Heart

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing a thing from bread?”

I looked up from the computer. I thought we were highly engaged in a history lesson about Africa and the corrupt government, but she was not fully paying attention. Even with a curriculum that had a video trying to get a crucial academic point across, sometimes a lack of interest won out.

“What are you talking about?” I said, crunching.

She pointed at a bowl that was in front of me.

I kept on chewing and said,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be skipping bread?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You just ate a breadstick out of that snack mix.”

“What?! No way!”

She picked up a stick, held it up to my eyes, and it was what she said.

I instantly started spitting the contents out of my mouth into my hand, which goes against all that I believe in. Unless it’s an emergency and I am about to die from poison.

This was close. I had been doing so well. I was so proud of my ability to stay away from any yeast-laden food for at least three hours, and I didn’t want to ruin it. I was on a roll. Well, not from the bakery, but you know what I mean.

If I did this now, it would be easy for me. I have done away with most bread and dairy products, but back then, I was giving up something so that I could hear God’s voice better. I don’t recall the point of what I was trying to get an answer for, but it must have been important enough for me to give up a staple that I used to eat every day.

She laughed and was horrified at my reaction.

“Get me a paper towel!” I said.

“Does this mean you have to start all over?”

“No! I didn’t swallow it!”

There was no way I wasn’t going to get credit for this. I had made a vow to myself that I would go at least a week. I was not adding on time to what seemed like years.

This fast was already going way too slow.

I had shopped my options before landing on this particular one. There are a few to choose from, such as an absolute fast, a partial, or complete. The goal is to deny yourself something on the outside to build up spiritual awareness.

I was trying to follow along with the trend of the hour in a church where you had to jump through various spiritual hoops to get what you wanted. It wasn’t good enough to pray. You had to back it up with a sacrifice.

I had never had a good experience with this type of approach when it came to getting to know God better. Being raised Catholic, we had to go through an entire season of denying ourselves meat on Fridays. Short of putting a lock on the refrigerator, my mom made sure that nobody dared to break this life or death rule. None of us were going to hell on her watch.

This never made any sense to me. People could go out and get totally wasted drinking at a bar, but as long as they didn’t eat what was on the do not touch list, they were good in God’s eyes.

What was at the end of all this restriction? Easter. Where I got candy, overate it, and threw up at a buffet. So much for avoiding hell. I still cannot stand purple marshmallow eggs.

Along the same lines of this, I recall being under the impression that to get your faith to
‘work’, there was always a fifteen to twenty-step program to follow. When you have your whole heart set on pleasing God after many years of not really knowing much about it, you will fall for anything that someone who seems to be in authority will tell you.

If you wanted to obtain the ‘higher’ spiritual gifts, you had to be sure that you followed all the rules. I had left the Catholic Church, but I found in many more places that someone always had their own set of instructions that everyone was expected to follow.

The more it seemed that I tried to please people, the dimmer my focus and walk with God became.

I learned that what many were trying to obtain wasn’t always as easy as skipping that croissant or getting baptized in the Jordan River. Some believe you have to really strive to receive elusive gifts from God.

A few weeks ago, I got a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to me by a man who lived nearby. I wasn’t sure why he would be writing, but when I saw what he had tucked inside, I knew right away.

Covid has made things a little more challenging for people to go house to house, convincing the masses that the world is in dire condition. He had taken the time to write me a full-page letter warning me that everything would end and that my only way of escape was to attend a virtual meeting and join their organization.

After all his writer’s cramp and licking envelopes, he probably wanted the final days to arrive so that he could put a stop to his obligation to all the names on his mailing list.

This method, though, seems safer than the old-fashioned way of ringing a doorbell and having to face who knows what kind of reception.

I had learned many years prior that the motivation behind this was not about making sure I didn’t meet the eternal flames of hell, but rather, it was about the performance of works to ensure that the ones doing them kept themselves out of trouble.

I heard the knock on the front door, looked through the security window, and saw two women and a man standing on the front step. The suit and tie on a Saturday in the sweltering heat and both of his assistants dressed like they were going to a wedding gave it away. Along with the briefcase that was stuffed with handouts.

They were here to make sure I was in the fold.

I stood there, considering what my approach should be. Do I engage, or do I just let them go on to the next house with their pamphlet? So many people I know will either ignore this type of thing or go out and confront in a snarling dog way. I didn’t want them to waste their time on someone they would not make any progress with, but I decided to open the door.

I saw three hesitant smiles as I took a step out and said,

“Can I help you?”

The man extended his hand to me.

“Are you the homeowner?”

“Yes.”

“We are out today in your neighborhood visiting people and talking to them about God. Do you know who God is?”

“I read my Bible every day, and I hear God’s voice.”

It was like a massive gust of wind blew them all off my step and into the yard when I said that. I saw instant fear in their eyes. They were preparing themselves for the rabid dog they had probably encountered before.

He cleared his throat and said,

“You do?”

“Yes. I know the Bible and God very well.”

“You do?” he said again. He had a live one. Now what?

“Yes.”

“Then you must know that we are in the last days.”

This was at least fifteen years ago, so when someone says ‘last,’ I am unsure where we are on the timeline. In 2 Peter 3:8-9 it says:

Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise, as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (Message)

“I am more of a one day at a time kind of person,” I said.

“But you have to work to earn your place with God. This is why we are out here. We have to be sure that our position with God is secure.”

“You don’t know that God loves you no matter what?”

They all moved one step further away from me. I was messing with their belief system that they were not good enough if they didn’t perform a job. I was speaking blasphemy, so for sure, I needed converting real quick.

“I think this might help you,” he said, trying to hand me a paper. I glanced at it.

“You need me to take that so you are then okay with God?”

It reminded me of the subpoena I was given before my divorce. He was serving me papers to secure his place in eternity.

“Yes. Nothing is for certain, though.”

“How many do you have to hand out in a day?”

“As many as we can. We have to attend meetings during the week too. Those are part of the requirement. All of the information about those is on this sheet. You should come.”

None of this sounded easy, like breathing, so I probably wasn’t a candidate.

“God doesn’t expect you to do any of this. It’s one thing to tell people about your faith, but to feel forced to go places because you aren’t worthy enough isn’t how it works.”

I spoke as quietly as possible, so they didn’t think I was being confrontational. I knew they probably had been harassed many times, which was not my intention.

More steps away from me. I am sure they envisioned my whole body on fire with demons poking the coals around like a bonfire.

He threw the paper at me and said,

“Have a good day.”

The two women hung on to each other so they wouldn’t fall. They moved as fast as their dress shoes would allow. Did this meet their quota? Or was I written down as a no-show?

I tried to say more, but they kept on moving.

Sometimes you can’t undo a certain mindset. They had been manipulated into believing that they had to earn their way to God, and even with what they were doing, they still weren’t sure.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

We tend to complicate things. If you can receive a stimulus check from the government, which is really your money in some way, shape, or form, you can have a close relationship with God.

Put aside the idea that you have to win over heaven by forcing yourself to perform works so that you will cross into eternity at the end of your life.

Have that piece of french toast. God is looking at your heart.

This is a good option if you are skipping bread…

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