I became a Christian 24 years ago, this year. I was a university professor at the time, teaching in a College of Medicine in Behavioral Sciences. Contrary to popular opinion, I was successful in my career, and becoming well known in my field at the time, working on the national and even international arena in Grief and Bereavement. I was young, a single parent with two children, age 7 and 1 1/2 at the time and my daughter had recently been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. While my professional life was filled with research, publications, teaching and conferences, my home life was a struggle, as any single parent can attest. While fighting off the barracudas of academics, I was trying to be the perfect mother (and father) at home , wrestling with new meal schedules, my daughter's three shots of insulin a day, rushed trips to the Children's hospital 16 miles away, blood tests, finger sticks, buying and remodeling a new home, juggling daycare for my son, and trying to deal daily with critical bosses who had no sympathy.
I had grown up Catholic, although I had believed very little in anything since I was a teenager, although with the birth of my children, a troubled marriage, and the other trials of life, I had at least suspended the question, thinking there might be a God somewhere, of some kind, but the question was left 'till another day'. I had met during that time Christians who ran in two extremes: either very remarkable loving human beings who testified to the Lord without even speaking, or zealous argumentative people who wanted me and everyone else to read the 4 spiritual laws, or right on the spot accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, (they didn't understand that as a first sentence to a college professor it often does just the opposite), and would walk away tiffed if one did not. Still, I did not make any kind of decision until life sort of fell apart. One can be even at the 'top of the world' so to speak, looking to all the world as young, progressive and successful and face quite another world personally. In 1985, one exhausting afternoon, after fighting off alot of grief, one child in school, one taking a nap, I was at home, and picked up a red Bible on the bookshelf which my daughter had been given.
The Red Bible
Now, this Bible had been through better times: it got accidentally dropped in the washer once, and the pages were swollen and wrinkled, but true to form, I don't throw away books, so it rested on the top shelf. I reached for it, the way one reaches for anything at all to read, and started turning or 'peeling' pages, curious about what it said,although I thought I knew. My academic arrogance was no less than anyone else's so I did not have alot of respect for God's Word, yet,but as a Psychology professor, I thought to myself, that one never knew, there might be something there that was at least wisdom about human beings, given that it was so old, and so many wise men had had a hand in writing or studying it. The first chapter I started to read, was 'Proverbs', and I know laugh at God's providence in acquainting an Assistant Professor with a doctorate in Psychology with Proverbs: the book of wisdom about how human beings are and the reasons they behave like they do. It was enough to be fascinated, and I started to talk to Christians at work.
When I got tired of hanging around the Behavioral Sciences department, I would go talk to the two artists in the Graphics department one of whom was designing a cover for one of my conferences. She was a born-again Christian, and working while we talked, she shared her knowledge and wisdom with me, and suggested I start reading the Gospels: I think she suggested John first, and I read Matthew around that time also. I got to the passage where Jesus is speaking with his disciples and asks them what others are saying about them. They reply
Mat 16:14 And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Following though, Jesus puts forth the question of centuries to his followers:
Mat 16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
and Peter answers:
Mat 16:16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
This is the question I had to confront, which in all my years of religious upbringing, never missing a Sunday, I had never considered. Who was He? Why did this one particular man, if a man at all, turn the world on its heel 2000 years ago so that even the calendar and worship changed? Why would He even bother dying for all of us, and what did that mean? I did not believe in a six day Creation back then, or the Garden of Eden, but that was not foremost in my thoughts: I was at least preoccupied with who Jesus was. As I read the next verse, though, I cannot explain, why or how, but I just understood absolutely that Jesus, Yshua, was exactly who he said he was, and that if that were true, then the whole Word of God must be true too.
Mat 16:17 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.
It was especially the passage about flesh and blood not revealing to Peter who Jesus was, but God himself. I knew it was true and was overwhelmed with that truth. Over time I read more, and in my living room, I knelt down, and as I had heard to do before from Christians along the way I 'asked Jesus to come into my life and heart'. I have just finished writing about why, that is not the fullness of Salvation through Messiah, but it is a starting point, and it was what I knew to do. It was a short time later, after reading the Scriptures and talking to Christians, that I began to fully comprehend exactly what Jesus, Yshua had done on that Cross that dark afternoon, when even the sky wouldn't look on. My first understanding all those years ago, was that sin was real, I could not ignore it in my life or others' having the seen the world for what it is, but that His death and blood, literally, not metaphorically, took away my debt of sin before God, and imputed to me the very righteousness of Him, of Yshua (the Hebrew for Jesus, meaning 'He saves'), the perfect Holy One of Israel, as though I had never sinned. Not to be understood with human reason, that paltry thing that has failed us so often, I understood instead with the faith He had given me.
I will not belabor 24 years of learning to walk with the Lord, that is another thing, except to say, that I felt His guidance immediately, and could no longer stand to even tell a little white lie. A week or two later at a church daycare I was asked who opened a door ( I had), and I did not want to get in trouble so I said 'I don't know'. My conscience was so pierced that I went back 20 minutes later to look for the person who had asked the question, so that I could apologize! I wish we all stayed at that point of First Love of Messiah, wishing to be taken away from this world rather than to lie or create any harm to Him , his or anyone else. Sometime later, praying heartily for God's will in my life, I received no other answer than 'Follow Me'. There were some serious 'Isaacs of obedience' I had to lay on the altar, including my success and career, in order to begin along a path that became far more difficult than I had ever imagined, but caused me to know and love Him more than I ever would have otherwise.
The Walk in The Way, The Truth and The Life
The modern American mind, does not receive any longer the cost of discipleship. We have a myriad of excuses, handbooks full of them as to why we do not have to suffer like the Christians of the centuries prior to the past one. One hears 'you cannot live like that, this is now, that was then, or what do you want us to do, all go back and live in the catacombs and wear sandals?' Well, I heard a sermon once in my early days of being His, that said what we need to do is to take a blank sheet of paper, and sign it at the bottom, and let Jesus fill in the terms of His contract with us. We do not merely receive an insurance policy against the day we die that gets us into heaven, which is every thing we carnally wish for, we enter into COVENANT, in which Yshua, Jesus suffered to gain eternity for us, and the Great Exchange of His life for ours, our life for His takes place: that is what has been forgotten. We would like His healing, His comfort, His blessings, and His wisdom and protection, but we do not want these days to even leave our hands off other people's lives and work.
I had envisioned early in my walk with the Lord that my life would be somehow easier: I kept hearing teaching after teaching on Christian radio or tv about how God was going to bless financially, and about how people turned from careers or other things in their lives and ended up a the head of ministries, Christian businesses, radio programs etc, and looked expectantly for that event in my life. I had after all given up so much already: I did what I was burdened to do, turned away from even social drinking (hadn't been much of a drinker anyway), from all the other things young people do that aren't particularly healthy, from teaching what I knew wasn't true no matter the consequence, and yet instead of immediately becoming rich and successful in some other way, I met with trouble and controversy, the borderlands of the divine conflict. When we believe that God owes us something for our sacrifices, we do not understand the Great Exchange. We are not yet made perfect in love. We have received a gift so great, that wherever He leads, and whatever the consequence, no matter how frightening, we have one reaction: Yes, Lord.
Paul was on his way to persecute, imprison and maybe even kill Christians in Damascus when he was met by a divine light, knocking him from his horse, blinding his eyes, and instead of questioning who it was, or interoggating God about whether he lived up to the Sanhedrin's standards, his response was short and to the point..."what would ye have me to do". After that, Paul never had a moment's rest in this world, and instead of banquets at the Temple and lecture series with a nice wife, home, and leadership in Israel, his life became beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, viper bites(more than one kind of viper in this world), quick escapes, running from murderers, trials, conflicts with the brethren, churches he started taken over by insincere incompetents, etc. He died upside down on a cross, or possibly in an arena with Nero trying to hold him accountable for the burning of Rome. He penned these odd, peculiar letters in the cold dark, without any funds or budget, thinking they might never be seen beyond a few months, I suppose, and died victorious in Messiah, not leaving "St. Paul Ministries Inc" behind but knowing he had done one thing: kept the faith. That is the battleground and victory, not mega institutions, beating each other out of contributors, tv spots, publications or the like.
Modern US 'Christian' Barges
I will probably be hated by some for what I am about to say, but what else is new. What we call the church in the United States today, is not the church at all. It is alot of vain puffery, and although it is a multi billion dollar industry, it has become vain, cold, cruel, flat, and powerless. Every insidious interest has been able to get in the churches these days because we forsook church doctrine and discipline about 50 or 70 years ago, and infused an 'anything goes' policy with regard to belief, practice and self sacrifice. One church today has the motto: No doctrine but Christ, and accepts any doctrine as long as you name His name. That's like saying, "No truth but whatever you believe" which fits nicely in the modern world but not in faith of Yshua Ha Meschiach, Jesus Christ of heaven.
We have married our churches to the State: they are the head of the church in the US now, and we like Red China and other oppressive countries have a State registered church through the invention of the 'non-profit' corporation, the 5013c. We answer ultimately not to Christ but to the FBI and the IRS. We place flags, declared living things, on our altars where we are not supposed to entertain idols, and we curtail our speech and sermons so as not to be arrested, or worse, to lose money. We look for certain kinds of people we want in our air-conditioned padded pew churches, with two working parents and salaries with 2.5 children families. We mock those who question whether Jesus would have done something one way or the other, and the only time the question "What Would Jesus Do" came up in this past decade or so was on several million bracelets and teeshirts on sale.
We have set our congregations up 'entertainment' style: one guy lecturing in the front, only with major 'pizazz' with video screens of his image, hundred voice choirs, drums, guitars, synthesizers, sequins, banners, dancers, confetti and anything else. 'Bring em in " Sundays, with costumes, prizes, ...I won't go to churches like that anymore. It is not Messiah, not Christ. He is joy, He is Peace, He is worth praising in truth in sincerity anywhere any time, and I am not criticizing types of music, or dress, or dancing: all those things can be all right, but they are not for entertainment. We pray very little and our churches sit empty in many places for all but Sunday services. When people pray now, more often than not it has nothing to do with love, but with getting their way in the world. Some even pray hatred, in little passive aggressive 'snipering' such as 'O Lord, show so and so this isn't the right church for him or her...', or one pastor even said, that when people got to him he prayed, "Lord, Get 'em". Blessing your enemies or walking the extra mile, so central to the Christian walk is not really taught anymore. One church bible study I attended many years ago was discussing whether Christians should hold stock in RJ Reynolds. Why would that even be a question? I got funny stares when I suggested it was not that we have to refrain from those investments but whether we get to: for the sake of loving Him more. I was called naive, but I am not: it is whether money is really the deciding factor or faith is.
I have called mega ministries, 'the great iron barges' of Christianity. Many do not teach more than certain peripheral sections of doctrine, usually not the blood covenant, and most are prosperity gospel, even the ones who teach against that , live it. I was not prepared for what happens when you begin to write, teach or publish things people want to read in Modern Christianity: the Great Iron Barges begin to line up like the pirate ships they are, to take whatever they want, without regard for the truth, the law, civil rights, or lastly any teaching in the Scriptures. Work for years to stay 'near to God' and not quench the Holy Spirit, and in the US today this is what you will get: the Great Pirate barges and their ensigns hacking your computer, breaking into your house, trying to steal copyrights, cheating you out of jobs, ministries and opportunities, soliciting your children against you, calling you crazy and trying to prove it, setting you up any which way but loose if they can walk away with all you have ever done, using your name, playing with your bank accounts or mortgages, and even resorting to physical violence. Some of the best known and richest ministries have so beset my little but since one, that I can hardly work anymore, hardly getting anything online or out before it is stolen or ruined.
Criminal attention and theft is rampant. Put out a Bible study called "The Passover Blog" and there will be 20 out tomorrow morning. One ministry for 20 years has over and over shown up with books or other materials using the same titles or concept of my little non commercial ministry, even talking openly about how nobody will ever believe me if it comes to court, they think, because, well, they are who they are and I am nobody. They will call in the dogs: hold mighty prayer wars which may have some effect because they do not tell their prayer warriors they are stealing and slandering. Some will buddy up with people of very ill repute who will do anything to get their way in the world. There are big names in Christianity, or more accurately Christian business, who do 'unspeakable things in the dark', and only a few ever come to light. It is not the faith delivered to the saints at all. It is not the same thing: it is an unholy illusion that has to be abandoned before the power of God can work in this country.
Red China and Home Churches
to be continued