Being vigilant about what to believe

Mark 1:15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Luke 4:43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

While there are many different religions in the world, all with differing views of God and spirituality, we find that even amidst Christianity there are wide variations among denominations and churches all claiming competing views of biblical faith. They all have “statements of faith” of what they consider the most important things for people to believe. In order to belong to a specific church or denomination, one must believe what their statements proclaim.

Here at the Core of the Bible blog and podcast, I don’t have a statement of faith, and I think that throws some people off because they want to know if I am presenting an orthodox view of the faith (according to them). Instead, I am always striving to present the message of the Bible reduced to its simplest form, not trying to complicate things further with man-made creeds. However, if I was pegged to distill the message of the Bible to one phrase regarding a statement of faith, it would be this: “Just believe Yeshua (Jesus).”

Of course, in saying that, a host of pre-existing and unstated elements would also have to be believed in to arrive at that simplistic statement. To believe in Yeshua, one would also need to believe the Bible is true, and truly depicts his life and teaching. If one believes the Bible is true, then one is understood to recognize that Israel was a faithful caretaker of the words of God. If one believes that Israel was faithful with the words of God, then the God of the Bible is recognized as being the true God. If one believes the God of the Bible is true, then, according to the Bible record, one understands he is the originator of everything that exists.

Everything we believe and know is interconnected to a host of other biases and assumptions about life and the universe. Our individual worldview can influence which things we accept as true and which things we reject as false.

For me, I do believe the biblical worldview. I accept that there is a God of the universe, and that he has chosen to reveal himself through what we call the Bible. The reason I do is because I believe the patterns, stories, and wisdom contained there hold a consistent message about the kingdom of God that has been borne out in real time through the historical circumstances of ancient Israel. I have concluded that Yeshua provided the pinnacle or the culmination of that message of the kingdom, and that the Sermon on the Mount provides a foundational structure that supports the rest of the biblical narrative. By focusing on the principles Yeshua outlines there, I believe a firm footing is achieved for a practical outworking of faith and the kingdom of God through all ages. For me, the message of the kingdom of God in the Bible gives reason for all that exists, and for why we are here.

In the spirit of simplicity, it is my hope that these notes, articles and podcasts will convey that understanding and reason in a way that makes sense to you. If you are ever in doubt about what I am attempting to convey, or you have questions about my stance on a particular thought, feel free to reach out to me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

And if you are ever in doubt about something particular in a church’s statement of faith, remember: Just believe Yeshua (Jesus), and you will be fine.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.

Vigilance and hard work are necessary for establishing the kingdom of God

The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

Nehemiah 4:17-18

The story of Nehemiah is one of reestablishing God’s presence in Jerusalem after the exile of the nation in Persia. God has placed in the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem to protect those living there against their enemies in the area.

While the historical account has merit for describing the return of the Jewish exiles, it also carries some analogous themes for the vigilance required in establishing the kingdom of God within each generation.

The kingdom has a central place of ancestral lineage as a figure: the city of Jerusalem.
1:5 Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”

It is a disgrace for the city to lie in ruins.
1:17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

Those outside the city are opposed to its presence.
1:10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

The ones reestablishing the presence of the kingdom meet with resistance.
4:7-8 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.

Countering the resistance requires a sharp vigilance while the work progresses.
4:17-18 The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

Those involved with the construction are relying on God’s strength and protection to accomplish the work.
4:4, 9 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 9 So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

Infighting needed to be identified and resolved
5:5, 9-11 Now our flesh is the same as that of our kindred; our children are the same as their children; and yet we are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been ravished; we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” … 9 So I said [to the leaders], “The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. 11 Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”

The Torah of God was central to the community
8:2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The people collectively confess and agree to follow God’s instruction
9:38 Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests.

The community purifies itself
13:3, 30 When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. … Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign

While this is not an exhaustive list of themes, they briefly outline the level of vigilance necessary in the work of establishing the kingdom in a hostile environment. As we seek to work alongside God in growing his kingdom in this world, we can take to heart his responsiveness and favor as we cautiously but diligently set ourselves apart to fulfill the work in each generation.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

To be vigilant against deception one must know both the Bible and the teacher

…evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.

2 Timothy 3:13-14

Paul is emphatic with his protoge Timothy, and is cautioning him in being fully aware of the deceivers who were infiltrating the ranks of the fledgling Messianic Kingdom movement. Paul emphasizes that the deceivers would make themselves known not just by their teaching, but by their lifestyles and their actions.

For [these] men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3:2-5

These were the corrupt Jews who were coming against the teachings of the Messiah and the apostolic communities that were growing amidst the synagogues of the first century. One has only to read the denunciations or “woes” of Yeshua against these individuals to know who they were.

Matthew 23:15, 23, 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
Luke 11:42-43, 46, 52 “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. …
And he said, “Woe to you scribes also! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. …
Woe to you scribes! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

They were hypocrites; they had “the form of religion but were denying its power” as Paul writes. As a contrast to this corruption, Paul instructs Timothy to look at the example of his own life and conduct.

Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Ico’nium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:10-11, 14-15

There are two parts to vigilance in our understanding of the faith: thoroughly knowing the torah or instruction of God and knowing from whom the Word is being taught. If you are not aware of the actual lifestyles and practices of your teachers, you must exercise caution in what they are promoting. However, the complement to that is, if you are thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures (and I mean the Scriptures, not just what a certain denomination teaches about the Scriptures), then you will have balance in being able to accurately evaluate anyone’s representation of the Word of God.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.

Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

Core of the Bible Podcast #18 – Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Vigilance, specifically persistence in prayer according to the will of God.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

In his saying here is an aspect of continual, persistent activity: always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened to you, and to find what you’re searching for.

Vigilance can be defined as concentrated focus over long periods of time during which one is continually striving toward a target objective. It is in this sense that Yeshua is explaining how continued and prolonged effort is required in pursuing the things of God, and in the practice of pursuing God himself in prayer.

Persistence in any endeavor will always provide the benefit sought for, but even more so when we continue in prayer for the things that God would have us pray for.

Now, admittedly, consistent and intentional prayer is something that many of us, including myself, struggle with on a regular basis. When I have listened to sermons on prayer or read about prayer life practices in general, most of the time the individual relays the personal struggles they face in the practice of prayer.

Why does it seem so difficult? For me at least it has been mostly because I haven’t understood the mechanics of prayer and how it works. Perhaps this is a similar challenge for some of you, as well. Our logical minds are fixated on pigeon-holing God into some sort of descriptive prison so that we can then know how to poke and prod at him to understand how he operates.

For example, if God is sovereign, and he already knows what we would pray for before we pray it, then why bother? Does he really need us to pray before he acts in any situation? Can we somehow change God’s mind by praying? All of these types of questions can flood the mind and make any attempt at prayer unfruitful.

Among believers there are several different views of God that can affect how we choose to approach him in prayer.

There is the “total control view” which sees God as knowing everything about everything everywhere, at all times. Every atom of every living or inert thing is positioned exactly as he desires at every instant. The path of each life is mapped out before it even starts, and it will not waver at any given time. If this is an individual’s perspective, then why pray if God already has everything planned out for all time?

At the opposite extreme there’s the “prayer controls everything” mindset which states essentially that God is unable to do anything unless and until his people pray for it. This, essentially, becomes and idolatrous view of prayer, where God is essentially inert in a situation until someone prays for his involvement in a specific way, then he can act. In this view, God is subservient to the person praying.

Another perspective perhaps midway between these extremes is the “dynamic involvement view” which holds that while God is in control of all things, he is still involved in all aspects of his continually unfolding creation, moving things here and there to modify his plan as it moves through time, ensuring that everything ends up where it needs to be in the end. In this view, prayer would seem to have more effect than in the total control scenario, because as situations are “live” and haven’t been cemented into place yet, there is still an opportunity to perhaps persuade God of a specific outcome.

These descriptions of God’s activities are all wide generalizations with differing emphases, when in reality I believe these views are more like definitions on a spectrum, with individual beliefs falling anywhere in between various aspects of these descriptions as far as what they believe about God. The reason this is possible is because Scripture can be called up to support each of these differing views to varying extents. So, in a sense, they are all kind of true while not being exclusively so.

So what are we to make of all of this messy theology?

What I’ve learned is that while God is definitely in control of all things, he allows us to be involved in the outworking of his creative actions. He has allowed man the privilege of co-ruling and co-reigning with him in his Creation; that’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. Somehow, and I don’t know how, and nobody can explain this fully, but somehow God is totally sovereign and in control of everything, yet he still allows us genuine free will, not imagined or illusory. He is is not in any way constrained or obligated by anything we say or do, yet he still chooses to be responsive to us and our needs on a personal level.

This has been a huge personal revelation for me, because it demonstrates that the  sovereignty/free will issue is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and reality. God desires to have a real sense of intimacy with the individuals of his Creation, but he is in no way beholden to them. If he chooses to enter or create a covenant relationship, he is free to do so and he will be faithful to that. In a similar way, if we choose to believe him or not, we are free to so. Quite honestly, a relationship with God is the freest relationship we can ever experience.

Yeshua understood this type of relationship with God because he encouraged believers, in fact expected them, to be involved with God on an intimate level, just as he was. Yeshua was absolutely clear that God desires us to confide in him, to rely on him, to trust him, and to do so continually.

John 17:11, 21-22  I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. … that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one –

That’s a level of intimacy that should be a common occurrence with all believers, especially since Yeshua prayed that that would be the case with his followers.

So with this understanding that God desires his people to pray, and with Yeshua’s clear directive for perseverance in prayer, let’s take a look at some other aspects of prayer that we can glean from Yeshua’s teaching in other contexts.

——-

To further understand aspects of prayer, we might consider what Yeshua taught about it within the various contexts of his teaching.

Prayer is EXPECTED of God’s people

Matthew 6:5-7  “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites…

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…

Notice Yeshua mentions repeatedly, WHEN you pray. This is not an option for those who claim to believe in the one true God. He teaches that people should always pray and never give up. Yeshua assumes that prayer is a standard operating procedure for his followers, and he is simply guiding them in specifics. We should pray to the Father, we should pray privately, we should pray simply, and we should pray with perseverance.

If Yeshua taught that people should pray, then his view of God is one in which prayer is significant and has real value, and we should take that to heart as well.

Yeshua also taught that prayer CHANGES OUR VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES

Luke 6:28 “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

I’ll be honest, those are the hardest people to pray for. Nobody enjoys having to deal with people who curse them or who use them and abuse them. Yet, Yeshua directs that those who are antagonistic or overtly hostile towards us are especially those whom we should be praying for. We should speak well of them (which is what blessing them is) and be kind to them, praying for their well-being. What? Why would this even be a thing that he asks of us? 

For one thing, this type of perspective removes emotional animosity and allows us to endure strife, but it also has the ability to change their perspectives and their lives depending on how God chooses to. When you react to animosity and oppression in ways that are not expected, it can have a profound impact on those individuals. His kingdom is one in which all should be made to feel welcomed; in so doing, many hearts are changed.

Yeshua relates that prayer also helps us OVERCOME TEMPTATION

Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”

Luke 22:46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

This is real-time help when we need it, not some idealistic goal to hope to attain at some point in the future. Yeshua is relating that prayer provides real help in the very time and moments when we are tempted. If God is not involved in real-time, then Yeshua is relating a falsehood about the effectiveness of prayer. By viewing these characteristics of prayer, we can come to a better understanding of God, and how he chooses to work within his creation.

Prayer STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH IN GOD

Mark 11:22-24 NLT – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, in all that you pray and ask for, believe that it is laid hold of; you will see it happen.

These verses are the favorites of the “name it and claim it” crowd, those who believe that as long as they have enough faith and believe strongly enough in their desire, it will come to pass. This is the error of the Secret, or the Law of Attraction crowd.

Generally speaking, they take this verse to essentially mean that whatever you truly believe in your heart, or whatever you “speak into the universe” will come to pass and be manifested in your life.

The problem with that is that meaning can only be true if you pull this passage completely out of its biblical context. I mean, you need to physically  tear this passage completely out of the Bible and have it stand on its own to try and force that meaning into it. Nowhere else in the Bible is that type of mentality taught or instructed.

We know that can’t be the meaning of this passage, because it starts off with the words “have faith in God,” not “have faith in whatever you’re choosing to manifest.” Right there is an indication that something is off when this wrong interpretation is drawn from this passage.

To understand this passage correctly, this teaching has to be taken within the context of the Bible as a whole.

To have faith in God is to understand the nature of God from his word. And in his word, God is sovereign and his will is always accomplished.

1 John 5:14-15: “This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.”

John’s teaching helps clarify this concept for us in a huge way. Essentially having faith in God, we understand his will from his word, and when we ask anything according to his will, of course it will come to pass. So these are the things that we should be believing for to come to pass in our lives and the lives of those around us: those things that are within the will of God.

Romans 8:26-28: “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

The idea that prayer has real consequences again intimates that God is active within his Creation and desires us to exhibit faith in him when we pray. When those consequences come to pass, it strengthens our faith.

Most importantly, Yeshua teaches us about PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER. When we persevere in asking God, we are more apt to be positioning ourselves within his will, because our continual focus is our dependence on, and fellowship with, him.

——-

Yeshua highlights this through the famous “ask, seek, and knock” passage that we started off with here in Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

So, what should we be asking for, what should we be seeking, and where should we be knocking?

Interestingly, Yeshua has provided those answers for us within the context of his teachings.

Ask:

Matthew 6:8-13 …your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is the primary thing we should be asking for, God‘s kingdom to come on earth. And of course he authorizes other things in your life that are according to God‘s will such as our daily provision, forgiveness, and avoidance of temptation.

We are to ask for his holy Spirit

Luke 11:13 KJV – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall [your] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Praying for God‘s holy Spirit is really a prayer for his presence in our lives.

What about seeking?

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Again, the kingdom of God should be front and center in all of our praying. And we should be seeking his righteousness, which is doing the right thing according to his word. I’m hoping through all of these examples you can see the pattern emerging how closely prayer is tied to understanding God‘s word.

So that’s the asking and seeking aspect that Yeshua teaches us about. What about knocking?

Now the knocking is a little more subtle and obscure, but where this word for knock is used in other passages, I think a beautiful picture about prayer emerges.

Luke 12:35-36 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.

Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Both of these images involve a knocking and a welcoming in when the door is opened. Both of them involve the guest coming in to a prepared meal or feast.

If the context of the ask seek and knock is all about prayer, then it’s as if Yeshua is saying that when we knock on God’s door in prayer, the door WILL be opened and we will be welcomed in to share a meal with him. And of course sharing a meal is the Hebraic equivalent of fellowship, and honestly intimate fellowship.

Putting this all together, when we ASK for God’s kingdom to come, when we SEEK God’s kingdom first, then when we KNOCK on God’s metaphorical door in prayer, we will be received with open arms and welcomed in to a bountiful table.

And when our prayer life is saturated with the kingdom mentality, it prevents us from asking amiss for our own selfish desires, as James relates:

James 4:2-3 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

The outline of persistent prayer that Yeshua gives us here in Matthew 7 ensures that our prayer life stays focused on the kingdom. All of the imperatives in this passage convey continuity and persistence: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. This vigilance in prayer will provide a continual stream of opportunity for aligning with and expanding God’s kingdom.

It is this process of constant pursuit of the kingdom that branches into new possibilities. These can then open up into unforeseen (by us) directions of God’s will, thereby achieving his purpose. Remaining static and hoping that God’s will drops into our lap is not the biblical way. It is only as we remain consistently searching and moving that we can then be drawn and directed into the areas of growth that God has for us according to his will.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that many will pray and then do nothing more; true believers are expected to keep asking for the kingdom to be manifested, to keep searching for kingdom opportunities, and to keep close fellowship with God in prayer in hopeful anticipation of accomplishing God’s direction and purpose in this life.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

God’s desire for his people to live obediently with renewed hearts

O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

Deuteronomy 5:29

God’s desire toward his people is revealed in this verse. He desires a constancy in purpose and vigilance in seeking his ways in all things.

This is one of the few times that God is actually pleased with the response of Israel, at this most pivotal of events in their history. This is the scene at Sinai, when God has rallied his people to himself after delivering them from the oppression of Egypt and bringing them through the dangers of the desert wilderness. He has revealed himself to them in the awe-inspiring display of the thunderous, smoking mountain, speaking the Ten Commandments to the entire assembly. The people recoil in fear having heard the penetrating heavenly voice speak the words of the covenant directly to them. In response, the people urge Moses to be the one to go near to God and to intercede for them.

Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.

Deuteronomy 5:25-27, 29

In the recognition of the majesty and power of the one true God, Israel can only respond with the famous agreement: “you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.” This is the response that God desired; not for them to merely be fearful of him, but for them to respect who he is enough for them to be willing to hear and to do. As a parent who knows what’s best for their children, God desired his people to respond to him from the heart with obedient understanding for their own good. He even says that if they obeyed, it would go well with them and their children. Obedience to the ways of God would provide the best outcome for their lives and their descendants.

It is then that God reveals his deepest desire for them: if only they had hearts that would seek him always, it would go well with them. If they would remain vigilant to his ways in all things, they would be blessed. In this rare moment in time, he sees his people truly desiring to be obedient to himself. But he knows they will rebel, not because they don’t believe him, but because their hearts are hard. He longs for a time when they might have renewed hearts of faith that will cause them to walk in his ways in all things and at all times.

This is truly God’s desire for everyone: renewed hearts of obedience for those who have demonstrated sincere faith in his revelation of himself, just as he revealed himself at Sinai. When we come to recognize the majesty of the Father working through Yeshua, then like Israel of old we should come to Yeshua as they did to Moses, saying, “you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.” When we place our faith in Yeshua as teaching us the truths of the Father, just as Israel did toward Moses in that ancient wilderness, we receive the ability to fulfill this longing of our Creator: to have hearts that fear him and vigilantly keep his commands always.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.

The continual, watchful prayer for all of God’s people

Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your petitions for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This passage comes on the heels of a very famous passage from Paul regarding the putting on of the armor of God, and yet this integral instruction on perseverance in prayer for all of God’s people is often omitted.

Paul’s original audience for this instruction was experiencing persecution: real, life-endangering persecution on a regular basis, and this type of exhortation would not have fallen on deaf ears. While most of us can only imagine the severity of their situation, in a crisis it becomes quite natural, almost a reflex, to defer to prayer on a regular basis. But this type of crisis-prayer is typically centered around the individual, and praying for personal safety. However, Paul is here admonishing the Ephesian believers to pray vigilantly and unceasingly for all of God’s people, not just for their own personal needs and desires.

Two types of prayer are mentioned here: prayer which is a type of worship, and petitions for specific needs that are urgent and immediate. All of these are to be offered “in the Spirit,” that is, in accordance with the operation and fruit of the spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…Galatians 5:16, 25 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lust of the flesh. … If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to have the path of one’s life patterned on the principles of the Spirit that Paul mentioned in this very passage.

Paul was encouraging the believers to pray in this fashion for all of “the saints,” that is, all of those who were set apart within the remnant of Israel, for their specific needs and protection during a time of extreme social and civil duress.

The urgent necessity of this praying for the saints is highlighted by a term that is used for wakefulness and alertness; they should never stop lifting up their brothers and sisters with all the principles of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.

I believe this type of dynamic, urgent, and constant prayer lifting up their brothers and sisters in the Spirit is what allowed that generation to be a positive example for all time, through which God ushered in the new life of the eternal kingdom to all nations.

The example is there for us to receive this instruction for our own generation.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The vigilant guarding of our hearts keeps our way sure

O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.

Proverbs 23:26

The proverbs of Solomon contain a wealth of instruction regarding the necessity of the righteous person to stay within the boundaries of God’s wisdom. The writer appears to be conveying all of this information and instruction to his child. As a parent wants to instill their children with all of the right information they can, he continually reminds him to maintain what is right in the face of surrounding adversity.

Proverbs 5:1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel.
Proverbs 6:20 My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
Proverbs 7:1 Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands.

In the fourth chapter, in typical Hebraic fashion, he lays out a string of admonitions that support and strengthen one another:

My son, pay attention to my words. Open your ears to what I say. Do not lose sight of these things. Keep them deep within your heart because they are life to those who find them and they heal the whole body. Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. Remove dishonesty from your mouth. Put deceptive speech far away from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead and your sight be focused in front of you. Carefully walk a straight path, and all your ways will be secure. Do not lean to the right or to the left. Walk away from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27

The root of remaining vigilant and keeping one’s way pure is centered on the heart: “…keep [my words] deep within your heart…Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.”

A pure heart means a pure walk. In like fashion, when we keep God’s word deep within our hearts, our walk becomes more sure. Dishonesty and deceptive speech disappear. Distractions from the way of truth become less frequent. Our way becomes more firm as we stay on the path laid out for us. We find the strength to walk away from evil.

Yeshua instructed his followers that what one says, and thereby does, comes from what is within the heart:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil person out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

Luke 6:45

The vigilance to stay on the right path begins in the commitment to keep our hearts pure. By remaining faithful to the deep truths God has placed there, then, just like the child of Proverbs, we can find deep reserves of strength to always do what’s right, and bring forth “good treasure” for his purposes.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Keeping the covenant and commands of God requires multi-faceted vigilance

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples…

Exodus 19:5

The Bible is filled with admonitions to keep the covenant or to keep the commands of God. We read about it so often that we may sometimes gloss over the significance of what it means to keep the words of God.

The word we translate as keep or to keep in English comes from the Hebrew root shamar which at its most rudimentary level means to observe, guard, and watch.

In its primary sense, it means to heed, pay attention to, or observe (in practice) the covenant and the commands of God. This is the generally accepted meaning when it is used.

However, it also means to guard, preserve, or protect. This is a huge concept in Hebrew thought as it relates to the commands of God. Based on passages like Exodus 19:5 above, the ancient Israelites understood themselves to be the receivers of God’s wisdom above all other nations in the world. As such, it was their responsibility to preserve his words through oral traditions and written records. Thankfully, it was due to this dutiful caretaking of God’s words that we even have a Bible today.

In Yeshua’s day, however, some of them had taken this measure to the extreme by making additional traditions and rules which were intended to prevent people from violating the original commands. The original intent was sincere enough, but soon the traditions and rules became equivalent, or even superior to, the original command and they elevated the man-made traditions above the word of God itself.

Yeshua chastised them for this very thing:

…you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.” He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God;”‘ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.”

Mark 7:8-13

So the original guarding of God’s word became corrupted into a convoluted system of man-made traditions and rules, which, sadly, is still practiced by Jews and many Christian denominations even to this day.

The other definition of keeping as it relates to the covenant and commandments is to watch. Watching implies an alertness, being aware of surroundings, looking for any holes in the perimeter defenses to maintain the security of what is being guarded. This is the level of vigilance necessary to make sure that what God has provided is not being diminished by outside influence.

This is probably the most under utilized aspect within the concept of keeping the covenant and commands. Cultural influx that negates or destroys the foundations of God’s word is rampant today and is feebly defended by those trying to prop up defenses based on literal rather than literary defenses. We waste time trying to set historical dates and evidences for things like Noah’s flood or the age of the earth which only cause further debate and strife, both within and without the kingdom.

If we would instead defend the literary nature of the Bible and recognize the intent of the stories and what they are trying to teach rather than when they occurred, we would go much further in honoring God’s purpose in having an eternal record of those things. It’s not that those events didn’t occur within history, it’s just that the biblical record is not a newspaper account that can be catalogued and charted in the realm of scientific study; it has never been intended to be such a record as that. And when believers attempt to become scientific about the Biblical accounts of various things that were never intended to be viewed in that fashion, they dishonor the very one they are intending to honor, much like the Pharisaical leaders of Yeshua’s day.

Observing, guarding, and watching the covenant and commands of God is as much a responsibility of God’s people today as it ever has been. As we remain faithful to the intent and the spirit of his word, not just the letter of the law, we can guarantee a fulfilling future for our descendants whom God will draw to himself in ages to come.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.

The ongoing vigilance of seeking the things of God

If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3

Yeshua taught that we should always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened, and to find what it is we’re searching for. Paul carries this theme of searching forward into a mindset that should continually guide us in our ongoing new life in Messiah.

To Paul, placing one’s faith in the Messiah was a matter of life and death: death to self and traditions of men, and new life as a new self that seeks after the things of God.

For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:13

Therefore, put to death whatever is worldly in you: your sexual sin, perversion, passion, lust, and greed (which is the same thing as worshiping wealth).

Colossians 3:5

This putting to death of our worldly passions and desires was considered to be an ongoing practice, one to where the believer becomes the dichotomous “living sacrifice;” that which is constantly being offered up, yet continually alive, as well.

Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2

This renewal of mind comes as we vigilantly “seek the things that are above,” not only looking forward to a heavenly eternity, but finding ways to enact heavenly principles in the here and now, incorporating our new life into the life we are living now.

This seeking involves ongoing aspects that are wrapped up in the definition of the original wording used in the text: to seek in order to find a thing; to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into; to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after; to require, demand; to crave. These types of urgent and continual qualities of vigilance are the intent of Yeshua’s exhortation to keep seeking until the objective is found.

In like fashion, Paul uses the same wording to emphasize the believers desperate motivation to know God and his Messiah, to learn more about the things of God and to keep our focus there through the trials of life.

In this way, we end up “putting to death” our selfish desires and we rise to the new life of our new self, created to be like him.

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Colossians 3:10

Peter demonstrates vigilance in keeping the instruction of God without hesitation

[Peter] became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” “No, Lord! ” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.”

Acts 10:10-14

This story of Peter’s vision is typically used as a way of teaching that God was declaring all foods “clean” or acceptable to eat. However, looking more closely at the context and outcome, we can learn some aspects of vigilance in our walk with God.

Firstly, it is impressive to see how Peter had maintained his ritual purity throughout his life. He claims to have strictly followed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 without fail. In his day and age, there were many opportunities to eat the wrong foods, even if by accident. There were meats that may have been acceptable for Jews to eat sold in the marketplace, but they may have been “contaminated” by previously being offered to other gods before being sold. This was a serious issue that Paul deals with in his epistle (1 Cor. 8). Many Jews were challenged to make sure they always knew where their food came from. This has been the basis of many kosher designations even to this day. Peter demonstrates that he was always vigilant to ensure he never violated the commands of God.

Secondly, Peter understood that this vision presented to him was not about foods that are acceptable or not acceptable to God, but about how God was opening a door to all people for the message of the kingdom to be propagated.

Peter himself states this is the meaning of the vision as he shares with Cornelius and his companions:

While talking with him, he went in and found a large gathering of people. Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me [through the vision] that I must not call any person impure or unclean. “That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. … Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, “but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:27-29, 34-35

Peter took the real meaning of the vision to mean that God was breaking down the barriers between men of different nations, and that the door of faith in Messiah would be opened to all who were willing to come. This was even confirmed to be the correct interpretation as the foreign men were visibly affected by receiving the Spirit of God (10:44-45).

You see, vigilance in our walk comes in many forms, whether our own personal commitment to holiness, or our obedience to the things that God may reveal to us. Peter exemplifies for us a measure of personal vigilance that we can learn from and follow in our own lives. When we receive instruction from God, whether through his word or through personal insight, we must be faithful in keeping it at all cost and without hesitation.