Tag Archive: reborn


We nourish our lives in many different ways. Without water and the five food groups, our bodies weaken, sicken, and die. Without science, math, history, or any other intellectual pursuit, our minds weaken, sicken, and die.

We feed our souls with patience.

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

My “working definition” of the soul is this: the part of us that sees our connection to all things.

Without patience our souls weaken, sicken, and die. We must feed all of these aspects, as one connects to all, influencing everything we do, think, and feel.

We need a healthy soul, fed with lots of patience, in order to understand who we are, and to accept God’s will. When we refuse to be malnourished, and commit ourselves to a proper diet-feeding the body, mind, and soul-then we are born again.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”-Mark 12:30.

Jesus emphasized the importance of patience with this kingdom of heaven parable:

“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”-Matthew 13:33.

Leaven is a little piece of dough left over from a previous baking, which ferments over time. Fermentation takes time.

When the three angels visited Abraham, on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah….

“…Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”-Genesis 18:16.

If we’re in a hurry, we don’t have time for fermentation. Leaven takes time. Three measures feeds three, and, therefore, is enough for more than just ourselves. Our bread feeds others.

Perhaps the most well-known example of unleavened bread comes from the Exodus.

“And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.”-Exodus 12:39.

When we hurry, we eat dull, tasteless, unleavened bread. Anything worth having, and worth savoring, requires patience. Leavened bread takes time. While we wait, we savor life and learn patience.

Though the sand in our hour glass seems to be abundant, we lose one grain per second. Each moment exists uniquely, and will never come again. We must savor every grain.

“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. / For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”-Psalm 103:15, 16.

Just as forgiveness shows love, and love allows for forgiveness, patience shows faith, and faith allows for patience. Whichever of these four we do, we are able to do the other three; one carries the blueprint for all.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”-James 1:3.

Patience allows for forgiveness, because we aren’t in a rush to judge. Love thrives on faith, because we allow God’s will to be done. Back and forth, like a dance; we exchange partners: patience for love, forgiveness for faith.

Faith clothes our souls with the garments woven by our actions. We are what we do, and what we think. Just as the Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo, we utilize every thought and action; we discard nothing.

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”-James 2:22.

Therefore, everything we do, or don’t do, makes us who we are.

This means our whole life determines our whole life. Simple and obvious, isn’t it? But our souls require a lifetime for the whole to be leavened.

Our own personal bread balances and harmonizes with all the billions of others. The whole world must be leavened, which takes time, and therefore we need patience.

This brings us back to love and forgiveness: coexistent harmony.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”-Matthew 6:14, 15.

This is not only a moral, spiritual imperative, but a psychological one as well. Even if we believe that our hearts resist sentimentality, and we show no outward sign of caring for others, our souls feel and record our every thought and action.

We discard nothing. We knead all of it into the dough.

As God promised Abraham:

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee….”-Genesis 12:3.

So does Jesus instruct us:

“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”-Luke 6:28.

When we curse others, life curses us; when we bless, life blesses us. The leaven we mix into our lives includes all the leaven that everyone else kneads into their lives.

If we curse or hate someone, even if we think we’ve hardened our hearts and feel nothing, then that discord ruins the harmony of our lives. Even if we don’t show it on the outside, we feel it on the inside.

What we feed others, feeds us.

So we must be mindful. When we do something wrong, our perspective shields us with assurances that we behaved properly. So we teach ourselves, without realizing it, to see evil for good, and good for evil.

“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.

Thus, the woman in Jesus’ parable hides the leaven, and it works invisibly, affecting our souls and psychological well-being. It is in our best interest to love one another.

Our bread feeds three people; and their bread feeds three more; and theirs, three more. And so on, until we leaven the world.

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

This is why Jesus warned his disciples about the Pharisees’ doctrine.

“…Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”-Luke 12:1.

Whatever we mix into our dough becomes our bread. And whatever we feed to others, becomes their bread, which we, in turn, consume and become.

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”-John 6:35.

To be born again, we must accept the bread of life: the Bible shorthand for which is love. And the truth is that love requires patience.

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”–John 8:31, 32.

Jesus offers to teach us patience. And when we understand his lessons, the truth frees us from slavery to sin, and the agony our souls endure because of it.

Though we attempt to hide our sins in the dough, and convince ourselves they are of no consequence, a part of us knows we did something wrong.

“For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”-Isaiah 47:10.

We think no one sees us, but we see ourselves. The soul isn’t persuaded by our lies, and knows the truth. While we repress this inner self, it suffers and eats away at us: until we are hollow, heartless, loveless, and perpetually angry.

Our resultant inner guilt ruins the harmony of our world, and embitters our bread. We cannot purge this self-inflicted poison, if we don’t acknowledge it. We break the addiction, and purge the poison with understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ word: This takes a lot of time, with many false starts.

Patience is hard. Not giving in to our base instincts, which demand an eye for an eye, seems impossible. We must have faith in our faith, and be patient with our patience.

“.…Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”-Revelation 12:12.

We rush because we know that our time is short. So, in a way, we already acknowledge the importance of each moment. But our impatience results in anger, and contempt.

This is natural. Everyone goes through this. But, in our haste, we sacrifice the beauty of our lives, and the harmony of our souls.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”-Psalm 23:2.

Since our time is short, we shouldn’t ruin it with hate and impatience. We are here to love the green pastures and still waters.

I know how hard it is to be patient. I feel important when I rush: as if I’m off to save a princess from a dragon. Impatience makes me feel like my life is important. And it is!

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Our lives are too important to waste time by rushing. We lose what we’re trying to preserve. Love, and appreciation of each other and the world, takes time. But this is life. Impatience robs us of life. Since we know how important our time is, we need to mix mindfulness into our dough, and enjoy baking our bread.

Like the woman in this parable, Jesus hides life in our bread.

“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”-John 12:40.

He blinds us so we can learn to see with new eyes. He hardens our hearts to give us the choice, and opportunity, to soften our hearts.

If we do these things, if we love without thought of getting something in return, if we love because we love, and that’s what we do, then we see.

“And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”-John 9:39.

We are born being able to see. To fit in and keep up with others, we blind ourselves with pride, ego, and impatience: all the lies we mix into our dough.

This is natural; everyone does it. And this is why Jesus came, why we have the Bible: to save us from the harm we unknowingly cause ourselves.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”-Luke 23:34.

This leaves us with the Bible’s primary lesson: how to mix our will with God’s will. The Bible teaches this in many different circumstances, with many different characters.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. / This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”-John 15:12.

The simplest way to understand God’s will is to follow Jesus’ commandment, because when we love one another, when we have the patience to do God’s will, we coexist in harmony with all things, with God. This is the good bread that feeds our souls.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”-John 6:51.

So impatience comes because we know our time is short. Patience allows us to savor every bite of our bread. And we gain patience through faith, forgiveness, and love: all of which are interchangeable, and learned from each other.

The tough thing about patience is that it never ends. No matter how faithful, loving, or forgiving we were yesterday, today requires even more.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”-Matthew 6:34.

When we feel impatient, then stop. Take a deep breath. Look around. Congratulate the world on its beauty. Remember how small we are. Our importance lies not in our vanity, but in how much we love. Love feeds not just our soul, but all souls. Love leavens the world.

Remember, we teach ourselves, and learn from others, without knowing it: The woman hid the leaven. We must mindfully reverse what we’ve thoughtlessly learned.

Inhale the world’s beauty, let it fill your soul. When you exhale, release your impatience. Inhale the love of all things. Exhale judgments, anger, whatever separates you from the world, and everything in it.

We must remember Jesus’ first commandment, and balance what we feed our bodies, minds, and souls; and with it comes the second commandment, which is really identical to the first.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”-Matthew 22:39.

We provide a healthy diet for the body, mind, and soul by loving one another. We love by forgiving. With patience, we forgive. With faith, we learn patience. And we feed our faith with love, as we feed our souls with patience.

Impatience thinks only of tomorrow. Love exists right now, and now is all we really have. If we waste this moment, then we ruin the harmony of our souls, and what we’re rushing for in the first place: which is to get the most out of life.

Patience takes practice. We store food before the famine. If we wait until we’re swept up in the heat of the moment, if we learn nothing before the test, then we fail.

Learn now. Practice during easy moments: while waiting for coffee, or the stoplight. Inhale the moment. Exhale impatience for the next moment; it will come, and when it does, inhale it deeply. Love now with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living….”-Mark 12:27.

God lives here…now…in you, and in me, the tree, the rock, your desk, my lamp, the sky, the clouds, every animal and person, every smell, taste, color, texture, all emotions, actions, and thoughts. Everything. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is here. We are born again right now.

Patience sets us free from worrying about tomorrow. Forgiveness exhales the past, releasing us from guilt, anger, and judgments. Love knocks on the door…right now. Hear it? Open the door. That’s all we have to do.

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

Faith leads to God; without it we understand nothing. And without understanding, we cannot be born again. But, just as the love of the Lord is infinite, so are the possible paths to the kingdom of heaven: one for every one of us.

Many paths lead to the right answer, as my old math teacher told me, but there is only one right answer. The answer is love.

These essays are my personal covenant, written to help you understand yours. I learned this one from the apostle Peter, whose path illuminated my own, as I hope it will teach you the infinite nature of faith.

After he learned of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus went off by himself to pray. When he rejoined his apostles, he found a crowd of 5,000 hungry people waiting, starving for nourishment of the body and soul.

Jesus told his apostles to feed them, but they claimed they didn’t have enough, only a couple fish, and a few small loaves of bread. We also tend to think we don’t have enough faith, or patience, or strength to share our love.

But with such a meager amount, Jesus fed everyone. We can too.

For this miracle, the crowd wanted to make him king, the conquering warrior/Messiah, Son of David, and Son of Man whom the Jews always thought would come to rescue them from themselves.

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.”-Matthew 14:22.

He sent his apostles away in the boat, to spare them from this destructive influence. We can’t make Jesus into what we want; rather, he makes us into what he wants.

The children of Israel thought their savior, “God’s anointed”-the Greek word for which is Christ, and in Hebrew is Messiah-would come to conquer all other nations, and destroy the Gentiles. And so they didn’t recognize Jesus.

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

The apostles’ journey across the Sea of Galilee was meant to teach them (and us) to remain open, so that we learn God’s will. This is the beginning of faith: the path to love.

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”-Matthew 14:23.

(Note that our story begins as the sun descended, and evening came.)

We learn God’s will through prayer. Here, Jesus teaches us to pray in between our dealings with others.

We minister in every interaction; whether we mean to or not, we teach others about the world, and humanity, and show them what to expect, or fear, or hope for. We drag them down, or pull them up. And they do the same for us.

We are all shepherds.

When we pray, we connect with God, humble ourselves to the universe. So, after prayer, we carry humility and good will to others.

“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”-James 5:15.

When others hurt us, we carry that pain to God. Like a mother kissing her child’s skinned knee, the Lord makes everything better. And when others uplift us, we share that joy and thankfulness in prayer.

God is all things: every drop of water, whether it soothes or drowns; every color and shape, pleasing and offensive; every person and animal, good and bad; light and darkness; violence and peace; Alpha and Omega.

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

Everything, including pain, is a sign of God’s presence, which is synonymous with love. The mightiest, most destructive storm signifies the Lord: even if, like the apostles, we don’t realize it at the time.

“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”-Matthew 14:24.

This story foreshadows the apostles’ future, and ours. One-by-one, they would all be martyred, except for John, who (legend has it) escaped, or was exiled, to the Greek island of Patmos-where he wrote his Gospel and the Revelation.

We possess the Gospels because of their hardships. Without the bad, good would have no reason to exist. Faith allows us to understand this, by means of acceptance.

“And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. // And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”-Matthew 10:18, 22.

Love is not popular with sinful people, who see Jesus as a condemnation, an interruption, a threat. We are so focused on our own desires, that we deny others theirs. This creates tribulation.

However painful God’s lessons may be, they prepare us for harder times, and teach us endurance. He rewards our patience with a call for greater patience, and our endurance with a call for greater endurance.

“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”-Mark 4:25.

The more we learn, the more we’re capable of learning. And when we cease to learn, then we forget what we once knew.

The same is true of faith. Practice makes perfect.

We often wonder why bad things happen to good people: These are tests, meant to hone our natural strength, patience, and endurance.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”-Romans 5:3.

Hard times are not the absence of God, who is everything. The Lord knows that we will face greater and deadlier storms, and will not give us more than we can handle, without training us first: hence, tribulation.

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”-Isaiah 48:10.

Hard times aren’t an accident; nor are they punishment, or our guardian angels asleep at the wheel. We learn strength and patience through tribulation; and we specifically need those qualities to follow God’s will.

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

The storm helps us weather future cataclysmic events. Rejoice, but be warned; as contrary as those winds are, they are penny ante compared to what’s coming.

“Fear thou not; For I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”-Isaiah 41:10.

Just as the Lord brought the test, and guided us through temptation, so will His love nurture us through our own personal Judgment Day.

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.”-Matthew 14:25.

The Romans occupied Israel during Jesus’ time. They divided the night into four watches of three hours each, from 6 pm until 6 am. The fourth watch was from 3 am until 6 am.

This storm was no 5-minute cloud burst. The apostles entered the boat in the early evening, when Jesus prayed alone on the mountain. So they persevered through harsh winds and rain all night.

Perseverance builds faith.

We must note that, at the end of the fourth watch, the cock crows. This story foreshadows Peter’s great faith in following Jesus after his arrest, when all the other apostles ran away; and it also shows how Peter’s faith collapsed, when he denied Jesus.

“…And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. / And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”-Luke 22:61, 62.

Sometimes we fail, even when the Lord prepares us: when we’re given the answers to the test, so to speak. Keep in mind, the tests never end. The point isn’t whether we pass or fail, but that we grow stronger, learn patience, and thereby, increase our faith.

“And the Lord said, [Peter], behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: / But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”-Luke 22:31, 32.

Though Peter failed these tests, through the practice of faith, his humiliation strengthened him. And with that strength and humility, he led the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion, restoring their hearts and courage.

We learn God’s will, when we accept it, and submit ourselves to it. But that is no easy task. First, we must be brought low as a result of our own will, and totally defeated, so we learn humility.

Only when we are at our worst does our best manifest itself. Only when we accept our humanity, can we worship the true Lord of all things.

That is why Paul wrote, “we glory in tribulations.” That is why bad things happen to good people. Peter knew how depressed and terrified the apostles were after Jesus’ crucifixion, because he, too, had tasted defeat.

“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.”-Matthew 14:26.

Tribulation causes doubt and fear. These, in turn, challenge and destroy our faith. Just when we need love the most, when the wind is contrary, when we can confirm or deny God, we lose faith. We get caught up in the moment, and forget all our best intentions.

Christianity reminds us of human nature. Jesus knew Peter would deny him, and Judas would betray him. He didn’t pray against human weakness, but with it in mind. He asked God to strengthen Peter, help him recover.

If not for Peter’s conversion, the strength of which came from his failures of faith, we would not have Christianity today. He not only led the apostles, but the early church, as well. And, like Jesus, he teaches us still.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

(This is a big one. I suggest reading it in installments. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2, here; and Part 3, here. You can always return later, to the Contents link at the top of the page, and access each part by clicking on the main title, “Rock on Water.” May the Lord bless and keep you.)

Faith leads to God; without it we understand nothing. And without understanding, we cannot be born again. But, just as the love of the Lord is infinite, so are the possible paths to the kingdom of heaven: one for every one of us.

Many paths lead to the right answer, as my old math teacher told me, but there is only one right answer. The answer is love.

These essays are my personal covenant, written to help you understand yours. I learned this one from the apostle Peter, whose path illuminated my own, as I hope it will teach you the infinite nature of faith.

After he learned of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus went off by himself to pray. When he rejoined his apostles, he found a crowd of 5,000 hungry people waiting, starving for nourishment of the body and soul.

Jesus told his apostles to feed them, but they claimed they didn’t have enough, only a couple fish, and a few small loaves of bread. We also tend to think we don’t have enough faith, or patience, or strength to share our love.

But with such a meager amount, Jesus fed everyone. We can too.

For this miracle, the crowd wanted to make him king, the conquering warrior/Messiah, Son of David, and Son of Man whom the Jews always thought would come to rescue them from themselves.

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.”-Matthew 14:22.

He sent his apostles away in the boat, to spare them from this destructive influence. We can’t make Jesus into what we want; rather, he makes us into what he wants.

The children of Israel thought their savior, “God’s anointed”-the Greek word for which is Christ, and in Hebrew is Messiah-would come to conquer all other nations, and destroy the Gentiles. And so they didn’t recognize Jesus.

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

The apostles’ journey across the Sea of Galilee was meant to teach them (and us) to remain open, so that we learn God’s will. This is the beginning of faith: the path to love.

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”-Matthew 14:23.

(Note that our story begins as the sun descended, and evening came.)

We learn God’s will through prayer. Here, Jesus teaches us to pray in between our dealings with others.

We minister in every interaction; whether we mean to or not, we teach others about the world, and humanity, and show them what to expect, or fear, or hope for. We drag them down, or pull them up. And they do the same for us.

We are all shepherds.

When we pray, we connect with God, humble ourselves to the universe. So, after prayer, we carry humility and good will to others.

“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”-James 5:15.

When others hurt us, we carry that pain to God. Like a mother kissing her child’s skinned knee, the Lord makes everything better. And when others uplift us, we share that joy and thankfulness in prayer.

God is all things: every drop of water, whether it soothes or drowns; every color and shape, pleasing and offensive; every person and animal, good and bad; light and darkness; violence and peace; Alpha and Omega.

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

Everything, including pain, is a sign of God’s presence, which is synonymous with love. The mightiest, most destructive storm signifies the Lord: even if, like the apostles, we don’t realize it at the time.

“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”-Matthew 14:24.

This story foreshadows the apostles’ future, and ours. One-by-one, they would all be martyred, except for John, who (legend has it) escaped, or was exiled, to the Greek island of Patmos-where he wrote his Gospel and the Revelation.

We possess the Gospels because of their hardships. Without the bad, good would have no reason to exist. Faith allows us to understand this, by means of acceptance.

“And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. // And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”-Matthew 10:18, 22.

Love is not popular with sinful people, who see Jesus as a condemnation, an interruption, a threat. We are so focused on our own desires, that we deny others theirs. This creates tribulation.

However painful God’s lessons may be, they prepare us for harder times, and teach us endurance. He rewards our patience with a call for greater patience, and our endurance with a call for greater endurance.

“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”-Mark 4:25.

The more we learn, the more we’re capable of learning. And when we cease to learn, then we forget what we once knew.

The same is true of faith. Practice makes perfect.

We often wonder why bad things happen to good people: These are tests, meant to hone our natural strength, patience, and endurance.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”-Romans 5:3.

Hard times are not the absence of God, who is everything. The Lord knows that we will face greater and deadlier storms, and will not give us more than we can handle, without training us first: hence, tribulation.

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”-Isaiah 48:10.

Hard times aren’t an accident; nor are they punishment, or our guardian angels asleep at the wheel. We learn strength and patience through tribulation; and we specifically need those qualities to follow God’s will.

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

The storm helps us weather future cataclysmic events. Rejoice, but be warned; as contrary as those winds are, they are penny ante compared to what’s coming.

“Fear thou not; For I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”-Isaiah 41:10.

Just as the Lord brought the test, and guided us through temptation, so will His love nurture us through our own personal Judgment Day.

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.”-Matthew 14:25.

The Romans occupied Israel during Jesus’ time. They divided the night into four watches of three hours each, from 6 pm until 6 am. The fourth watch was from 3 am until 6 am.

This storm was no 5-minute cloud burst. The apostles entered the boat in the early evening, when Jesus prayed alone on the mountain. So they persevered through harsh winds and rain all night.

Perseverance builds faith.

We must note that, at the end of the fourth watch, the cock crows. This story foreshadows Peter’s great faith in following Jesus after his arrest, when all the other apostles ran away; and it also shows how Peter’s faith collapsed, when he denied Jesus.

“…And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. / And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”-Luke 22:61, 62.

Sometimes we fail, even when the Lord prepares us: when we’re given the answers to the test, so to speak. Keep in mind, the tests never end. The point isn’t whether we pass or fail, but that we grow stronger, learn patience, and thereby, increase our faith.

“And the Lord said, [Peter], behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: / But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”-Luke 22:31, 32.

Though Peter failed these tests, through the practice of faith, his humiliation strengthened him. And with that strength and humility, he led the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion, restoring their hearts and courage.

We learn God’s will, when we accept it, and submit ourselves to it. But that is no easy task. First, we must be brought low as a result of our own will, and totally defeated, so we learn humility.

Only when we are at our worst does our best manifest itself. Only when we accept our humanity, can we worship the true Lord of all things.

That is why Paul wrote, “we glory in tribulations.” That is why bad things happen to good people. Peter knew how depressed and terrified the apostles were after Jesus’ crucifixion, because he, too, had tasted defeat.

“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.”-Matthew 14:26.

Tribulation causes doubt and fear. These, in turn, challenge and destroy our faith. Just when we need love the most, when the wind is contrary, when we can confirm or deny God, we lose faith. We get caught up in the moment, and forget all our best intentions.

Christianity reminds us of human nature. Jesus knew Peter would deny him, and Judas would betray him. He didn’t pray against human weakness, but with it in mind. He asked God to strengthen Peter, help him recover.

If not for Peter’s conversion, the strength of which came from his failures of faith, we would not have Christianity today. He not only led the apostles, but the early church, as well. And, like Jesus, he teaches us still.

“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”-Matthew 14:27.

Jesus reminds us how fear destroys faith; likewise, therefore, faith destroys fear: They cannot exist simultaneously.

Fear and doubt usurp our will, invade our sovereign castle. When the battering ram crashes through our door, who cannot help but to shrink in terror? But, when or if we do, we lose our city, sacrifice ourselves.

Good cheer defends our gates. Happiness requires practice, forethought, preparation: all of which builds faith.

Learn from Noah. When did he build the ark? Before the rain.

“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”-Matthew 24:43.

We must prepare and watch for the storm. We know it will come, but we don’t know when. So, while the sun shines, gather your animals, and your family. Love your life; love the world and everything in it. This love is your ark.

We build faith, stockpile it, learn where it comes from, and how to summon it when fear and doubt threatens everything we’ve worked for.

“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”-Matthew 14:28.

Every tribulation presents a T-intersection, in which we must choose: left or right, do or do not, stand or fall, fear or faith, love or hate. We are so caught up in the moment, enraptured with our lives on the line, that we can’t control what we decide. This is purposeful, as the spur of the moment reveals our hearts.

Our decision occurs naturally, automatically: not so much a deliberate choice, but an honest reaction. Soldiers don’t know if they have courage, until the bullets fly. At that moment, the brave might flee, and the meek stand tall.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

“…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

If we don’t humble ourselves, God humbles us. He throws us in the furnace of affliction so we’ll know our worth, what’s in our hearts; so we know the truth. If we fake our happiness and courage, then our bravado abandons us at the first sign of trouble. But if we accept our weaknesses, then they become our strengths.

Exhausted and frightened, Peter reached out to his friend. When we choose love, we pass every test; but choose fear, and fail.

“And [Jesus] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”-Matthew 14:29.

“Come”: That was how Jesus called all the apostles.

“And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

Love invites us, but we choose to embrace it or not.

“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. / And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”-John 1:45, 46.

Our friends comfort us, but we choose to ask for their help, or not.

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”-Isaiah 55:1.

Sometimes our needs inconvenience people. I’ve been called “needy” and “high-maintenance.” We forget the hand that helped us, when our time comes to help. But it is never so with Jesus.

John the Baptist’s mother, Elisabeth, was the cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Luke 1:36). John and Jesus were family. When John died, Jesus not only mourned a family member, but was stricken with grief and horror, because Herod beheaded John.

Even so, after he prayed:

“…Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.”-Matthew 14:14.

And then he fed all 5,000 of them. Then he prayed all night, and walked on water, calling to Peter during the fourth watch. Jesus was (and is) never too tired or inconvenienced; he always has, and he always will, help and comfort.

As he quoted from 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 4:19.

This is the foundation of our faith in him.

I didn’t talk earlier about how Jesus walked on water. I wanted to postpone that discussion, until we got to Peter. Not since Moses parted the Red Sea, and the prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan river, has a human being performed a miracle; and these all had to do with water.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2.

Water is life: It composes about 60% of our bodies, and covers, roughly, 70% of the planet. And whatever is life, is God.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

That which makes us can also break us. Peter could drown, while answering the Lord’s call. So can we.

But without the tribulation of the cross, there is no resurrection of faith from sin; no guts, no glory.

The Roman Emperor, Nero, crucified Peter upside down. But, 300 years later, Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Without those events, it’s unlikely we would have Christianity today.

“[God] alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”-Job 9:8.

Love and forgiveness requires faith. And faith depends on our strength and courage. By stepping onto the water, Peter dared to go where only God had been before. He did this so we could know that walking in the Lord’s footsteps is possible.

I sometimes wonder if we mislabel Jesus’ “miracles.” With him being the Son of God, or God, then what he did was not out of the ordinary, i.e., not miraculous. Therefore, by walking on water, Peter performed the only miracle in the New Testament.

At least, for a moment….

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

When we come to Jesus, when we reach out to others in the name of love, we risk everything. The rewards for feeling and sharing love are bountiful beyond imagination; but Christianity is not for the timid.

Humility makes us vulnerable. When someone needs love, chances are they aren’t feeling love; rather, they are angry, defensive, and weak. They deny their weakness by projecting that quality onto people who love them, and see their vulnerability as reason to attack and devour anyone who’d help them.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves….”-Matthew 10:16.

By attempting to save someone who is drowning, we risk being pulled down with them. That’s why there’s so much hate in the hearts of humanity today. That’s why the priest and the Levite passed by the man who’d been beaten and robbed: Only the bold and loving Samaritan risks everything for someone else.

Fortune favors the bold. But we must have courage and faith, knowing we could drown, be crucified upside down, beaten and robbed, left for dead, devoured by ravenous wolves.

Will you? Can you risk security and contentment for paradise?

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 10:27.

Christianity is not just a religion. It allows us to see what our own sight could never perceive, to hear what we don’t wish to hear, to look beyond ourselves to the world, and all the great infinity we call God, to accomplish the most wonderful miracle: loving everyone and everything.

But there is always doubt: faith’s adversary. The Hebrew word for adversary is “satan.” Peter’s doubt caused him to sink. Satan caused Judas to betray Jesus, and tempted Jesus in the wilderness, to abandon his ministry, and live only for his own desires.

“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”-Matthew 4:10.

Stay mindful. When you feel doubt, which often disguises itself as self-preservation, pray to the Lord to take that evil from you. In fear’s intoxication, doubt promises to save us. We’ll drown otherwise! Or so “Satan” tells us.

But if we surrender not to love, but to fear, then we lose our city. We think to defend ourselves, but our only defense is faith. And faith is understanding that love is the only way.

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me….”-Isaiah 45:5.

When the wind is boisterous, and we’re distracted by thunder and lightning, we fail the test of faith; we fail each other, ourselves, and all life.

But faith allows us, even if for just a moment, to do what only God can do: to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and walk on water.

If we stay mindful, strong in the face of utter ruin, then we can call out, as Peter did: Lord, save me!

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught [Peter], and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”-Matthew 14:31.

Here, Jesus states plainly the opposite nature of faith and doubt. Since faith leads to God (which is everything), then doubt leads to selfishness (which denies everything).

Keep in mind, there is worthwhile doubt, and there is foolish doubt. Remember Solomon’s wisdom.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Doubt is necessary to increase wisdom and knowledge. Without it, we’d live only with the “common sense” of our early childhood. We waste the day, when we don’t challenge our faith. Challenge brings growth; complacency dooms us to stagnation.

We need faith for what we don’t know, what we’re unable to know. Once something is provable, then we no longer require faith. But when something is infinite, when history, common sense, and the scientific method provide only shallow answers, then we’re on our own. Then, we remember what Jesus told Jairus, whose daughter had just died.

“…Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.”-Luke 8:50.

When the storm thrashes our small boat, and our weakness and mortality becomes evident, then we cry out as Peter did.

Lord, save me!

Know when to doubt, and when to have faith. We need faith when we know the present nature of something, but when we don’t know the future of it.

Faith is ignorance of the future, when that future might harm us.

Our ignorance of how or why we might suffer causes anxiety, depression, anger, and hopelessness. This is another reason for Christianity. Only God knows the future.

“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”-Isaiah 42:9.

Faith reconciles us with the unknown. We still don’t know when we’ll sink beneath the frothing waves, but we have faith in what we know of Jesus. We have faith that God is only absent if we exclude Him.

We know the thunder and lightning will come; we will be crucified upside down; and we’ll drive nails into helping hands. Our only salvation is the willingness to seek, or else we’ll never find; we must have the humility to ask for love, or else it cannot be granted. All we have to do is knock, and Jesus opens the door.

His miracles require faith.

“And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”-Matthew 13:58.

Every single miracle that he accomplished was possible only because of the person’s faith.

“And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”-Mark 10:52.

Peter walked on water because of his faith, and he sank because of his doubt. This is the lesson he passed down to us.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”-Matthew 21:21.

Faith works miracles. We have faith when we are without doubt, and without fear.

We have faith in some one or some thing. We must know that in which we have faith. What we don’t know is the future.

Peter didn’t know what would happen when he stepped out of that boat. His common sense told him he would sink. But he had faith in Jesus, because he knew Jesus.

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? / And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. / And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. / And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”-Matthew 16:15-18.

Faith builds faith. And hate builds hate. Whatever we practice, we become. Peter’s faith began as a seed. It grew every time he used it, and it continued to grow because he never stopped using it.

This is how we quiet the storm: by allowing love into our boat.

“And when [Peter and Jesus] were come into the ship, the wind ceased.”-Matthew 14:32.

Love doesn’t spare us from suffering, since we need it to learn humility, but it does help us to endure our tribulations. We calm the inner storm, pacify our demons, when we accept God’s will.

Much is out of our hands, beyond our control, or even understanding. Without understanding, we stumble through our few, scant decades of life, never finding home or peace.

We can’t know ourselves unless we know our surroundings. But we can’t know the entirety of it all, anymore than a toenail knows its body.

Anxiety is the inevitable result of such astounding ignorance. Thus, we are never at peace. Our constant state of fight or flight frazzles our common sense, and logic, our ability to love and be loved.

The only answer comes to us in Peter’s three small words: Lord, save me! We can’t overcome the world, but Jesus can; he already has. So give to God what is God’s: fear, judgment, fate. And God will give to us what is ours: love and peace of mind.

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”-Matthew 14:33.

The story ends where it began. After all the apostles went through, they saw only Jesus controlling the weather, which must mean he’s the Son of God.

“…And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”-Luke 8:25.

The Jews believed their Messiah would be a warrior and conqueror, like King David.

“For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”-Psalm 122:5.

Enslaved many times, they gave up on saving themselves. God must burst into history, and destroy their enemies.

They called this “The Day of the Lord.” It was the Jewish apocalypse, a time of great upheaval between the sinful age of man, and the paradise that would follow.

“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! / For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”-Ezekiel 30:2, 3.

They believed this.

Interpretation is everything. Sometimes we must simplify what the Bible says, break it down to its basic components. God destroys the old world (and person), to make way for the new. This is how we are born again.

But what was the Psalmist saying? What did Ezekiel mean? We can’t possibly know, only interpret. “Satan” tempts us, tests our faith, by telling us we don’t need to just interpret, we must believe.

When we believe, we make up our own minds. And when we make up our own minds, we follow our will, not God’s. There is no faith when we follow our own will. Therefore, faith differs from belief.

We must know something about the object of our faith, and be ignorant only of its future ramifications. But to believe, we accept as true what we can’t possibly know. We know that we can’t know it, but kid ourselves into thinking that, if we exert our will, then we gain control. But we can’t gain control, any more than the toenail controls its body.

We can’t know the infinite ways of God. We can’t know who or what Jesus is, exactly. But it’s okay, because that’s not what faith is about.

What, then, do we know of Jesus?

“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.

And what do we know of God?

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

So what is the only thing we can know? The answer is love. The rest is faith. And when we accept that, we are born again.

When the Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus how to be good, and was told to keep the Commandments, he said that he was doing that already, and asked what else he needed to do.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”-Matthew 19:21.

Was Jesus joking, or did he offer the possibility of being perfect? And what does it mean, to be perfect? We answer these important questions, when we are born again, when we sin no more.

As we discussed last time, being perfect doesn’t mean that we’ll dodge unavoidable accidents. We slip, trip, and fall. I spill every time I pour something. But that is not hate (the every-day word for sin). Hate is our choice, our responsibility; we choose to sin. So we can choose to not sin.

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

If we aren’t going to do the work Jesus requires, then how can we claim to be his followers?

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”-James 1:22.

Too long have we remained enslaved by hate, believing ourselves powerless against it, yet claiming that Jesus saved us from our sins, and rid the world of evil. We can’t believe he saved us, while we’re actively sinning. We can’t be with him, and against him. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must choose.

“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”-Luke 11:23.

Don’t panic. This is a slow process. We’re addicted to sin, and it’ll take a long time, and a lot of hard work, to kick the habit. Review the steps in mindfulness from Part 1, and stay in God’s presence. We can’t hate, when we’re loving God.

Before Jesus asked the impossible of us, God formed a covenant with his ancestor, Abram. The Lord changed the man’s name, symbolizing rebirth, to Abraham.

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. // Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”–Genesis 17:1, 5.

We are all fathers of many nations. Whether or not we accept the responsibility, our deeds (good or bad) influence others, who influence others, and so on…until we affect, or infect, the whole world. Our will is insufficient to love all who hate us, or ignore us, and so we shirk the needs of others by hating or ignoring them: allowing the poor to remain poor, the weak to be trodden upon, and the wicked to triumph.

“LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?”-Psalm 94:3.

The answer? As long as we believe it’s impossible to follow God’s will.

Perfect is what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” We take our first step in understanding this daunting concept, by agreeing that God is perfect.

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler [or shield] to all them that trust in him.”-2 Samuel 22:31.

But we can’t be perfect like God, can we? Keep in mind we aren’t talking about avoiding mistakes, or shooting the basketball into the hoop every time. The Lord is perfect because He is without sin. By its most basic definition, to sin is to be apart from God: to hate, instead of love. God cannot be apart from God.

King David further illuminated this for us, passing along his wisdom, as his descendant Jesus did.

“God is my strength and my power; and he maketh my way perfect.”-2 Samuel 22:33.

Alone, we cannot be perfect. Hatred clouds our judgment. Without God, we sin, since that is what sin means: “without God.” But when we realize how insufficient our will is, that we are alone and unarmed, and facing an army, then we choose. Pride fails us at this point; we must let it go. We are outnumbered, out-gunned, out of luck, and out of time.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”-Matthew 6:10.

The kingdom of heaven comes when God’s will is done on earth, that is, by us. So we are born again when our will becomes God’s will. That is how we become perfect.

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

Here’s where Jesus breaks down the Bible shorthand into something we can approach and understand. Perfect = merciful. Further, everything God is, is perfect, and whatever we do to serve the Lord, in the way that He wants us to do it (not the way we want) is perfect.

Here are some Old Testament synonyms, courtesy of King David.

Perfect = totally sincere (1 Kings 11:4; 2 Samuel 22:33), completely dedicated (2 Chronicles 16:9). And this Psalm of David further clarifies the meaning:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”-Psalm 19:7.

God’s love converts the soul, and causes us to be reborn, if we’re humble enough to receive it. When we admit our ignorance and weakness, and commit ourselves to loving all things, all people, then we simple human beings become wise.

The apostle Peter adds to our list and understanding.

“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”-1 Peter 1:15.

Holy is, of course, what God is. Not only that, but the term points us to the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called “the Comforter.”

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”-John 14:26.

To be a comforter to those who are poor, brokenhearted, sick, in prison, in the hospital, friendless, and hopeless is to bring to remembrance what Jesus taught.

And one more synonym rounds out our list.

“…as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

Here’s what we have so far, as we contemplate what Jesus asks of us, and will give us, when we surrender our will to God. We are to be totally sincere and completely dedicated. No half-measures.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”-Mark 12:30.

God is love, and love is everything. Give it all. Hold nothing back. To enter the kingdom of heaven is to embrace love; we do this by following Jesus’ teachings. This is a life-changing commitment, a personal covenant, between each of us and God.

Our covenant includes our perspective, experiences, everything that makes us unique. When we surrender, we remain who we are, we lose nothing of ourselves. Rather, our gifts, and our shortcomings, our faults and sins, passions and dreams…We dedicate all of it to the Lord, to life.

So we are completely dedicated, and totally sincere. We are merciful, and love one another. How dedicated, sincere, merciful, and loving should we be?

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

How perfect must we be?

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

We must be as merciful as God, as loving as Jesus, as holy as the Lord. Now we see how the Rich Young Ruler felt, when he walked away, shaking his head at the thought of surrendering all that he owned.

Take a deep breath.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”-Luke 12:32.

I know all this is scary: like a nightmare, where we’re a musician on stage, asked to perform on an instrument we’ve never played; or maybe we’re a casual jogger, who has to suddenly run a 10-mile marathon.

Keep in mind, we’re looking at the end, the goal. To reach perfection, we take one baby step at a time. Review the steps from my mindfulness essays. Keep God with you, or, rather, stay with God.

Also, remember that we aren’t alone in this covenant. Jesus blesses his students.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [or allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”-1 Corinthians 10:13.

Temptation is Bible Shorthand for “testing.” It does not mean to seduce or trick, as we use the word today. Now and then, God tests us, to see how well we’ve learned Jesus’ lessons, and to prepare us for more advanced classes.

God will not give us more than we can handle, without also giving us the strength to handle the tests. What does the Lord give us, then?

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”-Joshua 1:9.

God replaces our fears and anxieties with love and hope. Think of it: no more doubt, worry, regret, or shame. How much of our strength do we channel into carrying these useless burdens? How much stronger will we be without them?

We either sail with the wind, or against it. In the latter, we spend all our energy to accomplish our own will. We fight against nature, refusing to go the way life asks of us. But in the former, the wind is at our backs. We barely have to lift a finger. Everything happens naturally, because we have given ourselves over to nature, to God.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”-Matthew 11:29, 30.

We think loving people who hate us is impossible, that we can’t live without returning their hate. Actually, love is the easiest thing in the world to share. What makes Jesus’ teachings so seemingly difficult is that we’re required to be like him; I don’t mean godly, immortal, or performing miracles; I mean meek and lowly in heart.

Pride is our ultimate defense mechanism: a small animal growling, to scare a larger predator. We are small creatures. Jesus asks us to see ourselves for who we really are. This is the difficulty. Once we surrender our pride, the wind is at our backs, and God is with us.

“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”-Deuteronomy 31:8.

With God, we no longer need to hate, or take revenge, or judge others. We are no longer jealous and bitter, or, therefore, anxious and depressed. We love, because the Lord rights all wrongs.

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”-Leviticus 19:18.

When we surrender pride, we rip hatred up by the roots, and throw that vile weed (and all of its effects) into the furnace. Leave these volatile emotions to the Lord; vengeance happens by His time table, not according to our limited, selfish desires, but by His infinite wisdom.

“To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.”-Deuteronomy 32:35.

Nature is balance; and the Lord is nature. We do not have to carry the burden of ill will. Instead, with God, all we have to do is be at peace, and love one another.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

Remember the world is not evil. The world doesn’t betray us, or hate us for our weakness, trying to devour us at every turn. We people hate; we are responsible for what happens. We cause tribulation in our futile attempts to overcome the nearly 8 billion other people.

Since that is so, we can, instead, bring good cheer. Breathe in the sin of others, and breathe out the love of God; inhale the false, exhale the truth. Make every breath count toward the betterment of all. That is the only way we win: not by seeking our desires, which is an endless and impossible task, but by joining the choir of life. Sing your hearts out.

“I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. / It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.”-Psalm 144:9, 10.

We don’t have to hate ourselves and others. We can sing a new song. Join with God, with nature, and all things. When we love His world-the trees, rocks, animals, the sky, the earth, and each other-then we can draw strength, courage, and love from everything around us.

This is the covenant that Jesus offers: not eye for an eye, but love in return for love; hope, for hope; salvation, for salvation. The Promised Land is ours for the taking!

Behold the wisdom of Solomon, another of Jesus’ ancestors:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. / In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. / Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear [or revere] the Lord, and depart from evil.”-Proverbs 3:5-7.

We cannot be perfect in every way, but we can love perfectly. We cannot overcome the world, but we can defeat hatred. We cannot forge our own heaven on earth, but we can join the kingdom of heaven, by following God’s will-doing what’s right for all, not some, not just you or me, but feeling love for everyone, everything. This is who we are.

Loving, when we’re used to hating, will not be easy; Jesus promised that it would be like carrying a cross. Be patient. Breathe. Inhale sorrow; exhale peace.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. / But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”-James 1:3, 4.

Inhale sorrow; exhale peace. Make every breath count for everyone. This is God’s breath: divine life, the word that has always existed, even before existence, itself. And that word is love.

To be born again is to give all we have to God, to love all, and hate nothing. When we are without hate, then we sin no more. Our love is God’s love for Jesus, which is his love for us.

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

And that is the perfect love, the perfect life, the way, and the truth. May the Lord bless and keep you. Amen.

Nativity

In my ongoing study of what born again means, and how to achieve it, we look now at the event, itself.

It begins with a sign.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14.

Pronounced im-maw-noo-ale’, this Hebrew name means “with us is God.” In my mindfulness essays, I outlined several methods to help us stay with God; this is the first step to being born again: Stay in the moment, and see beauty and love everywhere, in everyone.

When we do this, a miracle happens, something as improbable as a virgin birth.

The sign shows us the way, how we’ve been going in the wrong direction; it shows us the truth, that are our own will is insufficient to overcome the world. It’s up to us to recognize God’s hand, offering to pull us out of the mess we’ve made of our lives.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”-Isaiah 9:6.

For thousands of years, prophets reiterated the promise of what we could be. We don’t have to hate each other, compete with each other, like street gangs fighting for our little piece of turf.

Admitting we were wrong is the hardest thing; it takes a miracle to even entertain the thought. Because, if we repent, then we have to leave the familiar, and pass through the wilderness, to a promised land that we might never see.

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.”-Genesis 12:1.

We each have our own covenant with God. Our own personal Promised Land requires our own personal journey. When it comes to being born again, our pilgrimage happens whether we want it to, or not. What matters is how we choose to interpret the journey.

Will we see the land as beautiful, and accept with love the people we meet? Or will we be bitter, full of hate and doubt?

The journey begins with events of the everyday world.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”-Luke 2:1.

At this point, Mary and Joseph had both received their signs. Their baby was coming; a new life was imminent. But this new life would still be in this world. Love is not a single island, but all the world.

“…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”-Matthew 22:21.

In order for a new dawn to come, the New Jerusalem prophesied in the Revelation, we must be reborn. This means interacting with people who receive our newborn love with hatred and enmity.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem is a long journey. The roads are dangerous: robbers, storms, desert heat, and a very pregnant wife to protect. You’ll be safer if you travel by caravan.

Though there are some who resist your loving kindness, there are others whose lives will be changed, because you changed yours.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, / Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”-Matthew 2:1, 2.

There are as many interpretations as there are people. Since only God knows everything, then, as far as we know, everyone is right; and no one is wrong. It is all God’s will. The Wise Men celebrated when they saw a new star, knowing that it meant a new, different kind of King. For Herod, that same star led him to murder children.

“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”-Matthew 2:3.

Envy exacts a terrible cost, not only for the jealous person, but for everyone around them. All of Jerusalem was troubled, because Herod was worried and envious of anyone who might usurp his power. We seek power for comfort and security. But, then, to lose power means to surrender our comfort and security.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”-Matthew 6:19.

Nothing comes the way we think it will: not comfort, love, power, treasures, or the Messiah. True power doesn’t need to boast. It comes naturally, with great humility, in a way that few can foresee.

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”-Micah 5:2.

The last step of one journey is the first of another. And the first steps are always the most difficult, like giving birth, or being reborn.

“And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”-Luke 2:7.

Since we’re told about the inn, we can assume that it was the only one. Bethlehem was a small town; so there was only one inn. Caesar’s census brought back everyone who was born there: a family reunion, of sorts. Even before his birth, Jesus was rejected–not by hatred, like Herod, but by indifference. That is our true adversary. Who can turn away a person in need, a pregnant woman? This wasn’t done out of unkindness; there simply weren’t any rooms left.

I just work here!

A manger is a food trough, out of which cattle and horses eat. Here, Jesus was identified with food, life-sustaining nourishment.

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”-John 4:34.

As we are born again, we must remember that, whether we want to or not, we minister to others by example. Our faith, kindness, and mercy becomes their food. We are what we eat. Everyone who is fed from this manger, must turn around and feed others.

We influence people whether we’re conscious of it or not. Without being mindful, we can cause great damage to the lives around us. When we are seen as being thoughtless and cruel, then others reside themselves to being likewise.

However, if we bring light and kindness to a people who have become indifferent, a miracle occurs.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. / And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”-Luke 2:8, 9.

Kindness is the glory of the Lord. Love might be too strong a word for us, too nebulous a concept, too much to ask. We think of love as being only for our family, significant others, pets, favorite foods or colors. But kindness allows us to keep a safe distance, not too intimate; it is a good beginning, a way to test the waters.

Certain examples aside (like David and Moses), shepherds weren’t thought of too highly. Orthodoxy considered them unclean. They were the lowlifes of their day: poor, dirty, uneducated.

While God is for everyone, we must remember that Jesus was a working-class carpenter, born in a manger with the animals; and the first people to witness him were filthy, smelly shepherds.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”-John 10:11.

The shepherds among us spend their lives caring for others: being kind, watchful, and helpful. When we are born again, we become shepherds, following Jesus’ example. Even, or especially, in the darkest times, we watch over the flock.

We must never turn our eyes from their suffering, even if we can’t abate it. If we cease to be aware of suffering, if we succumb to the depreciation of humanity-due to our flooding of the market-then we are on our way to indifference, to evil.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”-Luke 2:10.

Most every other English translation says that the great joy will be only to those whom God favors. Many people want to think of God as their property, that they hold the keys to the kingdom. But that is the Pharisee’s path.

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”-Matthew 23:13.

To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again, means being kind to everyone: regardless of race, gender, economic or educational standing. Jesus loved sinners; his love healed them. Thus, he entered heaven, and allowed others to enter as well.

Heaven is a state of mind, a way of living.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”-Luke 20:38.

Heaven is not some afterlife from which a person can ban you because they judged you to be a sinner. That is the Pharisee’s way, not God’s way. God is for all people. The great joy, the good news, the gospel is that we can all participate in this love and kindness.

“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.

Jesus came to save the whole world, all of us.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. / And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:11, 12.

Bethlehem was David’s hometown. Joseph was David’s descendant. I like to think of their whole line, from Abraham through David, all those patriarchs and heroes, as preparation for Joseph. Jesus’ earthly father accepted Mary’s mysterious, suspicious, unorthodox pregnancy; protected her and baby Jesus, to and from Bethlehem, and taught Jesus…what? Just imagine.

Jesus was not the son of David; Joseph was. But through his earthly father, Jesus received the teachings and lessons passed down from they whom interacted with God.

“And when [the wise men] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”-Matthew 2:11.

It’s the first Christmas morning: time for presents! From my childhood, and on through ‘til today, Christmas eve and morning have always been magical. If we concentrate, we can feel God’s presence.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. / And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:15, 16.

Whatever frenzied anxiety the holidays bring, when the stores close, it’s too late for haste. What’s done is done. And when we can no longer worry, a miracle happens: We are at peace. With peace comes faith-faith that we have enough food, enough presents, plenty of whatever we need.

When we are living on faith, then all the energy that is normally spent worrying is free for whatever is at hand: family. Thus, the absence of fear makes way for the presence of love. This is the meaning of Christmas, the lesson we all need to learn, if we are to be reborn.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

We’re so focused on God and the devil, Heaven and Hell, angels and talking snakes, believing this and not believing that, that we miss the message. As the Wise Men brought Jesus presents, the wise writers of the Bible gift us with the truth of human suffering.

Our focus on hate, jealousy, judgments, and our time spent covering up lies, pretending to be in control, when we’re one of billions of small, fragile creatures…zaps our energy, to the point that we can’t think straight.

“But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. / There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”-Isaiah 57:20, 21.

There is only one way to overcome the world.

“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.

And it’s not through the one-upmanship of constant competition, which brings, at most, a temporary victory. There’s always a bigger fish. No, the answer is to love one another: be kind, patient, merciful. We think that we can’t, but that’s only because our energy is tied up in pointless hatred and vengeance.

We can’t overcome the world: It’s as if we’re unarmed, and trying to stand alone against an army. We can’t win that way; we’ll only make things worse.

Still, we’re dumb enough to think, I will win, because I am the King.

“…[Herod] was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under….”-Matthew 2:16.

Herod’s fear and hatred, and the slaughter of the innocents: It was all for nothing. Before the soldiers arrived, the Wise Men and Shepherds had left, and Joseph had taken his family to safety.

Where hatred is stagnation, loving kindness is growth. And as roots burst through concrete, as tectonic plates thrust up mountains, and rain drops carve rocks, so does love grow: slowly, inexorably, like the birth of a child. We can’t stop the kingdom of heaven; it is coming.

No, heaven is already here. Like Jesus, we have already been born again, from heaven to earth, and back to heaven; we just have to see it, and accept it.

We are lowly shepherds, hypocritical Pharisees, hopeful husbands and wives, and simple animals who bear witness to the greatest birth of all: your rebirth.

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.

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.]

Mindfulness of God: Blessings

These essays record my studies of the Gospels. The intention is to remind myself, and anyone who is blessed enough to read this, what Jesus did, and what he said: the parables and the miracles. Along the way, in these bonus essays, I share my personal progress in interpreting how to live by his example.

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

The way he treated us is the way that we should treat each other: This is the first fundamental precept in my studies. Whatever else Jesus was—the Son of God, the Son of Man, the way, the truth, and the light, and/or the Word of God—he was meant to be an example.

I set aside all definitions, except for this one that he told us himself, as I practice mindfulness.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”—Matthew 6:34.

Mindfulness is a way of staying in the present. It is a goal that Christianity shares with many other religions and spiritual practices. The theory is that if you stay focused on what’s happening right now, then you won’t suffer fear for the future, or doubt from your past. I have been attempting this state of mind by using lessons from the Gospels.

My first step was to forgive every sin, as it happened.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

If we don’t forgive, then our sins go unforgiven. Further, sins fester when we don’t release them. I can’t be happy with the weight. So I attempted to forgive every sin, as it happened.

I never realized how much other people bugged me, especially in traffic. Lord, all I needed to complete this study was to take a drive. I’m sure you know what I mean. People are crazy out there, behind their steering wheels. Their actions are selfish, as if by necessity, violent, provocative, and threatening.

If you’ll pardon the joke, I’m pretty sure that “the valley of the shadow of death” was a prophecy about highways, and how we are seduced into sin just to keep up with the flow of traffic.

I was in a state of constant forgiveness while driving around, especially when I realized that I was judging them, and that I needed to be forgiven.

That was my second step. I forgave them, then myself, over and over.

No matter what someone else does, we are responsible for how we react.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? / …Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”—Luke 6:41-42.

All of this kept me in the present, mindful of God.

God is always there, no matter where we are.

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

He made everything and exists as everything.

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

This is my second fundamental precept: Heaven is within you.

It’s blasphemous to hate someone when you consider that God is with them. Instead, I want to bless God, because God has blessed me. This led me to my third step in mindfulness, which was to bless everyone.

“…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. / Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”—Luke 18:16-17.

I wanted to understand how to be reborn, as taught in the Gospels, because that is how you get to Heaven. I began by blessing children and their families.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”—Matthew 19:19.

This led to me blessing the elderly, who are the fathers and mothers. Jesus taught us how to love our neighbors. He gave us a step-by-step process for how we can reach Heaven. I put this into practice because, frankly, I have a tough time loving my sinful neighbors. And since I’m sinful, I can hardly love myself either.

By blessing someone, what do I mean?

It’s kind of like when someone sneezes and you say, “Bless you.” Their heart skipped a beat, as they sneezed, and you’re just wishing them well. A blessing is a little stronger than saying good luck. If we were to alter that phrase to be a blessing, we might say, “I wish you the best of luck possible; stay well and strong, and have compassion for others, as I have had compassion for you.”

The point is that if I’m going to get involved in someone’s life by judging them, or forgiving them, then, instead, I can choose to trust in God, have faith in the Heaven within that person.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 12:3.

That was God’s original covenant with Abraham, the one that Jesus renewed with his blood.

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matthew 26:28.

By blessing others, we are blessed; and by cursing others, we are cursed. It’s your choice.

So now I stay in the present by blessing children, the elderly, and, the most recent addition, all animals.

Children and animals live in the present. Sure, they want food or affection, and “hunt” with a future feast in mind. But they remain focused on the present moment as they do so—ready to pounce or run away.

Jesus loves the little children, and the animals love Jesus.

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

Rejection is an important component of Jesus’ story.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”—Luke 2:7.

There was no room for him in our hearts. We rejected him, and killed him so that we could remain in the dark.

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

We’re addicted to sin. But the animals in the manger didn’t mind him spending the night with them.

This is an important point. There is something about animals that allowed them to accept him. They remind me of what Jesus said about children: “…of such is the kingdom of God.” By blessing what is God’s, we accept God. But to accept God’s will, we must come into the light.

Jesus is the light, or, more specifically, his lessons light the way. His story is an example for how we can bless and comfort one another.

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

This is the third fundamental precept in these essays: God is love.

All of my other theories and deductions must fit with these three fundamentals: Jesus is an example; Heaven is within you; and God is love.

With that as my starting point, my studies of the Gospels became a prayer for us human beings. It’s all about us, how we can learn to get along, and find peace and dignity within ourselves, by treating each other with the same compassion that Jesus showed to us.

This takes practice.

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

To worship in spirit and truth, we must be in a mindful state, focused on the kingdom of Heaven that is within all things. We are alive, right here and now, and so is God.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”—Luke 20:38.

To that end, I’ve followed these three steps to keep myself in the present: forgive others when they sin; forgive myself when I sin; and bless everyone. My goal is to keep God in my heart, to keep love in my heart at all times.

“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.

I feel that by following those three steps, I am pleasing God. And when I do that, God is with me. When God is with me, I have love in my heart.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

We don’t have to overcome the world; Jesus did it. We don’t have to judge anyone; Jesus does it.

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”—John 5:22.

We don’t have to take revenge, an eye for an eye. God does that.

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”—Hebrews 10:30.

All we have to do is be who we are, and allow others the same, and forgive ourselves for being who we are, while allowing others the same: easier prayed than done.

Sin comes no matter how prepared we are. It is our nature, our cross to carry, that we slip into selfishness, or hate groups of people, so that we can feel loved by our own group. Every action has a potential sin attached; each and every thought can lead to darkness. We lack the instinctive toolset for balancing our animal urges and the growing complexity of our society. We can’t cure this disease.

All we can do is accept it: release the need to make the universe bend to our will, and, instead, bend our will to the universe. This takes practice. Stay mindful. Replace judgments with blessings. Be thankful for each and every moment, no matter how bad or painful, joyous or rapturous. It is all of God, made by the connection we all have to each other, as we walk through the valley, terrified of death, and hopeful of forgiveness.

The connection is that we all love, and sin, and need constant, automatic forgiveness, which we can only attain by forgiving others. This is the definition of love as taught by Jesus in the Gospels. If you can see this, understand it, and are willing to attempt it in practice, then you are ready to be reborn.