An Epistle for Our Times

In terms of missions — addressing the world around us — we stand in the gateway of Noah. That is, we use the framework of Noah’s Covenant to address the broader needs of humanity. Sure, it complicates things when we are talking to Christian believers, but our general approach remains the same. To the world at large, our religion is more or less the Law of Noah.

On the one hand, the Law of Noah lays out all the basic provisions for living in our world. We’ve discussed the discrete provisions plenty of times under the heading of a call to repent. It includes the traditional Seven Noachide Laws as found in the Talmud. We take that listing with a grain of salt simply because the Talmud is a mixture of corrupt Jewish traditions and just a little bit of ancient lore that didn’t make it into Scripture. However, the more important elements of this does show up in Acts 15. In my study of Acts I describe how some of the seven laws aren’t mentioned specifically because they were already covered under what was then the current legal framework of Roman Law. What’s left is this word from James:

“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20 NKJV)

This leaves us explaining just what it means for something to be polluted with idols, or what constitutes sexual immorality, but we probably won’t have much trouble with folks wanting to eat meat that was strangled or hasn’t been properly bled. Instead, we have a substantial job explaining why these things matter.

Thus, we come to the monumental prerequisites for actually observing the Law of Noah. This is where we mention the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) feudal government, for that is precisely what was required in Genesis 9 where the Covenant is announced. Further, the context of that covenant assumes a heart-led culture and way of life (AKA, ANE Mysticism). This is where we spend so very much time explaining what that business in Acts 15 summarizes, because Gentiles in that time and place were usually familiar with all of the ANE heritage as a part of their cultural background. Quite significant was that those Gentiles had already sampled a wide array of varying civilizations and had an instinctive awareness that their own culture was not the default way of looking at things.

The Western lack of such awareness is our primary burden. This peculiar blindness is the mountain we must move by faith. It’s not as if we can’t package the external requirements for ready consumption, but the last thing we need is a bunch of folks hardened in their misunderstanding of everything behind those requirements. The Apostles didn’t have to wade through that, so going out and preaching in the town square was the simplest way to get the message out. For us, it’s more like shouting across a thousand miles of distance, even as we stand among the people who need to hear. We have to invest the effort to establish our weirdness visually and with power before speaking does much good.

All the more so is the burden upon us as we have already crossed the threshold into a new world, a changed reality. This is the time to invest the effort to see what our faith demands of us simply living a heart-led existence. I have this burning zeal to help you discover the fullness of shalom, the calm assurance that things will work out if we simply seize upon the heart-led necessities. When your convictions speak, that is your Voice of God for the current context, so learn to listen. And then learn to see with moral eyes what may never be apparent to mere mechanical vision. Learn to hear the song of Creation praising the Lord, the bubbly celebration of Life in the natural world around you. Let it feed your soul and keep that vivid existence burning brightly in the world around you.

This is not a time to affix labels in the way Western minds do, where the label is the identity of a thing. If it seems our function is apostolic, it would still be misleading to label ourselves “Apostle So-n-so.” Let’s be happy with Brother and Sister, and then later we can talk about vested roles. I’m on the verge of introducing a new and younger male elder to the virtual staff here in our online parish. All it means is that I trust his ability to lead the way we lead, which is rather like a shepherd calling out to the sheep who might hear, but otherwise letting them follow as they will. If the sheep are not bound by trust, there is no leadership.

So we progress as a virtual parish. We are building a network of voices who share a common vision for how to handle a world about to be shaken to the very foundations. Tribulation has come; we are a tribulation church. God has come on an inspection tour, and He is worthy of our best. We are His living epistles.

Psalm 119: Qoph 145-152

Here we have the Song of Assurance. Prayer works.

As the psalmist notes, genuine effective prayer requires a fully committed heart first, but the heart knows what to ask because the heart knows what God wants to do. And it is from the heart that we are loyal to the revelation of what God has appointed in Creation. So he cries out, ever renewing his personal covenant of loyalty, not calling on any other power. He knows that Jehovah is his salvation and the power to obey.

Even before dawn, his heart awakens him to spend time in the divine Presence. He cries out for the freedom that comes only from enslavement to God. He knows the precious promises of God’s Word. When something keeps him awake at night, when his soul is churning without sleep, he knows this is the call to ponder the revelation of Jehovah.

His experience thus far trusting in God has taught him that God is merciful when we call on Him, and that it is the nature of His justice to restore a vivid life. Such is the moral character of Jehovah. He makes a play on words: The wicked are too close to him and too far from God’s truth at the same time.

Yet God is also near at hand, in his own soul. With His divine Presence comes all of His truth burned into our souls. As he takes a fresh look at the record of God’s revelation, he recognizes that same ancient power that spoke to his heart long ago. So ancient and yet forever fresh is the Word of God.

Psalm 119: Tzaddi 137-144

This octet delivers the Charge of Righteousness. The image is a feudal servant vested with a special trust, a mission that the servant must faithfully keep over a long period of time and through a long series of trials. He’s like a keymaster who must follow his lord through endless turmoil, yet always able to deliver the key when called.

Our Lord defines justice in His Person; His judgments are self-consistent. More than a mere record of His actions on this earth, it is the testimony of their meaning that He has charged us to keep, and they are more solid than the roots of great mountains.

Our psalmist finds himself burning with zeal, a fire all the hotter against the hassle of dealing with people who can’t be bothered to pay attention to God’s revelation. The Word of God has been tested and purified in the trials of His servants, so it’s a legacy more precious than any earthly treasure to us.

Most people aren’t impressed with the human talents of the psalmist; all the more reason he must distinguish himself by faithfulness to God’s revelation. This divine justice to which he clings is like a path that vanishes into eternity, to the very face of God Himself. What God decrees is the very substance of existence itself.

Whether it’s natural or man-made trouble that afflicts him, he can always find peace and contentment in God’s Law. The essential rightness of His testimonies will outlive life itself. He begs that God would write them on his soul to enable him discernment that makes life worth living.