Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Category: Christian Living Page 2 of 3

What Are Abominations Before the Lord?

Where the study stemmed from

In today’s world of political correctness and permissiveness, the very word “abomination” is something that most people recoil from and completely reject. The industry I work in is very liberal, and I’m often placed in a position of needing to explain and defend my faith as tactfully as possible. Most people can wrap their heads around the fact that I don’t keep Christmas, don’t eat unclean meats, and keep a seventh-day Sabbath. But where their understanding stops is when it comes to homosexuality, because they believe that it’s bigotry or hatred on my part not to accept homosexuality as a completely natural thing.

There is a shaky line I have to walk in explaining that it has nothing to do with hating those people specifically, but that I also don’t get to pick and choose which commandments are valid within the things God says are wrong. I’ve had many people tell me that it was only considered wrong in the Old Testament, but that the New Testament doesn’t mention anything about it and Jesus did away with all that Old Testament hardline nonsense.

But the thing is, we know that Jesus didn’t do away with the Old Testament—only added to it or fulfilled some aspects (such as the need for the Levitical priesthood and physical sacrifices). And so quite some time back, I decided that I needed to do an in-depth study on what God considers abominations, so that I could confidently discuss the topic when asked.

The use of “abomination” in the Bible

It makes sense to start by finding out what things or actions God call an abomination. Interestingly, people often think about this as being mainly a hardline law/Pentateuch thing, and certainly there were a number of occurrences there. But it came as a surprise to me that the highest concentration of the word “abomination” appears to be in the book of Proverbs, in verses concerned with the heart and mind.

The words “abomination” and “abominable” are used over 170 times in the KJV and probably a similar number in the NKJV, though they tend to be used a less frequently in certain modern translations. While there’s only one Greek word translated this way, there are around five different Hebrew words. Three are from the same root word (shequets, shaqats, shiqquts) and mean roughly the same thing—filth, figuratively or literally an idolatrous object, detestable thing. These words are used when speaking of unclean animals, for instance, or often refer to pagan or idolatrous things in a more general sense. Two other words (ba ash and piggul piggul) are only translated abomination once or twice, but more often words like stank, loathsome, and abhor are used when translating them.

The most prominent word translated “abomination” is to ebah to ebah, and signifies that which is disgusting morally, an abhorrence.  It is used not only in the passages we expect (such as those on sexual sins or pagan rituals) but also passages in Proverbs and similar that speak to behaviors God finds detestable.

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When You Pray: What’s In Your Closet?

But you, when you pray, enter into thy closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which seeth in secret shall reward you openly (Matt. 6:6)

We can deduce the obvious meaning here, and have heard that repeated over the decades—don’t be showy in prayer, but rather make it a private conversation with your Creator.

That is valid, and you won’t find me in disagreement.  But is there an important message here that we’re missing?

I’m not one to arbitrarily find “deeper meaning” in everything or try to be the smartest person in the room.  But I do think that we maybe need to look below the surface a little more here.

…enter your closet

If you were to spend any time at all looking at archaeological findings in that era of time (1st century CE), you would realize that the concept of a closet, or a separate private room in a multi-room dwelling, was foreign except to the wealthy.  And I don’t think that Jesus Christ spent a lot of time instructing the wealthy, rather His time was spent with the common people.  So how could this teaching connect to their lives?  More importantly, what can we do with this teaching?

The best way I can illustrate this is with a phrase from the last several decades: “…coming out of the closet…”   In today’s age that has a very specific meaning to us, but the phrase also has a more general meaning that should be important to us as we consider the passage in Matthew 6.  This colloquial phrase means exposing a personal character trait that you or I have been keeping secret.  So how should this affect the way we pray?

It is my view that we all have a closet that we keep closed and don’t really want anyone else to get a peek into, including God.  Some of us have a closed door to an inner room and know it, and others have managed to fool themselves into thinking that they don’t—but we all do.  To be honest, we don’t even want to look in there ourselves!   It’s much easier to keep the door closed than to try to clean out the closet.

A conversation with a friend

Again, how should this affect the way we pray?  I’m going to get even more basic here:  what is prayer?

I think we tend to shroud certain “religious” issues with mystique.  Issues like bible study, meditation, worship, and yes, prayer.  The reality is, differences in personalities and experiences make each of us people that learn, muse, demonstrate passion, and talk or communicate in different ways.

Let’s take prayer.  What is it?  I suggest that it is simply engaging in conversation.  Obviously, this is a talk with someone who is far greater than us.  So anything I say here is not to mitigate intercessory prayer, thanksgiving, asking for favors or help, and so on.  But those things don’t facilitate a relationship.  Rather, they take advantage of a relationship.

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What Does It Mean to Be ‘Ambassadors for Christ’?

The writers of the New Testament focused on many major themes—becoming like Christ, how to treat each other, how to interact and live in the world, what we shall become. In reading their letters and epistles, we can see that we are to be easily distinguishable from the world around us, yet not withdraw from society and live as hermits. We are to interact and live in the world and yet remain unspotted from it. These instructions can seem contradictory at times, and it can be difficult finding the right line to walk (the ‘narrow’ path, as it may be).

In telling the Philippians not to walk as the world, Paul tells them, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). In other words, we do not claim citizenship of this world, and though we are currently living here, it is only a temporary home.

He then uses an analogy that all his readers would have easily understood, and from which we today can learn a lot. “Now then,” he says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). The Greek word here translated “ambassador” is presbueo, which means “to act as a representative”. The Latin equivalent used by the Romans (who were in power at the time) was legatus or “legate” in English, which had several meanings including that of a diplomatic emissary sent on a mission abroad. In most respects, the role of an ambassador or legate in ancient Rome was not all that different from our modern-day ambassadors, and being chosen as one was a great honor.

For us today, being told we are ambassadors for Christ may not fully resonate and provide specific guidelines for living our lives. So it’s worthwhile to examine what the characteristics, responsibilities, and lifestyle of an ambassador should be, and see how we can apply them to our lives today. Obviously, though many ambassadors in today’s world (as with all politicians) use lies and manipulation in their jobs, the principles of a good ambassador remain the same.

What is an ambassador?

Ambassadors are the highest-ranking representatives of their governments abroad, and their primary responsibility is to represent and work towards the best interests of their government or head of state. They are not elected—instead they are chosen by the government or head of state, and it is a huge honor to be chosen as one. We, too, were bestowed with an enormous honor when God called and chose us to follow Him (I Cor. 1:26).

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Spiritual strongholds:  laying siege to the “walled city” inside us

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, this is a verse that I’ve always struggled to make super meaningful in the past.  High things that exalt themselves against God, sure, that makes perfect sense to me.  Even casting down arguments, assuming those are arguments against God’s way and truth, I can wrap my head around.  But strongholds aren’t a concept that is immediately tangible to me.

A while back, though, I did have a little bit of a breakthrough where strongholds are concerned, and what they can represent in our lives as followers of Christ.  These strongholds or “walled cities” can be external—the obstacle in front of us that we see as bigger than God (covered in the previous post)—or they can be internal.  The internal strongholds are where we have built fortresses protecting pieces of our carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types need pulled down.  This part of the study deals with the hostile spiritual strongholds quietly occupying our hearts and minds.

Enemy strongholds in the heart and mind

While the strongholds in front of us are generally easier to see (if still difficult to overcome), spiritual strongholds’ power lies in their ability to fly under the radar.  If you consider yourself a disciple of Christ or a Christian, at some point in your life you decided to turn from your previous life and asked God to put His spirit in you.  You repented and were baptized, and ostensibly gave Him unlimited access to every part of your heart and mind—asking Him to transform your carnal mind into one led by Him.

Every one of us that has gone through this process did so with the complete intention of letting God conquer everything in His path, burn it down, and start from scratch.  But every one of us also—mostly unknowingly—built walls around a few particular areas to fortify them against this process.  We don’t like to admit it, but it’s generally true of every person.  We’re pretty good at identifying and rooting out certain kinds of sins and correcting wrong behaviors.  We can refrain from lying, avoid adultery, keep the Sabbath and holy days, and maybe we even had to quit smoking or stop eating certain meats when we came into the knowledge of God.  But despite all of this, we still have trouble recognizing or acknowledging the spiritual strongholds located within the deepest regions of ourselves.

When an army conquers a land, they must breach and take every single one of the strongholds, because if an enemy-occupied stronghold remains in the land then the native people there can continually attack whenever they sense weakness.  The battle will rage on and peace can never come—the land will never be fully conquered.

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What We Can Learn From Haggai About Zeal: Just Do It

“…Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”

~Romans 12:11

The book of Haggai is the second-shortest in the Old Testament, and like many of the minor prophet books it’s often skimmed over or overlooked altogether.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend much time in these books, simply because I find the contents challenging to relate to.  But at the Feast last year I heard a message given from this book that really resonated with aspects of my life over the past several months.

Written during the Babylonian exile, Haggai’s story tells of a complacent and lethargic people.  Roughly 16 years prior, the Persian ruler Cyrus had granted them leave to return to Israel and rebuild the temple of God.  The people returned to the land filled with excitement and immediately set to building.  But they fairly quickly allowed discouragement and their personal concerns to delay and derail their efforts.

As a result, God had stopped blessing them and allowed significant trials to befall them.  Eventually, He gave Haggai this message for the people:

“Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled [luxurious] houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!  You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’  Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Hag. 1:3-7)

God points out that they had been working on improving their own lives, establishing and beautifying their own homes, but not accomplishing what He had sent them there to do.  Over time they had lost sight of their purpose, and because of their misplaced priorities God had ceased to bless them—all their daily work wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.  It was, as Solomon says, “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2).

Haggai shows us what happens when we neglect His house and put our own priorities first, and there are some really important warnings for us.  The Israelites were required to build a physical temple for God to dwell in, but the stakes are much higher for God’s people today.

Our commission:  to build His house

Much like He had centuries earlier in Egypt, God plucked the Israelites from subjugation in a foreign land and sent them back to their homeland with a specific directive—to build His house.  Our situation is the same today, except we are building a spiritual temple rather than a physical one.  He called each of us out of the bondage of this world, brought us into covenant with Him, and promised to provide His spirit as a helper.

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“Salt of the Earth” – What’s the Significance of Salt?

We’re told to be the “salt of the earth”, but what does that really mean?

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” (Matt. 5:13; also Luke 14:34). I don’t know about you, but this statement has never really fired me up spiritually. I mean, salt? The stuff that comes in tiny little paper packets at McDonald’s? What about gold or precious gems, something beautiful and special and rare? In our society, salt is the most mundane of commodities. You can buy a giant canister of it for a dollar and throw it on everything. It’s pretty much impossible to run out of salt, and it never goes bad. When I read a verse like Matthew 5:13, my brain has all these questions about salt but I’ve always just pushed them to the back of my mind and kept going. Recently the questions have been nagging at me, however, because if Jesus says we’re supposed to be something (or be like something), then we should do our level-best to understand the analogy. So I recently decided to try and get a better context around His statement.

Though today it’s something we totally take for granted, salt has a fascinating history. A precious substance in the ancient world, salt can be credited with building civilization. Since it allowed for preservation of food beyond immediate consumption, it gave people the ability to travel more than a day’s journey away and led to the development of trade. Throughout the centuries wars were fought over it, trade routes sprung up around it, and at times it was worth more than gold.  In fact, it was often accepted as currency and is where the word salary (literally “salt-money,” or allowance a Roman soldier was given to buy salt) and the expression “he’s worth his salt” come from. So to put us back in Jesus’s time, salt was very valued and useful, and the people listening to Him would have known this.

A precious, useful material

“Useful and valuable” is a good place to start in terms of describing what a true Christian should be. Salt has myriad properties that make it as useful today as it was in the ancient world. As mentioned above, one of its first uses was as a preservative and purifying agent, to keep food from spoiling or to purify or disinfect something. While the world will ultimately go down a path of destruction, God’s people are called as examples to preserve themselves and their families from the spiritual and moral decay of society. James tells us that pure and undefiled religion before God is this, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Purity (both physical and spiritual) is perhaps the key theme underlying all of God’s commandments, and is the crowning achievement of the Bride of Christ, composed of the resurrected firstfruits. Paul says Christ will “present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish”—that is, pure (Eph. 5:27).

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Pulling down strongholds:  the “walled city” in front of us

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” 

 ~ Ps. 27:1 (NIV)

In a letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul challenges them to be strong and bold in their daily lives, and then says this:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

I’ve always found that a curious verse, specifically the part about strongholds.  It kind of sat there in the back of my mind for a while, until I happened to be reading something that talked about the concept of obstacles between us and God as being strongholds or walled cities, like Jericho.  Then something clicked.

Strongholds are kind of a foreign concept to those of us in the U.S. because we don’t have any, but the remnants of ancient strongholds are all over the world—and in particular the Middle East and Europe.  A stronghold is a strategically-located fortified structure able to resist the assault of enemy forces (Google pictures of Masada or Bamburgh Castle to get a good visual).  When gazed on from the outside, they are imposing and will discourage all but the most determined and able forces.  They are typically very difficult to overcome, demanding long sieges or subterfuge to breach.  But overcoming them is critical to winning the war for a conquering army.

These strongholds or “walled cities” can take a couple forms—the big obstacle you see in front of you that (consciously or subconsciously) you allow to be bigger than God, and the fortresses inside of yourself that are still protecting pieces of your carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types of strongholds need torn down.  As I got deeper into this study it kept getting longer and more complicated, so I’ve split it into two parts for simplicity’s sake. This article addresses the first—the fortress that stands between you and the Promised Land.

Read the second part in this series here

Stronghold as obstacle – a faith issue

In Numbers 13, Moses commanded the twelve spies to go into the land of Canaan and do some reconnaissance.  He told them to come back and report on the quality of the land, its fruit, its inhabitants, and their cities or settlements.  The spies went out in pairs and spent 40 days in the land (symbolic of a time of testing or trial), and then reported back to Moses.  The land, ten of them said, was everything God and Moses had promised them—lush, prosperous, bountiful, and beautiful.  But, they continued, the people were terrifying giants inhabiting mighty strongholds, who the ragtag Israelites could never hope to defeat.

Rather than counteracting the other spies’ testimony, Caleb and Joshua simply said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  The other spies argued, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:30-31).  And the children of Israel listened to the ten spies and were distraught and sought to turn back toward Egypt.  Caleb and Joshua pleaded with them to reframe their perspective, saying:

“If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us…only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”  (Num. 14:8-9)

The confused and terrified people wanted to stone them for saying such things.  Then God showed up and Moses had to intercede to keep Him from destroying the rebellious Israelites then and there.  Instead, He punished them and sentenced them to wander the desert for 40 years, with all of the adults dying during the journey and never entering the Promised Land.

The Israelites didn’t trust God to be big enough, to be powerful enough to clear their path.  Even though they’d experienced firsthand the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, miraculous manna every day in the desert, and the pillar of cloud and fire leading them, they could only see giants inhabiting the Promised Land and the big, foreboding walls of Jericho blocking their way.  And they knew they weren’t strong enough to overcome them, so they tried to turn back to the life they’d had before, even though it was a life of miserable slavery.  Before any battle was ever fought on the field, it was fought in the mind, and the stronghold—fear—won.

We say we have faith in God, but how big do we truly believe He is? When an obstacle is placed in front of us—be it a conflict between work and the holy days, financial difficulties, a little white lie that will seemingly make our lives easier—do we try to solve it on our own or cave to the more obvious worldly solution, or do we trust in God’s ability to work things out to His satisfaction?  The trouble is that even if we do pray about certain situations or trials, we already have a solution in mind that we’re asking God to bring about.  And our human minds can only see certain types and numbers of solutions, while God’s mind is infinite and He sees far more of the situation than we do.  So while He might be working out a far better resolution for us in the long-term, all we can see is that He didn’t answer our prayer to our specifications.

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The Lie of Independence and the Freedom of a Bondservant

“Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17)

When you hear the word “liberty”, what does it mean to you?

A few days ago Americans celebrated Independence Day, and the fact that 240 years ago a group of irritated land owners and businessmen announced the birth of a new nation.  Most of us could quote that declaration on command:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Particularly with a circus of an election coming up this year, we’ll hear a lot of talk about freedom and independence and democracy in the upcoming months.  But I think if you asked ten different people on the street what freedom means, you’d get ten different answers.  Today, our society tells us that freedom means that each of us has the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the cost to ourselves or others, and that we have the right to be offended if someone disagrees with or opposes those actions.  Society tells us that the bible is an oppressive list of rules written by a harsh, egotistical God—good enough for Christians to cherry-pick homilies from but not a wholly God-breathed, life-governing document.

That’s because our country was really founded on independence, not freedom or liberty.  People use them interchangeably, but there’s a huge difference, and it’s a very important one for Christ’s followers to understand.

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Seven Days You Shall Eat Unleavened Bread…Now What?

As the sun set last night on the Days of Unleavened Bread, each of us had probably heard several messages about various themes that these holy days are meant to help us remember.  For a lot of people, a heavy emphasis before and during was probably placed on the process and concept of deleavening, and over the past few years that major focus has given me pause.

When you take a step back and think about it, the way many of us have been taught to deleaven is all about how WE are getting rid of leavening—how we vacuum every nook and cranny of our house and car, scour the ingredients of every label to find a little-known chemical that’s technically leavening, and find deeper meaning each time a box of baking soda hides in plain sight or we find a pack of crackers in our purse.  The spiritual analog for this in the days leading up to the Passover for many people is making a checklist of everything they’ve done wrong in the last year to see where they’re falling short and how they can do better in the next year, and not to only look in the obvious places for sin.

None of that is wrong necessarily, but in doing so we’ve made these holy days a time that symbolizes how WE put sin out of our lives.  And that’s not something we have the ability to do by ourselves (nor is it something we can finish by a certain date).  It’s hypocritical.  We’ve accidentally hijacked the Days of Unleavened Bread and made it into a time all about us, not about Christ and what He’s made possible in our lives.

“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread”

This hyper-focus on deleavening (and making it about us) has also caused focus to shift away somewhat from the much more emphasized command to put the unleavened bread of Christ into us.  In fact, the passage that lays out all the holy days in in Leviticus 23 doesn’t even say anything about putting out leavening.  However, ALL the commands say we must eat unleavened bread for the seven-day period.  Here’s the initial command in Exodus:

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Flee vs. Pursue: What Does God Command?

“Flee from the midst of Babylon [representing sin], and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity” (Jer. 51:6)

Our society seems to tell us that running away from something is cowardice, or maybe the act of a victim—that it’s better to face things head-on.  And while that might be true for some things, the bible tells a different story when it comes to how we must react in the fact of temptation.  That, we’re told, we must flee.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “flee”?  It’s a word that isn’t used as often in today’s world, but shows up pretty frequently in the bible.  The main word translated “flee” in the New Testament is pheugo, which means to run away or escape—pretty straightforward.  But its underlying meaning has a greater urgency, a “run for your life to avoid getting caught” aspect that’s critical to understanding the command.  This isn’t just “run”.  I run because I’m in a hurry, for health, sometimes even for fun.  Instead, this is a dead sprint because you are under attack, and you might not survive.

It’s interesting to look at what we’re told to flee in the bible, and more importantly, why God commands this.  But God gives us something to move toward, beyond just running away, and that’s just as important to understand.

Fleeing our own human nature—the danger of “what if?”

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