-John 10:7.

God forgave Moses, and granted his last request. He led Moses to the top of a mountain.

“And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.”-Deuteronomy 34:4.

Old, frail, exhausted, traumatized, on the line between wilderness and paradise, Moses gazed at what he’d given his life for, so that others could be born again.

What did he see?

He saw a mustard seed grow into a huge tree, in which everyone, all the birds of the air, nested and made their abodes.

He saw leaven, which no one else could see, ferment and work its way through dough: invisible, inexorable.

He saw hidden treasure in an abandoned field, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy the field and gain the treasure.

He saw the largest, most luxurious pearl, shining, gleaming, a sun unto itself, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy that pearl.

He saw a massive wheat field, with weeds intermingled, attempting to choke the life out of the wheat; and the harvesters separated the wheat from the chaff, tossing the weeds into the furnace.

He saw a great net, pulled through the waters, through the milk and honey, gathering good fish and bad fish; the fishermen kept the useful, and threw the useless back into the deep, the wilderness of waters.

He saw a great feast, to which everyone who’d been invited, refused to attend. And so the poor were brought in, the maimed, the sinners, publicans, prostitutes, murderers, all who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, but whom, to the human eye, were lost and hopeless.

He saw the owner of a vineyard leave his garden to workers, sending messengers to collect what was owed; and the workers stoned one, tossed another off a cliff; and then the owner sent his son, but the workers crucified him, seeking to gain the inheritance for themselves.

He saw “…the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”-Mark 13:26.

He saw the Kingdom of Heaven. And so will you. Amen.

(This is the third part of a larger essay. Here’s part 1, part 2, or the complete version.)

Acceptance comes from humility, without which we’d be unable to enter the Promised Land, and follow God’s will by loving one another.

Remember the ten lepers.

Why do we say, I love you too, when someone says they love us?

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, and plague Egypt?

“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”-Exodus 9:16.

Why did Jesus wait two days, after hearing that Lazarus was sick and dying? Indeed, Jesus waited until Lazarus died, before saving him. Why?

“…This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”-John 11:4

And why did Jesus come at all?

“…If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”-John 14:23.

He came to teach us to accept and share love, to praise God, and acknowledge that His will was done, which is Bible shorthand for us sharing love.

Having love in our hearts means nothing, if we don’t share it. Believing in Jesus means nothing, if we don’t follow his teachings. Saying, Thy will be done, means very little if we don’t also stop and see His miracles, accept His will, and understand it is good.

“.…and God saw that it was good.”-Genesis 1:10.

We acknowledge God’s will by doing God’s will. And we do God’s will by loving every one and every thing.

Therefore, if we hate each other, or we’re indifferent, unmoved by suffering, then we aren’t returning the love that God gives freely.

If we take credit for what God did, which was Moses’ big mistake, then we have not only failed to acknowledge the Lord, but have failed to witness and minister that supreme love to others.

The Father gave this work to His Son.

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”-John 17:4.

Like the children of Israel, Jesus’ story is an allegory for our lives.

“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

If the Israelites are an allegory for us, and Jesus is our model, our example of how to live with and love one another….

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”-John 13:15.

…Then we are God’s firstborn. Or, perhaps, rather, He loves us that much. And what is God, but everything, the entire universe? When everything says they love us, how do we respond? I love you, too.

This response is praise, glorification, acceptance, and humility, in knowing that the vast, mind-bogglingly huge universe loves us; and all It requires is that we don’t praise ourselves, but return love to It, by sharing love with everything.

Like the Pharisee (in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican), Moses praised himself, and Aaron-who was also denied entrance into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:24). Since Jesus, Moses, and the Israelites are all meant to be our examples, the work that the Father gave the Son is the work that Jesus gives to us.

Every day God tests us with more work to do. He does this out of love, to prepare us, strengthen us for our greater trials. Think of them as “pop quizzes.”

“Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”-Luke 12:40.

Our best is only as good as our worst. Fatigue and frustration often accompany Judgment Day. And at such times, we are at our worst. When we are tired, we tend to be more honest, even brutally so. Our defenses collapse, our well-meaning intentions vanish, and what’s left is not what we wish to be, or what we’re supposed to be, but what we truly are.

Not a pretty picture. But Jesus loves the truth. I am the truth, He said. God loves us for who we are. He loves the thief and the murderer, the publican, prostitutes, Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, Buddhists, black, brown, yellow, white, and so on: everything.

He loves us when we are born again, and when we’re not ready. Perhaps, the reason why we’re unable to understand God’s will is because we can’t comprehend, or act on, such all-embracing love.

“ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”-Matthew 5:48.

Jesus said we could understand such love, eventually. But it takes a lot of work. We possess a natural, instinctual love. If we refuse to work on it, if we ignore it, then the “talent” remains in its infant stage.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”-Matthew 13:12.

But if we use that talent, it grows.

So here is the challenge, the key to the door, the narrow path that leads to Paradise, being born again, the Kingdom of Heaven:

When God says, I love you: Stop, feel that love all the way down to your soul; know that love sometimes plagues us, like with Pharaoh in Egypt, but it is still love, which is the greatest gift-because we receive love by sharing it. So stop, and say, I love you, too.

And sing along with King David:

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”-Psalm 40:8.

We must learn from our mistakes, accept our sin, even if it means we never get to pass over the Jordan. Learn from Moses:

“I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.”-Deuteronomy 3:25.

The best of us sin; and our greatest repent. Repentance is the key that opens the door.

“Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.”-John 10:7.

God forgave Moses, and granted his last request. He led Moses to the top of a mountain.

“And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.”-Deuteronomy 34:4.

Old, frail, exhausted, traumatized, on the line between wilderness and paradise, Moses gazed at what he’d given his life for, so that others could be born again.

What did he see?

He saw a mustard seed grow into a huge tree, in which everyone, all the birds of the air, nested and made their abodes.

He saw leaven, which no one else could see, ferment and work its way through dough: invisible, inexorable.

He saw hidden treasure in an abandoned field, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy the field and gain the treasure.

He saw the largest, most luxurious pearl, shining, gleaming, a sun unto itself, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy that pearl.

He saw a massive wheat field, with weeds intermingled, attempting to choke the life out of the wheat; and the harvesters separated the wheat from the chaff, tossing the weeds into the furnace.

He saw a great net, pulled through the waters, through the milk and honey, gathering good fish and bad fish; the fishermen kept the useful, and threw the useless back into the deep, the wilderness of waters.

He saw a great feast, to which everyone who’d been invited, refused to attend. And so the poor were brought in, the maimed, the sinners, publicans, prostitutes, murderers, all who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, but whom, to the human eye, were lost and hopeless.

He saw the owner of a vineyard leave his garden to workers, sending messengers to collect what was owed; and the workers stoned one, tossed another off a cliff; and then the owner sent his son, but the workers crucified him, seeking to gain the inheritance for themselves.

He saw “…the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”-Mark 13:26.

He saw the Kingdom of Heaven. And so will you. Amen.

(This is the second part of a larger essay. If you missed part 1 go here. Or if you want the complete version, go here.)

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”-Numbers 20:7, 8.

There is no nourishment in the valley of the shadow of death, except love.

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

Jesus is the living water, the miracle manna, the pillar of fire guiding us at night, and the cloud leading us by day.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”-Exodus 13:21.

Believing Jesus is the bread of life is not enough. Anyone can believe anything, or claim they do.

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”-Matthew 15:8.

I know, at the end of Mark, we’re told….

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”-Mark 16:16.

But Mark’s gospel is the only one to end with such a simplified summary of Jesus. In the others, Jesus tells his apostles, and us, to do as He did, to share and teach what He taught.

“…freely ye have received, freely give.”-Matthew 10:8.

So we can’t stop with Mark. After all, what does it mean to believe? How are we saved? By what means are we damned? If we follow our own interpretation, if we make up our own minds as to the definitions of these crucial concepts, then, even in our supposed piety, we’ve sinned-because we’ve followed our will, not God’s.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? / And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”-Matthew 7:22, 23.

Jesus warns us here about our beliefs: They mean nothing without love in our hearts, and the actions to share our love.

“And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”-Luke 8:21.

.This is how Moses failed his final test, and why God refused him access to the Promised Land. He failed in his actions. His pride conquered his humility.

The greatest of us fail to do God’s will, which is to love one another: Adam, who was the son of God (Luke 3:38) followed his own will, and Eve’s; King David sent a good, honest man on a suicide mission, killing him, to satisfy David’s adulterous lust for that man’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3, 15, 24); Sampson betrayed his Nazarite oath (Numbers 6:2-21; Judges 13:4, 5; 16:17); and Jacob, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), tricked his brother (Genesis 25:33) and father (Genesis 27:19); Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We don’t think too highly of Judas, of course, but he was one of the twelve.

Everything is God’s will; accept that, and, thereby, answer all your questions.

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”-Luke 12:2.

Solomon was born of the illicit union between David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon’s forbidden affair and marriage (Dueteronomy 7:1, 3) with an Ammorite Princess, Naamah, produced their son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21).

“And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, none shall open.”-Isaiah 22:22.

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, descended from Rehoboam (Matthew 1:7, 16). So if David and Solomon had not defied God’s will, then we would be without Jesus. If Jacob had not been so sneaky, crafty, and full of deceit, then we would be without the twelve tribes of Israel, and, again, without Jesus.

How can the ultimate good come from lies, murder, and adultery? All we can do is look to the Bible.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

God is so much more than all of us, throughout all time, have ever dreamed.

“…he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”-Matthew 5:45.

God created evil: We can’t blame it on “the Devil.” What’s more, God loves evil people, and good people.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”-John 10:10.

Jesus came for all of us, but especially for the lost sheep. His love for us is God’s love, which exists for all: the whole world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”-John 3:16.

Nevertheless, Judgment Day comes. We judge and condemn ourselves by our actions, that is, whether or not we share and acknowledge love.

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? / And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”-Numbers 20:10, 11.

Did you catch it? Did you see Moses’ mistake? Read it again.

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

He made a joke; that’s all. He never did anything wrong. He angered God a little, at the beginning, by the burning bush.

Like Jonah, Moses didn’t want to accept his calling.

What if you heard a voice from a burning bush, which wasn’t consumed by the flame, telling you to rescue an entire nation from (at the time) the greatest military power on earth? He kept saying, I can’t do it; it won’t work; I can’t even talk right.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well….”-Exodus 4:14.

But, afterwards, he did every crazy thing God wanted him to do.

God loved Moses.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”-Exodus 33:11.

Face to face! No other prophet could claim such a thing. Moses is the ultimate hero of the Jews and the Old Testament. So what went wrong?

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”-Numbers 20:12.

Did you catch it? Did you understand what God said, and what Moses did wrong?

The truth is very simple, once we accept it. And acceptance is essential to being born again, because, with it, we love what we don’t understand.

(To be continued in part 3.)

(This is the first part of a larger essay. For the complete version, go here.)

Every day God tests us, and offers us the chance to be born again: If we fail, and yet repent, we get another test; if we pass, yet sin again, we get another test; if we pass, and stay true to Jesus’ teachings, then we gain access to more difficult tests-with every one of these, we are born again.

When we succeed, we enter the Promised Land. And with every success, we conquer another city, another weakness. When we fail, we wander in the wilderness, until we pass…over the Jordan river, into a land flowing with milk and honey.

Before we pass over, and see Heaven as Jesus described it, we must pause and acknowledge God’s glory: For Moses failed that test, and the Lord refused him access. We must learn from Moses, then we move forward.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

We are reborn, with a new purpose and perspective, when we seek to please God. But how can we know His will?

He placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the center of Eden (Genesis 3:3), where Adam and Eve couldn’t miss it. He made all creatures (Genesis 1:25), and so He made the serpent. He knows the future (Isaiah 45:11), and, therefore, knew they ate the fruit. Why punish them when He made them and their desires (Exodus 14:17)?

The Old Testament confronts us, again and again, with God’s inexplicable will.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”-Isaiah 55:8.

To understand, we must accept that we’re unable to understand.

Humility is paramount. Remember Moses and the burning bush.

“And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”-Exodus 3:5.

If we insist, persist in our self-important ways, then we fail to acknowledge everyone else: Life becomes (and has become) a pointless, endless battle of wills, wherein we insist that others believe as we do. Many paths exist to the right answer, but there is only one answer.

Love is the answer, and love is God’s will.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:35.

When we fail to receive and share love, then we sin: Party A shows love; party B chooses whether or not to acknowledge it. Round and round. Forever. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel failed in both receiving and sharing God’s will; taking this as an allegory, we are the Israelites. What happened to them is now happening to us.

“Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; / Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”-Numbers 14:22, 23.

Glorify God: Acknowledge His will, praise His love. When someone says, I love you, we say, I love you too. When we see the Lord’s glory, and witness miracles, when we’re saved from slavery to sin, deafness to mercy, or blindness to suffering, be thankful.

Ten lepers approached Jesus, and begged to be healed.

“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. / And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God.”-Luke 17:14, 15.

Only one of the cured, the saved acknowledged the miracle, thanking God.

Whatever happens, it is love: God’s will, a miracle. We misunderstand what miracles are. We misunderstand everything when we live by our own will. We think of miracles as being out of the ordinary, which is true, to an extent; they are beyond our capabilities.

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”-Luke 1:37.

His ways are not our ways. But if we start with love, and stay mindful of how to share and receive it, and understand that we do not understand, then our blind eyes see.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”-John 3:19

We don’t want to be healed, because healing requires work, and admitting we were wrong. We’d rather follow our own limited understanding, even if that means wandering in the wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land of milk and honey. This is our pride, which is a lie; humility is true wisdom.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

Pride blinds us and leads us astray. We are so turned around, and lost in the wilderness, we can no longer find our way. Like the Pharisees in the Gospels, we fail to recognize our savior.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”-John 1:11.

The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? / Jesus saith unto him, I am the way….”-John 14:5, 6.

When we fail the tests, and lose our sense of direction, we lose hope, which happened to the children of Israel.

“Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards…. // And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.”-Numbers 16:14; 20:5.

Patience isn’t waiting; it’s how we act while we wait.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

Patience is our faith in God, ourselves, and each other. Patience is our greatest test, because only when we suffer from fatigue and frustration do we see ourselves at our worst; and our best can only be known when we’re at our worst.

After they failed ten times, and God punished them by making them wander for 40 years, the Israelites failed again. Instead of correcting their weak points, as we do in school, they refused to study, and failed again.

We only get so many do-overs. Our tests are meant to prepare us for a greater trial: This is God’s mercy, and promise to not give us more than we can handle. But when we meet our ultimate test unprepared, because we didn’t study after flunking each daily quiz, the result is catastrophic. God doesn’t punish us so much as we punish ourselves. Jesus doesn’t condemn us, rather, we condemn ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

One ultimate trial leads to another, and another. If we fail to understand arithmetic, then we can’t do algebra. And if we don’t understand multiplication, then we can’t do trigonometry. Without algebra and trigonometry, we’re unable to understand calculus. Eventually, we flunk out of the math program.

Such a catastrophe came upon Moses and the Israelites.

“But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in the wilderness.”-Numbers 14:32.

They failed too many times, pushed God too far. Failures multiply, just as successes do.

Remember, God placed his power in Moses’ staff.

“And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.”-Exodus 4:17.

With that staff, Moses used God’s power to turn Egypt’s water into blood, part the Red Sea, and so on.

With the Israelites once again complaining, demanding water, even after God sentenced them to 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai (that is, Sin), Moses took his ultimate, final test; all others led to this one. Everything he saw, heard, and accomplished came down to one decisive moment.

And he failed.

(To be continued in part 2.)

The Adversary

When writing a story, an author considers two initial plot devices: what the main character wants, and what stands in his (or her) way. And, as their character is revealed during the resultant drama, we sympathize with the hero according to how they overcome their obstacles.

In my life, I am the main character; in yours, you are. Regardless of who we are, we share the same adversary. This obstacle unites us, equates us, and blocks our way. As we seek to live free from the impairment of fear, hopelessness, and despair, as we strive to be born again, and maintain such enlightenment, who is our own worst enemy? What obstructs all humanity, throughout all time?

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”-John 8:44.

In my ongoing study of what born again means, I examine what’s in my way, what’s preventing me from attaining my goal: my obstacle. Part of what unites us is that we share this common enemy. We project this adversary outward, because it seems to be a force that is apart from us. If it is, then we can’t do anything about it. We’re victims. But if we’re going to accept responsibility for our lives, and our souls, then we must accept that this evil comes from us.

Then we can do something about it.

“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”-1 John 3:10.

When we do not love everyone, friends and enemies alike, then we are of the devil. The absence of love is the presence of hate. There are no shades of gray with God.

“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”-Matthew 12:30.

Let us examine our qualities: the characteristics of Satan. First, the name Satan is a Hebrew word, meaning “adversary.” This is our opponent, what stands in our way of being born again. How we deal with this plot device reveals our character, and determines if we are of God or of the devil.

In that first quote, we should note to whom Jesus was speaking, and where he was.

“And early in the morning [Jesus] came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. / And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery….”-John 8:2, 3.

Yes, she was the woman whom Jesus saved from being stoned.

“…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”-John 8:7.

The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to kill her in the temple. They wanted everyone present to join their fun. And they wanted to see if Jesus would say something to stop them, so that they could accuse him of defying Moses’ law.

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”-Leviticus 20:10.

A brief aside: another name for Satan is “the devil.” It comes from the Greek word diabolos (pronounced dee-ab’-ol-os). It’s actually an adjective, and it means “slanderous: to accuse falsely.”

Now, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, for the Jews, and in Greek, for the Romans. So the language reveals the writers’ intentions, which are often quite different from how the modern world has come to interpret them.

“These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple….”-John 8:20.

There’s a long dialogue between Jesus on one side, and the scribes, Pharisees, and Jews on the other-of God vs. of the Devil, what we know as right versus what we believe as right.

They claimed Abraham as their father. Jesus countered that if they were of Abraham, then they would do as Abraham did.

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”-Luke 6:46.

That verse from Luke, and the original quote from John, show us the cost of Christianity: Our deeds reveal our true nature, our character.

“[Jesus said,] Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said [the Jews, scribes, and Pharisees] to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”-John 8:41.

We cannot say, Lord, Lord, or claim to be of God, or Christian, if we hate one another. Remember, if we aren’t loving, we’re hating.

Their father, then, isn’t God. And since we can draw a parallel between the hypocritical Pharisees, and the modern Christian who doesn’t love everyone (as Jesus taught), then we see that our deeds reveal our true parentage.

“Ye are of your father the devil….”-John 8:44.

So we can’t hate homosexuals, Liberals, Conservatives, Catholics, African-Americans, Mexicans, etc., and still be Christians. Remember Jesus’ new commandment.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:34, 35.

Those two verses counter whatever justifications for hatred we conjure. Christianity is that simple.

Before we are born again, our father is Satan. That means we accuse others falsely, hate others. God is all things. Whatever we hate, we are actually hating God.

“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me. // I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:5, 7.

I love the Old Testament prophets: They don’t pull any punches. And neither does Jesus.

“…[the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him….”-John 8:44.

When we hate, we deny love: We murder love. God is love. Jesus is not only love, but life, and the truth. So, when we don’t love, then we are killing the truth. That makes us liars. Remember the translation for devil is slanderer, and means “to falsely accuse.” Hate is never the truth. Jesus is the truth. Therefore, love is the truth.

This is a startling revelation.

We are territorial, tribal. To think of loving the other tribe, with their different colors, strange gods, and natural hatred toward our tribe, and jealousy of our territory…It’s all too much to ask. Isn’t it? We must hate them, destroy them, before they hate and destroy us!

The Bible, in general, and Christianity, specifically, exists for this very reason. It reminds us of our unconscious, all-too-natural response to our neighbors.

“And [Jesus] said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”-Luke 10:18.

Whatever else it is, the Bible is poetry, storytelling.

If we take the Bible literally, viewing only the surface, and thinking no further, then we learn nothing about ourselves. Satan falling from heaven is simply that. It’s ironic that, by not interpreting the Bible metaphorically, like poetry, and having storytelling characteristics, our surface-level reading interprets that quote from Luke as Satan’s origin story.

It goes like this: There was war in Heaven.

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”-The Revelation 12:9.

This has no bearing on our morality, except that Satan and his angels tempt us, preventing us from loving one another.

The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos (pronounced pi-ras-mos’). It does not mean “to seduce, or trick.” Rather, it refers to “a test, or trial.” We are tested to see if we’ve learned the material, if we’re ready for greater burdens, more responsibility. What happens if we fail the test?

“…I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”-Luke 10:18.

The war in heaven is not just a war in heaven. Heaven is within us. The war is within us. It is our responsibility. When we are born again, and yet fail to love one another, then we fall from heaven: quickly, too, like lightning.

Whatever greater truth Jesus meant, regarding fallen angels and bottomless pits, the human lesson is that we can fall from grace faster than anything imaginable.

“But [Jesus] turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”-Matthew 16:23.

Did Jesus just call Peter (the rock on which the church was built) Satan? How jarring! But when we remember the Hebrew definition (adversary), Jesus’ meaning becomes clear.

First, “Get behind me” likely referred to the tradition of disciples walking behind their teachers.

Jesus is always teaching, even today, right now. A good teacher is never off duty. Peter was swept up by his emotions, because Jesus had just told him of the coming crucifixion. Peter didn’t want Jesus to die.

We tend to sin when we’re caught up in our emotions. Thinking is often the opposite of feeling; either can be replaced by invoking its opposite: When your feelings are strong, think logically, do some math, or look at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. That’ll fix you right up. Or, conversely, if you’re thinking too much, listen to some music, take a walk in a park.

Like Peter, we assume that we know everything, but we are disciples. Every day is the like the first day of school, because everywhere we look there is something we don’t know or understand. This is how our teacher reminds us that we are always learning, and must always be open and humble.

Peter wanted to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion. But without the cross, Jesus would have no glory; with it, he would stay in the minds and imaginations of countless millions over millennia. Peter didn’t know about that.

Only God knows everything.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”-Matthew 24:36.

Secondly, we shouldn’t take it at face value that “the things that be of men” means that humanity, or the world, is evil.

“For God so loved the world….”-John 3:16.

The world isn’t evil. God loves the world. Humanity isn’t evil. Jesus loves us.

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”-John 15:9.

We have to stop blaming Satan, and other people, for our evil.What is evil, then? Where does it come from? And how do we stop it?

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”-Matthew 15:11.

We can find the answer to all three questions by looking into a mirror. Evil comes from our judgment. Since we don’t know everything, we’re unable to make sound judgments, especially of each other.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”-Romans 12:19.

When we get angry, judging others for what we judge to be bad judgment on their part, then we’ve committed four sins back-to-back. Judgment belongs to God, because only God knows everything. But by thinking we are capable of doing what only God can do, then we are the adversary. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Peter.

“…behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”-Luke 17:21.

Heaven is within you, within all of us, meaning all around us. To think that another person is evil is to think that heaven is evil.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”-Genesis 6:5.

Evil comes from our thoughts, when we make uninformed judgments. We must learn to accept God’s will: Remain open to the possibilities, without deciding that this means that, when we don’t know what this means.

I know how difficult it is to not make up your mind. We have to make decisions, every day, all day. But that’s because others are making decisions. We feel the need to keep up, to match evil for evil, eye for an eye.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: / But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”-Matthew 5:38, 39.

Jesus got rid of that eye-for-an-eye rubbish. If we resist evil, then we become evil. We must break the chain, or it will go on forever. Love is the only way to stop hate.

God is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”-1 John 4:8.

Jesus’ message is love.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”-John 15:12.

Jesus’ message is God’s will.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

God’s will is for us to do that which pleases him: to love one another, i.e., to love God. This is how we defeat evil. When we are calm and at peace, then we are open to God, able to experience love. When we must make decisions, then ask, What does God want me to do? If we keep our minds open, then God’s messenger can enter.

“And [the angel] laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is called the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”-The Revelation 20:2.

That’s what being born again does to our anger, fear, and despair. We are reborn, away from our old father, the devil, by accepting the will of our true father.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”-John 14:6.

Jesus’ lessons about Satan teach us the truth. And the truth is love; it’s our only salvation. Without it, evil perpetuates itself. But with love, we break the chains (our old habits); and with those chains, God’s message of love binds our old life, and tosses it into the fire.

“…Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”-Matthew 25:41.

The revelation is that we have not been following God’s will, but our own. And when we aren’t following God’s will, then we are of our father the Devil. But when we learn to let go of our fear of death, and the desperate, hasty actions resulting from that fear, when we breathe deep the beauty of God’s world, and realize that we are one of billions of main characters, and not the only hero, then we understand how natural and rewarding it is to love one another.

Satan exists in our judgments. Temptation is not a seduction, or a trick; it tests our resolve, and reveals our true character.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil….”-Matthew 6:13.

We don’t pray to avoid temptation, but to be delivered from our inner evil. (Remember the Jewish practice of parallelism, where the second part clarifies the first.) The temptation is to do our own will, because everyone else is doing their own will.

Accept this weakness. It is the truth. If we can accept it, and when we do, then our inner Jesus has overcome the world; our main character has defeated Satan. And we are born again.

Born Again (Complete)

[This one is quite a mouthful, about 20 pages. If you want something more bite sized, start with part one. You can also skip to part two, or part three.]

If someone asked you what it takes to be born again, what would you say? Is the concept limited to Christianity? What if the person asking is an atheist?

This happened to me. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say, or what “born again” means, exactly, what it requires.

In my first batch of gospel essays, what I called Book One, I dealt with my ignorance on love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion; what do these things mean, exactly? They are such simple terms, that I had long forgotten their meaning.

Just so, “born again” is a concept that I had stopped thinking about. My understanding of it fell out of my train of thought, and I had to go back to the source.

Book Two is about that journey. As usual, the answer is simple, but the reason why the answer works is complicated.

The answer is this: Humble yourself before the overwhelming might of the world, accept your insufficient, unarmed weakness, cleanse and purify your thoughts and actions with selflessness, and develop a system of symbols to remind you of goodness, for when badness brings panic and despair; surrender your anger, fear, and doubt; stop fighting battles you cannot win, wars that destroy not only your peace of mind, and sense of well-being, but everyone else who gets caught up in your war; in short, merge your will, surrender it to its rightful place, so that it joins with the will of all things: the will of God.

Simple, right?

But how does that work? Does the person need to believe in Jesus, that God took on human form, and died for our sins? And what does that mean, to believe in Jesus?

To discover how the answer works, we must return to the well, and drink the water of everlasting life.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”—John 4:14.

The story begins at night, in the darkness of ignorance. The man approaching the light, which is the light of the world, goes by the name of Nicodemus. But his name is your name too, and mine.

All of us hide in darkness.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [or discovered].”—John 3:20.

But the shadows swallow us; the darkness of sin devours our selfishness, our greed, until we become so damaged, so traumatized, that our own will becomes worthless: insufficient to justify our hatred of the light.

When our will is no longer enough to sustain us, we must swallow our pride, as Nicodemus did. We have to bolster our will in order to overcome the world. The only way to do that is to attain the will of all things.

The will of God.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: / The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”—John 3:1, 2.

Nicodemus swallowed a lot of pride to go to Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which translates as “Separated One.” They believed the first five books of the Bible were the perfect word of God. They extrapolated a lengthy series of laws from this Pentateuch (in Greek, or Torah in Hebrew), because they also believed it contained reasons and answers for every possible situation.

The Pharisees separated themselves from normal, everyday life so that they could follow what they believed were God’s perfect laws. As strict as they were pious, they had no room for anything, or anyone, outside the law. That was one of the reasons why they hated Jesus, and his new doctrine, so much so that they conspired to kill him.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews: a member of the Sanhedrin. Consisting of 70 members, this brotherhood presided over, and enforced God’s laws on, the Jews. One of their mandates was to investigate, and deal with, any false prophets. Since Jesus did not strictly follow their extrapolated laws, he was, by their definition, a false prophet.

And, finally, Nicodemus was wealthy.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes [to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion], about an hundred pound weight.”—John 19:39.

That would cost a lot of money, more that the average person could afford. If you’ll recall the Rich Young Ruler, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for someone to spend that much money on a wandering, possibly false prophet.

Nicodemus surrendered his will, his way of life, because it was not enough to sustain him. He needed something more.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

This is a good time to pause for a moment, and consider what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” When Jesus spoke of “life,” he meant “what we love.” Our lives consist of what we love. And, as I’ve often quoted in these essays, God is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

So we must surrender our will, what we think we love (thereby losing our lives) in order to gain the strength that comes from the will of all things: the love of God.

To win the fight, we must surrender.

Jesus’ miracles impressed Nicodemus. Let us consider those for a moment.

He gave sight to the blind, enabled people who couldn’t walk to walk once more, purified the blood of a woman with a life-long blood disease, raised people from the dead, transformed water into wine, and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000. He filled Peter’s nets with fish, when, before, the nets were coming up empty.

Do you see a pattern here?

Nicodemus saw it.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3.

At last we come to the only explicit mentioning of the term “born again” in the gospels. It is implied in everything that Jesus says and does, from his miracles, to his referring to the necessity that we be like children to enter heaven.

“…Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3.

But only John’s gospel names this fundamental essence of Christianity. Of course, other New Testament books discuss it.

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”—1 Peter 1:23.

Nicodemus should’ve been familiar with the idea of the old becoming new. Abram became Abraham when he left his old life and agreed to follow God. Most every story in the Bible involves a rebirth, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, or Noah building the ark.

Plus, one wouldn’t have to read too much into those stories, to see the emphasis on new beginnings.

All the Old Testament prophets wrote of being born anew, such as Ezekiel.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.

But Nicodemus didn’t seem to understand.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”—John 3:4.

First, I want to say a quick word about the kingdom of heaven, then we’ll get back to Nicodemus’ very literal interpretation.

Another of my favorite Bible quotes, that you’ll find in almost every one of my essays is this:

“… behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Whether or not Heaven is actually a literal place, where we go after we die, Jesus said we will see the kingdom after being born again. So, unless we can’t be reborn until we actually die, then heaven is (at least) a state of mind, a perception attained by being born again.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

Despite Jesus’ parabolic teaching method, or because of it, many people (then and now) insist on literal interpretations.

“The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”—John 6:52.

And….

“…How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”—John 10:24.

And….

“…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. / Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”—John 2:19, 20.

And on, and on. We look for exact, specific knowledge in the Bible, as if spirituality were science. If we expect a fish to behave like a squirrel, then, in our ignorance and conceit, we’ll be severely disappointed when the fish doesn’t climb trees.

“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

It is not for us to decide why things are, or what they should be. Concern yourself with yourself, and accept the natural state of all things: The combined will of which is the will of God.

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:5.

We must be born again to “see” the kingdom, and born of water and of [or by] the Spirit to “enter” heaven.

At night, we see a light, far off, as Nicodemus did before approaching Jesus.

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. / And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”—John 12:46, 47.

When we see the light, then we must decide whether or not we’ll approach it, and then if we will enter into it, or abide in darkness. These are three very important choices, any one of which could change our lives forever.

Just so, in the last quote, there are three points that are open to interpretation. First, what does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Your answer will determine your journey. I cannot (and do not) answer for you. I choose my path, and answer for me.

Before answering, read the quote again. Note what Jesus said about belief in the first verse, and what he said about it in the second. The second elaborates on the first, clarifying its meaning.

This is a fundamental Jewish practice, in writing the Bible, called “parallelism.” We see it in the Psalms.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”—Psalms 46:7.

The second part amplifies and explains the first. What does it mean to say the Lord is with us? It means God is our refuge.

We also see it in the Lord’s Prayer.

“….Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”—Luke 11:12.

What does thy kingdom come mean? It means God’s will shall be followed in earthly life, as it is in heaven.

So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means that, even for people who don’t believe in the literal interpretation (that he was God’s actual offspring, that he historically died on the cross for our sins, etc.), and yet they follow his teachings, they will not be judged and condemned by God.

“For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

Therefore, even atheists can be born again, and maintain their skepticism, as long as they love as Jesus taught. This is how we see the light, and decide to approach it. We are born again when we believe in what Jesus called his “new commandment.”

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34.

There are other examples too. Jesus ate with sinners, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.

“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:2.

He told parables about how the chosen ones (the Jews) rejected him, and his parabolic wedding feasts. And, to have a full wedding party, he sent his servants to gather people off the streets.

“And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. // Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”—Matthew 22:3, 9.

Jesus stated the purpose of Christianity, the reason for his ministry, by quoting Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

The purpose of Christianity is not to get dressed up, and go to the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple.

“And [he] said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

The true house of God, like the kingdom, is within us.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20.

I cannot stress this enough. The Bible shorthand for “believing in Jesus” is “loving one another.” No one is saved by believing what they don’t (and can’t) know to be true. We are saved by love.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35.

We must have the mindfulness of faith, moment-by-moment: faith in ourselves, in each other, and faith in the whole picture, the ebb and flow of all things: the will of God. This is what Jesus meant by losing our lives to save our lives. We must surrender our self-important definitions, so that we see ourselves (and each other) as God sees us. That is how we see the light, and start a new life, as the children of one great purpose: love, which is God.

Once we’ve seen the distant light, and approach its warmth and comfort, then we must make the third (and most important) decision: to enter into that new life, to be “born of water and of the Spirit.”

Water has always been a symbol of cleansing.

“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”—Genesis 6:17.

When everyone became corrupt, except for Noah and his family, and humanity thought only evil all the time, God flooded the world. We can see this as an allegory, a symbol, foreshadowing what Jesus and his gospel would accomplish.

We think of God as destroying the world. How cruel he must be! But the world is still here; it was not destroyed. Humanity is still here; it was not destroyed.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”—Genesis 6:5.

We have to check our tendency to take the Bible literally. Remember, God is love; humanity, then, in this passage, is a symbol for wickedness, evil, sin. Therefore, the story of Noah’s ark tells us that love destroys sin, if we allow God (love) into our lives.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

“The Spirit” (with a capital S) should not be confused with “spirit” (and its lower-case S). The capital-S Spirit denotes a proper noun, an entity: the Holy Spirit, what (or to whom) John’s gospel refers as “the Comforter.”

A full analysis can be found here. To summarize:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…. / …the Spirit of truth…. //…which is the Holy Ghost…. //…he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak….”—John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13.

Jesus said that when he died, he would not leave us comfortless; but he would send people who, like him, would not seek to glorify themselves. Rather, their purpose would be to glorify God by reminding us of what Jesus said: his teachings minus the dogma that developed over the centuries, clouding his message of love.

We’re talking about the true Christian missionaries, whose doctrine is not their own, but God’s.

“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. / If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”—John 5:30, 31.

This is the final step in being born again: to not only be cleansed by love, but for you, yourself, to cleanse others with love; to not only be comforted, but to comfort others with a will that doesn’t seek personal gain. To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again of water and the Spirit, we must see and treat each other with everlasting love: unconditional, unending love.

The Bible shorthand for this is “everlasting life.”

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life….”—John 6:40.

Remember, Jesus is life.

“…I am the resurrection and the life….”—John 11:25.

And:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life….”—John 14:6.

And, as if to further complicate things, while also illuminating his entire ministry, Jesus said:

“I and my Father are one.”—John 10:30.

Since Jesus is life, and God is love, and since Jesus and God are one, then Jesus is love. Thus, the shorthand for “everlasting life” is “everlasting love.”

So let us look again at this time-honored quote, which Jesus said to Nicodemus, to explain what “born again” means.

“For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

God flooded the world not because he was cruel and vengeful, but because he loved the world. He didn’t destroy the world or humanity. Rather, he washed the world clean of sin.

That’s what born again means. When we love, we cleanse ourselves of sin.

But sin, too, resurfaced, because we are weak and tend towards fear and anger, for which we attempt to compensate by sinning, hiding in darkness.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”—John 8:44.

God sent his love, which is the true love, to this world, because we live in darkness, following lust instead of the truth. We look at each other as someone to cheat, or lie to, murder, or slander, rather than as someone with whom we can share everlasting love.

Life is love; death, the absence of love: more Bible shorthand.

Without following Jesus’ teachings (i.e., believing in him), we die inside, living lonely, hollow lives: filled with deceit, conceit, delusion, and illusion. This is who we are. We sin to hide our weakness in shadow, in a show of strength, which has no truth in it. Truth lives in the light.

And we must enter the light, by being reborn of water and of the Spirit, to rid ourselves of the lies and lusts.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

Since God is a Spirit with a capital-S, then, when we are born again, through the Spirit, we are reborn through love, and being truthful with ourselves.

The truth is that we are born of flesh, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”—John 3:6.

Love is selfless; lust is selfish. Therefore, flesh is selfish, and spirit, through the Spirit, is selfless.

This is how we know if we are loving or lusting. Ask yourself, is this all for me? Be mindful, truthful with your answer.

The light shows the way; mindfulness shows the truth; and love gives us life.

“…and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too, as did Jesus’ followers.

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”—John 6:60.

Don’t worry. Any magician’s trick seems impossible, until you learn how it’s done. And this is no trick. It is the truth of life, the key to living without fear, anger, or despair.

What we can’t see in the dark becomes easily discernible, when we stop hiding from the shame of our selfishness, our willful ignorance.

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”—John 15:22.

This shame is as old as Adam and Eve.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”—Genesis 3:10.

But there’s no need to be afraid, the judgment and condemnation we feel does not come from God, but from ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

We judge ourselves by our reaction to the light, and the new commandment, that we love one another. When we show mercy, compassion, and empathy, we are saved. But when we hate, practice exclusiveness, and judge others, then we condemn ourselves to the hell that is the absence of God.

While Jesus’ lessons on love might seem confusing, and hard to hear, we don’t necessarily need to know how they work; we just need to have faith that they do work.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whiter it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:8.

Talk about hard to hear! What does that mean?

It means that we don’t have to know the intricate details of how something works, to use it. In our technological age, this holds true even more than it did in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

I don’t know how a car engine works, but I drive daily; I don’t know how a refrigerator works, or a coffee maker, a light bulb, cell phone, computer, and so on. Still, I use those things all the time. If I want, I can learn how they function. My curiosity isn’t required, but faith is: faith in the maker, the designer, the engineer.

At the end of the day, none of us can really know God’s will.

“….no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son….”—Matthew 11:27.

Imagine an infinite refrigerator, an unknowable coffee maker, an engineer who is designer, Father, the sound of the wheels turning, smell of its fuel, the very life and heat of its work, as it creates life and light.

Best I can tell you, for sure, is that God is love. And if you love your enemies, as well as your friends, then you will be doing God’s will.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; / That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven….”—Matthew 5:44, 45.

You don’t have to know the wind’s origin, or destination. You don’t have to believe in what I call God, or what anyone else calls God. You don’t have to know how the engine works, to drive the car: just so long as you drive it.

Love everyone and everything. Surrender your will, which calls for suspicion, hatred, and despair. And, instead, accept the will of all things with patience, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is your covenant, your agreement, your peace treaty with life: You will stop hating it, and it will stop hating you; you will love it, and it will love you. When one of you should falter (and it will happen, at least 490 times), then you must forgive them and yourself.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21, 22.

It helps me to have a symbol, a keepsake to remind me of my covenant with life. This is what I think of when life overwhelms me:

“And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but [Jesus] was asleep. / And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. / And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”—Matthew 8:24-26.

For Nicodemus, Jesus offered another story, one that a Pharisee would know.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

Jesus concluded his dialogue with Nicodemus by referencing this bizarre, but strangely typical Old Testament story. Occurring in the fourth book of Moses, well into the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, the weirdest thing happened.

“And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.”—Numbers 21:1.

So the Canaanites busted the Jewish spies, and imprisoned them. God had kept the Israelites wandering in circles, in the wilderness, waiting for them to learn what they needed to be reborn in the Promised Land.

What’s funny and tragic about their time in God’s school is this: They learned the lesson, only to immediately forget it.

“And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”—Numbers 21:2.

As with all my essays, whether or not this really happened is beside the point.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”—Luke 16:13.

We can’t focus on the infinite reality of divinity, or treasure hunt through history and geography, while also paying attention to the lessons we need to enter the light, our land of milk and honey.

And there are two crucial lessons here: what happened to the Israelites, and Jesus’ larger point. To grasp the latter, we must first understand the former. No small feat, since, according to the gospels, most of the Jews never learned to live in God, in love, or to recognize their Messiah when he came.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—Matthew 23:37.

Again, please don’t take this literally, as a slight against the Jewish people. I interpret the Bible as stories so that I can get to the point easier. And, whether we’re talking Old or New Testament, the Israelites represent us. We must be mindful of the warning that we tend to not recognize our good fortune, our personal messiahs.

Since the Jews symbolize us, and our struggle to follow God’s will, their time in the wilderness is our time on earth, as we learn and then forget, in times of trouble, the lessons we need to be born again.

The Canaanites, then, symbolize sin. As God’s people fought one army after another (sometimes winning, sometimes losing), so do we struggle with the benefits of loving one another, versus the self-gratification of following our own will.

“And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities….”—Numbers 21:3.

It was as if the Jews prayed, “Give us the strength, and, with your love, we will conquer our sins.” No matter how many times they asked for help, and got it, they were immediately ungrateful, and went right back to sinning. That’s why they were kept in the wilderness for so long.

Even after God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea, allowing them to pass, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s army with that same water, the Israelites complained right away. They had the nerve to mutter against God and Moses, even after singing a happy song about the miracle and their deliverance.

“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”—Exodus 15:24.

Ungrateful punks! I would’ve left them in the wilderness right then and there. But, where everything about us is finite, everything about God is infinite, including patience.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”—Luke 21:19.

That’s not to say a loving father won’t spank his wayward child.

“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”—Numbers 21:5.

God just delivered the Canaanites into their hands, giving the Jews strength to overcome their sins. It was a miracle: divine intervention. By the way, that “light bread” they complained about was manna. Yes, that miracle food from God, which fed them when there was no other food in the desert. They whined about that. It wasn’t the first time, either.

“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely: the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: / But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”—Numbers 11:5, 6.

Isn’t their reaction almost comical? I think it’s hilarious. Then I remember that they represent us. That is how we react after being blessed.

Here’s where the heavenly Father spanks His ungrateful child.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”—Numbers 21:6.

I can’t stop laughing as I write this. God didn’t just send venomous snakes to punish the Israelites. That would’ve been bad enough. No, he sent “fiery serpents.”

What does that even mean? Were the snakes on fire, but not burning up, like the bush?

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”—Exodus 3:2.

I think that’s it, exactly. What an image, one of my favorites in all my Bible studies. Just imagine, hundreds and maybe thousands of fiery serpents…slithering at top speed, God speed…biting, and injecting not venom (perhaps), but fire!

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”—Matthew 3:11.

It’s all a big joke until a bunch of people die from fiery serpent venom. That’s enough to humble anyone. Humility brings about repentance. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must admit we were wrong to be selfish, weak in our greed, foolish to think we could take on the whole world.

That’s what John the Baptist preached.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1, 2.

Jesus began his ministry by teaching about repentance.

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, / And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”—Mark 1:14, 15.

Unfortunately, we arrive at repentance the hard way. We are so hard-headed and willful, that we require utter failure and ruin before bending our knee to God, as learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:21.

We think that we can’t possibly be forgiven. After all, we wasted our prodigal inheritance, rejected our father’s love, and crucified him, and complained about the miraculous manna, that nourished us when we were lost in the wilderness. But we forget that we are finite, with limited patience, rushed into hasty reactions, due to our short, painful lives. However, God is infinite.

“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.”—Numbers 21:7.

God’s love is infinite; God’s patience is infinite; God’s ability to feel everything we feel is also infinite.

“And the Lord said [to Moses, from the burning bush], I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.”—Exodus 3:7.

That’s one of the most touching lines about God from the Old Testament. God knows our sorrows: hence, the infinite patience. When it says that God knows our sorrows, keep in mind how the Old Testament normally uses the word know.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.”—Genesis 4:1.

As loving couples know each other, so God knows our sorrows: intimately, personally. Far from judging us, God empathizes with us.

After the Israelites repented, and Moses prayed to Him, God devised a fascinating cure for the plague of fiery serpents.

Keep in mind, Nicodemus pictured this whole story, as Jesus concluded his lesson on being born again.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”—Numbers 21:8.

For easy reference, here’s what Jesus said, to give Nicodemus a keepsake, a symbol to help his faith during troubled times, to strengthen him with God’s love, and be reborn.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

With symbols, as with the Bible’s poetry (and most everything in life), there is an obvious, surface-level meaning; and there is the deeper, more thoughtful meaning. Our imaginations work on an involuntary level, as well as voluntarily.

A Christian sees a cross, and their imagination pictures Christ’s crucifixion, ascension, and rebirth. A musician sees a note on staff paper, and their imagination pictures middle-C, defining, relatively, every other note, and all the possible music. Married couples have their wedding rings; patriots, their flags; mathematicians, their operators; and on, and on.

Everything stands for a greater idea, even us, even Jesus.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

God’s empathy shows us how we should relate to each other. Jesus’ selfless, courageous love shows us how we can find peace: both within, and without.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace….”—John 16:33.

So Moses followed God’s will, and made a symbol that cured those poor, hard-headed Israelites.

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”—Numbers 21:9.

The hardcore literalist might think this was idol worship, violating one of God’s commandments.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image….”—Exodus 20:4.

However, God told told them to do this. Plus, it’s not the image that is important, but what it represents. The brass serpent symbolized God’s love: That’s what cured the people.

God sent the fiery serpents because the Israelites were thinking selfishly, instead of thanking God for their victory over the Canaanites, the conquering of their sins. They panicked during a crisis. Recall the Parable of the Sower.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20, 21.

We all get tired, hungry, and weak form enduring the trials of our days. But that’s when we tend to sin. So stay mindful, even when you’re exhausted, and needing rest.

At such times, if we raise Jesus’ lessons in our hearts, when we picture him washing his disciples’ feet, calming the storm at sea, raising Lazarus from the dead, being lifted up on the cross, and lifted into the imaginations of people throughout the millennia…those of us who were lost, become found; those who can’t see how to love or forgive, see once more; those who can’t walk in the light, find renewed energy in their limbs; our blood, our thoughts are purified; we conquer the unbeatable Goliath, the powerful Canaanites, our habitual sins.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:26.

We must plan ahead. We will panic; it will happen. At the worst possible moment, we forsake love, compassion, and forgiveness.

“And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”—Luke 22:34.

We declare war on each other, instead of fighting our sins.

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite….”—Luke 6:42.

This is a natural projection of our weakness and fearful imaginations, involuntarily done, unless we stay mindful of God.

To remain aware, we need a symbol of God’s love, so that we remember to love each other as Jesus loves us, as God loves Jesus, as God loves the world.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”—John 14:20.

Choose an image, and make it a part of your personal covenant. Keep it close. Pray for this symbol to be revealed to you. Meditate on it. Be mindful of it. Chances are that you already know what it is: whatever makes you smile, feel safe, warm, and secure, whatever makes you feel loved, and feel like sharing love.

Find your heaven. It’s there, your land of milk and honey, waiting to welcome you home. Find it now, because your greatest trial is still to come: your revelation, your apocalypse, your day of judgment.

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”—The Revelation 1:3.

Learn to call on your symbol. Learn to call on love, now, before you panic and sink into despair.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

Humble yourself. Admit your weakness, your insufficient will. Make every day the first day of school. Learn like a wide-eyed child. Love and accept everything around you. There is no separation. We are all of God, born of love.

This time of thoughtful light is Jesus’ gift. Embrace it. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you, as it guides you towards mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and away from temptation.

Be born again.

[The complete version of this essay can be found here.]

If someone asked you what it takes to be born again, what would you say? Is the concept limited to Christianity? What if the person asking is an atheist?

This happened to me. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say, or what “born again” means, exactly, what it requires.

In my first batch of gospel essays, what I called Book One, I dealt with my ignorance on love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion; what do these things mean, exactly? They are such simple terms, that I had long forgotten their meaning.

Just so, “born again” is a concept that I had stopped thinking about. My understanding of it fell out of my train of thought, and I had to go back to the source.

Book Two is about that journey. As usual, the answer is simple, but the reason why the answer works is complicated.

The answer is this: Humble yourself before the overwhelming might of the world, accept your insufficient, unarmed weakness, cleanse and purify your thoughts and actions with selflessness, and develop a system of symbols to remind you of goodness, for when badness brings panic and despair; surrender your anger, fear, and doubt; stop fighting battles you cannot win, wars that destroy not only your peace of mind, and sense of well-being, but everyone else who gets caught up in your war; in short, merge your will, surrender it to its rightful place, so that it joins with the will of all things: the will of God.

Simple, right?

But how does that work? Does the person need to believe in Jesus, that God took on human form, and died for our sins? And what does that mean, to believe in Jesus?

To discover how the answer works, we must return to the well, and drink the water of everlasting life.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”—John 4:14.

The story begins at night, in the darkness of ignorance. The man approaching the light, which is the light of the world, goes by the name of Nicodemus. But his name is your name too, and mine.

All of us hide in darkness.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [or discovered].”—John 3:20.

But the shadows swallow us; the darkness of sin devours our selfishness, our greed, until we become so damaged, so traumatized, that our own will becomes worthless: insufficient to justify our hatred of the light.

When our will is no longer enough to sustain us, we must swallow our pride, as Nicodemus did. We have to bolster our will in order to overcome the world. The only way to do that is to attain the will of all things.

The will of God.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: / The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”—John 3:1, 2.

Nicodemus swallowed a lot of pride to go to Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which translates as “Separated One.” They believed the first five books of the Bible were the perfect word of God. They extrapolated a lengthy series of laws from this Pentateuch (in Greek, or Torah in Hebrew), because they also believed it contained reasons and answers for every possible situation.

The Pharisees separated themselves from normal, everyday life so that they could follow what they believed were God’s perfect laws. As strict as they were pious, they had no room for anything, or anyone, outside the law. That was one of the reasons why they hated Jesus, and his new doctrine, so much so that they conspired to kill him.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews: a member of the Sanhedrin. Consisting of 70 members, this brotherhood presided over, and enforced God’s laws on, the Jews. One of their mandates was to investigate, and deal with, any false prophets. Since Jesus did not strictly follow their extrapolated laws, he was, by their definition, a false prophet.

And, finally, Nicodemus was wealthy.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes [to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion], about an hundred pound weight.”—John 19:39.

That would cost a lot of money, more that the average person could afford. If you’ll recall the Rich Young Ruler, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for someone to spend that much money on a wandering, possibly false prophet.

Nicodemus surrendered his will, his way of life, because it was not enough to sustain him. He needed something more.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

This is a good time to pause for a moment, and consider what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” When Jesus spoke of “life,” he meant “what we love.” Our lives consist of what we love. And, as I’ve often quoted in these essays, God is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

So we must surrender our will, what we think we love (thereby losing our lives) in order to gain the strength that comes from the will of all things: the love of God.

To win the fight, we must surrender.

Jesus’ miracles impressed Nicodemus. Let us consider those for a moment.

He gave sight to the blind, enabled people who couldn’t walk to walk once more, purified the blood of a woman with a life-long blood disease, raised people from the dead, transformed water into wine, and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000. He filled Peter’s nets with fish, when, before, the nets were coming up empty.

Do you see a pattern here?

Nicodemus saw it.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3.

At last we come to the only explicit mentioning of the term “born again” in the gospels. It is implied in everything that Jesus says and does, from his miracles, to his referring to the necessity that we be like children to enter heaven.

“…Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3.

But only John’s gospel names this fundamental essence of Christianity. Of course, other New Testament books discuss it.

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”—1 Peter 1:23.

Nicodemus should’ve been familiar with the idea of the old becoming new. Abram became Abraham when he left his old life and agreed to follow God. Most every story in the Bible involves a rebirth, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, or Noah building the ark.

Plus, one wouldn’t have to read too much into those stories, to see the emphasis on new beginnings.

All the Old Testament prophets wrote of being born anew, such as Ezekiel.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.

But Nicodemus didn’t seem to understand.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”—John 3:4.

First, I want to say a quick word about the kingdom of heaven, then we’ll get back to Nicodemus’ very literal interpretation.

Another of my favorite Bible quotes, that you’ll find in almost every one of my essays is this:

“… behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Whether or not Heaven is actually a literal place, where we go after we die, Jesus said we will see the kingdom after being born again. So, unless we can’t be reborn until we actually die, then heaven is (at least) a state of mind, a perception attained by being born again.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

Despite Jesus’ parabolic teaching method, or because of it, many people (then and now) insist on literal interpretations.

“The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”—John 6:52.

And….

“…How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”—John 10:24.

And….

“…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. / Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”—John 2:19, 20.

And on, and on. We look for exact, specific knowledge in the Bible, as if spirituality were science. If we expect a fish to behave like a squirrel, then, in our ignorance and conceit, we’ll be severely disappointed when the fish doesn’t climb trees.

“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

It is not for us to decide why things are, or what they should be. Concern yourself with yourself, and accept the natural state of all things: The combined will of which is the will of God.

[Continued in Part Two.]