Perfect Peace

Living at peace in a world of turmoil is no small thing. We’re bombarded with temptation, with trial and trouble, and with accusations (2Co 7:5); keeping our composure, our joy, and living continually in God’s eternal shout, this is supernatural.

As we stay our minds on JEHOVAH, He keeps us in perfect peace, because in doing this we’ll be trusting Him. (Is 26:3) When we aren’t at peace, perfect peace, we’ve let our minds wander off; we’ve either forgotten about God, or we don’t yet know Him well enough.

Perfect peace is about the basics (He 5:12): God is good, perfectly good; He’s faithful, perfectly faithful; He’s sovereign, absolutely sovereign; He is love, perfect love; He is just, perfectly just. He has a unique design and calling in each and every life, one perfect calling, and we can each find ours, and live in it. His grace reigns in those who belong to Him, enabling us to feed in His majesty, to walk in the way.

Staying our minds is mentally camping out here, basking in the infinitude of God, in His sovereignty, continually abiding in Him in our thoughts, cleaving to Him, grounding our theological roots in the reality of God. This isn’t something we’re born with; it doesn’t come naturally (Ep 4:17-18); we must be deliberate about this (Ps 119:11), intentional; it takes training, exercise, work.

Knowing God as He is produces hope; the eternal God will never break a promise; He’s put His name, His reputation, on the line in every single one of them. They’re rock solid; our souls find rest in discovering Him.

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These Signs

Christ tells us supernatural signs will follow believers. (Mk 16:17-18) Does this mean we should all be healing the sick, casting out demons, babbling in foreign languages we haven’t learned, and handling deadly vipers without harm? That if we aren’t walking in the sensational then we’re carnal, or worse?

No; we don’t each have all the gifts, and this is by design. (1Co 12:29-30) Christ is speaking here about the body of believers as a whole over time; the supernatural has indeed been observed among the saints through the ages, but each believer has unique gifts based on the needs of Christ’s local body at any given time and place. (1Co 12:18)

The intent of God’s gifts is evidently not to entertain, or to inflate our egos, or make us appear super spiritual. The greatest mere man who ever lived (Mt 11:11) never performed a miracle (Jn 10:41); the Corinthians pursued supernatural gifts (1Co 14:12), yet remained carnal, babes in Christ. (1Co 3:1) Pursuing the supernatural for ungodly motives gets us nothing. (1Ti 1:5-6)

God gives gifts to help the church become more like Christ (1Co 14:26), to know Him as He is. (Eph 4:11-13) He also bears witness with evangelists (He 2:4) to enable them to proclaim the gospel to those who are seeking Him. (Ac 8:6) In themselves, even the best miracles don’t move those who aren’t seeking God. (Jn 12:37)

In a world full of churches little different from the world, and bibles seldom read, at least in 1st and 2nd world countries, where is the miraculous needed? (Mt 16:4) Can’t those who’re seeking God today find Him without signs and wonders? I, for one, didn’t need them, at least the kind most are seeking.

The miracles I experience enable me to navigate a perilous world without getting all tangled up in it; they help me live as I ought, facing an incessant stream of spiritual enmity. (Ep 6:12) It isn’t glamorous; no one can see it but me, but it’s what I need to live for Him.

As we seek God, wherever we are, and gifts from Him to help ourselves and others find Him, know Him and walk with Him, He will empower and enable us us as He wills. In any case, to be safe in our pursuit of the supernatural, we must ever be seeking the Giver Himself, and not merely His gifts.

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The Word of Faith

Salvation’s a mysterious thing, for sure, how and why God intervenes in our headlong dash to destruction (Mt 7:13); His mercy is infinite, even in the best of us;  we’ve no hope apart from Him.

Medicine Root Trailhead, Badlands National Park, SD • Dan Anderson

In some ways, getting saved seems so simple, but simple solutions to complex problems are usually wrong. When we look closely at this one — and we’d better — it’s like most anything else about a living being: a flat-out miracle.

When first struggling with this, I was told I just needed to confess Christ as Lord, believe in His Resurrection, and sincerely ask Him to save me. (Ro 10:9, 13) It seemed scriptural, and so doable, but it didn’t work, not for me. Thus began my long and painful journey, striving to enter the narrow way (Mt 7:14), a trip few will ever make.

As usual, context provides the key, revealing what accepting Christ is all about: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” (Ro 10:8) If we don’t understand this in context, we’re all out of context, and I’ve never seen a reasonable explanation of this verse, how it all ties together. So, here we go.

The quote is from Torah: “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (De 30:14) The key to salvation is our heart, and the law of God (Torah, “the word”) becoming part of us (“in thy heart”). We don’t start out this way, aligned with God’s Law from the heart (Ro 8:7), because our heart is evil (De 29:4), so we need a new one (De 5:29): we need to be transformed. (2Co 5:17) The gospel, the good news, is that God is able and willing to provide us a new heart (Ez 36:26)and write His laws into it (He 10:16), enabling us to keep them. (1Jn 3:24)

Eternal salvation is not found in ritual, but only in the mystery miracle (Mt 19:26) of becoming one with the eternal God through His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 17:21), entering into His rest by faith(He 4:3) Evidence of this transformation is a heart cleaving to God, delighting in Him and His laws above all else, obeying Him and following His Way (Jn 14:6)assured of our eternal destiny only in what Christ has done for us. (1Th 1:5)

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He Hardeneth

Scripture teaches God controls us all, even deciding our eternal fate, having mercy on a few of us and hardening the rest. (Ro 9:18) Is God then unfair to condemn us, since He controls us? (Ro 9:19)

This seems so obviously wrong, even asking the question is embarrassing. But obviousness is often the enemy of correctness; in the end, how can any complaint against the goodness of God be rational? (Ro 9:14) Perhaps an illustration will help.

Single block ice sculpture, World Ice Art Championship, Fairbanks AK

Suppose we dwell in a frigid climate where we enjoy three things: lounging in a hot tub under crisp, starlit heavens; ice water bathing; and competing in the annual ice sculpture festival. Being thrifty and innovative, we design special panels we can assemble into water-tight tubs of various shapes and sizes. When we want a steamy evening outside, we put one together, fill it with water and drop in a heating element. When we want our ice bath, we back off the heat to just above freezing and take the plunge; and at sculpture time we pull the heater, let it freeze, pull the panels and put our genius to work.

With a reliable water heater we can control the state of the water in our tub as we please, from steamy to frozen solid, by precisely controlling the heat we supply. In making ice we could say we’re “hardening” the water, but we’re really just withdrawing heat and leaving the water alone; where we live, water hardens naturally all by itself, and very predictably.

In the same way, God controls us by resisting our fallen, sinful nature (Ps 19:13), either reining in our depravity (De 18:14) (i.e. heating the water), or giving us up to pursue our own evil ways as He sees fit (Ps 81:12) (i.e. letting the water freeze). God never actively causes anyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14), or forcefully hardens anyone; we do that all on our own whenever He lets us.

God’s hardening is passive, simply letting us go our own way (Pr 1:31), not forcing us; when left to ourselves, we obey the law of sin operating within us (Ro 7:23), so we’re as predictable as the law of gravity. God knows exactly what we’ll do in every circumstance if He withdraws His grace from us.  Just as we can control an object‘s elevation by only pushing it upward, never causing it to fall, God can precisely control us by restraining our evil nature without causing us to sin. (Pr 16:9)

God isn’t unloving or unjust in letting us sin; it’s the essence of free will, and we’re no less guilty because we always want to sin as much as He allows. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God unfair in restraining us, some much more than others: it’s all His mercy(Ro 9:23)

God’s purpose in all this is ultimately to glorify Himself by revealing His amazing nature(Ro 9:22) He could do it all differently and save everyone from themselves, but the end result would evidently not be as glorious. He’s doing it all perfectly.

The key to resolving one of the deepest spiritual mysteries, how God can be absolutely sovereign, yet also loving and just, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. Depravity is simply what happens when God let’s do our own thing (Ge 6:5), and nothing obligates Him to override everyone’s natural will. His choice to intervene and only quicken and transform some of us isn’t unfair, it’s brilliant. (Ro 9:16) Anything else is lackluster at best.

God is rejoicing in how He’s responding to sin (Mt 11:25-26), and we should be too (Php 4:4): He’s always in perfect control of it. (Ep 1:11) Exactly what it will all look like in the end remains to be seen, but I expect it will be amazing, like everything else He does. (Re 15:4) In seeing all of life from God’s perspective, we can give thanks always for all things with joy(Ep 5:20)

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Grafted In

God’s kingdom isn’t divided into factions (Mk 3:24); it’s a holistic, integrated organism(Jn 17:20) What comprises this kingdom? What does it look like?

We all start out with a bad father, children of the wicked one. (Ep 2:3) But when God quickens us, from being dead in our sin, becoming our sin and giving us His resurrection life (Ep 2:5), everything changes: we’re transformed and adopted into His family (Ep 1:5), such that we become part of Him (Ep 5:30), and He becomes part of us. (Jn 17:23)

To illustrate, God uses the grafting of an olive branch into an olive tree. (Ro 11:17) He cuts us off from our original trunk, makes a deep slit in the host tree to expose its vascular system, fixes us into this new host and stabilizes our connection until the two of us begin to grow into and out from each other, becoming one life together.

In this allegory, it’s easy to mistake the root, the olive tree that we’re grafted into, for Israel, God’s chosen people. Consequently, many think redeemed Gentiles should somehow emulate the Jewish people, and adopt Jewish language, traditions and rituals into their worship and obedience. However, God says Israelites are natural branches of the olive tree (Ro 11:24): Gentiles aren’t grafted into branches, but into the tree trunk. (Ro 11:18) If Jews are natural branches, they aren’t the tree.

So, what does the olive tree itself represent? God says Gentiles partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree, along with the Jews, the natural branches. (Ro 11:17) Christ Himself is the One we partake of (He 3:14); He’s the vine, we’re branches. (Jn 15:5) We’re not partakers of Israel, but of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), partakers of the Holy Spirit. (He 6:4)

God’s kingdom doesn’t necessarily look Jewish, or eastern or western, or anything in particular. It’s distinctive is not in its likeness to any particular race or culture, but in it’s amazing cultural diversity, all blended within a single family, comprised of souls from every race and culture. (Re 5:9) The commonality lies in conformity to God’s law, which doesn’t prescribe or forbid any particular culture; it even protects culture by forbidding the imposition of extra-biblical tradition. (De 4:2)

Israel isn’t the divine nature, nor its wellspring; she is in fact, for the most part, entirely void of divine life (1Jn 5:12), and does not have a proper understanding of divine things (Ro 10:1); though beloved of God, she is still His enemy. (Ro 11:28) She does not honor the Son; she has persistently (Ro 10:21) and flagrantly dishonored Him (Jn 8:49), so her worship cannot glorify either the Father or the Son. (Jn 5:23) Only a remnant will ever know Him (Ro 9:27), so why emulate her ways, or pattern our worship after hers, especially in her liturgy? In teaching her tradition as God’s command, she’s corrupted her worship such that it’s largely empty and lifeless. (Mk 7:7) How can this, in itself, be pleasing to the Godhead? (Ps 2:12)

Salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22), in the sense that God’s revealing Himself and His salvation to the world through them (Re 21:12): the adoption, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, and the promises all pertain to them. (Ro 9:4-5) But it isn’t all just for them (Ro 9:17): there is one law for us all. In no sense do we become part of physical Israel in salvation, nor do we obtain salvation through them. We come to salvation just like Israelites always have (Jn 3:7), and we become part of God, just like they do. (2Co 6:17-18) There’s no difference between Jew and Greek here (Ro 10:12); in this, neither circumcision helps, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature(Ga 6:15)

The Jews certainly have an advantage in that they’re custodians of God’s Word, so it’s embedded more deeply in their culture, and as a rule they’re much more familiar with it. (Ro 3:1-2) We can certainly learn much from them, and it’s not necessarily wrong to adopt parts of their tradition that aren’t inconsistent with God, but hoping this will bring us closer to God is a mistake: they’ve actually missed God Himself. (Mt 8:12) Supporting Israel and praying for her as God’s chosen nation (Ro 11:29), we must filter everything she says and does through the lens of Scripture, staying as true to the Word as we can.

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Chambering

There’s an intrinsic wisdom in God’s instruction that’s easy to miss. What may seem like arbitrary, antiquated rules are divine insights that protect us and position us for blessing.

For example, Scripture forbids chambering (Ro 13:13), co-habitation1, sharing the same bed like husband and wife without the formal commitment.

If anything is selfish, acting like we’re married without getting married is. It’s saying, “I like being with you, but I’m not so sure about you; you’re still on trial. I’m not in for the long haul just yet; I might find something better.” This certainly isn’t love.

We might rationalize and say we’re saving on rent and utilities while we make a trial run, but how is this helpful? Living together can’t show us what a committed relationship’s like because that’s not what we have; we can’t see what that’s like until we’re actually in one.

When we invest deeply without the foundation of trust grounded in a formal marriage commitment, we’re building our house on the sand. (Mt 7:26) We force upon ourselves the unnatural and awkward process of sharing expenses and responsibilities as business partners without a contract, rather than in the permanent, God-ordained synergy and interdependence of marriage.

And as we normalize halfhearted commitment in cohabitation limbo, we’re preparing ourselves more for divorce than for the devotion and security of marriage. Without a sure foundation, when (not if) difficulty comes, the stress and strain of life can easily overwhelm and destroy a relationship. (Mt 7:27)

And while we’re doing this to ourselves, by default we’re limiting our freedom to find stable, permanent relationships; each year invested with someone who’s unwilling to make a formal commitment is lost, one less year we have in this short life to become one with another. (Ge 2:24)

And if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no less difficult to disentangle ourselves and get out of harmful, dysfunctional, transient relationships without doing even more damage to our hearts in the process. We simply aren’t designed to live this way.

If our partner isn’t going to be our husband or wife, and someone else is, aren’t we defrauding our true spouse while we experiment with someone else? Until we’re actually married to the person we’re living with, that’s the chance we’re taking with the most important relationship on earth. (Ep 5:24-26)

God calls us to purity in all our relationships (1Ti 5:2), not to using each other for our own pleasure; the essence of any healthy relationship is in the giving, not the taking. (Ac 20:35) Leveraging extended family and community to vet potential mates is much wiser than yielding to chemistry and convenience; those who know and love us can almost always see what’s best for us. (Ep 5:21)

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The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage: Jay, M; The New York Times, April 14, 2012.

I Can Do All Things

In our culture of “be all you can be,” it’s tempting to take scripture out of context to support temporal dreams. I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me is true (Php 4:13), but it’s unwise to expect Him to enable me beyond His design and gifting within me. (1Co 12:18) Just because I passionately want to achieve something, pray for His help and try my best, this isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. (Ja 4:3)

The context of this particular promise is not pursuing a career, but learning how to be content in any circumstance of life. (Php 4:11-12) Do we know both how to fail and how to succeed, do we thrive in both the struggle and in smooth sailing? This is the kind of grace we should be seeking in Christ: freedom to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what the world throws at us.

God promises to bless all the works of our hands as we obey Him (De 16:15), such that whatever we do will prosper (Ps 1:3), yet this blessing may look much different than what we might expect.

We each have a unique design, with unique potential and limitation; it’s wisdom to discover our calling through His design. (Ps 139:14) In the end, it’s reward enough to hear God say, “Well Done!” (Mt_25:23) As we do all in the name of Christ (Col 3:17), He will guide us (Ps 119:33), and this will be our end. (Ps 73:24)

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Him Will I Confess

Christ says whoever confesses Him before others, He will also confess before His Father in Heaven (Mt 10:32); and whoever denies Him before others, He will also deny before His Father. (Mt 10:33) We either belong to both God the Father and the Son, or to neither; we cannot have one without the other. (Jn 17:10)

The word confess is from the Greek homologeo, meaning to speak the same thing, to be in agreement. Christ claims as His own those who agree with what He did and said, who are willing to stand with Him against the world; He’s ashamed of (Mk 8:38) and disowns everyone else. (Mt 7:23) Our eternal welfare hinges on what we think of Christ: there’s no middle ground.

Confessing Christ, agreeing with Him, is thus to find Christ, to belong to Him and obey Him. To know Him is to love Him supremely, to cling to Him above all else (Mt 13:45-46), to esteem Him exceedingly precious (1Pe 2:7), and to agree with Him that this world’s system is evil. (Jn 7:7) This implies a willingness to give up everything for Him. (Lk 14:33) We cannot have Christ and hold on to the world: He doesn’t give us this option. (Mt 10:39)

It’s a lie that we can be safe in God while loving this world (1Jn 2:15); to have Him we must let go of the world (Mk 10:21-22), we must be willing to count all things but loss for Christ. (Php 3:8) If we’re still focused on this life, if the temporal is our constant preoccupation rather than the eternal, if we’re denying His name as a manner of life for earthly benefits, then we haven’t found Him yet (Lk 14:26); we’re still His enemies, headed for destruction (Php 3:18-19), accursed. (1Co 16:22)

The world so hates Christ and His way (Jn 15:18) it moves them to despise those who know Him. (1Co 4:10) But my question to the world is this: What do you have that’s better than Christ? What fault do you find in Him? (Jn 18:38) Based on what standard? Don’t you mock because you’ve no rational defense for your hatred?

Though God’s given us all assurance in the historical fact of Christ’s Resurrection, the world blindly rejects its only treasure, the only One Who can satisfy our longing for perfection, beauty, significance, and purpose. (Col 2:3) Apart from Christ, the world has nothing worth having; of this I’m absolutely certain.

Being friends with the world makes us God’s enemy (Ja 4:4); yet from that darkness we can’t help it find the light. When knowing God is the most important thing to us, when we’re crying after knowledge, then we’ll find Him (Je 29:13) and be able to help others do so. (Ac 26:18) He rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

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Assurance Unto All

God has given us proof of His existence, showing us the way to Himself. He’s done this so openly and plainly that anyone can see for themselves, and find assurance of eternal life.  (Ac 17:31)

Tomb Chamber, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

According to the biblical account, Christianity began as twelve poor, uneducated Jews, who knew Jesus personally and followed Him, suddenly began testifying of Christ’s resurrection(Ac 3:15) After Christ was crucified, dead and buried, these disciples claimed He rose from the dead. They said they saw Him, spoke with Him, touched Him, ate with Him, and that He continued teaching them for forty days. (Ac 1:3) Eventually, over five hundred people claimed they saw the risen Christ at once; many lived for decades afterwards confirming this firsthand witness to all who would listen. (1Co 15:6)

Proclaiming a risen Christ was unpopular, counter-cultural, and consistently got the disciples in trouble with Jewish authorities. (Ac 5:17) The apostles weren’t trying to start a new religion; they remained observant Jews their entire lives. They never sought power or wealth, and though they were persecuted and tortured for their witness, they all died proclaiming the truth of the risen Christ.

If these early disciples of Christ were not telling the truth, they knew they were lying and trying to deceive people, and it was causing them unspeakable suffering to do this. (1Co 4:9-10) Yet none of them ever recanted, or were even willing to keep silent regarding this unusual claim. (Ac 4:18-20) Rather, they rejoiced in their suffering (Ac 5:41), and went to their graves in confidence and hope. (Ac 7:59)

People sane enough to fabricate new religions don’t behave like this. There’s no reasonable explanation for their behavior if they weren’t telling the truth. So, the foundation of this faith is an empty tomb, and the original historical witness of this fact is extremely credible.

For hundreds of years afterward, Christianity remained unpopular, flourishing under both Roman and Jewish persecution. At no point in this early history could a resurrected Christ have been invented without Christians hearing about it for the first time and recognizing this as a false myth.

Sane people don’t suffer and die for what they know is a lie, and there is zero evidence that any Christian ever complained about the cornerstone of their faith being changed, or newly introduced and strange to them. So, the entire early history of Christianity, well before it was popularized and adopted by Constantine, further verifies the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All of Christianity, as broken as it is today, continues to uphold this testimony as its very foundation: without the resurrection of Christ, Christianity cannot stand. It has never been otherwise.

This is proof, as solid as any historical proof can be, that God has revealed Himself to all of us. There’s no reasonable explanation for the existence of Christianity apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And if Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then He is Who He says He is, and He can be trusted to reveal Himself to us as the Way to God. (Jn 14:6)

Amidst the chaos of world religion, the resurrection of Christ stands out as a remarkable singularity: there’s nothing comparable to it. What do you think of Christ? If we want to know God, enter into His rest and walk with Him, our journey begins here(Ro 10:9)

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