Of Baptisms

Baptism is a basic concept of the Christian faith (He 6:1-2); evidently rooted in God’s instruction for the unclean to bathe in becoming ritually clean. (Nu 19:19)

In an outward physical way, ritual submersion in water naturally symbolizes the inward cleansing and healing of the mind, heart and spirit from the defilement of sin (Ep 5:27), as well as any major paradigm shift that occurs when rejecting an old life pattern and embracing a new one (1Co 10:1-2), or finding a break through in our pursuit of holiness. (He 10:22) As we’re freed from the pollutions of the world (2Pe_2:20) and the bondage of sin  (Mk 1:4), baptism is an organic expression of spiritual reality, as we gratefully acknowledge God’s work in our souls. (1Pe 3:21)

Confusion enters as we try to imagine Christ launching a new religion, giving us “an ordinance of the Christian church,” a rite to distinguish Christianity from all that came before.

In decoupling the Faith from Torah (Jud 1:3), taking it out of context, we pervert it. Claiming sacramental power in what God intended to symbolize metaphysical transformation (Tit 3:5), twists ritual washing into something His early Apostles, orthodox Jews, would never recognize.

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Taken Captive

The very idea of being held prisoner is intimidating, but there’s a certain kind of prison we enter voluntarily and lock from the inside, then throw away the key.

We all find ourselves in this prison at some point, not realizing what we’re doing until it’s too late. (Ep 2:2) It’s a prison of the mind, a bondage of the will. (Jn 8:34)

It starts with deception: we hear a lie that makes us feel good and we’re in, not really caring if it’s true, or even how to tell for sure. The lies spawn unhealthy desires; lust leads to disobedience, and sin eventually enslaves and destroys. (Ja 1:14-15) This is how the enemy takes us captive (2Ti 2:25-26), and he’s very good at it.

We’re each in a fight, a war for our own soul (Ep 6:12), and there’s only one way to overcome: find the truth and live in it. (Jn 8:32) It’s called repentance.

We can be sorry for our sin all day long, sorry we’re suffering, that we’re exposed, but this won’t release us from prison. Repentance is changing our mind, thinking differently, rejecting the lie and believing the truth.

It’s not about what we’ve been taught; it’s about what’s true. It’s not about what makes us feel good; it’s about what’s true. It’s not about convenience or inconvenience, or what works or doesn’t, or what others think. Feel good won’t set us free; orthodoxy won’t set us free … if it isn’t true.

How do we know what’s true? God’s Word is truth. (Jn 17:17) If we aren’t prayerfully and earnestly searching the Word for ourselves, we don’t care about truth. (Ac 17:11)

Changing our mind isn’t as easy as it might seem; it’s not something we can do just any time we like. If we aren’t willing to obey the truth we’re deceiving ourselves, and we’ll miss the truth even as we stumble across it. (Ja 1:22) It’s called blindness, and it’s insidiously powerful. (2Co 4:4)

Repentance is the gift of God: He must open our eyes and help us see. (Ac 26:18) We can certainly ask Him to help us, and we should, earnestly (Ps 119:145-147), unwilling to take “No” for an answer (He 11:6), obeying all the truth we can, all along the way.

As God intervenes and helps us start believing Him, taking Him at His Word, it’s then that the enemy’s grip on our minds and spirits begins to loose, and we start turning from our sin, from violating God’s law. (1Jn 3:4) Here begins our journey out of prison, becoming free indeed. (Jn 8:36)

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So Send I You

Why does God send others to do His work? (Jn_20:21) Infinite in knowledge, wisdom and power (Ps 147:5), He’s so much better at it than anyone else could possibly be.

The very fact that an infinite, omnipotent Being inhabiting eternity has left something undone in time is itself a bit of a mystery; we’re in the midst of unfolding, spectacular drama, and things are a bit messy at the moment … but He’s already at the end of time, enjoying the completion of all things. (Heb 4:3)

He’s evidently more interested in how things get done than in actually getting them done, pleased to do things slowly, through weakness (2Co 12:9), incognito, unobserved and undetected (Jn 1:10), transforming His own as He works in and through us. (Php 2:13) It’s His way of revealing Himself, in tangible ways we can apprehend. (Ro 9:22-23)

God sends us into life to live every moment for Him, bidding us to live in His name(Col 3:17) Whether we’re setting captives free, moving mountains, or wrapping His loving arms around the helpless, being a vehicle of the Almighty for absolutely anything He wants to do is an indescribable privilege. It’s all the same to Him.

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Nothing Offends Them

To be offended is to feel upset, annoyed, and/or resentful at what is perceived to be a personal attack against our dignity or deeply held beliefs. It’s an inherently moral posture which perceives another’s ideas or attitudes a threat to our emotional well being.

Being unnerved by an opposing idea, or feeling threatened by another’s opinion, reflects a weakness in the inner man, a shallowness, a lack of grounding in truth and love. (Ep 3:16-19) It’s a desperate cover for emptiness, ignorance and darkness. (Ep 4:17-18)

Those who delight in God’s Law are never offended (Ps 119:165), but shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Php 2:15), always ready to share their hope in Christ. (1Pe 3:15)

The wise comfortably and thoughtfully consider opposing ideas (Pr 1:5), and humbly grow from legitimate accusation. (Pr 17:10) They gladly incorporate truth, whatever it happens to be (Pr 9:9), without feeling intimidated or threatened (Ps 119:22), counting man’s judgement a very small thing (1Co 4:3) and shaking off every false way as they continue their journey rejoicing in God.

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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 note that both nationality and culture have nothing to do with salvation. (Ac 15:11)

In addition, the Apostles recommend four things necessary for Gentiles to be welcome in synagogues (Ac 15:28-29), where they might hear Torah 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, but must be proposed 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 say nothing like: “Gentiles don’t have to obey X and Y laws of Torah.” Such sentiment dishonors Christ’s command that His disciples teach all nations to observe all things He’s commanded them (Mt 28:19-20), ignores His teaching that even the least of Torah’s commands are obligatory (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 11:20, 23-25), identifying the Communion elements in 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)

Jesus Christ didn’t start a new meal or ritual 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 others morally superior to myself. 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(Ga 6:3)

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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