Build Bulwarks

God can do anything He wants whenever He wants, and no one can do anything better than He can, so when He tells us to do something, it isn’t because He needs our help; He’s giving us an opportunity to become, to grow, to be transformed.

So, I find it very interesting that God tells Israel to conquer cities outside the Promised Land (De 20:15), to besiege any city that doesn’t surrender without a fight (De 20:12), and to design and build engines of war, bulwarks of timber, to subdue it. (De 20:20) In each of these battles, God fights for Israel (De 20:4), yet there’s evidently always danger involved, where He might allow some of His own people to die. (De 20:5)

God could easily move everyone seek Him and obey Him, such that there’s no need for conquering cities; He could just as easily drop the city walls, like He did at Jericho, so there’s no need for long seiges; and God could easily arrange each battle such that no one from Israel ever gets killed. (Nu 31:49) So it makes me wonder, what’s He up to here?

I see it here as I do everywhere: God delights in fully engaging us as He does His will, working in and through our will both to will and to do according to His pleasure.  (Php 2:13) God does not fight our battles for us while we sit passively by and watch; He fights within us and through us, transforming us into His likeness through the challenge of adversity as we pursue His commands. So, how does building bulwarks to overcome God’s enemies serve to form the image of God in us?

For one, building devices to safely breach the massive walls of ancient cities took ingenuity, collaboration and tenacity. Every situation was different, and the army was always entirely volunteer (De 20:8); the constant stream of real-life challenges fueled the forges of brotherhood, forming bonds among men as only can be formed in the stress of battle. We learn and grow as much or more from struggling and failing as we do in our success, as long as we are all in, and not halfhearted in our quest. Putting our lives on the line, and the lives of our neighbors, in pursuing the commands of God together inevitably moves us to holiness and godly fear, a gift like none other.

In the final analysis, the goal of a spiritual battle isn’t simply to win it; God could win the war all by Himself without any battles; the ultimate outcome is already known. Yet it is in the crucible of battle that God forms our hearts after His own (He 5:8), and equips us to be workers together with Himself. (2Co 6:1)

While we may not live in the old promised land, and we may not participate in physical battles in spreading the kingdom of God upon the earth today, there is still a very real parallel in the spiritual realm, in the fierce battles for minds and souls, of which the physical ones were merely a type. In these, the need for unity, determination, discipline, holiness, wisdom and strength, the gift of brotherhood in seeking victory in God together, are no less real.

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The Creature Waits

Creation, all created things, evidently have a common consciousness: God says the whole creation groans together (Ro 8:22); created things are waiting, earnestly expecting the resurrection and manifestation of God’s children. (Ro 8:19)

Since the individual animals with this expectation are constantly dying, just like we are, the implication here is that all created things are excitedly aware that they will all experience the resurrection of the dead together in all its glory along with us. (Ro 8:21)

Interestingly, Albert Barnes says of this text: Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. It appears that reluctance to accept its plain, apparent meaning might lie in contradicting science, which we ought not allow. (1Ti 6:20-21)

Yet recent scientific discoveries in the paranormal are indicating this very thing, that all life forms, plants and animals, are connected in a common consciousness across time, and even that inanimate objects participate in this. Perhaps they are indeed struggling together with us under the stain of sin, in a universe infected by Man’s rebellion (Job 25:5), waiting for the adoption of the saints. (Ro 8:23)

What if God has temporarily silenced the creature (Ro 8:20), to allow men to rebel against Him with less obvious incrimination for a time? (Ro 11:32-33) If all Creation were free to proclaim God’s praise now (Lk 19:40), where would hatred and rebellion hide until wickedness is to be exposed? (2Th 2:7-8) And what if, in that final glorious day, all of creation will join with us in praising our living, transcendent, almighty Creator … together!

This insight puts Creation in an entirely different perspective, and encourages us to both treat it with respect, and also to enjoy the miracle of God’s expression of Himself through it all so much the more.

The heavens declare the glory of God, may be much more than metaphor. (Ps 19:1) It is truly for His pleasure that they are, and were created. (Re 4:11)

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Intercession for Us

When a truly righteous person offers to pray for me, I feel honored, hopeful God will hear them. Appealing to the Supreme Power of the Universe on my behalf … what an unspeakable privilege!

What then do I make of the fact that God Himself prays for me? The Spirit of God Himself appeals to the Holy Father on my behalf, making intercession for me! (Ro 8:26) How can the Holy Ghost pray amiss, or not be heard? He Who knows and loves me better than I know and love myself always prays according to the perfect, unique will of God for me! (Ro 8:27) Wow!

And not only this, but the very Son of God also joins with the Spirit of God to intercede for me to His Father! (Ro 8:34) Two-thirds of the Godhead are already praying for me, perfectly, flawlessly, right now, without ceasing! Can I imagine that they will not be heard? That their prayers will be in vain? About anything?  Not a chance!

What else could I possibly need spiritually! Victory is in hand, not because of me,  or anything I can do or have done, but because God is doing everything that needs to be done to save me and sanctify me (Jud 1:24); He Himself is living out victory in me. (1Co 15:57)

How can I be depressed? How can I be defeated? How can I be lost? Who can lay any charge against me, when it is God Who justifies me? (Ro 8:33) Who can condemn me when Christ has died for me (Ro 8:34), quickens me (Jn 5:21), gives me eternal life (Jn 17:2) and lives in me? He’s everything I need: my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. (1Co 1:30) How could I ever glory in myself, or in anyone else but Him? (2Co 10:17)

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Continual Sorrow

What’s the proper response to all the sinfulness and brokenness about us? When others aren’t walking with God, asleep in dead works, should we be concerned that they’re heading for an eternal, fiery Hell?

Clearly, sorrow and concern is warranted: Paul felt great heaviness and continual sorrow over Israel’s rejection of Messiah (Ro  9:1-3), and wept over the worldliness of false teachers. (Php 3:18-19) But there’s a vast difference between grieving over sin, and grieving over God’s response to it; the former’s a concern for the pleasure of God, the latter an indictment of His character.

The godly grieve over wickedness (Je 13:17) as God’s Law is violated (Ps 119:136), but not over God condemning and punishing rebellion. Those in Heaven aren’t weeping over the suffering of the wicked (Re 19:1-2), knowing God’s perfectly righteous and just in everything He does (Ps 55:15); the problem is with Man, not God. (Re 15:4)

All the works of God should move us to worship (Ps 145:10), even His response to the lost. (Lk 10:21)

Concern for others springs from love, praying that they’ll turn from their ways unto God.  God is grieved when people neglect Him, and invites all to come to Him. Father, help me weep for the lost, and to do so for the right reason.

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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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Abound in Hope

Lately things have been rough at work; I’ve been cringing when my phone signals a new email, suspecting bad news or a political trap to sort through. I fight the sense of worry, anxiety, but emotions are hard to control. They reveal beliefs in the context of life; by observing our feelings we can tell what we really believe; they reveal our faith.

I’ve not been filled with joy; I’ve not been abounding in hope; so, I’ve been living in denial of God’s faithfulness, that whatever happens will turn out for my good and God’s glory. (Ro 8:28) I’ve had no peace, no rest in my spirit (Php 4:6-7), struggling with fear, not trusting. This isn’t where I’m supposed to live (He 13:5-6); it’s contrary to the gospel. (Ga 2:14)

But the God of hope calls me, to fill me with all joy and peace in believing, that I may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Ro 15:13) There is then a connection between abounding in hope, and believing God unto joy and peace.

It’s not that I will never suffer or be in trouble (2Co 1:8); I’m to believe the world is unable to harm me spiritually; nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Ro 8:38-39); no matter what comes I will always be more than a conqueror through the grace of God. (Ro 8:37) 

I will overcome (1Jn 5:4), because Christ overcame (Jn 16:33), and He will do so again in me. (Col 1:27) This is all the hope I need: in the end, I will be found a good and faithful servant. (Mt 25:23)

I believe God will help me live for Him; He will work in me to seek His face until my dying day (Jud 24) … for this is what He’s always been about in me. It’s His work (1Co 1:30), and He will continue to perform it until the day of Christ. (Php 1:6) Of this I am confident … I believe … and the truth of His Word is producing hope in me, even as I write it out.

How about you? Are you abounding in hope? To continue building up our faith (Jud 1:20-21) is to find more and more hope, to the anchoring of our souls (He 6:19) … ’till we’re abounding in hope through the power of God.

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Honor and Glory

God is honorable, worthy of great respect and esteem. (Re 4:11). All in heaven honor Him (Re 19:7); how might we do so here on Earth?

A primary way we honor God is by believing Him, taking Him at His word, acting as if everything He says is true, trusting Him. We call it faith. Anything else is calling Him a liar (1Jn 5:10); certainly not honoring to Him.

Obeying God honors Him by acknowledging His right to order our lives, to require right behavior of us, which is itself honorable. (Ro 2:10) Disobeying Him flaunts His authority and majesty, rejects His lordship and moves Him to wrath and indignation towards us. (Rom 2:8)

Treating our own selves with dignity, honoring all as God’s children, also honors Him, for we’re made in His image. (1Th 4:4-5) Purging all dishonorable activity and influences from our lives suits us for His service. (2Ti 2:21)

It is also honoring to God to suffer in hope (Ro 5:3), knowing He’s working all things for our good (Ro 8:28), and that He will be glorified in the end. (1Pe 1:7)

A more subtle way in which we might honor our God is by acknowledging His goodness, giving Him the benefit of the doubt, as we’re laying the practical foundations of spiritual life. For example, the Bible says God inspired scripture (2Ti 3:16); in accepting this we know the autographs, the original Greek or Hebrew manuscripts, were inspired by God.

Yet the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us whether any copies or translations of the autographs also contain this inspired property, so we must make an assumption about that: either God did preserve His Word for us in an inspired form, so that we can access a modern version of the scriptures today, in a common language, one that’s equivalent to the originals for all practical purposes, or He didn’t.

Which assumption honors Him? Gives Him the benefit of the doubt? Shall we assume God inspired His word for no practical reason, such that no one has ever actually benefited from this special quality? Shall we act as if no one has ever held a perfectly trustworthy Bible in their hands, one they could call the authentic word of God? Or shall we assume that God inspired His word for a purpose (2Ti 3:17), and that He is fulfilling that purpose, and act accordingly?

Most of us assume He didn’t, and assume inspiration is confined to the autographs, in a perfectly useless place. We’re encouraged to depend on pastors, teachers and theologians to reveal scripture to us. We don’t think we have access to the Word of God today, so we don’t tend to hide scripture in our hearts and meditate on it day and night, like God tells us to. (De 6:6) It’s hard enough to do this with a text we trust, so most of us have given up before we even start. But is this honoring to God?

Wouldn’t it honor God more if we expected Him to act with integrity, with intention? Being Who He is, faithful and true (Re 19:11), wouldn’t He enable our journey with an inspired version of His word in a modern language, a book we can read and understand for ourselves, to feed and guide us safely home, seeing that’s why He gave us the scripture in the first place? If we acted like He did, would we expect this to please Him, or disappoint Him?

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Fiery Darts

The shield of faith enables us to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Ep 6:16) These fiery darts aren’t physical, but they’re very real. What are they? How do we quench them?

The wicked shoot fiery darts and arrows at us with their words: sharp, biting, cutting remarks designed to wound and scar us. (Pr 12:18) The poison and fire they carry are lies intended to make us feel unimportant and inferior, ashamed, rejected and unloved, isolated and vulnerable.

The wicked are prompted to speak these words by their father (Jn 8:44) the enemy, who works in them (Ep 2:2) to steal our joy, kill our passion and zeal, and destroy our witness. (Jn 10:10) As we receive these words, the enemy injects the emotions of fear, rejection and shame into our minds and hearts, lending supernatural, debilitating force to the jabs. It is an all-out, frontal assault on our spiritual life, from which we must be quick to defend ourselves.

When our faith shields are down, and we aren’t being mindful of the precious promises and faithfulness of God, we let these darts through to wound us. They continue to afflict and harm us until we engage our faith, lifting our shields to heal our minds and hearts, by reminding ourselves of the three basic truths:

  1. We’re loved infinitely by God (1Jn 3:1), Whose love is all we’ll ever need; we’re totally accepted by Him in Christ (Ep 1:6), and for Christ’s sake. (Ep 4:32)
  2. God is in control of all things at all times (Da 4:35), and He has a glorious purpose in all our suffering (Ro 5:3-5); nothing is out of order or amiss in His plan (Ep 1:11), and
  3. We each have a unique purpose in God’s eternal plan (2Ti 1:9), and He’s working everything out for our good and for His glory, all the time. (Ro 8:28)

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Ro 8:31) We thus dismiss these fiery darts as the nothings that they really are, ignoring them as lies with no substance, and continue rejoicing in God.

In understanding that those delivering the enemy’s darts are lost, or perhaps that the enemy’s exploiting the elect as they walk out the mystery of faith, as they reach out to us in love and good conscience as best they can, we’re free to look for and receive any constructive criticism or wisdom to strengthen our walk with God, without any threat to our souls, and be the better for it.

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Clothed With Humility

If God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Ja 4:6), then humbling ourselves as much as we can is essential (1Pe 5:6), the key to God’s way. What is humility, why don’t I pursue it, and how do I grow here?

Christ in Gethsemane, The Passion of the Christ

Humility is thinking of myself realistically, not more highly than I ought (Ro 12:3), comparing myself with Christ, not my neighbor. It’s admitting that without God, I’d likely be the most evil person who has ever lived, being poor in spirit, needing infinite mercy (Lk 18:13), and being afflicted in this. (Jas 4:9)

Even though there’s nothing good in me I can take credit for (Ro 7:18), humility often seems distasteful, repugnant; in being childlike (Mt 18:4), lowly, less significant before Man (Php 2:5), I feel vulnerable, less valued, yet this was where my Savior found rest, and calls me to follow. (Mt 11:29)

Food for humility is found in Messiah’s Cross: I’ve nothing else to glory in. (Gal 6:14) That cross is for me, and I very much deserve it. But Jesus Christ humbles Himself there (Php 2:8), taking my place and giving Himself to rescue me. (Gal 1:4) When I’m prompted by the enemy to be satisfied in my goodness (Is 64:6), smug in my knowledge, safe in my self-sufficiency, exalted in my own talents and wisdom (Je 9:23-24), I can look to Yeshua (He 12:2) and remember where I’d be without Him. (1Co 1:29-31)

Knowing God is both my Judge and Defender; He frees me from fear and shame to rejoice in God, to be preoccupied with God and others (Php 2:4), to esteem others better than myself, to be clothed with humility. (1Pe 5:5)

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God Is Kind

God is good, benevolent and merciful to all (Ps 117:2), so it’s tempting to confuse answered prayer and temporal blessing with divine approval, thinking God’s kindness implies His validation. We may be like that, but not God.

God loves His enemies; He’s kind to the unthankful and to the evil (Lk 6:35), and often showers the wicked with earthly blessings and health. (Ps 73:3-7) There’s no real correlation between God’s provision for us and His approval of us.

God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust until the day of judgment to be punished. (2Pe 2:9) By afflicting the righteous He teaches us His ways (Psa_119:67 71), so it would seem that one way He reserves the wicked for judgement is by blessing them and giving them what they want in this life.

If God is answering the prayers of the wicked, we shouldn’t be envious (Ps 37:1-2), nor find satisfaction in Him paving their way to destruction. (Pr 24:17-18) God takes no pleasure in the ruin of the lost (Ez 33:11); we should be weeping for them (Php 3:18-19), esteeming others better than ourselves.

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