Behold the Fowls

Birds don’t worry. Every morning they’re out chirping and singing, even though most of them must eat half their body weight before nightfall. They’ve no way to store food and don’t know exactly where to find it, so they’re always on the hunt. Yet they thrive all around us without a care, raising families through sunshine and rain, a constant reminder that God loves us, cares for us (1Pe 5:7), and that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us. (He 13:5-6)

God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t drop it into their nests; He’s given them instincts to care for themselves, and that’s part of how He cares for them. They know how to keep out of harm’s way and find what they need. They aren’t lazy, they work hard all day long, and it works out well enough to ensure the survival of their species. It’s God’s design, and it’s beautiful.

So beautiful, in fact, that God calls us to be bird-watchers, telling us to study His design in them, to understand how they live and how He cares for them as an example for our own lives. (Mt 6:26) They’re diligent (Pr 22:29) but not anxious (Php 4:6), displaying a balanced model of common sense wisdom and trust.

Worrying about the future is accusing God of being unfaithful without giving Him a chance. Let’s give Him the benefit of the doubt, and leverage the opportunities He’s given us to help ourselves. He’s good, faithful, and He knows what He’s doing.

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Trodden Down

The ease with which some dismiss God’s commands is breathtaking. I just watched a well-known televangelist toss the Sabbath based on the oft abused, “let no man judge you,” of Colossians 2. (Col 2:16) How does one get from resisting judgmental opinion to free to sin? His confidence in error was impressive, almost admirable.

Running from bulls, Pamplona, Spain

Yet Almighty God will tread down, trample underfoot, all who err from His statutes: He says it like it’s already done. (Ps 119:118) He’s already out there in eternity, destroying His enemies. (Is 63:3) For those committed to breaking God’s law, there’s no escaping Him.

Confidence and boldness is merely presumption, unless we’ve humbly allowed others to test our views with their strongest arguments, and searched the Word for any hint that we’re missing something. Let’s be especially careful when we want to believe something, when the alternative inconveniences or displeases us. We must be loving the truth, no matter what it is.

Perhaps we live in a generation as prophesied in Proverbs: “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” (Pr 30:12) Souls who claim to be washed in the blood of Christ, who have no fear of God, who live lives of open rebellion against His ways, have no ground for hope that grace will cover them. Let no one deceive us: children of disobedience (Eph 5:6) are of the devil. (1Jn 3:7-8) 

As God washes He also sanctifies (1Co 6:11), working His righteousness within unto obedience. (1Pe 1:2) His children obey Him, as well as they know how. (1Jn 3:10)

There are those who break God’s laws ignorantly, in unbelief. Paul was such an one, yet he obtained mercy of God because of his ignorance. (1Ti 1:13)

But those who live in willful, open contempt for God’s Law have no grounds for confidence that they’re safe in Messiah’s atonement (Mt 7:22-23); even their prayer is an abomination to God. (Pr 28:9) The Lord knows those who are His; let all who name His name depart from iniquity and lawlessness. (2Ti 2:19)

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The Sabbath Day

God has set aside the seventh day of each week for us to rest; He calls it the Sabbath, tells us to remember it and not do any work on it. (Ex 20:8-10) To walk with God here we must get the day right: He was very specific about the seventh day. So, which day is that?

The Jews, to whom God originally gave the commandments, have been keeping Sabbath on Saturday since before the time of Christ. Christ and the Apostles, who were also Jewish, kept Sabbath the same way; they’ve never been confused about it. If they had it wrong, Christ wouldn’t have agreed with them on it; but He did. (Jn 7:23)

And if we accept Sunday as the first day of the week, the day Christ rose from the dead, then the day before Sunday, Saturday, must be the seventh day. If Saturday isn’t Sabbath, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead on Sunday.

Since scripture never mentions God changing the Sabbath, why do so many think it’s Sunday? A quick study reveals long-winded arguments based on two irrelevant facts. On Sunday: [1] Christ rose from the dead (Mk 16:9), and [2] the early Christians often met together. (Ac 20:7) It doesn’t take a Ph.D in theology to see this doesn’t imply any change in the Sabbath.

People believe in a Sunday Sabbath because that’s what they’re taught; it’s what the Church has claimed for as long as anyone can remember. It’s in her catechisms and liturgies, woven into the fabric of Christianity for nearly two millennia. We might presume the early Church fathers had a good reason for teaching this. Not so.

It started way back in the 1st century with the Fiscus Judaicus: anyone acting like a Jew had to pay a hefty annual Roman tax. It wasn’t long before the early Church began distancing herself from anything and everything that looked Jewish: the Sabbath and biblical feasts, eating clean, circumcision, it all had to go … or pay the tax. Eventually, she rejected her foundation in Torah and invented an entirely new religion.

Persecution: that’s how the Church lost Sabbath. Now, I can’t say I’d have done any better back then, but from the safety of religious liberty, it’s clear we took a wrong turn. The good news is that now, after all this time, we get to re-discover Sabbath, and what a treasure it is!

God made Sabbath for us (Mk 2:27), and it’s a blessing to be able to keep it. God Himself rested on the first one (Ge 2:2), reminding us of His creative power (Ex 20:11), and I’ve no reason to think He isn’t still keeping it, rhythmically inviting us to rest with Him and in Him every Shabbat, reminding us of the gospel, that He’s our eternal rest. (He 4:10)

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Grow Up

God calls us to grow up in our understanding (1Co 14:20); He’s concerned for our hearts and minds, what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. (Ep 3:16-19) He’s more about the why than the what (Ro 2:6-8), more about who we are than what we do, more about our motives than our actions. (1Co 3:13)

As children we tend to major on the minor, we’re easily frustrated and upset, and we’re focused on pleasing ourselves. We’re impatient, ignorant, foolish, unthankful, undisciplined, lacking self-control. We tend to give up too easily, depend on others to take care of us, not taking responsibility for ourselves or our actions. We’re quick to accuse and blame, and to use force to get our way. We value things above people, and care little about truth. But as adults we don’t blame kids for being kids; we all start out this way and need to grow up.

The key to maturity lies in our character, our thought patterns, attitudes and perspectives (1Co 13:11), which reflect our mind and heart. (Lk 6:45) As we grow in wisdom and become more stable in our thinking and beliefs (Ep 4:14), learning to speak truth in love (Ep 4:29), we mature more and more into the likeness of Christ. (Ep 4:15)

We learn to value truth above relationships, and relationships above material things. Circumstances tend less and less to impact our joy; we worry less (Php 4:6) and give thanks more consistently; we’re not offended as easily and we have more peace. (Php 4:7) We have more strength, self-control, discipline, and we don’t give up as easily. (1Co 16:13) We’re more others-centered (Php 2:4), less judgmental, and more humble (1Pe 5:5), merciful, benevolent, gentle, kind(Col 2:7) We learn to honor others regardless of their behavior, to love our enemies, and to esteem all others better than ourselves.

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Higher Powers

Why has God ordained government? (Ro 13:1) What is its purpose and role?

US Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Asked another way, if all people were basically good, everyone loving one another as themselves, what need would there be for a State, rulers forcing us to comply with its laws? In such a world, what could government do more effectively than charities and businesses?

But we aren’t there yet, not even close, so God commissions rulers to punish evildoers. (Ro 13:4) This requires officials to use force, to have an army and police. which costs money, so we must pay them for what they do.  (Mt 22:21)

Government’s right to take our money by force implies a duty to limit its scope to the tasks God’s given it, and to divide and balance its power to deter corruption. Excessive, unchecked government invariably abuses this authority, usurping the people’s right to do with their own resources as they wish, placing a privileged few in control and presuming they know better, which they seldom do.

But the fact that a few always have much more than they need while others are struggling, tempts us to legalize Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to help the poor. Call it Communism, Socialism or whatever we like, entitling people to healthcare and welfare, comfort and security, apart from their own labor and industry is problematic since it rewards laziness (2Th 3:10) and foolishness. (Pr 13:23) There’s a basic natural law at work here, violated at our own peril: God feeds the birds (Mt 6:26), but He doesn’t drop it into their nests. Enabling and/or rewarding irresponsible behavior isn’t love. (2Jn 1:6)

The purpose of government is to protect its citizens, punish evildoers, and praise those who do well (1Pe 2:14), while enforcing laws which are consistent with God’s Law. Torah enables the poor to help themselves to the resources of others only in an extremely limited context (De 23:24-25), but it exhorts us all to voluntarily help each other out when in need. (De 15:7-8) There’s eternal wisdom here which we do well to heed.

Healthy government focuses on the role God’s given it, and divides and balances its power to mitigate abuse. Let people cooperate voluntarily in meeting the remaining needs of society as they see fit. The closer to this model we can get, the better off we’ll all be.

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Laying on of Hands

God speaks of the laying on of hands as a first principle of His revelation, a foundation of our faith. (He 6:2) Given its importance, perhaps we ought to be diligent in understanding and obeying it.

Throughout Torah, in purifying their flesh from the defilement of sin (He 9:13), God’s people would lay hands on the heads of animal sacrifices: for national sins of ignorance (Le 4:14-15), sanctifying priests (Le 8:14, Nu 8:12), and in transferring sins onto the scapegoat on the day of Atonement. (Le 16:21) In a unique instance, God instructed Moses to lay his hand on Joshua to commission him as a leader and put some of Moses’ honor upon him (Nu 27:18-20); Moses obeyed, laying his hands on Joshua (Nu 27:22-23), filling Joshua with the spirit of wisdom. (De 34:9)

Throughout the New Testament, we see laying on of hands as people are healed, dedicated for service, and given spiritual gifts: a father asks Christ to lay hands on His daughter and heal her (Mk 5:23) and Christ lays hands others as He heals them (Mk 6:5, Lk 4:40, 13:13), expecting His followers to do the same. (Mk 16:18Ac 28:8) The Apostles lay their hands on newly selected deacons after praying for them (Ac 6:6), and on new believers after praying for them and they’re filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ac 8:17, 19:6) The church in Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas in dedicating them for mission work (Ac 13:3), and Timothy was given a spiritual gift through prophecy and the laying on of the hands of the local bishops. (1Ti 4:14)

As every single biblical context of laying on of hands involves prayer of some kind, and as our hands are the only physical part of us that we can use to firmly connect ourselves with others (by grabbing hold of them), it appears that this is how we express our spiritual connection with others in the presence of God, to identify with them in what we’re praying, and act out the reality of our spiritual connection with each other before God. Whether it be a sin offering which is taking our place on God’s altar, or souls we’re lifting up to God for help, who we’re connected with in a greater metaphysical organism (be it the Body of Christ or humanity itself), the laying on of hands is evidently the natural, organic way for us to express, illustrate and complete this interconnectivity with others before God.

In calling this concept foundational to our faith, it seems God would have us recognize that we’re not merely isolated individuals, but to be continually aware that we’re each an intrinsic part of a greater whole, and to honor this whole in our loving, benevolent, sacrificial behavior.

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Give Them Repentance

Repentance is a change of behavior based on a change of mind (Eze 18:30); it’s believing something different (Mk 1:15) and acting accordingly. (Ac 26:20)

As God commands us to repent (Ac 17:30) it sounds easy enough, but it isn’t actually something we can do on our own (Je 13:23); God must give us repentance (2Ti 2:25), turning us from darkness to light, delivering us from Satanic power and bringing us unto Himself. (Ac 26:18)

In order to repent we must first hear truth, then God must open our hearts to recognize it as truth  (Ps 119:18) and help us believe and obey it. (Ps 119:35)

This process generally requires that we’ve already received some related truth that the new revelation connects to and extends; it’s a growth process. Without sufficient context to build on, we can’t always receive new truth. (Jn 16:12) God must help each one of us to grow in Him in a way that is unique to our own particular weakness and frame. (1Th 2:7)

Since we can’t know the weaknesses of others, or even our own very well, it’s impossible for us to tell for sure what particular truths any given person is able to receive at any given time. (Ga 6:2) Like the layers of an onion, each of us has many issues for God to heal and repair (Is 28:10); only He knows what we can handle and when. (Ps 103:14)

We must bear patiently with each other (2Ti 2:24), and with ourselves, presenting that which is holy to those who are seeking (Mt 7:6), asking God to teach us all His way (Ep _4:21)not judging anyone, and leaving the results to Him.

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First Principles

Certain concepts are fundamental to our walk with God, basic building blocks of the spiritual life. (He 5:12) Grasping these helps us understand ourselves and God, so we can grow into spiritual maturity. (He 6:1-2)

Sand magnified 250X

Sin: violating Torah, God’s commands and instructions. God has One Law which applies to all of us. (1Jn 3:4)

Repentance: to change direction based on a change in belief. (2Ti 2:25)

Faith: perfect supernatural confidence and assurance; the absence of all doubt about something. (Ja 1:6a)

Grace: supernatural influence causing us to be less evil than we’re prone to be, and/or to believe on and obey God, and/or to be more Christ-like in some way. (He 12:28)

Pride: thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, as morally superior to another. (Ga 6:3)

Humility: esteeming others better than ourselves, as our moral superiors. (Php 2:3)

Free Will: always making the worst choice God allows us to make.

Baptisms: identifying with God’s transformation through ritual immersion.

Laying on of hands: identifying with others as a living sacrifice.

Resurrection: this life is a vapor.

Judgement: God will eternally evaluate us all.

We should seek to be aligned on all of these basics through thoughtful discussion and prayerful study. Feel free to challenge me on any of them, or to encourage me that I’ve helped you further grasp them.

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Sin

We all know the word sin; it means evil, or doing evil. The concept itself implies metaphysical reality, proving the existence of God: made in His image, we instinctively identify sin as independent of human opinion —  implying a divine standard defining good and evil.

Sin is breaking God’s Law, violating God’s moral standard. (1Jn 3:4) If we neglect, dismiss or alter any part of His standard, we get the definition wrong and encourage sin.

God has only one standard; it’s called Torah, and it applies to everyone. (Mt 5:19) In breaking any part of it, we break it all, as a whole. (Ja 2:10)

Ultimately, sin isn’t about how we feel, or what we think is good or bad, or what society says. It’s about what God says.

Our conscience is the part of us which reacts to moral behavior, seeing right and wrong in the actions of both ourselves and others, condemning what we think is sinful and approving what we think is good. It makes us feel shame and guilt when we think we’re sinning, and wrath, indignation, disdain and contempt as we judge others. Our conscience isn’t defining sin itself, any more than a thermometer makes things hot or cold; the conscience is just a detector, and it can be broken in more ways than one.

When we don’t listen to God and study His standard for ourselves, the enemy wars against us, easily convincing us that some things are sinful which aren’t, and that other things aren’t sinful which are. This results in a weakening of our conscience (Ro 14:2), and as we act against a weak conscience we further corrupt and defile it. (1Co 8:7) As we continue to let the enemy deceive us, our conscience can eventually become seared (1Ti 4:2), no longer properly responding to moral behavior at all.

To be healthy in God, we must continually exercise ourselves  (Ac 24:16) to keep our conscience clean (He 10:22), constantly washing our mind and heart in the Word of God (Ep 5:26), through which the blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from thought patterns which lead to sin and death. (He 9:14) We hide His laws in our heart (Ps 119:11) and meditate on them all the time (Ps 1:2), so that we can have a conscience that is good, working properly to identify sin and holiness. (1Pe 3:16) This is, in fact, the goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5)

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Ye are the Temple

A temple is a divine dwelling place, the habitation of deity. It’s a special place because God’s awesome. Who wouldn’t want to stop by God’s house, and pay Him a visit every now and then? It sounds nice at first, but there’s a problem lurking here.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Thinking God has a house, a place we can go to be closer to Him, is also thinking that in every other place we’re farther away from Him. If we know where He is, we can get away from Him and keep Him at a distance. That’s a problem.

Fact is, God’s everywhere, all the time. (Ps 139:7) There isn’t any place He isn’t, where we can be any closer to Him or farther away from Him. He’s in our face, and we’re in His, every moment of every day. There’s no place to hide.

The real temple of the living God is the human heart, mind and soul. God dwells within each believer (1Co 6:19), and in a particularly powerful way, though believers united together in Him as a living sacrifice(1Co 3:16) God doesn’t need, or even want, a house separate from us (Ac 17:24); there’l be no temple in eternity. (Re 21:22)

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