What God Hath Cleansed

God’s Law identifies certain animals like swine, shrimp and catfish as unclean, unfit for our consumption, but most Christians ignore His instruction here, thinking these dietary laws aren’t for us today.

A key text is Acts 10, where Peter was admonished for refusing to eat certain animals God had cleansed, but which Peter identified as “common.” (Ac 10:14)

Peter was looking at a sheet swarming with all kinds of animals, apparently including some clean ones (Ac 10:12), and evidently concluding that even the clean ones were unfit to eat due to being in close contact with the others.

God was teaching Peter that engaging with those who aren’t Jewish wouldn’t defile him, which was a Jewish teaching (Ac 10:28) hindering the spread of the gospel. (Ac 11:19) The Jewish disciples never understood from this that God had changed the dietary laws, and continued keeping them faithfully. (Act 21:20)

Every creature which God has set apart for human consumption is clearly identified in His Law (1Ti 4:4), and He’s told us to consider the rest an abomination. (Le 11:12) Thankfully, God is faithful, and He doesn’t change. (Ja 1:17)

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No Greater Burden

When the Apostles are first wrestling with how to integrate believing Gentiles into God’s spiritual community, they make a radical break with historic Judaism, which requires all to become Jewish to be right with God.  (Ac 15:1-2) The Apostles observe that neither nationality nor culture has anything to do with either justification or sanctification. (Ac 15:11)

In addition, the Apostles recommend four things necessary for Gentiles to be welcome in Jewish synagogues (Ac 15:28-29), where they might hear Torah being read and explained every Shabbat. (Ac 15:21) These four rules aren’t actually in Torah, so the Apostles aren’t identifying a subset of Mosaic Law pertinent to Gentiles; they’re providing helpful, extra-biblical guidelines which are easily derived from Torah.

They’re also sensitive to the fact that even these basic rules may pose an inconvenience, a burden of sorts for new believers embedded in pagan culture, affecting their ability to engage in society as they had before. These types of changes are often necessary upon conversion, but must be taught with sensitivity and a certain lenience, especially at first. The apostles start with no greater burden than the very basics, and have the Holy Spirit’s approval.

In handling this crisis, the Apostles make no direct statement about the general relevance of Torah for Gentiles, like: “Gentiles don’t have to obey X and Y laws of Torah.” Such sentiment violates Christ’s command to His disciples teach all nations to observe all things He’s commanded them (Mt 28:19-20), including the entire Torah’s relevance for all men (Mt 5:19), and denies its universal profitability. (2Ti 3:16-17)

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The Lord’s Supper

It is commonly understood that Christ instituted a new ritual, the Lord’s Supper, partaking of bread and wine representing His body and blood, as a sacrament or ordinance of the Church. A very basic problem with this claim is that Christ never actually does any such thing, and neither do any of His apostles.

What Christ does, during that last Passover meal with His disciples, is explain that two of the key elements of Passover, the affikomen and the cup of blessing (or redemption) (1Co 10:16), represent His body and blood. He tells us that as often as we partake of these particular elements (Lk 22:19-20), contained in Jehovah’s Passover celebration, we show His death until He returns. (1Co 11:26) He never even hints at starting something new.

Paul affirms this by referring to Passover as the Lord’s Supper (1Co 11:23-25), identifying the Communion elements this way. As Scripture offers no other means to sanctify any particular set of elements as representative of Christ before God, any attempt to decouple them from Passover implies flagrant presumption; it can’t actually be done.

The modern concept of the Eucharist didn’t exist in the time of the Apostles; it evolved nearly a century later, a product of that awkward and painful era in which Gentile Christians were desperately trying to distance themselves from Judaism in order to avoid severe Roman taxation and persecution. Anything that might be used to identify believers as Jewish had to go: circumcision, the Sabbath, as well as God’s feasts and dietary laws. It was during this time that Christian theologies emerged claiming the abolition of Mosaic Law, separating us from this delightful treasure, contradicting Christ’s direct command  (Mt 5:17-19), and the original Apostolic witness. (Ac 21:24)

So Christ didn’t start a new meal for the Church; what He did was deepen our understanding of an old one, and encourage us to enjoy Him in it: He’s our Passover(1Co 5:7-8)

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Judge Not

Honoring and respecting others, treating them with kindness and dignity regardless of their behavior, is a given for me, and it goes without saying that I can’t approve or condone their sin. (Jud 1:23) It’s also clear to me that I am to esteem others better than myself (Php 2:3), to consider myself morally inferior to others. But what does it mean to not judge? (Mt 7:1)

Perhaps judging means to pass a sentence of some sort, as a judge; perhaps it’s taking that extra step, to go beyond simply observing that someone is breaking God’s law, and making a determination of how culpable and morally guilty they are in their sin, deciding how depraved and corrupt someone is and what they deserve for their sin. Perhaps it’s here, where we mortals are forbidden to go.

What tools do we have to evaluate moral goodness or badness in ourselves or others? How can I compare myself with another on moral grounds? If God were to ask me to rate my own goodness on a scale of 0 to 100, 0 being absolute and total wickedness and 100 being absolute perfection, what grounds do I have to rate myself with any specific positive value? Is 1.0 low enough? How about 0.0001? Isn’t it naked presumption to give myself anything above zero?

I have some idea what absolute perfection looks like in Yeshua, and I know I don’t measure up, but in attempting to determine how close I am to His perfection, or how far away someone else is, I find myself in strange and unfamiliar territory, trying to make measurements in a space where I have no means to calibrate distance.

Perhaps this is why Paul put so little stock in the moral evaluations of others, even his own, calling it “very small thing.” (1Co 4:3) We cannot see another’s motives, why they’re doing what they are. We can’t know all of their wounds and insecurities and baggage, what makes them tick. It’s impossible for us to determine the moral quality of someone else’s heart; it’s a space where we just don’t belong; God occupies it well enough, all on His own.

So, God is telling me to refrain from any attempt to measure or evaluate others on moral grounds. This posture doesn’t actually condone or enable anyone else’s sin, it’s simply the only default position that makes sense when I’m not equipped to make any kind of moral evaluation. Judgement is God’s job, and He doesn’t need my help.

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So Run

Pursuing God is like running in a marathon where almost everyone is ignoring the course design and making up their own finish line. It’s an altogether unique dynamic: most running alongside us aren’t actually in the race, and there’s no way to tell who is. Finishing well requires knowing the correct destination, constantly focusing on reaching it ourselves (Php 3:13-14), encouraging others to come with us (He 3:13), and ignoring the pull of those who’d turn us out of the way(1Ti 6:3-5)

Dean Karnazes, ultra marathoner

Every spiritual question isn’t a good one; every religious topic isn’t a profitable one. Many call us to follow as they suddenly turn down a side street or head off into the woods. God hints at this when He exhorts us to avoid unprofitable topics (2Ti 2:14), and foolish, ignorant questions. (2Ti_2:23)

Discerning what’s profitable and worthwhile in our pursuit of God, where we should be spending our time and energy, requires clarity in God’s purpose for us: that we walk in love, holiness, and faith. (1Ti 1:5) Our objective is to know Him and please Him (Php 3:8), to be found in Him (Php 3:9), and to be like Him. (Php 3:10-11)

An infinite number of appealing distractions will be offered us, so we must constantly be asking, “How will this help us know God, please Him, and be more like Him?” If it doesn’t line up with God’s purpose, then it’s ultimately wasting time … our most precious resource.

When we neglect to ponder the path of our feet, maintaining our orientation in light of our destination, we can easily find ourselves off course. At that point, it really doesn’t matter how fast we’re running, or how hard we’re trying … until we’re back in God’s race it’s all for naught. (1Co 3:15)

Let’s run with purpose (1Co 9:26); let’s run with deliberation. (Php 3:15) Let’s run to win. (1Co 9:24)

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In the Storm

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, as we pack up and head back down to our home in Jacksonville, FL to survey the damage, I’m reminded God has a purpose in everything, even in storms. (Na 1:3) He’s in absolute control of all things at all times, and every detail fits perfectly into His eternal plan.

Irma, Sept. 8, 2017

We know this instinctively (Ro 1:20), that God controls Nature and Man, inevitably asking “Why?” whenever trouble comes.

But God doesn’t owe us any explanation, and generally doesn’t condescend to explain Himself to us. What He does tell us is sufficient for me: that it’s for His pleasure (Re 4:11), to reveal His glory and wisdom (Ps 19:1), as well as His justice, wrath and power. (Ro 9:22)

If anything at all has a purpose, then everything has its purpose: to glorify God as He reveals Himself through it. If that’s all I ever understand, that’s enough. I can trust that God Almighty knows what He’s doing, rejoicing in Him and thanking Him for all things.

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Swift to Hear

Recently, I’ve been feeling impatient with those who don’t appear to listen well, only to find that I myself haven’t been listening so well — not carefully considering challenges before responding (Pr 18:13), allowing myself to be distracted by commotion in my soul rather than focusing on clear communication.

So often, the faults we think we see in others are simply projections of our own. (Ro 2:1) God gives us ears for a reason; we should use them. (Mt 11:15)

A listing ship is leaning; to enlist is to engage, sign up, commit. To listen, pay attention, to lean in with the heart and mind, to focus intently (Pr 4:20), requires humility and strength, a certain freedom from agenda and bias, being unthreatened and receptive, not agitated and fearful but quiet, calm, alert and sober.

God calls us to be swift to hear (Ja 1:19), to listen eagerly, deliberately, intentionally. He can speak to us through anyone, sharpening and refining us in any situation.

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Slow to Speak

I need a reminder that I’ll give account to YHWH for every word (Mt 12:36); whether speaking or writing, I should should check every impulse, weigh every syllable, seeking God’s pleasure (Ps 19:14) and assistance. (Col 4:6)

My lips aren’t mine (Ps 12:4), they’ve been bought with the blood of Messiah (1Co 6:19-20), I’m just a steward of them now.

Even in prayer, fewer words are better. (Ec 5:2) He knows what I need, and chattering before Him is evidently being inappropriately familiar, disrespectful.

I’m encouraged to speak with deliberation, almost reluctantly (Ja 1:19), as if each word is costing me. When my words are streaming forth en masse, unweighed, unchecked, it’s a sure sign of sin (Pr 10:19), that I’m not speaking with purpose to edify, encourage, build up, and move others toward God. (Ep 4:29)

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Thy Testimonies

God often speaks of His laws and commandments as testimonies (Ps 119:2)precepts (Ps 119:4), statutes (Ps 119:5), and judgments. (Ps 119:7) It’s all God’s Word (Ps 119:9) revealing God’s Way (Ps 119:37), so what’s He telling us about it through these various terms?

Galaxy Rose, Hubble

Our testimony is what we declare about our personal experience. Since God experiences completely and perfectly, His witness and testimony is reliable, making us wise. (Ps 19:7b) He flawlessly proclaims the nature of metaphysical reality through His commandments (Ps 119:138), enlightening our eyes. (Ps 19:8b)

A precept is a moral principle or guide that may be found within an instruction or law; we discover them within God’s commandments as He opens our eyes. (Ps 119:18) For example, the Sabbath command contains precepts relating to rest (Ex 20:10), work (Ex 20:9), setting aside time for communion with God and others (Le 23:3), holiness (Ex 20:8), life cadence and rhythm (Is 66:23), God’s creative work (Ex 20:11), human value and equality (Mk 2:27), servant leadership (Ge 2:2-3), God’s prophetic timeline (Col 2:17), and of salvation itself. (He 4:10-11) We find understanding through YHWH’s precepts as He teaches us how to think clearly (Ps 119:104), and we search them out within His commands knowing that these are His testimonies, perfectly revealing His nature, way and wisdom to us.

The statutes of YHWH are His specific commands and laws, and the words that perfectly express them. (Ps 19:7a) These laws are flawless in both content and scope (Ps 119:96); if we add to them, take away from them, or alter them in any way we diminish this perfection. (De 4:2) As we hide these words in our heart (Deu 6:6) and meditate on His statutes (Ps 119:48), YHWH changes our souls (Ps 19:7a), teaching us the nature of sin (Ps 119:11), and moving our hearts to rejoice in Him(Ps 19:8a)

The judgments of YHWH reveal His discernment, His analysis, His altogether righteous estimation of every motive, thought and action. (Ps 19:9) His understanding is infinite (Ps 147:5), knowing all eventualities and possibilities about all things at all times. Each of His commandments is thus both a testimony about, and a perfectly just evaluation of some dimension of spiritual reality; God’s commands are windows into His ultimate righteous accusation of the wicked (Jn 5:45), as well as His willingness to quicken us all to fellowship with Himself. (Ps 119:156)

YHWH’s testimonies are profoundly wonderful; our souls should deeply cherish them (Ps 119:129), sticking to them like glue (Ps 119:31), valuing them above all riches (Ps 119:72), meditating on them (Ps 119:99), delighting in them and drawing our counsel from them. (Ps 119:24) Taken together they form one law, a single perfect testimony of metaphysical reality, eternally righteous (Ps 119:144), applicable in every age, founded forever. (Ps 119:152) We should ask God to incline our hearts to them (Ps 119:36), and seek the regular fellowship of those who know them well. (Ps 119:79)

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