The serpent seethed and hissed with hatred. The beloved Bride had escaped his clutches yet again. Why did Jesus love her so much? She was revolting, detestable! Couldn’t he see she was so weak and feeble? Why was she the one chosen to rule at Jesus’ side, when he was the real king? He would crush her. Yes, he would. He would humiliate her in front of that so-called king, and then obliterate her from the face of the earth.
The form of the serpent changed. He now looked like a beautiful angel of light. Oh, how easy it would be to seduce her away from Jesus, he thought gleefully.
The golden carriage ground to a halt. Zoe swung open the panelled door, and stepped out. She was surrounded by desert. Not a tree, blade of grass, or a bird was to be seen. It was a wasteland. The two horses pulling the wagon panted in the hot desert sun. Surrounding the carriage were sixty warriors, immaculately dressed, who had escorted Zoe through the desert. Each one had a sword strapped to his side, ready for battle. Zoe looked around at their faces, determined and resolute, as they stood to attention. She felt like a princess being escorted to the king.
In the distance Zoe saw a mountain that rose far above the other surrounding ones. It seemed very important. Somehow it made her think of a lighthouse standing tall above stormy seas. I wonder what is so special about that mountain, she thought. A deep longing welled up inside her heart, to climb the mountain and discover who lived there.
Zoe’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard a commotion coming from the north. The sound of a rushing wind came first, and then she saw the sandstorm rapidly approaching. She instinctively covered her face with the sleeve of her gown, to prevent the sand from going up her nose, and closed her eyes. The whirlwind was traveling too fast for her to even have time to jump back inside the carriage. Then it struck. Despite Zoe’s efforts to escape it, some of the grit found its way past the clothing that masked her face. She coughed, and shook the sand out of her hair.
Out of the sand and dust cloud a convoy of wagons pulled to a halt. They were similar to the one she rode in, but not as fancy. Where hers was covered in gold and beautifully painted, the wagons were simple and plain. The horses that pulled the wagons were real enough, but looked haggard and tired. Yet that was not the only difference. Zoe peered at the wagons, and realized they weren’t totally real. They had painted stuck-on facades. Some of the pieces didn’t fit together properly, and were broken and falling apart. They were just poor copies of the real thing. Behind the facades, they all looked the same as though they had been mass-produced by some factory machine. Zoe saw the metal scaffolding holding up the facades. The wagons looked like something from an extremely low budget Hollywood western, where the money had run out part way through constructing the props. She was trying to work out what they were really supposed to be, when some men jumped off the wagons and walked over to meet her.
“Howdy,” one of them said as he smiled, extending his hand to shake Zoe’s. “It’s ever so nice to meet you, little lady. Lovely day for a ride,” he continued, as he eyed Zoe’s golden carriage thoughtfully.
“Mind if we take a look?” asked another man, as he strode over to her carriage, before Zoe had time to reply. He wore a striped tie, an immaculately pressed white shirt and a pinstriped suit. He must be the leader, Zoe thought. He’s dressed much more smartly than the rest of the group.
“I guess so,” Zoe replied, thinking it wasn’t really her carriage anyway. She’d just found herself in it.
Zoe was shocked at what happened next. One of the men pulled out a sack from his wagon and methodically handed out tools to the others. The group boldly strode to her carriage and began to dismantle it with their chainsaws, axes, and crowbars. Within moments they had sawed and hacked off huge chunks. Wood and sparks flew in all directions. They quickly dragged the pieces back to their own wagons. Then they set about screwing, bolting, and hammering on the stolen pieces.
Zoe was stunned. She was at a loss for words. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. The same impeccably dressed man came over again and said, “I think we may be in for rain. Do you come to these parts often? It’s mighty nice of you to visit our area. Do you know we run excellent study groups? We proudly boast a success rate of ninety-eight percent for our self-improvement class. You are most welcome to join our little family.”
Zoe still couldn’t think of what to say. The man continued.
“We meet every Tuesday and Thursday for study and fellowship. Sunday is family service at ten, and the youth meet at seven. Mind you,” he said, eyeing Zoe suspiciously, “it can be a bit wild in those evening services. To keep things orderly, we have a team of trained adult supervisors, who are specifically equipped to ensure everything runs smoothly. Now then, what do you say? You look like you could benefit from a nationally affiliated programme.”
Before Zoe could answer, the stranger added, “Actually, we have just had an outreach, and it was extremely successful. Many young folks especially have come to the Lord. We are just about to have fellowship and teaching time. Come.”
Without being offered the chance to reply, the man in the pinstriped suit gripped Zoe’s shoulder firmly, and led her toward one of the wagons. There was a bustle of activity as chairs and tables were unpacked from the rear of the wagons. Neat orderly rows, with two feet between each table, were set up within minutes. This was a well-rehearsed event! Everybody knew their place and what to do. The womenfolk brewed tea and coffee over makeshift portable gas burners. Homemade cakes and cookies were being unpacked, and served on white china plates. Starched red chequered tablecloths were unfolded, and placed over the tables. Pretty wildflowers were placed exactly in the center of each table. It was a picture perfect scene.
Everyone took their designated seat and Zoe was ushered to the seat of honor next to one of the ladies. The leader stood up and raised his hands to heaven. The rest of the group followed suit, as he prayed an elaborate prayer full of very long words. Zoe had no idea what he was talking about. Everybody sat down, and another of the elders stood up.
He announced there would be a teaching on spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 verses 7-10. At the mention of the Bible, Zoe thought this was the first sign of real life she had seen from these people.
The teaching that followed though was long and boring. Zoe fought to stay awake. It was probably the effects of the coffee more than anything else that kept her from nodding off and falling off her chair. At the end of the teaching, Zoe realized something was dreadfully wrong.
“So,” concluded the speaker, “as it says in 1 Corinthians 13 verse 10: ‘when perfection comes, the things that are not complete will end.’ This goes to show spiritual gifts are not for today. They ended with the time of the apostles. Gone, finished, that’s what they are. However, when our loving Lord Jesus Christ appears in the clouds, true spiritual gifts will come with him and be restored. Now let us bow our heads in prayer.”
Zoe wanted to shriek, “Noooooooo that’s not true. Holy Spirit is alive! He still gives his gifts to his children!” What about what the apostle Paul said: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy,” Zoe thought.
How can these people talk about Holy Spirit as though he were a thing of the past? Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say to stop seeking his gifts. Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”
“Anyone who believes” is anyone, not just a small bunch of disciples in the time of the Bible. What a sneaky lie of Satan, to stop people from knowing that God’s Holy Spirit lives in us. Holy Spirit, working through us, means we can now still do amazing stuff, thought Zoe.
“And to conclude,” the speaker said, speaking slowly in a very strange voice, “love never fails. Love—that is the way we need to go,” he continued, gesturing dramatically. “Lord, lead us into a deeper revelation of your love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“Amen,” a chorus of voices responded back.
A group of women walked over to Zoe. Their faces looked rather fierce. If this hadn’t been a church meeting, Zoe would have thought she had been called to the principal’s office at school to be told off.
“We have been thinking,” one of the ladies said, without introducing herself, “that dress you are wearing is mighty pretty, but not really appropriate for church. You might lead some of the young men astray wearing a thing like that.”
“Yes,” continued another of the women. She wore her hair scooped up on top of her head, as though she were wearing a beehive. “It’s far too expensive looking. Modesty is what we need in the church. You must behave properly.”
Zoe looked down at her dress. It was the same one she had been given in the courts of heaven.
“Let us deliver you,” said a third woman, with a dramatic wave of her hand.
Without warning, all three women swarmed around Zoe, reached out and roughly hauled the white diamond encrusted dress up over her head, leaving some of it in tatters on the ground. They quickly unwound the white turban, complete with its blue sapphire and golden plate, and stashed it in one of their handbags. Then they yanked a too-tight dress, retrieved from one of their other handbags, back over her head, and tugged it down into place. It was made from some sort of synthetic, shiny material, with a garish pattern of flowers and seeds. The pattern didn’t quite match, as though the machine had been out of alignment when the fabric was printed, causing it to look fuzzy and blurred.
“There my dear. Don’t you look lovely!” said the lady with the beehive hairstyle, approvingly. Zoe looked at her aghast, as a worker bee flew into her hair and disappeared inside her massive locks. The ladies stood admiring Zoe for a few brief seconds, nodding in agreement with each other. Suddenly, they turned around with big smirks on their faces, and marched off, clutching their prize—the remains of Zoe’s beautiful white dress and her turban!
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