Be Strong

Weakness is something we all experience; it’s unavoidable. We’re born in weakness, and we’ll probably die in weakness. We get sick, injured, tired, eventually old. Weakness makes us feel vulnerable, unable to care for ourselves and others. Why would anyone deliberately choose weakness, choosing to be more vulnerable than necessary?

A couple possibilities are obvious. We might not love ourselves properly, abusing or neglecting ours minds, souls and bodies, thereby causing ourselves to deteriorate into weakness. Similarly, we might not love others, being resentful or envious, and might want to burden others with our physical, emotional or spiritual care. In any case, deliberately choosing weakness like this violates the 2nd Great Command, to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt 22:39) Love does not choose weakness, either for itself or others.

Yet, even if we love as we ought, we might confuse weakness with humility and find a little virtue in it, seeking to be inordinately dependent. Yet how could this be a virtue when God commands us to be strong? (1Co 16:13) Strength must be aligned with humility; we must strive to be strong and humble at the same time.

The Apostle Paul recognized that when he was weak in ways that were beyond his control, he found the strength he needed in God’s grace. (2Co 12:9-10) But though Paul gloried in scenarios that made him weak, he never deliberately weakened himself, or neglected to be as strong as he could possibly be. This is key.

Strength is the ability or power to act according to one’s potential; the closer we are to being able to live in our ultimate design, the stronger we are. This comprises the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of our being. To willfully neglect strength in any area of our lives is to despise our intrinsic design, our value, our Creator’s benevolent purposes for us.

God has designed us such that if we obey Him in exercising ourselves (1Ti 4:7), prayerfully and wisely pushing our current limits to try to improve  (2Pe 1:5-7), we will grow (1Ti 4:8) and He will gird us with strength. (Ps 18:32) Every part of our design is like this; we just have to be willing to discipline ourselves and honor Him, balancing our lives to care for ourselves so we can live according to His calling and election in us.

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To His Own Master

Scripture is perfectly precise; it isn’t overly specific, nor is it inappropriately vague. The detail God has provided is both necessary and sufficient for us; we must not add to it, nor take away from it. (De 4:2)

Yet there are a great variety of circumstances in which we might find ourselves, and a body of law which explicitly detailed how to act in every conceivable setting would be enormous, unthinkably vast, anticipating the impact of undeveloped technologies and innumerable cultural/familial complexities. Composing such a paint-by-the-numbers standard is evidently untenable as we consider the great variety of possible cultural and societal forms that might evolve across time.

Even so, all we need to be fully equipped to please God in every circumstance of life is provided us in the Tanakh, the Old Testament. (2Ti 3:16-17) We may derive from its precepts how God would have us act in every scenario we could ever encounter. It is miraculously precise in this regard, a living Sword, discerning every motive and intent of our hearts. (He 4:12)

So, in extra-biblical matters, which are by definition beyond the scope and obvious spirit of the text of Scripture, we are required and encouraged to use our own judgement and understanding as to how best to follow God, discerning His way for us through the precepts embedded in His Word (Ps 119:104), which He must help us understand (Ps 119:27) as we meditate on them (Ps 119:15) in the Spirit. (1Jn 2:27)

Each of us may, indeed, being at varying points in our journey after God, see things a bit differently from those around us; this is both expected and healthy. God does not want us to blindly defer to others in these kinds of things by failing to seek His wisdom and discernment for ourselves, but to maintain a sense of individual responsibility to walk and to please Him. He tells us to be fully persuaded in our own mind (Ro 14:5), and to be happy in the freedom to obey according to our own conscience. (Ro 14:22)

This kind of spiritual autonomy and individuality does not promote lawlessness, where everyone’s selfishly doing what’s right in their own eyes (De 12:8) in spite of what God says, justifying absolutely anything they like. (Pr 21:2) Such is the way of the world. (Pr 30:12) This kind of liberty only works well in communities of saints, who delight in God’s Law as He is writing it in their hearts.

Neither should we permit our individuality to make us unteachable, disinterested in the insights, wisdom and challenges of others. (He 10:25) It is our great privilege to edify one another, seeking the living Christ in each other as we help each other follow Him. (1Th 5:11) This is the very foundation of spiritual community. (1Co 14:26)

And, to be certain, there are clear guidelines for this kind of spiritual liberty; we must not allow it to become a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. (1Co 8:9) When a brother or sister doesn’t have a mature understanding of God’s Way, and would be tempted to violate their untrained conscience through our example, walking in such liberty violates the law of love and sins against Christ Himself. (1Co 8:12) Further, insisting that others follow our particular understanding when seeking practical consensus in community is likewise stubborn uncharitableness. In such cases, deferring to others, especially the elder and more experienced, is simply wisdom. (Ep 5:21)

The dangerous alternative to God’s design here is to impose universal compliance in matters which God has not clearly specified, effectively adding to His Word through man-made tradition, which subtly — yet inevitably — corrupts our worship (Mk_7:7) and turns us from the truth. (Tit 1:14) It elevates a select group of men above the brotherhood into a place of unhealthy spiritual authority over others, oppressing the saints into delegating their responsibility to discern the optimal application of God’s Word for themselves to these select few. This is entirely contrary to God’s design for our spiritual life.

To be healthy in God, we must each retain a sense of individual accountability to God as our own Master (Ro 14:7-8), and encourage others to do the same. (Rom 14:4). We’re each individually responsible for how we live before Him; if we’re in any kind of error (Ja 1:16), or are misapplying God’s Word in some way, it is no one’s fault but our own.

The head of every man is Jesus Christ (1Co 11:3); we are to be looking unto Him as our Example in every facet of our lives (He 12:2), delegating no step of this precious, eternal walk to anyone else. (1Pe 2:21)

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Thou, LORD, Hast Done It

Evidence for the existence of God is found in what He’s done, things no one else could possibly do. (Ps 109:27) It’s based on the Law of Cause and Effect; that every effect, everything that happens, has a cause. If the cause can’t be natural, then it must be supernatural: God must be the Cause.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument, the primary way of establishing the existence of God (Ro 1:20-21), is based on this law:

  1. Everything that comes into being has a cause.
  2. The universe came into being.
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Premise 1 is merely a restatement of the Law of Cause and Effect, which forms the basis of all scientific inquiry. We presuppose it whenever we’re trying to understand something natural. When we’re being honest, we never suppose something just is, that it’s causeless. We instinctively ask Why? looking for the cause. People only deny this law when they’re biased, averse to the implications – and there’s just one scenario like this: when the Cause is God. We find the idea absurd otherwise; it opposes science itself.

Premise 2 is true because if Nature (i.e. everything that is natural) is infinitely old then it would be at steady state with no usable energy (due to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics), and it’s not. Since Nature is not infinitely old, it must have come into being.

So, the universe, or Nature, the entire space-time continuum, came into being; therefore it had a cause. Nature could not have caused itself since effects must be distinct from their causes; the cause of all of Nature must therefore be distinct from and separate from all of Nature. Thus the cause of Nature cannot be natural; it must be non-physical, beyond space and time: spiritual, supernatural. We call this supernatural, spiritual Cause of Nature: God.

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Give Me this Power

Simon was a sorcerer, using witchcraft to promote himself as a godly man (Ac 8:9-11), until he believed on Christ and was saved. (13) But Simon’s thinking about the nature of spiritual power was still off, and it immediately got him into trouble.

When Simon observed the Holy Spirit falling on people, as Peter and John prayerfully laid hands on them, he offered to pay the apostles for this capability. (Act 8:18-19) But Peter rebuked Simon sharply (Ac 8:20-21) — Simon still had the witchcraft perspective: that we obtain spiritual power via ritual, not relationship.

This is the essence of witchcraft: trying to harness spiritual forces by following a formula or technique. “If I say in Jesus’ Name when I pray then God will answer me.” “If I pray the rosary 10 times and say 20 Hail Mary’s then God will forgive me.” “If I spend X hours in prayer then God will fill me with the Holy Spirit.” “If I stop thinking and start babbling then God will give me supernatural tongues.” All examples of the spirit of witchcraft, treating God like a machine rather than a Person.

Yet spiritual power doesn’t work like this. We don’t get our prayers answered by praying a lot, or by following a formula. (Mt 6:7) God answers prayer as we abide in Him, saturated with His word (Jn 15:7), praying according to God’s heart and will (1Jn 5:14-15) by faith. (Mk 11:22-24) God gives spiritual gifts according to His purposes (1Co 12:11), not to those with the right technique.

Seeking spiritual power apart from God Himself is actually very dangerous business; it’s wickedness that springs from bondage to iniquity. (Ac 8:22-23) The enemy lures us through our discontent, through lust for power and significance, in order to counterfeit God’s gifts in us, so he can wreck havoc in our lives, and in the lives of others, while we’re trying to exalt ourselves. It may seem spiritual on the surface, but it won’t be love, and it will be worse than nothing. (1Co 13:1-2)

Seeking spiritual gifts over the Giver Himself is to miss all. When we rightly understand God we’ll be perfectly satisfied in Him. Like Simon, we may not yet be content in God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, and that He’s given us particular gifts and callings according to His purpose. We may not yet know unspeakable joy in God, how to feed in His majesty. In our unrest, we may stoop to trying to impress others with our pseudo-spirituality, or to trying to manipulate circumstances for our convenience rather than waiting on God to glorify Himself.

Fulfillment and peace is only found in humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, enjoying every moment as His perfect gift, casting all our care upon Him, knowing He cares for us. (1Pe 5:6-7)

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The Keys of the Kingdom

When Simon Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16), Christ acknowledges that God the Father has revealed this precious truth to him. (17) Christ then proclaims that He will build His church upon this bedrock truth, that He Himself is the Messiah sent from God as the essence of God, and does a word-play with Peter’s name, which also means rock. (18)

Christ then promises Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, declaring that whatever Peter binds or looses on Earth will be accordingly bound or loosed in Heaven. (19) Roman Catholics derive their doctrine of Apostolic Secession from this, that Peter was the first Pope, with authority to make up the rules as he goes.

But Peter was clearly not given such authority, for moments later Peter asserts himself so badly that Christ calls him Satan (23), and years later Peter is still blundering so profoundly that Paul has to rebuke him publicly for not living uprightly according to the Gospel. (Ga 2:11,14) Peter didn’t do so well when left to himself; neither would any of the rest of us.

So, it appears that the keys of the kingdom are not given to Peter as an isolated believer, but as part of a spiritual brotherhood, calling upon God in unison for Him to glorify Himself on Earth as He does in Heaven. (Mt 6:10) This is confirmed when Christ repeats this same promise to the Church: whatever they agree together to ask the Father He will do for them. (Mt 18:18-19)

This implies that the kind of alignment which moves God is a supernatural gift of mutual faith as believers seek His glory together in community. God gives no one the freedom to channel His power at their whim; He promises to live through His people as they pursue His heart in supernatural unity. (2Co 6:16) For such community, grounding all truth-claims and motives in the reality of God (1Ti 3:15), nothing is impossible. (Mt 17:20)

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Against Nature

God intends for us to learn from His design (1Co 11:14); it’s good in every conceivable way. (Ge 1:31) So when we violate any aspect of natural order, we’re asking for trouble.

This is the fundamental problem with homosexuality: it violates natural design. God calls this out when He describes it as changing the natural use into that which is against nature (Ro 1:26), and leaving the natural use. (Ro 1:27)

This isn’t complicated: we’re perfectly designed as male and female to procreate though stable, heterosexual relationships. Homosexuality is a fundamental, flagrant violation of this design: such relationships can’t produce offspring because they’re unnatural; it’s using sexuality in unintended ways for unintended purposes, twisting it, perverting it.

God forbids such perversion in His Law (Le 20:13), along with many other kinds of sexual activity. Because God is good, His Law is also good (Ro 7:12) for us all, and it isn’t optional: those who refuse to obey God as a manner of life identify themselves as children of disobedience, alienated from God and subject to His wrath. (Ep 2:2-3)

Our desires and natural instincts are not the point; we’re all born with a sin nature, with an inclination to violate God’s law: in our natural state we won’t submit to God. (Ro 8:7) God didn’t make us this way; we’re fallen beings, corrupted through our own lusts (2Pe 1:4), with a will that’s free to depart from God, and does so with remarkable consistency.

It’s not easy for anyone to control and discipline themselves, consistently curbing their natural appetites for a greater good; this is the mark of maturity and wholesomeness; very few master themselves here. It’s a journey, and it takes time. To truly overcome our evil tendencies, we must start by getting a new nature from God (Ez 36:26); our old one won’t get us very far at all.  (Ga 6:15)

When we give ourselves over to unnatural desires they become part of us, taking root and establishing themselves, corrupting our souls and enslaving us (2Ti 2:25-26); this ultimately drives us to sin and separates us from God. (Ja 1:15) Normalizing perversion simply encourages more of us to do this, weakening our culture and destroying the fabric of society.

It’s wisdom to recognize God’s perfect design in us, and to concede that any inclinations contrary to it are rooted in lies designed to destroy us. When we align our minds with truth, our passions inevitably follow. It’s a spiritual war with a real, evil, spiritual enemy (Ep 6:12), seducing and tempting us. We ought not to give such an enemy place in us, receiving his appeals to seek satisfaction apart from God. (Ep 4:27) Rather, we should ask God to help us learn to be content (Php 4:11) in Him, trusting God to quicken us so that we can live for Him.

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I Will Have Mercy

One Sabbath day the disciples were hungry, so Jesus went through some corn fields so they could eat. (Mt 12:1) This was part of God’s social safety net (De 23:25), but the Pharisees began accusing them of breaking the Sabbath, looking for a way to find fault. (2)

In reply, Christ asks the Pharisees what they thought of David eating the shewbread as he was escaping from Saul (3-4), something they’d never allow. Why hadn’t God called David out on this? And why had God commanded the priests to continue their priestly duties on the Sabbath, something the Pharisees would consider profane in others? (5)

Christ concludes by noting that He’s greater than the temple (6), as reality is greater than its shadow (Col 2:17), and Master of the Sabbath, being its Author and knowing perfectly well how to apply it. (8)

Further, Christ declares the disciples formally innocent; they’d not actually broken Sabbath at all, only burdensome Pharisaical extrapolations of sabbatarian precepts, and identifies the root cause of the Pharisees’ error in their ignorance of a very basic principle of Torah: God prefers a merciful heart to overly strict ceremonial observance. (7)

If the Pharisees had honored the spirit of Torah, loving mercy and humility as well as justice (Mi 6:8), they’d not have been adding burdensome regulations to Torah, and passing off their man-made doctrine as if it were God’s. (Mt 15:9)

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The Office of a Bishop

God describes two offices in His Church to which a man might be chosen: bishop (1Ti 3:1) and deacon. (1Ti 3:13) Each role serves the congregation as a representative, acting on its behalf.

Deacons oversee temporal concerns (Ac 6:2), and bishops provide spiritual care. (1Ti 3:5) Each role requires a solid, godly character, known by the saints and verified by experience over time in close community. (1Ti 3:2, 10)

Conspicuously absent are the roles of pastor and elder; neither term describes a church role or office. A pastor is spiritually gifted in caring for others, shepherding and nurturing saints to spiritual maturity. (Ep 4:11-12) An elder is simply an older man. (1Ti 5:1-2) Neither of these terms identifies a formal leadership role to which one might be chosen; no moral qualifications are ever mentioned for either one.

A unified brotherhood is the only valid leadership model in Christ’s church; any other is a corruption of the biblical pattern. Bishops and deacons are first and foremost brothers (Mt 23:8), acknowledged by the brotherhood as equipped to represent the congregation in specific ways.

Bishops, in particular, are typically chosen from among the elder brothers (Tit 1:5), being recognized by the brothers as God’s representatives of the congregation to those outside it. (1Ti 3:7) No specific duties or responsibilities are ever detailed for bishops; they evidently have no specific function to fulfill within the church itself, apart from their roles as older, more influential and respected brothers. (1Pe 5:1-3)

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Establish the Law

Christians commonly teach that Faith and Grace don’t mix with the Old Testament Law. Since the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Ga 3:24), does our faith in Christ relieve us of our obligation to obey God’s Law, or at least certain parts of it? (Ga 3:25) If Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf (Mt 5:17), why should we worry about it?

God addresses this issue directly, saying: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Ro 3:31) A right understanding of salvation by grace through faith solidifies the continuing relevance of God’s Law in our lives. How so?

Firstly, sin is defined as breaking God’s Law: every time we sin we break God’s Law (1Jn 3:4a), because this is the definition of sin (1Jn 3:4b)

Secondly, Christ aims to take away our sin (1Jn 3:5), not just forgiving us of sin’s penalty, but delivering us of its power in our lives (Ro 6:14); so, as we corrupt the definition of sin we deceive ourselves concerning the purpose and work of Christ.

Without God’s Law, we don’t know what sin is (Ro 7:7), or uncleanness (Ep 5:3), or holiness. (Eze 44:23) This blinds us to whether we’re truly in fellowship with the living God, or worshiping an idol, an image of our own imagination.

Since our carnal nature will never obey God’s Law (Ro 8:7), comparing our hearts with the standard of Torah (Ja 1:23-24) is God’s way of helping us clearly and consistently identify what’s displeasing to God within us (Ps 119:9); it’s how we dispel the darkness. (Ps 119:105) If we don’t align with Torah, we have no light (Is 8:20), and will inevitably make up our own definition of sin, harming ourselves and others. But if we purpose to keep it as well as we can, our lives will be blessed. (Ja 1:25)

God’s Law is perfect, converting our souls (Ps 19:7a), as God uses it to transform us to love others with pure motives, discern between good and evil, and to know Him as He is. (1Ti 1:5) Torah is good for us when we use it as God intended. (1Ti 1:8)

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Zealous of the Law

If we could go back to the early days of the Church, and observe the followers of Christ during the time of the Apostles, most of us would be surprised by their passion for Torah, the Mosaic Law. The early Christians were zealous of Torah and we’re keeping all of it diligently, as well as they possibly could. (Ac 21:20)

According to the Bible, the original twelve Apostles who lived with Christ, walked with Him in Person and heard His teachings for three precious years, whom He commissioned to make disciples of the nations (Mt 28:19), never understood that any part of Torah, the Law of Moses, was abolished. (Mt_5:18)

These devout men, who walked in intimate fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, declaring unto us God’s way so that our joy might be full (1Jn 1:3-4), continued keeping Torah their entire lives, as if our duty to obey Torah was perfectly consistent with the redemptive work of Christ. (Acts 21:24)

These spirit-filled men were also deeply familiar with the ministry (Ac 21:18-19) and writings (2Pe 3:15-16) of the Apostle Paul, and were convinced that he also kept Torah as well as he could, and that he believed, practiced, and taught men to follow Christ the same way they did. (Acts 21:24)

Further, both historians and theologians verify that the idea of Christian’s having liberty to ignore certain kinds of Mosaic Laws was contrary to the beliefs of the early Church, only becoming common several decades after these early leaders passed on to glory.

So, the early Jewish believers, under the constant guidance and instruction of these original, spirit-filled Apostles (Ac 2:42), were all zealous of Torah, and the Twelve Apostles as well as the Apostle Paul were encouraging them in this. (Acts 21:24)

They weren’t keeping Torah in order to be saved, trying to establish their own righteousness as their unbelieving Jewish brothers were (Ro 10:3); they understood that faith in Christ establishes the Law (Ro 3:31), affirming its centrality in our walk with God. (Mt_5:19)

In other words, the thought of Christ abolishing Torah, and relieving His followers of their obligation to obey any part of it, was rejected by the early Church: this was considered heresy by the men who were the first-hand witnesses and custodians of the teachings of Christ Himself, and also by their direct disciples. Further, aware that Paul was often accused of promoting this specific, anti-Torah mindset, being very familiar with Paul’s writings and ministry, the Twelve Apostles concluded that these accusations were false, and that Paul’s beliefs and practices were perfectly consistent with their own. They held to the Law as the very definition of sin (Ro 7:7), a blessing to all who keep it. (Ja 1:25)

How can these things be?

There is only one reasonable way to interpret these facts and remain consistent with both scripture and history: admit that Christ did not abolish Torah, concede that He explicitly tells us not to think this way (Mt 5:17), and acknowledge that the Apostle Paul did not believe or teach this either. (1Ti 1:8) This fundamental error was introduced by ungodly men seeking to corrupt the Christian faith, and they did so very early in Church history.

The Apostle Paul himself warns us that this will happen (1Ti 4:1) shortly after he completes his ministry, spreading deception and infecting the churches. (Ac 20:29-30)

And at the end of his life, the Apostle Peter himself, whom Christ especially commissioned to care for His sheep (Jn 21:16), precisely describes what we find here: some things Paul writes are very hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction. (2Pe_3:16)

So, those who aren’t zealous of God’s Law (Ps 119:20), who aren’t meditating in it day and night (Ps 1:2) and trying to obey all of it that they can (Ps 119:6), thinking Paul teaches us to live any other way, dismissing any part of Torah, are not rightly dividing the Word; they’re missing God’s heart, and why He gave His Law to us (1Ti 1:5): the Spirit of Christ in every true believer delights in Torah. (Ro 7:22)

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