Toward Eden

If you go outside today and speak to the grass, flowers, trees and birds, you’ll discover that they aren’t too worried about Brexit. The rocks and dirt may seem untroubled by the 500 trillion dollars of notional derivative debts held by banks around the world. And I’m willing to bet nature won’t offer much discussion over the likelihood of major global warfare breaking out between the major military powers.

They will tell you of our Creator’s love and the blessings they offer to people who live from their hearts. And they’ll reassure you that they intend to stick around and keep offering those blessings until God is ready for the Final Redemption. Meanwhile, they beg us to manifest the moral character of God so that they can enjoy just a little preview of that ultimate revelation.

It’s not that those fallen human threats have no meaning, but that we cannot face them properly until we learn to listen to the unfallen rest of Creation. Mankind wastes an awful lot of effort and resources on things that don’t matter much. Should there be some awful cataclysm and massive death event, Creation will still be here as long as God wants. Granted, His Word says that humans won’t be exterminated before The End of all things, but nothing in His Word prevents things continuing for a lot longer than many Bible readers imagine.

Instead, His Word hints that what triggers Christ’s Return will be something too subtle for the world at large to notice. You can’t perceive it with fleshly senses or understand it with reason. Some significant portion of humans will rise up to seize the heritage of redemption in the here and now, and it has nothing to do with politics and material wealth. It’s the heritage of peace with Creation as a part of Creation. Peace with Creation hinges entirely on peace with God and vice versa. It’s all one thing.

Recall the teaching of the sensory heart. It’s a sensory organ in its own right, with a separate “brain” capable of processing what encounters that sensory field. Open your awareness to the heart; recenter your sense of soul there. In the Bible, the heart was not about emotions, but the seat of the will, the one part of us able to connect directly to God. It’s an entirely different faculty of awareness that we call “faith” and enables you to see the invisible moral truth woven into Creation. That’s the character and Presence of our God.

Sure, bad stuff is coming. Fallen people with no heart-sense at all have piled up death and destruction, blindly seeking what cannot satisfy. God has already unleashed His wrath on this generation of fools. The saints of God will tribulate, but we have the advantage of seeing things through the eyes of our hearts. We are held tightly by the promise of God that whatever happens will not hinder our mission and calling.

Use that sensory heart; get out and talk to Creation as often as you can spare the time for it. Make time for it. Chances are there will be precious few humans around you who share that gift, but even they will suffer as you do with a long way to go to make it work as God intended. Let’s pass through that Flaming Sword of revelation and repentance, the self-death of redemption by joining Jesus on the Cross, and let’s head back toward Eden. That’s what we are designed for in the first place.

Psalm 106

This is the second of two historical psalms together; it is also the last psalm in the Fourth Book. This second of the pair recounts the history of Israel’s rebellions against God, contrasted against His mercy.

As in the previous psalm, we see a heavy emphasis on the miracle of crossing the Reed Sea. More than once some writer has marveled at the very thought of something so unprecedented, and we are called to wonder how anyone who walked through on that dry seabed could forget and then doubt God. But we are also told repeatedly that Israel was a demonstration of God’s holiness precisely because they were the most difficult nation He could have chosen. Yet again, in humility we have to wonder if we aren’t sometimes just as difficult for other reasons now that He has included all nations in His covenant in Christ.

The psalmist begins with an eloquent call to worship, including his thesis on the mercy of God. Notice how he opens wide the door to anyone who senses a call to join this celebration. Do you want to be a part of His people? It starts with humbling yourself before the God of Creation and accepting His invitation to join His household of faith. The focus is not on the particulars of the Law, but on a sincere desire to bless the Lord.

Contrast that with how Israel actually behaved, and the obvious need for repentance. Right there on the shore of the sea, after seeing all the incredible miracles humbling Egypt, he wonders how they doubted God and His chosen leaders. Yet despite their ungrateful whining, He showed them an even more astonishing miracle by drying the seabed into a highway for their escape. Yet not a single Egyptian survived the sudden return of the water. They had no trouble celebrating it at that moment.

But they hurried to forget His power during the march to Sinai. Regardless of how God supplied, they were never satisfied, always seeking some new to excuse to complain. How many died by the earthquake and the fire when they rejected God’s vestment of Moses and Aaron as His appointed leaders? And let’s not forget that Golden Calf! Moses stood for them, or there wouldn’t be an Israel. Later, it was Phinehas. So many times they came close to success in provoking God’s wrath and total destruction.

The business of conquest was actually not so much piling up the bodies of the Canaanites, but their eager lust for deserting God for Canaanite idols. They didn’t cleanse the land of heathen shrines, much less the defiling presence of those who burned their own children in the fires of Molech. The very earth cried out in sorrow and defilement, but Israel turned a deaf ear and refused to cleanse the land. Where was that joyous witness of the power of their God aimed at showing His glory to the Gentiles? They refused to let their hearts lead. How could the land continue offering all the abundant richness of God’s provision if they couldn’t hear the cry for taking care of it on God’s behalf? No, they joined in the defilement of Molech, and more. Their moral authority was depleted and the same Gentiles they should have driven out came back and conquered them.

How many times did God hear their cry? How many times did He relent and deliver them despite their constant hostility to Him? So how can you not give Him due honor and glory?

The Light You Have

Standard spiritual advice: Walk in the light you have. It’s the same as obeying your conscience as it speaks now so you can move farther along and train it to speak more accurately. If you aren’t faithful where you stand now, you cannot expect God to open doors to more challenging things.

And sometimes right in the big middle of a critical project, God tells you to stop and turn your attention elsewhere. You should incorporate that into your thinking about how God directs us for His glory. Think of it like Abraham offering Isaac and finding out that wasn’t what God had in mind after all. Yes, God is like that, simply because of our fallen nature.

It’s not a question of fault in the sense that you deserve to be misled or something like that; such is the thinking of those who don’t know God. It’s not God testing you because He doesn’t know what you’ll do, but He wants you to discover what you’ll do when conviction comes to full force in your soul.

Our virtual parish family has exploded; not just in size, but in depth. We have more regulars and their voice is stronger and it’s so beautiful to watch. You’ll know you are really getting somewhere when you realize you could probably pursue your calling without having to check in here. That’s the paradox of fellowship and communion in genuine faith; we stick around together and cling most tightly because we don’t have to. This parish will become a roaring bonfire of truth when more of you can walk in faith without this parish.

Are you ready if God allows something to shut this down? I’m not expecting it, and I have no plans to stop posting anytime soon. But at the same time, I sense that something is certainly going to change my situation in ways I could never predict. So I pose that question for you to pray and meditate — I suppose because it symbolizes what some might call the worst case scenario. It would certainly be shocking and hard to take. And it could come any day now.

It wasn’t hyperbole when I warned recently that the bottle of wrath has been uncorked, and it won’t go back into the bottle. This vintage of the grapes of wrath will be poured out generously until it’s empty, and it’s work is done. It’s a really big bottle, so that will take awhile.

You should understand that a prophetic message is not something that exists out there somewhere as objective reality-to-come. Rather, a prophetic message is fundamentally a statement about God’s moral character, typically expressed in a given context. God has always offered His covering, a way for individuals and some groups to escape what He decides to do on a larger scale. You know, that “blood on the doorpost” thing from the Exodus. You’ll still have to pack your stuff and move and you won’t always have fun, but you won’t have to endure the wrath He pours out on everyone else.

And conquering new worlds in God’s wake is much more fun than stomping mud and straw for someone who doesn’t care about God.

Tribulation is here. And if you fail to see it as an opportunity to exploit for His glory, then you aren’t ready. Truly, folks, I have no idea what’s coming at me, much less what’s coming for everyone else. But it’s right outside the door; I can’t shake that conviction.

So follow me a bit here: I was riding that new bike and planning to get a much better camera. Then the bike and my right leg were mangled. I’ll likely get the bike back long before I can ride it again, and it strikes me as funny. And now I’m not even sure I need to worry about a rowing machine or a kayak either one. And my ministry of heart-photography is on hold, too. I’m hardly finished seeking to exploit things for His glory, just no longer looking at those wonderful things I rightly planned to do. My eagerness to obey the calling threw me into another reality altogether.

But I don’t know what’s next, only that there really is a very big “next.” So it’s my duty to you as elder to suggest it could affect what goes on here, and I have no idea how. It’s not pessimism to wonder if something we do now has to end. It’s giving back to God all the blessings He has given so there’s room for what else He has in store.

Psalm 105

This is the first of two historical songs. This one celebrates what God has done to establish Israel as a nation. These are the defining miracles that provide the core of Israel’s identity as God’s own people. This psalm offers parallels to David’s psalm recorded in 1 Chronicles 16.

Most Westerners misread the point of celebrating in conjunction with so much death and destruction on other nations. There’s nothing here about Israel going out of her way to look for trouble. Again, the focus is on God and His limitless power. It was God who stirred up enemies against them simply for the purpose of demonstrating His authority over all Creation. The deities of these other nations could not protect them from the God of Israel.

So this song opens with a call to praise and worship. Indeed, the words stir up the image of losing oneself in worship with unrestrained enthusiasm. In the Hebrew mind, such extravagant devotion simply is not possible without the divine Presence. One does not simply enter an ecstatic state, but is drawn to a higher moral plane of awareness. It’s the same Holy Spirit that makes genuine faith possible in war or peace, with actions appropriate to each. And in these celebrations, the worshiper is encouraged to describe what great things He has done on their behalf.

The story for Israel begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. God never failed to honor the covenant He offered the other Patriarchs in the name of Abraham. People might lose track of things, but God does not forget His covenant and law because they arise from His own divine character. This is the very nature of Creation itself. So the promise of possessing Canaan Land was by faith, not by physical occupation for several generations yet, but He delivered on His promised blessings.

So they prospered but remained only a small extended family household. They wandered in lands held by other nations, all the way down to Egypt. God never permitted anyone to oppress them until it was a necessary part of His plan. We note in passing that the warning against oppressing His anointed and His prophets (v. 15) both refer to Israel, which presumes her identity is tied up in that calling and mission to manifest His character as a living message.

Came the famine in Palestine and God prepared the salvation of His people through Joseph. Again and again, the message is that God does some things that aren’t pleasant to the flesh, but in the long run are truly in Israel’s best interest because that interest is wrapped up in the interests of His glory. Thus, Joseph went from slave to viceroy of Egypt. Pharaoh could just about retire and let Joseph run things for him, so wise and effective he proved to be.

And it was Joseph’s advancement that spared his kin in Egypt from the famine ravaging all that region of the world. But eventually things turned sour when the Hyksos invaded and cared nothing for the memory of Joseph. The Lord chose this new ruling class to harden for His glory, and they oppressed Israel. But at the right time, He then sent Moses to deliver them with such power and waves of destruction on Egypt that she went into a serious decline for a long time after.

Israel plundered Egypt, and the people were glad to see them go at any price. And Israel was a rich nation throughout that long journey, with manna, quail and water aplenty when they bothered to ask God according to His promises.

And so it went, plundering other nations to enrich His own. Why? He did it so that this nation could glorify His name as the One True God of Creation. Who could be silent at such a long history of glory?

Divine Amplification

We can never accurately predict actual outcomes.

I am acquainted with the Social Sciences and the reasons they exist. It’s an attempt to analyze human behavior at large and quantify what goes in and what comes out. There is a broadly recognized imprecision, with constant effort to account for data that might have been missed. Meanwhile, we are acutely aware that some data is forever lost. These days, most of the effort is wasted on chasing new models to structure existing data. It symbolizes the frantic band-aids attempting to save the rotting structure of Western Civilization.

Fans of the classical Enlightenment view of Western Civilization — the true believers — lament the current trendy hostility to Western culture. You can find endless examples of people frankly agitating to kill it. For example, we see all the defiant political leaders forcing their subjects to absorb culturally hostile immigrants. It constitutes an invasion in effect. While those who promote this de facto invasion blather endlessly about diversity and enriching human culture, some of them know for a fact that’s a lie. Some of the folks pressing this trend have confessed that peaceful coexistence is not important in the long run. They’ll pay any price to destroy what they can’t control and reshape to their satisfaction.

You don’t have to be a member of the choir here at Kiln of the Soul parish to understand the moral blindness behind all of this crap. I’m hardly the only writer who presses the biblical teaching that we humans are hard-wired for tribal existence. Cosmopolitan is okay in the marketplace, but God Himself has warned us not to bring it home. We say that, not because we believe that there is one pure tribal culture, but because humans are inherently tribal regardless of the which flavor of culture you embrace. Pick one, but if you want to harvest God’s shalom, you must create a rather closed social enclave or you’ll waste time with all sorts of things that you cannot and should not pursue.

Nobody said you can’t mix diverse folk into a genuine covenant household of faith, but they do have to unify like a family. They do have to become their own unique social enclave; this must be the core your moral existence in this world. You can’t afford any competing claims on your loyalty. It’s a lie of Satan that clannish social barriers always result in hostility. The lie (in America, at least) arises from having only the one culture — Anglo-Saxon — as the model for tribal existence. Isn’t it funny how the agitators are buying into the same fundamental lie, presuming that Anglo-Saxon mythology is the sole/best inherent model of humanity? They keep designing solutions that presume the myth is true.

We could characterize something very fundamental to our faith: Arguing with God is the definition of sin. Granted, there can be problems with that if you rely on English Bible translations too much as accurate representations of God’s revelation. Rejecting a bad translation is not arguing with God. We will never completely understand the Bible. That’s not to say it’s an impossible task, but that we can never rest; we can thorough if not complete. The most important factor is not your intellectual acumen on the Scripture, but whether the Word within the words of Scripture holds your attention. God chose this means to reveal Himself in support of the long history of humans who knew Him and passed His truth one-on-one. The objective of Scripture isn’t factual knowledge, but personal acquaintance.

In my Bible study notes on Jeremiah, I wrote in reference to 1:11-12:

Two things were important for Jeremiah’s service. First was to understand the power of God’s Word as something alive, which the Lord stood behind and made it happen. So he gave Jeremiah a vision of an almond sapling (shaqed) to symbolize how God kept track of things. That God stood guard over His word (shoqed) was a play on words, but also we note the almond was the first plant to betray spring, by sprouting before any other.

Jesus taught His disciples a paradox of divine logic that is directly connected to this:

Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25 NKJV)

If you can listen to your heart and embrace His revelation, He will draw you closer to Himself for a stronger commitment. Your best viewpoint on Creation is standing as close to God as you can get. If you reject His Word, you will be driven out of His Presence. If you walk in His moral character, He will amplify the effects to pour out His blessings on you, to the point you are overwhelmed. If you pull away from His divine justice, He will pile up the curses to ensure you get more than you asked for.

Another element in this is divine polarization (Matthew 10:34-39). Holiness is based on the image of separation from confusion and sin. What we see subjectively, and what others could see in our lives, will gain moral clarity by the sheer force of distance. God drives us one way or another, based on our choices.

If all you know about history is what men can report from the evidence they find, you know very little, indeed. Having already written much on it, I could write more books on what I understand intellectually about the current decline of Western Civilization. I could post an endless stream of articles explaining how the economic and social chaos, much of which is still not accurately reported (or reported at all) in the mainstream media, will progress in some specifics. Still, that kind of analysis won’t do you much good in preparing for the actual effects you might experience. Even the critical analysis of leaked information and connecting the dots of information already hidden in plain sight won’t provide the full picture on any specific tragic event. (For example, the FBI introduced the Orlando shooter to their paid informants who act as handlers for patsies; they told his ex-wife not to publicize his gay tendencies.)

The facts won’t matter without a proper moral discernment. If people wanted to walk away from the lies, God would lead them farther than they could ever dream. The truth is there in plain sight if folks will just catch a glimmer of revelation. Yes, it’s a ton of work that won’t be finished by the time God takes us Home, but it’s better to go Home to Him with something to offer to His glory. The doom on America (or any other country) is because some minimum tipping point of the folks here never accepted their divine call to take the path anyone can take out of their moral blindness. You’d be amazed at how small the portion would have to be for God to offer mercy (Genesis 18:22-33). It varies with the context, but God is no bean-counter. And what a poor representative Lot was of God’s revelation, yet the Lord saved him from the worst of the disaster.

He has a plan to deliver us, too, if we cling to His truth. That’s all we need to really know as the Western world crumbles.

Anti-Activism

It’s a question of dominion. You and I are permitted to take assertive action only within the boundaries of covenant. When it comes to social and political issues, the prevailing applicable covenant is Noah’s. We could easily get lost hashing out the details of the Seven Noahic Laws, but those will not help us because there are prerequisites not stated. The primary issue is that God has wired us to live under Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) feudalism. Without that, you simply cannot have a valid covenant for human organization. Oh, and it requires you reject Western intellectual assumptions.

Inside a covenant community of faith, these changes are pretty easy. Noah’s Covenant isn’t that hard under a presumption of genuine faith. Granted, you could choose a simulacrum of Moses’ Law, so long as you realize that the ritual offerings are swept away by the Cross, aside from offerings given to support worship and leaders. However, it’s largely unnecessary to go that way and Noah is good enough. Instead, we use Moses to inform our understanding of Noah, as Moses has effectively ended, but Noah remains in force so long as there are rainbows. Still, God requires your church be organized like an ANE feudal household. Otherwise, it’s not really a covenant community. Mainstream Western churches are essentially corporations, not spiritual families. It can’t be both. You may well have the latter inside the former, but they aren’t the same body in moral terms because each stands in a different sphere, so you’ll satisfy the requirements for one or the other, but not both.

A covenant presumes voluntary submission. In the Old Testament, children were presumed under parental authority and not free to choose until passing through a collection of moral portals along the way. Parents held total life-n-death prerogatives over their own children. Sometime around age 9 began the transition to social engagement with adult life, culminating in the bar Mitzvah (“son of the Law”) which made them a citizen. (That business of thirty years old had to do with eligibility for community leadership.) At any point after bar-Mitzvah, they could opt out, but only at the price of being regarded socially “dead.” They left the covenant and became aliens, alienated from everyone inside the covenant. Their parents no longer treated them as family, no longer under the protective moral dominion.

In other words, humans must elect to join and actively keep the attachment, or they become nothing more than resident aliens. They still have to meet minimum standards to remain in the physical space of the community, but they don’t actually belong. They still have to recognize they are outsiders with no inherent rights, only a grant of privilege.

A critical element in Old Testament covenant dominion was the actual faith to assert Covenant Law effectively. That is, all covenants depend on the faithfulness of the members. If you don’t have effective control, something is missing inside the covenant community. Effective control presumes you use it in preserving divine justice, AKA shalom AKA social stability under covenant provisions.

So it should be obvious that America, for example, is not a covenant nation. Christians cannot simply assert that it is, or ought to be, or demand that it become so. American Christians generally have no clue what’s required and you can be sure they would reject ANE feudal organization. Even under the most superficial terms, they refuse to obey Noah’s Law. At a minimum, it requires a radical and painful shift from Western thinking to something closer to ANE thinking, and most of them would flatly refuse. They insist on enforcing something closer to the Talmud, with all the goofy legalistic assumptions about reality. Western Christianity is inherently Pharisaical.

Inside the covenant community of faith, we rightly make certain moral demands. Projecting those demands outward onto the secular society is sinful. It’s rather like trying to demand that God offer them His covenant protections without His moral dominion. And in case you missed that, our primary warning to sinners is that their choices are not in their own best interest. They are hurting themselves; it’s the wrong approach to think in terms of how we find things morally offensive. But any change in their choices must come from within. If they don’t accept the whole covenant, they can’t have any part of it. It has nothing to do with their strength to walk away from temptation, but we need to see a genuine desire to walk in divine justice. We all have our moral weaknesses, so humility remains our first impulse. Thus, agitating for piecemeal changes in secular law to more closely match Noah’s Law is evil. While there may be any number of posers pretending to stand for Christian moral values, it’s all or nothing in terms of validity. You can promote the whole package, or you can stop pretending.

And are you willing to make this look like the kind of thing ISIS does by imposing a strict regime by force?

The only valid approach is that a body of people come under conviction and appeal to God for a valid covenant of law. It has to be granted by God as the divine sovereign Lord, a sort of suzerain-vassal treaty. That’s the nature of Law Covenants. His offer stands, but if He has to take us by force, it’s too late. We are obliged to sue for peace before He comes in force. You can choose to enter into covenant individually, but a part of that is recognizing the limits of dominion. Your personal covenant with God is not binding on any other human.

You can be an activist in terms of gentle persuasion; the proper “sell” is telling folks Noah is in their best interest. It’s a loving call to repentance — stop the self-destruction. However, it doesn’t take much to turn that into political agitation and the wrong kind of activism. When we attempt to use any kind of human leverage to drive people into a non-faith decision about morals, they either have to be children under our personal dominion, or it’s the work of Satan. Human politics outside the covenant remain under Satan’s dominion.

One Big Happy Family

The Old Testament provides a wealth of imagery for describing our virtual congregation.

The background of the Bible presumes that humans are wired for ANE feudalism. Thus, this blog is a virtual feudal grant from God and I am the clan chief who leads a family. I am responsible to God for how I exercise dominion here.

Everyone is welcome. There is a covenant of faith in force here that guides what I write and what comments I permit through moderation. Aside from the obvious references to the Radix Fidem meta-religion outline posted on our parish parlor blog, our covenant recognizes two primary marks of the Spirit’s Presence in your life: penitent humility and not disputing against Scripture. If we can see those two marks, we will assume you are brothers and sisters in this covenant of faith.

If you can’t embrace all that stuff, but still want to be friends, you will be regarded as resident aliens. You aren’t part of that family of faith covenant, but we offer another covenant of alliance, the one symbolized by sharing a meal in the Old Testament. I’m still your pastor/elder.

Enemies can post so long as it’s on-topic and seems to address something of substance. You’ll have to understand that I will seek to use hostile comments as opportunities to teach those who are not so hostile. It’s like a grant of safe passage for mutual benefit or maybe humanitarian reasons. I’ll pray for anybody.

I don’t take myself that seriously, so poking at me is not in itself a violation of protocol. I delete comments that serve no discernible purpose in what we do here, just like spam.

What’s different is that I don’t measure these things merely by intellect and reason. It’s not a question of rational categories. The boundaries aren’t precise and static, but alive. As with biblical language, I don’t define; I indicate. Context is everything in this world when bringing to bear the moral truth of God, which is rooted outside this world. I don’t mind trying to explain, but there are some things not open to debate.

Sources

The Root of Faith (Radix Fidem) is in the heart; the Sources of Faith are the hand of God in your environment.

Some of you may have been following my conversation with Steven on various points of faith and religion. God can use anyone, including someone as deeply flawed as me. God uses broken vessels because there aren’t any other kind in this world. He always initiates repairs, but the process is never finished until after we leave this world. Christ alone died sinless.

So the Lord can use anyone to ask the right questions, or simply to trigger a revealing moment when the heart is able to break through a long-standing mental barrier. It’s moments like that when I realize this or that issue might require a fresh discussion because even I wasn’t all that clear about it in the past. As always, this is a matter of opening my faith to your examination, not promoting my religion as the model for all humanity. Radix Fidem isn’t religion, but a path to building your own religion. I take it for granted that I cannot help everyone — indeed, I expect it’s very few. I’m called to help some of those who can’t find Christ in the mainstream. I’m out on the slender edge of what the mainstream even recognizes.

By the same token, I’m obliged to stay on the path I see God drawing for me. Conviction is a fancy word to indicate things God has carved into our souls too deeply to ignore. You need to recognize your own, and don’t be surprised if it means drawing boundaries — that business of moral domain. We are all feudal servants to God (ANE feudalism), and He delivers to each of us a portion of His eternal domain to occupy and develop for His glory. That naturally excludes some territory that is none of my concern.

So I press the issue of heart-led awareness as a sort of goal, an indicator of something we all have to explore. Included in this is the firm assurance that fellowship in faith excludes those who don’t take Scripture seriously. We can argue about what it says, but we cannot argue with what it demands of us. While discussion of those demands will inevitably sound like doctrine at times, the point is that I take the Bible as the official record of God’s revelation. We are bound to agree with it.

That does not exclude the vast ocean of ideas that arise out of pagan sources. Where did Abraham get his basic assumptions about God? It was a mixed bag of ancient religious notions. God was able to penetrate this stuff with sufficient clarity that Abraham knew his calling and was able to obey. Like all of us, he had his flaws and made mistakes, but in the end, God recommended him as a model of faith. And Moses? He took Abraham’s intellectual legacy and added a lot Egyptian religious notions, too. It doesn’t take a genius to trace the differences between Abraham’s religious language and that of Moses, though it does take a bit of education. I’m hardly the first person to notice this; I learned it from far better scholars. And on top of all that, Moses also spent a chunk of his life with Jethro, a priest with yet another flavor of religious background.

What Moses produced was not an eclectic intellectual exercise in religion. He did spend that time with God on the mountain. Moses had a direct encounter with God’s Spirit, but he also came from a culture that already took the heart seriously as a faculty superior to the brain. So we know that his heart was ascendant in the process of wading through the influences and recognizing what was true. All truth is God’s truth; to the degree something from any source at all reflects His glory, it is acceptable. The heart knows — it’s the brain that needs training.

Please note for a moment that Scripture also takes seriously the concept that your heart can be wrong (2 Chronicles 25:2). That is, your heart can hold false or divided loyalties. In Hebrew thinking, the heart was the seat of the will, as many scholars can tell you. That’s where commitments reside and decisions are made. Of course, it’s hard to come up with clinical discussion here because the heart itself is a symbolic image, but the faculty of faith (commitment) in your heart can be wrong. Still, the Spirit of God who gives life to our dead spirits is never wrong. But He speaks through the heart into our awareness. Clarity comes from a desire, and consistent intent to obey.

In terms of our human psychology, that could be expressed as simply following your own conscience, but we have to note that the conscience is merely the mind’s own awareness of conviction, not conviction itself. Still, the path to peace with God is obeying your conscience until the conscience discovers by experience what is or is not from faith. Your conscience is alive and needs nurture and development. At some point you can begin to shift your awareness into your heart and learn to test your convictions with less drama and trauma. You can begin to discern more accurately what faith demands of you.

You learn to distrust reason, not wholly, but simply as matter of flesh, same as your various fleshly appetites. They aren’t evil, but they are unrestrained. They have no inherent recognition of moral priorities. Moving your awareness into the heart tends to unite our various internal voices and heal the rifts and conflicts. Still, the intellect is under the Curse of the Fall as the pinnacle of human nature without God. It would naturally get some things right and plenty of things wrong, because it can neither generate nor properly discern moral truth on its own. Moral truth is essentially revealed from the God who makes all things. The universe is built on His character, and only our hearts are capable of seeing that character in the world around us.

Pursue His character wherever you discern it. The world around us is loaded with a very human mixture of truth and deception. Your answer will never be precisely the same as mine. Each of us has to decide what differences and how much difference is a distraction and hindrance to our calling. Fellowship will always be limited as long as we remain in the flesh. As long as you can tolerate what I write, I’m ready to be your pastor/elder. The boundaries are for you to draw internally, as they are for me.

Legitimate Suffering

Re: Suffering Is Your Ally — Steven raises a common and important issue Westerners have with suffering and pain.

On the one extreme, we have a typically middle-class American doctrine in the Prosperity Gospel. This idea stands on the ancient ground of the Pharisees, something we detect when the Twelve seem bewildered when Jesus suggests that material wealth is a major hindrance in moral redemption (Matthew 19:16-30). We dig a bit into the rabbinical traditions to discover they taught that the primary mark of God’s favor was material wealth. Thus, the wealthy (Jews) were already favored by God, while the poor were accursed. So the Prosperity Gospel equates poverty with spiritual failure. Alongside this, the only reason you aren’t instantly (or at least quickly) healed of every possible ailment is that you just don’t have enough faith.

Apparently, even mere discomfort is somehow attached to spiritual blindness, because “God didn’t intend us to suffer.” Well, God didn’t intend for us to die, either, but even the most notable sages of the Prosperity Gospel die from serious conditions often related to aging. You’ll hear all kinds of excuses and legalistic nit-picking and semantic gymnastics defending their petty materialistic excuse for theology. Jesus called it worshiping Mammon.

On the other extreme are the weird ascetics who suggest that suffering has some magical saving power. They go out of their way wallowing intentionally in distressful exercises in self-discipline to cleanse their souls — or something like that. Nothing in the New Testament promotes this unless you insist on some perverted legalistic reasoning from the words meant to be read as parable.

I can try to untangle all of this. Basic theme: Pain is a part of living in a fallen world. We are wired for pain, and not all pain is the result of moral culpability. Walking in faith is not a magic spell against pain and death. Sometimes obeying God in a particular context means accepting painful consequences, permanent disability or even death. We don’t make a virtue of suffering; we make a virtue in tolerating it for the sake of God’s glory.

Suffering becomes an ally if you respond appropriately internally. It reminds you that this fallen life is a mixture of sorrow and joy and each has their place. It reminds us that we are fallen and need to keep our eyes on His glory, allowing Him to make the decisions. We see pain as an ally when we remember that He intends it will drive us into His arms. And Paul in the Corinthian letters says that our obedience to God’s moral laws makes us a friend of Creation and an enemy of fallen people. People with a perverted view of morality will stain everything they can touch, so some elements in our natural world will reflect the pervasive perversion. Walking in divine truth makes you a threat to whatever people imagine is their justification for moral perversion.

Thus, we should expect a certain trend of increased suffering as a sign of obedience — but this assumes you are reading these things from your heart, not your reason. In return, there is a balancing sense of peace reflecting back from our convictions, something the fallen world cannot have.

So we might sometimes do things to bless and redeem other lives that we know is going to cause some sorrow on the way. But we do not go out of our way to increase human suffering as a whole. There is no glory in torment, so things like hazing to join a club has a limit before it becomes sin. You and I will judge things differently, but the mere presence of hazing shows a complete lack of heart-led awareness in the first place. Getting involved in something inherently difficult already requires a certain amount of “pay your dues” without adding artificial suffering to create a false pride.

This bleeds over into a thousand other moral considerations. That’s how it works with God’s living moral character, AKA faith, moral discernment, biblical laws, heart-led living, etc. It’s organic and living, not objective and rational. There is no “ideal” and no absolutes; ultimate reality (moral truth) is seldom binary in this world. It’s that quantum morality thing again, where you have to discern things on multiple levels simultaneously, which is particularly difficult for Western minds trained in linear logic. There may be no single right answer, where God Himself lets you choose any of several paths because He’s prepared to work with you whatever you choose. He’s a real person, too, not some abstract objective ideal.

Psalm 104

This is another of those soaring lyrical songs that is impossible to summarize. What may not be obvious is that we have ample examples from other cultures across the whole region and in different millennia of the Ancient Near East (ANE) with similar songs of praise to various named deities. Any of them would have recognized this instantly; it’s very typical of what defines the ANE as a whole.

More, those other cultures would have recognized most of the symbolism, the imagery meant to portray things beyond human expression. There are details we recognize in factual terms, but noting them would miss the point most of the time. From the broadest categories down to the smallest elements of life, our Creator pays close attention to everything, and sets it all in order to please Himself. We could not possibly grasp the full range of what this means. Humanity striving to know all facts this many centuries later still can’t begin to scratch the surface of what God has designed and implemented.

Much of it is also reminiscent of the Genesis creation narrative. The recurring theme of the waters above and the waters below is easy to spot. It is God who decides the boundaries of the seas. For Him, it must be easier than stretching a line with His finger. The heavens are a mere curtain He hangs, the waters as a garment.

And it all works together in an incomprehensible grand symphony. Some of that water is left to stand precisely so animals can drink, and to grow them food. What is also very easy to miss is the utter importance of how mankind could fit into this harmonious pattern if he listens to God and takes His divinely appointed place. The same forests supply homes for birds and humans alike, despite how each uses those trees differently. It’s all there for our use, so we must honor our Provider. Everything has a place in God’s plan, regardless whether it pleases you to have those things around. We cannot fathom the wealth of God’s provision.

Notice that in ANE thinking there are three basic domains: earth, sea and sky. And we note in passing that the word translated Leviathan generally means anything in the water big enough to eat you. God manages to feed the most massive sea creatures and still grant us opportunity to avoid them. Yes, the Creator breathes life and takes it away as He sees fit, and has plans to manage the whole universe without the least struggle.

So when we see ourselves so utterly insignificant against all of these things, how can we not shout and sing in awe at His greatness? Don’t be a fool and ignore His gifts.