The Voice of Strangers

God’s people hear His voice and follow Him (Jn 10:27), but do we also hear other voices which are not of God? If so, how do we tell the difference?

To be clear, we aren’t referring to an audible voice, but to an inner sense or witness in our spirit that God’s trying to guide us or teach us something. Thinking the enemy can’t try to imitate God like this underestimates him, and implies any kind of impression or leading we receive must be from God.

But Jesus taught that other spiritual beings will also be speaking to us, trying to get us to follow them, and that we’ll know the difference instinctively. (Jn 10:5) But if we’re desperate to hear a “word from God,” we might override our instincts and fall pray to the enemy’s leading.

So, how do we know?

Simple, just like Jesus explained: if we don’t instinctively know God is speaking with us, then He isn’t. If we’re able to wonder if it might be God, or ask, “Who are you?” then we don’t know it’s God and we should flee: ignore the impression, or voice, or leading, or whatever it is. We don’t need it, and we shouldn’t be looking for it.

If we need clear direction from God we should ask in faith for wisdom (Ja 1:5); seeking counsel from others and the Word, and then walk it out using all the wisdom we have, trusting He’s working out His will in us. (Php 2:13)

If we need direct revelation, God will speak to us clearly, and there will be no doubt about it. Satan comes as an angel of light to deceive (2Co 11:14), but the voice of God is unmistakable, let’s not settle for a counterfeit.

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Asleep in Christ

What happens when we die? Do we go directly to Heaven or Hell, or do we fall asleep and lie unconscious in our bodies until the resurrection? This latter view, called “soul sleep,” might appear scriptural (Da 12:2), and is commonly taught by Christians, but there are problems with it.

For example, as Christ was being crucified He said to one of the thieves, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43) Evidently, a better place awaits those who die in Christ, which we enjoy before we’re raised from the dead.

Similarly, Christ describes how Lazarus, a poor beggar, and an unnamed rich man, are both transported from their bodies at death; Lazarus is carried by the angels to meet Abraham (Lk 16:22a) and the rich man appears in hell. (Lk 16:22b-23) Both men are conscious in death, interacting with others in visible, tangible bodies. The rich man recognizes Abraham, who’s been dead for hundreds of years, and pleads with Him to send Lazarus to fetch some water to ease his suffering. (Lk 16:24) As Abraham refuses, he pleads to have Lazarus sent back to warn his brothers to live for God so they won’t suffer the same fate. (Lk 16:28) Abraham’s final words, closing the narrative, are indeed profoundly thought provoking. (Lk 16:31)

The details of this amazing story are entirely inconsistent with soul sleep, contradicting it at every turn. If this is merely metaphorical, and soul sleep is true, then why does Christ use proper names, focus on a prominent historical figure like Abraham, and misrepresent reality so profoundly? Nothing in the narrative indicates it’s a parable; it cannot be thoughtfully dismissed.

On the mount of Transfiguration, before the resurrection, Moses and Elijah discuss the redemption plan with Christ, so Moses isn’t asleep or with the physical remains of his body. (Lk 9:30-31) Yet Moses has a body, and interacts with both Christ and Elijah, prior to either of them dying.

Paul, nearing death, spoke of his imminent departure (2Ti 4:6), after which he planned to be with Christ. (Php 1:23) Yet this was a struggle for Him, which to choose: serving Christ longer on Earth or going on to be with Him. If Paul believes in soul sleep there can be no struggle, he only adds value by staying here to serve.

Paul tells us that God will continue to transform us beyond death, up until the day of Christ (Php 1:6), which is problematic if we’re unconscious most of that time, in the long expanse between our death and resurrection.

Enoch’s prophesy, when God comes to execute judgement on the living, before the final resurrection, is that He will bring many saints with Him (Jud 1:14-15), confirming Paul’s view of the 2nd coming of Christ (1Th 3:13), that His elect will already be with Him when He comes to judge the world. (1Th 4:14)

In Revelation, John sees under the altar of God many souls slain for their testimony, appealing to God to avenge their blood on those still living on Earth. (Re 6:9-10) This is evidently well before the resurrection and judgement, since God tells them to wait until the rest of their brothers are also killed. (Re 6:11)

The problems with soul sleep abound, and appear insurmountable; we could list many more. How do we reconcile them with the texts used to teach soul sleep? (Ps 115:17) An honest approach looks at the whole of Scripture, for a way to reconcile all of it into one, coherent, unified view which does no injustice to any text. This is our challenge.

The only way I can see to reconcile the whole is to understand the passages referring to sleep and inactivity in the grave to be merely from the physical perspective, how it appears to us who are still alive on Earth: the dead look like they are asleep and inactive. It is not an unreasonable way to understand these texts; it does them no real injustice, in my opinion, given all the evidence of soul and spirit activity between death and resurrection. There are many texts which we must take poetically in order retain our integrity (Is 55:12), why not these?

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Choose the Fear

As an instinct, fear can be a good thing, keeping us out of harm’s way. It helps us avoid things like, well, provoking gangsters and thugs – fearing what they might do to us encourages a basic kind of wisdom.

Christ reasons, by way of contrast, that there’s only one to be afraid of: God. (Lk 12:4-5) God is capable of inflicting so much damage and harm, truly an infinite amount of pain and suffering, that all other fears should pale in comparison; the very thought of offending Him should move us to trembling (Php 2:12), even as we’re rejoicing in Him. (Ps 2:11)

Many prefer to focus on respect or reverence rather than fear, perhaps to encourage us to be more comfortable with God. But that’s like telling us to relax when our clothes might be catching fire.

The potential danger we’re all in with God is incredibly real, and there’s no point in playing it down: He’s a consuming fire (He 12:29), and most of us are chaff. (Mt 3:12) Even for the best of us, it’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), and all of us will: evading Him isn’t an option. The slightest uncertainty here should terrify us. (2Co 5:11)

Firstly, a healthy fear of God keeps us from presumptuous sin, from carelessly offending Him (Pr 16:6), and that’s just plain smart – like not poking a gorilla in the eye, even if he seems friendly.

Godly fear also motivates us to ensure our election (2Pe 1:10)striving to enter the narrow gate (Lk 13:24) and pass fully into His rest. (He 4:11) In light of the second death, living for even a moment without absolute assurance of eternal life is unthinkable. (2Co 13:5)

Fear in itself, rational fear of any kind, would never encourage us to run or hide from God: thinking we can avoid omnipresence is like trying to escape from space and time itself; the thought is unintelligent at best. Only an insane dislike, a relentless distaste for the divine, would seek to escape from One who inhabits eternity.

Perhaps this is partly why “the fear of JEHOVAH is the beginning of wisdom.” (Pr 9:10) Try to fathom a soul with any sense of propriety or understanding that willfully chooses to neglect or offend omnipotence. How can anyone with a grain of sense not “kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little?” (Ps 2:12)

A lack of reverence for God, any willingness to sin against Him deliberately, on purpose, not choosing to fear Him in every healthy sense of the word (Pr 1:29), is essentially a failure to grasp the fundamental nature of God; it’s either rank unbelief in who God says He is, or exceedingly irrational.

The fear of God is our friend (Ps 19:9a): choose it and be wise. Learn to fear Him rightly (Ps 34:11)God’s children don’t take Him lightly, casually; we fear Him unto joy. All else is unbelief, enmity, no matter how we slice it.

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Let Me Not Wander

Without God, the human heart is totally depraved, unable to do anything good. (Je 13:23) Even the best of men are like this, in and of themselves. (Jn 15:5) In our natural state we’re prone to wander away from God, away from the light, from all that’s wholesome and good, and grope about in the darkness for security, fulfillment, and purpose.

We wander away from God by neglecting and forgetting His commands, Torah, and as we do we deceive ourselves (Jas 1:22) into thinking that we aren’t actually wandering off, that we’re following God and doing the right thing. We ignore God’s definition of sin (1Jn 3:4) and light (Pr 6:23), thinking we can decide what’s good and evil on our own, just making it up as we go.

It’s not just that we’re blind without God, that we can’t see, it’s that in our natural state we love darkness; we hate light. (Jn 3:19) This mindset can’t be reasoned with; it isn’t rational, and it’s our default state, as natural as breathing. We can’t escape it because we won’t, ever, not unless He quickens us. (Ep 2:1)

Knowing this, yet finding within ourselves that our hearts actually are going fully after God, cleaving to Him and keeping His Law, we pray with the psalmist, “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.” (Ps 119:10) We acknowledge that this in itself is the work of God, that we are going after Him, and we ask God to maintain this Godward state in us, to keep us from wandering away from His Law, away from Him. We ask Him to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before Himself, knowing He’s able and willing to do this. (Jud 1:24)

Yes, God works in His own to will and to do according to His good pleasure. (Php 2:13) He opens our eyes and gives us delight in His law (Ro 7:22) and in Himself, in His way, sanctifying us and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. We can’t explain our love for Him in and through Torah any other way. (Ro 8:7)

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart LORD, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.” (R. Robinson)

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Holy and Unholy

I travel a lot for work: Poland, Mexico, China, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, India … all over the world. Everywhere I go I’m careful what I eat; pork and shellfish are standard fare most places, and often comprise the bulk of the menu. I seldom order salad without specifying “no bacon,” and when language is an issue it’s extra challenging. There’s a constant striving, an alertness required to eat according to God’s pattern, but as I delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) I see an important spiritual lesson in it.

Trevor Rees: Long clawed squat lobster

In calling us to put away all uncleanness, God gave us laws describing unclean animals to train us in the habit of discerning what we take in, both physically and spiritually. (Lev 20:25) He is concerned about our health and knows we live in a polluted, broken world. He wants us to test everything that’s presented to us as food, for both body and soul, and do our best to ensure it passes the litmus test of His Word. (Is 8:20)

What this seems to mean is that we are to be constantly evaluating any and all spiritual teaching that is offered to us, checking the Scripture to see if it is so. (Ac 17:11) When verses are taken out of context or faulty reasoning is applied, we’re to recognize it, call it out and reject it. (Ps 119:104) Failing to do so permits lies into our lives which defile and weaken our souls and spirits, giving the enemy access (2Ti 2:25-26) to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10)

Additionally, we should be comparing all of our own thoughts and motives with God’s Word (Ps 119:113), identifying as unclean anything within us that’s contrary to His Way. (Ps 19:14) This seems consistent with God’s call to gird up the loins of our mind (1Pe 1:13), to be circumspect, sober and vigilant (1Pe 5:8) in following after holiness(He 12:14)

We’re each accountable to God for what we believe and do (Ro 14:11-12), for every idle word we speak (Mt 12:36); we each bear our own burden before Him. (Ga 6:4) No one else can watch our spiritual diet for us; let’s enjoy and leverage God’s training plan so that we can differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean clean. (Le 10:10)

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Desperately Wicked

People are bad, really bad, intensely evil (Job 15:16), desperately wicked; God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Je 17:9

Total Depravity, a basic Christian doctrine, is simply stated: We make the most evil choice God allows us to make every time we make a choice. In our natural state we consistently seek rebellion; we do so with relentless, unyielding, desperation; without God’s aid we’re incapable of anything else. (Je 13:23) It’s insanity at best, this mystery of iniquity within us, but it’s very, very real.

Yet we don’t ever actually experience total depravity, either in ourselves or in others; we only get glimpses of it, hints, so it’s easy to dismiss God’s Word as allegorical or obsolete.

But our lack of experience proves nothing; God also says He limits or controls our wickedness, holding us back, restraining us. (2Th 2:7) This is God’s irresistible grace, enabling us to be good (He 12:15), moving in us to be less wicked, more righteous. (Php 2:12) It’s a gift, something He does in us. (Ep 3:7) One Day He’ll stop doing this with those who aren’t His; only then will depravity be on full display. (Re 6:4)

Man’s total depravity humbles us, dismissing all formal religion as vanity, all supposed religious power and authority as deceit, all hope of meriting God’s favor as a lie. It’s the key to soteriology, how God’s unconditional election and limited atonement align with His genuine, universal offer of eternal salvation. (He 5:9)

Depravity explains how God can be in absolute, total control over all things, yet how Man still has free will. It even moves Hell itself into glorious context, as awesome, unarguably appropriate and just. All these truths appear hopelessly irreconcilable until we understand Total Depravity. There’s comfort, peace and joy in seeing it all from God’s perspective. (2Co 13:11)

Yes, it seems the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket,” it sure does, but it shouldn’t surprise or alarm us. God has a glorious purpose in all He allows. Let’s pray for and be concerned for others, and for our world, while exulting in God, being anxious for nothing. (Php 4:6-7) He knows what He’s doing.

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Tell the Church

Christ’s prescription when a professing believer offends us is straightforward. [1] Confront him/her privately. (Mt 18:15) If that fails to restore fellowship then [2] involve one or two others to [a] ensure there’s no misunderstanding, and [b] discretely encourage resolution. (Mt 18:16) Failing here, [3] take it to court: tell the church. Her verdict is considered binding and final; those who refuse it are treated as outsiders, unbelievers. (Mt 18:16) This is ultimate spiritual authority.

Personal offenses being the most common and critical challenge to unity, Christ is actually telling us how to handle any type of corruption among professing believers; whether it be a divisive spirit promoting destructive teachings or blatant sin, this pattern is evidently applicable.

So who or what is this church, the final authority deciding all spiritual matters impacting the well-being of the body of Christ? (Col 1:24)

The word church is from the Greek ekklesia, meaning assembly or congregation (1Co 11:18), and the fact that all are subject to its judgement implies unity. In other words, spiritual authority lies only in a unified brotherhood; without this, the church is lifeless and powerless, nothing more than decor in a broken world.

To destroy a brotherhood, and thus the church herself, impose any type of hierarchical leadership; elevate a small group to exercise spiritual authority over others. This undermines the foundation and subverts the purpose of the assembly. It’s the default model in our churches today, and the result is easily observed: spiritual devastation.

Promoting this destruction presumes that Christ uses “ekklesia” symbolically here, that He must be refering to leaders representing the assembly. Yet, being honest with the text, we must still expect the brotherhood to be informed and unified, or such leadership could not intelligently speak on its behalf.

To maintain integrity in light of Christ’s instruction, we must acknowledge the centrality and spiritual authority of a unified brotherhood. This is what Christ is building, nothing less, the strongest force on Earth. (Mt 16:18)

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A Falling Away

Most evangelical Christians seem to believe the end of the age is upon us, that Christ’s second coming is just around the corner. I’ve found this common in bible-believing circles since the late 70’s … I’ve seldom met an earnest believer that felt otherwise. Evidently, Christians have been feeling this way ever since Christ departed, nearly two millennia ago.

Yet Paul begs us not to expect Messiah’s return prematurely. (2Th 2:1-2) Have we been overlooking something basic? Perhaps a little gullible in our exuberance?

LightedCastleGod’s told us there’ll be a vast change in humanity prior to His return, a wickedness like nothing we’ve ever seen … what He describes as “a falling away.” (2Th 2:3) A city He calls Babylon the Great will rise to supreme dominance in world affairs, the cornerstone of global economic and political power, as well as the epicenter of a new global occult religion. These kinds of things don’t generally happen overnight; as of now, she’s nowhere in sight.

Yes, the world’s wicked (1Jn 5:19) and bad things happen: economies grow and collapse, global powers rise and fall, deadly new diseases appear, social norms drift and natural disasters disrupt it all … and it’s always been this way. (Mk 13:7-8)

Let’s be sane in the midst of it all, no longer giving occasion to the world to mock God’s people by claiming Christ’s return is near. Let’s walk in wisdom, in hope, delighting in the goodness of God, knowing He’s sovereign and faithfuljoying in Him and edifying one another.

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Root of Bitterness

When things aren’t going our way, and we’re praying for God to come through for us … and He doesn’t, it’s tempting to doubt His goodness, to question His justice, to become resentful and angry. It’s called a root of bitterness. (He 12:15)

Robert Charity: Smoky Mountains
Robert Charity: Smoky Mountains

Giving in to bitterness is accusing God of being unfaithful, unjust, missing a precious opportunity to glorify Him in faith when all seems lost. It’s presuming that we’re being treated unfairly, but how do we know what’s fair? Isn’t this raw presumption and pride? Why is this so tempting for us? What good ever comes of it?

No suffering is easy, but sinning in our pain always makes it worse. Bitterness steals our joy and hope; it can spread quickly into others suffering with us.

We’re saved by hope, so when we’re seeing rock bottom let’s do as David did: “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (1Sa 30:6) Let’s humble ourselves, remember what we deserve, and be thankful in everything.

Nothing’s too hard for Jehovah; every promise He’s ever made He’ll keep. He is perfectly just; He only allows evil in order to glorify Himself, and He will right all wrongs. (Is 4:4-5) Let’s count on His faithfulness and rejoice in Him, especially when it looks hopeless … that’s His specialty.

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Your Father Knows

In giving perspective in prayer, Yeshua grounds us in the fact that we aren’t informing God of anything: He already knows what we need. (Mt 6:7-8) So it isn’t the form or quantity of our prayers that matters; the key is in our motivation. (Ja 4:3) Prayer is God inviting us into His work. (Ep 1:11)

Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil

Given this, it really makes no sense to recite prayers unless our hearts find honest, sincere expression in them. Just think how anyone else would feel if we scripted conversation like that!

Similarly, neither does praying in tongues, apart from our understanding and will, make any sense — using our bodies as passive conduits rather than expressing our hearts. (1Co 14:14-15)

To pray apart from thoughtful passion is to think wrongly of God, that He’s disinterested in our hearts, that He’d rather partition and fragment us than engage intimately with our entire being. (1Jn 5:14-15) It treats Him more like a vending machine than a loving father, like a robot responding to command stimuli, regardless of motive or source. It’s a pagan view of God.

While God delights in engaging us in His work and transforming us through prayer, He’s not limited by our ability to pray, or even our lack of prayer. (Da 4:35b) He’s actually the One moving in us to pray according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13); and when we don’t pray like we should, or don’t know how to, He is praying for us Himself according to His own will. (Ro 8:26-27)

So let’s pray like we breathe … organically, intrinsically, continuously (Ro 12:12) … telling Him everything, moving in and through Him with every pulse of our being. (Ep 4:6) Dial Him first thing in the morning, and never hang up.

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