Lord of the Sabbath

When Christ says the sabbath was made for Man, and not Man for the sabbath (Mk 2:27), we might conclude the same about the rest of Torah, that it was made for us: we weren’t made for it. We might also conclude there might be times when it’s OK to break certain parts of God’s law, as when we’re in danger or have an emergency.

The immediate context is about harvesting on sabbath when we’re famished: the disciples were plucking grain (23) and the Pharisees accused them of breaking Sabbath. (24)

Christ counters with David eating bread he wasn’t allowed to eat; David and his men were famished and there weren’t any good options. (25-26) Christ seems to be saying there are times when God mercifully overlooks certain kinds of Torah violations: it isn’t that they aren’t violations; God just doesn’t call them out or hold us accountable for them in the same way.

What shall we say of god-fearing people who lied during the Holocaust to save innocent lives? Do we really see ourselves standing up on Judgment day condemning them? (Mt 12:41) We might be quite alone if we do; while God doesn’t officially approve of this kind of behavior, neither does He explicitly call it out as evil (Ex 1:19); He does seem to overlook it. (20-21)

The fact that plucking grain on sabbath actually doesn’t violate Torah at all, just Jewish tradition, may then not be the point; perhaps the point is that God is free to mercifully overlook certain kinds of sin without being unjust. (Ge 19:21) Perhaps it’s also about us being overly scrupulous in evaluating others’ behavior, especially in difficult, unusual or trying circumstances.

In reminding us He’s Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28), Christ wasn’t telling us it’s OK to violate sabbath, or any part of Torah (Mt 5:19), but that He knows best when and how to show mercy when we break it.

It’s one thing to appreciate the mercy of God (Ps 136:1), yet it’s another matter altogether to presume He will be merciful when we deliberately choose to break Torah for our own welfare and comfort. (He 10:28-31) When obeying God will bring suffering and difficulty, how committed should we be to honoring and respecting God’s Law? Should we break sabbath to keep a job? Or lie to save a loved one? Would we rather starve than eat unclean food?

Every one of us will give account of himself to God, and we’re all at different stages of maturity; some have faith to suffer for minor Torah violations, while others may not yet be grounded, becoming bitter and resentful in premature sacrifice. We should not create burdens for ourselves and others (Ac 15:10) which we’re unable to gladly bear. (He 10:34) Sorting this out is no small matter.

Whether God will slam us to the mat if we happen to break His Law under duress may not be the right question. Would Jesus break God’s Law to convenience Himself? or to accommodate someone He loves? Even to spare His own life? He never did sin like this (1Pe 2:22) and we’re to follow His steps. (21)

A better question might be, What kind of Resurrection do we want? (He 12:35b) What kind of testimony? (Re 12:11)

It’s a matter of faith to trust God to work out the details when we’re in a bind, to give us the strength to walk in joy, honoring Him as we suffer. Staying alive isn’t the ultimate priority (Php 1:21-22); neither is comfort or pleasure – ours or anyone else’s. We’ve not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (He 12:4) The goal of God’s love is holiness: it makes no room for sin.

Shall we be so delighted in God’s ways that as the pressures of life mount up and threaten us (Ps 119:61), closing in about us until our very life hangs in the balance (109), we’ll not neglect or forsake His precepts? (87) Clinging to them as unto Him? (31) If we’ve yielded our body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God (Ro 12:1), we’ve already decided.

articles    blog

Number Our Days

Time is arguably our most precious asset; our days on Earth are limited, and wisdom asks God to teach us to number them (Ps 90:12), or to quantify and manage them; we should be using every bit of this most precious resource to glorify God as well as we can — redeeming the time (Ep 5:16): treat every moment as if it’s priceless and we’d buy it back if we could.

So, one helpful way to look at this might be to examine how we’re spending our “free” time: what’s left after we’ve done our duty, fulfilled our responsibilities. We should know how much free time we have and maximize it in pursuit of God’s kingdom and righteousness. (Mt 6:33) Most of us have no idea how much free time we have, how many hours are slipping away unnoticed every day, underutilized, and the related opportunity cost.

Here’s an idea: fill out a 12X12 grid where each square is 10 minutes (2 hrs per row) and block out how you think you’re spending your time; when multi-tasking identify the focus activity.

Here’s my typical weekday, optional activity up top and more dutiful time beneath. “Free” time (purple/red/pink) is 5+ hrs, which I mostly spend working out — for general health / stress relief while memorizing / meditating on scripture and praying.

How we manage our time reflects our priorities, what we value — or worship. This is especially true of “free” time, what we do beyond duty, when we have a practical choice. The decisions we consistently make here tell us where our heart is and define who we are. (Mt 7:20)

The realty check is we actually are spending our time according to our priorities: we live according to our most deeply held values. This is how God renders to us all according to our deeds (Ro 2:6) even though salvation is by faith: our actions spring from our hearts and reflect our true beliefs. (Php 3:18-19)

Our entire life is composed of these tiny little 10-minute blocks, and we all have 144 every day: no one has any more or less. How many do we have in total, in our entire life? Only God knows, but once we choose to spend one a certain way, we never get a re-do; it’s gone forever and we can’t get it back.

What does God intend for us to do with each block? (Ps 119:97) What would our lives be like if we spent each one for Him? (Col 3:17) That’s the opportunity cost of making other choices; it will all be revealed on Judgement Day (Mt 12:36), and will reverberate eternally. (Mt 7:26-27)

If we’re misaligned with God’s values we can ask Him to show us where (Php 3:15); if we’re uncomfortable giving God an account of how we’re living it’s never too late; there’s no time like the present to acknowledge reality and ask Him for help. (He 4:16) He already knows. (Ps 139:2)

articles    blog

Works of the Devil

When we observe inconsistencies between our rational minds and our emotions we discover our subconscious: underlying beliefs controlling us which are contrary to our intellect. What we actually believe and who we are is a composite of all these beliefs, and it’s a bit mysterious.

Many fight intense negative emotion, fear and anxiety, when they’re in no danger; others, a critical voice relentlessly discouraging and crippling them; still others wrestle with a debilitating sense of shame and worthlessness they can’t shake off. We all have spiritual wounds keeping us from functioning according to God’s design.

A girl, having done her best, hears, “Why don’t you do better? You’ll never amount to anything!” Satan whispers, “Something’s wrong with you; you’re unloved, worthless, unimportant, unnecessary.” As an adult she’s working herself to the bone serving others, but she’s constantly anxious, restless, no satisfaction or peace.

A boy is sexually violated and hears the insidious whisper, “If God loved you He wouldn’t have let this happen to you; you’re dirty, flawed, worthless.” As an adult he’s filled with fear and shame, hiding in rebellion and perversion.

We might frame all of this up in terms of lies and truth: when we’re acting inconsistently with reality we’re believing a lie. We might call the resulting damage to our souls works of the devil, the consequence of believing Satan’s lies about our lived experience (Jn 8:44b), and see Jesus Christ, the Truth (Jn 14:6), as our Deliverer: He destroys the works of the devil. (1Jn 3:8b)

The Passion of the Christ

Whenever we experience trauma, Satan is at hand to feed us the lie: “God isn’t good; you’re the problem.” But it’s just a lie, and there’s no reason to believe it. Yet we do tend to believe it, and this is the problem.

These lies are often buried so deeply within our subconscious we don’t even know what’s happened to us, or where to begin in dealing with them. So, how do we get free? (Ro 7:24)

We get into spiritual bondage in stages, gradually, starting in childhood and believing more and more lies as we go through life. So, it should come as no surprise that we generally get free the same way, over time, in many small steps, believing more and more truth (Jn 8:32) as we pursue God (Mt 7:7-8) and He teaches us His Way. (1Jn 2:27)

The only path to freedom is going back the way we came: realigning our mind with reality, believing differently; it’s called repentance, and it’s the gift of God. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Freedom comes as we internalize three primal truths: [1] God is good; [2] God is sovereign; and [3] He created each of us for a unique purpose. Like a three-legged stool, remove any of these fundamental principles and we have an unstable foundation.

We must know deep down that God loves us and that He’s ultimately benevolent towards us. (Ps 27:13) We must also know He’s in charge of everything: nothing ever happens without His permission. (Ro 11:36) And we must be confident that He has a unique design and purpose in creating us (Re 2:17b), and that all He has ever allowed to happen to us, or ever will allow, is ultimately for good. (Ro 8:28)

God calls us to pursue His purpose for us (2Ti 2:17), and He will help us as we turn to Him and follow after Him. (He 4:16)

The more deeply we know these things the more we align with reality and deliver ourselves from Satan’s devices.

articles    blog

Pleasure in Them

Recently I’ve been convicted of enjoying others as they violate God’s ways. Granted, it’s fiction that I’m enjoying, but I don’t really see the difference: how is enjoying sin in a fictional character any different than enjoying it in real life?

While I might not be so bold as to actually do what they do, when I take any pleasure in their disobedience, don’t I reveal my own heart to be aligned with their sin in some way? (Ro 1:32)

For example, I enjoyed watching a navy seal avenge himself (Terminal List), I was sympathetic with fornicators (Titanic), rooted for thieves (Ocean’s 13) and took pleasure in insubordination. (Top Gun: Maverick) What are all the ways I take pleasure in sin, and how is this not itself a sin?

Similarly, twinges of envy and bitterness reflect unbelief in the goodness of God; it’s blaming God for making mistakes, distrusting Him, claiming I know better, positioning myself as God and putting myself on the throne. This is not fully believing in God; it’s failing to submit to Him and honor Him. (Ro 1:21)

By God’s grace I’d never actually do such things against God deliberately with my words and will, of course, but when my emotional impulses and tendencies reveal an inconsistency with what I think I believe, I should soberly address it. (Ro 7:21-24)

I’m being double-minded (Ja 1:7) when my emotions are inconsistent with my intellect, misaligned with what I claim to believe. Like claiming God is my delight without joy (1Pe 1:8), or believing God is good without thanksgiving. (Col 2:7)

This is all driven by inconsistent, contradictory conscious beliefs (formal double-mindedness = not loving truth), and/or by subconscious beliefs of which I may be entirely unaware. In either case, it’s definitely an opportunity to grow more into the likeness of Christ (1Jn 3:4): Jesus Christ has no such inconsistency. (Ps 45:7)

In diagnosing this I notice the root cause of my behavior to be lies embedded within my conscience, the part of me approving what’s good and rejecting evil; my conscience is telling me sin is good, desirable, acceptable, even tolerable … when it’s not, so my conscience needs to be cleansed and healed. (He 10:22)

So, what should I do about this? Systematically search my conscious understanding and root out all inconsistency as well as I’m able, hiding God’s Word in my heart and meditating on it, comparing my beliefs, attitudes and actions with what God says and praying through any verses which rub me the wrong way. God has commanded me to do this very thing for this very reason (1Ti 1:5), so He can heal me of the lies to which I’m still clinging and set me free.

I can also continue to observe my emotions for inconsistencies with the Word and lift them up to the Light, asking God to show me the lies I’m still harboring way deep down, and heal me. He is in the business of purging my conscience from dead works with the blood of Christ that I might serve Him more completely and fully. (He 9:14) Wherever I’m not aligned with His Way He will reveal this to me when He’s ready to deal with it in me, in the perfect time and in the perfect way. (Php 3:15)

This is the sobering journey of sanctification, and I’m to work it out with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), knowing God is working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (13) As I hunger and thirst after righteousness, He has promised to fill me (Mt 5:6) that I might partake of the divine nature. (2Pe 1:4)

articles    blog

Add to Patience Godliness

Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (He 12:2), instructs us to diligently add to our faith (2Pe 1:5); though God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13), He tells us to work out our own sanctification with fear and trembling. (12)

As we pursue God, there’s evidently an optimal path or sequence in sanctification: starting with faith we’re to add virtue, then add knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, then charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

Adding godliness between patience and brotherly kindness is perhaps unexpected: godliness is how we might identify the ultimate spiritual goal (2Pe 1:3), so why would God emphasize a particular sequence in sanctification, and include godliness as an intermediate step?

Godliness is from the Greek εὐσέβειαν, which is also translated holiness. (Ac 3:12) It evidently conveys the idea of reverential piety, fervency and earnest sincerity in spiritual matters. It’s wanting to be aligned with God at the most fundamental levels; it’s receiving Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts, inviting His scrutiny, rebuke and chastening, and welcoming His healing, communion and fellowship. (Re 3:20)

Focusing first on rightly aligning with God before kindness and love, godliness being the fine-tuning of this alignment, is perhaps an indication that we must be in right relationship with God before we can rightly relate with others. The greatest commandments, summarizing all of God’s Law (Mt 22:40), sequence moral priority like this: first love God then love others. (37-39) The Decalogue confirms, starting with godward commands (Ex 20:3-7), and finishing with relational commands. (12-17)

Having patience as a foundation for godliness positions us to maintain hope in suffering as we pursue holiness; it’s saying God is good at our own expense, knowing God is faithful, and reveals that we are rightly grounded in Him. Until we suffer well in God our faith hasn’t been tried (Ja 1:2-3) and found true. (1Pe 1:7)

Focusing on godliness as a foundation for kindness and love helps us love more authentically, more effectively. Knowing God’s love doesn’t come naturally; think carefully about it, examine it, pray for and seek understanding. (Ep 3:14, 19) If we don’t understand God’s love, how can we rightly love ourselves and others?

As we grow in Christ we don’t get everything at each stage of sanctification before we move on to the next; we don’t become perfectly virtuous before we gain the first bit of knowledge. The idea here is emphasis; if we value virtue above knowledge, we’ll understand how to rightly use knowledge and it won’t make us proud. (2Co 8:b) Similarly, pursuing godliness as a foundation for charity ensures that what passes for agape love in us is the genuine article, authentic, not superficial or put on, not for show.

God’s love is about holiness (He 12:10), not human comfort, happiness or pleasure. The more we’re aligned with God, the more our love for others will reflect His.

articles    blog