Finding Healing for Our Hurts & Clarity for Our Confusion

“By the discovery of God, … I do not mean anything mysterious, or mystical, or unattainable. I simply mean becoming acquainted with Him as one becomes acquainted with a human friend; that is, finding out what is His nature, and His character, and coming to understand His ways.”

“My own experience has been something like this. My knowledge of God, beginning on a very low plane, and in the midst of greatest darkness and ignorance, advanced slowly through many stages, and with a vast amount of useless conflict and wrestling, to the place where I learned at last that Christ was the ‘express image’ of God, and where I became therefore in measure acquainted with Him, and discovered to my amazement and delight His utter unselfishness, and saw it was safe to trust in Him. And from this time all my doubts and questioning have been slowly disappearing in the blaze of this magnificent knowledge.”[i]

My experience, which may not be universal but seems to me as if it should be, is that our pain or confusion is best sorted in the Divine Presence. The immediacy of His reality puts ourselves into proper perspective, while the intensity of His love for and attitude toward us heals our hurts. We arrive at these moments via study, practice, intentionality, and His sovereignty.

I had the opportunity to pray to God with a good friend listening a few mornings ago. He happened to invite me to pray when I had just been moved in spirit by contemplating a truth about God’s character. I knew that if I began praying in that moment it was going to be very personal—the kind of praying that only happens in my prayer closet and even then is restrained by my (damnable) reluctance to seem (to myself, ironically) as if I am so enchanted by God as to have no thought of dignity—I was reluctant to go there, as I am unaccustomed to anyone else being privy to my personal prayer life with God, and because I care too much about what others might think, but after a few moments of hesitation I went there anyway. In His Presence all thoughts of my friend’s opinions or even attendance were erased, as I was caught up in the recognition of God’s character.

I came away from this experience—of a few moments—a changed man. This is the kind of thing I have in mind, and am trying to capture in my first paragraph.


[i] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Unselfishness of God (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1903), p. 14. as quoted in Hannah Whitall Smith and Melvin Easterday Dieter, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Nearer, Still Nearer

Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart,
draw me, my Savior, so precious thou art.
Fold me, O fold me close to thy breast;
shelter me safe in that haven of rest,
shelter me safe in that haven of rest.
 
Nearer, still nearer, nothing I bring,
naught as an offering to Jesus my King –
only my sinful, now contrite heart;
grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart,
grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart.
 
Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be thine,
sin, with its follies, I gladly resign,
all of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified,
give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified.
 
Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
through endless ages, ever to be
nearer, my Savior, still nearer to thee,
nearer, my Savior, still nearer to thee.
 
Author: Mrs. C.H. (Lelia) Morris (1862 – 1929)
Tune: MORRIS

A “Gospel” Without Offence

“While we wrangle here in the dark we are dying and passing to the world that will decide all our controversies.” – Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, Part 3, p. 89.

“Leave out the holy character of God, the holy excellence of his law, the holy condemnation to which transgressors are doomed, the holy loveliness of the Saviour’s character, the holy nature of redemption, the holy tendency of Christ’s doctrine, and the holy tempers and conduct of all true believers: then dress up a scheme of religion of this unholy sort:

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represent mankind as in a pitiable condition, rather through misfortune than by crime: speak much of Christ’s bleeding love to them, of his agonies in the garden and on the cross; without shewing the need or the nature of the satisfaction for sin: speak of his present glory, and of his compassion for poor sinners; of the freeness with which he dispenses pardons; of the privileges which believers enjoy here, and of the happiness and glory reserved for them hereafter:

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clog this with nothing about regeneration and sanctification, or represent holiness as somewhat else than conformity to the holy character and law of God: and you make up a plausible gospel, calculated to humour the pride, soothe the consciences, engage the hearts, and raise the affections of natural men, who love nobody but themselves.

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And now no wonder if this gospel (which has nothing in it affronting, offensive, or unpalatable, but is perfectly suited to the carnal unhumbled sinner, and helps him to quiet his conscience, dismiss his fears, and encourage his hopes,) incur no opposition amongst ignorant persons, who inquire not into the reason of things; meet with a hearty welcome, and make numbers of supposed converts, who live and die as full as they can hold of joy and confidence, without any fears or conflicts….

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What wonder if, when all the offensive part is left out, the gospel gives no offence? What wonder if, when it is made suitable to carnal minds, carnal minds fall in love with it? What wonder if, when it is evidently calculated to fill the unrenewed mind with false confidence and joy, it has this effect? What wonder if, when the true character of God is unknown, and a false character of him is framed in the fancy,  – a God all love and no justice, very fond of such believers, as his favourites, – they have very warm affections towards him?

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“… I would not give needless offence. Let this matter be weighed according to its importance. Let the word of God be examined impartially. I cannot but avow my fears that Satan has propagated much of this false religion, among many widely different classes of religious professors; and it shines so brightly in the eyes of numbers, who ‘take all for gold that flitters’, that, unless the fallacy be detected, it bids fair to be the prevailing religion in many places.”

– Thomas Scott, Letters and Papers, ed. John Scott (London: Seeley, 1824), pp. 441-4

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God “out there” has sent some “thing” to us “down here.” Spiritual gifts are God present in, with, and through human thoughts, human deeds, human words, human love.

– Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts, p. 12

Can Yoga Be Redeemed?

I must state as clearly as possible that anyone who gets involved with yoga, and kundalini energy which is the aim of all yoga, is making a very, very big mistake. No matter how committed a Christian may be, pastor or lay person alike, when a believer chooses to involve himself or herself with the world of the occult, including any and all levels of yoga practice, for “exercise” or otherwise, very powerful spontaneous demonic manifestations can and do oftentimes occur. Many ignorant people say that yoga exercises can be separated from yoga philosophy. This simply is not true. It is a well known fact that yoga postures/poses are the outworking of occult philosophy. Yoga is an occult practice. It is the basis of the Hinduism. Westernized as “Breath Religion”, “The Science of Breath”, and “Transcendental Meditation” it leads individuals to believe the great lie of human “godhood”. Yoga is demonic in origin, it comes from the teachings of demons, and it stands vehemently opposed to the God of the Bible and to every Christians’ faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Yoga, even done as merely an “exercise”, has the power to produce occult phenomena dangerous enough to undo the human psyche. Sadly, countless people, including many undiscerning Christians, believe that yoga can be done as exercise or as an integrative worship practice – as part of a “transformative process” of drawing “closer to the Divine”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practices.” – Hans Ulrich Reiker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, New York: Seabury Press, 1971, p. 101

Before moving on to anything further, let’s establish the agreed upon background.

  1. There is another realm every bit as real, perhaps more real, than this realm. We can say this with confidence for a variety of reasons, but including the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle as a copy or pattern of what he would be shown: the real in the heavenly realm.
  2. These two realms are interconnected, as evidenced (among other things) by Jacob’s Ladder (and Daniel’s vision where Michael had to come rescue Gabriel, etc., etc.)
  3. Our daily, tangible lives are indissolubly linked to the spirit realm as evidenced by Paul’s statement, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Second, let’s establish that neither myself nor the quoted author are arguing that any movement is inherently evil. There is nothing inherently evil about raising the middle finger. But… what is it that makes that gesture evil?

Theoretically (and realistically) someone could not know the significance of that gesture and raise their middle finger with no malicious intent. But here’s the point… for some time folks who perceive the lack of comprehension will not respond to that gesture, but at some point someone is going to punch them.

The answer to my previous question is that there is contextual agreement upon the significance of a movement. I raise my palm up to you when you’re running toward me and you will know that I am indicating you should stop, though that same movement would have meant, “Greetings,” if you met a Lakota Sioux in 1824. The yoga postures were designed and communicated by spirit entities and they, in agreement with previous and contemporary humans, have invested those movements with significance that the demonic entities treat very legalistically. This significance has persisted for millennia, and is not about to be let go of by those behind their revelation to humans (c.f., 1 Enoch 9:5-7).

A yoga pose, accidentally struck, is a non-thing, a triviality, an accident. But yoga poses regularly practiced are the waving of a flag in the spiritual realm. They will attract attention, whether you wave that flag with intent or not.

But there is more to it even than that. Just as few know much about Kinesiology and yet is has an effect, just as putting one’s shoulders back will enhance breathing compared to doubling over and hunching one’s shoulders, the yoga postures are designed with an awareness that humans rarely possess about the effects each pose has on receptivity to spiritual activity, and the enhancement or alignment of “energies” in the body that are often unperceived.

The entire thrust of God’s commandments suggest that His children are to be aware of the spiritual realm but permit God alone to mediate our interaction with it. The practice of sorcery, divination, necromancy, and pharmakeia for man-initiated connection/communication with the spirit realm is prohibited with prejudice. While we want to deny it, the adversaries know that this is precisely what yoga is for, and they are encouraging its growth among us at every opportunity.

Swami Sivasiva Plani wrote in 1991,

A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha and kundalini – beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes. (“An Open Letter to Evangelicals,” in Hinduism Today, January 1991)

Sannyasin Arumugaswami asserts, “Hinduism is the soul of Yoga….A Christian trying to adapt these principles will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs.”

As I mentioned previously, the argument is not that any movement (or breathing pattern) is in and of itself inherently evil. No, everything God created is good, and every good and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights who is above.

I think, however, that we too often forget what evil is: the twisting of what was created for good away from God’s intent. The variety of ways in which this truth works itself out in our lives is too seldom recognized, which is unfortunate because its contemplation is quite revelatory.

To establish the interplay at work here, let’s take an extreme example, so clear and evident that it will illumine our perception when analyzing more murky examples. Marital intimacy and fornication are the same movement. God created this “movement” and He clearly intended it for good, so what is it that makes marital intimacy one of the greatest goods we can experience and extra-marital relations wrong—with a spectrum of wrong extending to some of the worst evils we can contemplate, and yet still the same movement?

Clearly intent is a major factor, but it is not just intent. For example, had we lived in 1st century Corinth, we would not have imagined that we could wander into the local temple with our spouse, and in the midst of the thousand courtesans the temple housed, engaged in marital intimacy with our spouse to the glory of God, while all around us worshipers of Aphrodite coupled to the glory of a rebellious spirit. And let’s be honest, despite the best of imaginary intentions, if we made that our regular practice, how long do you think it would be before our perspective on what is permissible began to be impacted? Humans are hard-wired to accept what is familiar as acceptable.

Let’s try the typical arguments in favor of yoga out in this context… So if a couple goes to the Temple Aphrodite with no intent to connect with or interact with demonic powers, does not pray to anyone but YHWH, and puts themselves in postures of intimacy only with their spouse, this would be somehow wrong? Well, perhaps not, strictly speaking. Can we agree that it would be at least unwise, and at best confusing? And when one considers that the spiritual powers are territorial in nature (cf. Deut 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his alloted heritage.”) it becomes evident that place and context matter.

Because of this Deuteronomy 32 worldview, we can understand that location in the Bible has cosmic significance. Ground is either holy, meaning dedicated to Yahweh, or it is the domain of another god. This is why the terms used to refer to the rebellious spirits in Scripture are often those of geographic dominion: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” “principalities,” “rulers” (Daniel 10:13; Eph 6:12).

This worldview is reflected in many places in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament the book of Daniel refers to foreign nations being ruled by divine “princes” (Dan. 10:13, 20–21). Another example: When David was running from King Saul, he was forced out of Israel into Philistine territory. In 1 Samuel 26:19, David cried, “They have driven me out from the LORD’s land to a country where I can only worship foreign gods” (GNT). David wasn’t switching gods. He also wasn’t denying that God was present everywhere. But Israel was holy ground, the place that belonged to the true God. David was stuck in the domain of another god. [Michael Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World And Why It Matters]

Old Testament era people knew this: think of Naaman taking Israeli ground back with him to Syria (2 Kings 5:17-18). This was clearly Paul’s view as well, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. [or stretch the stretch of demons in the house of demons] You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” No, rather, “flee from idolatry”! (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

So, while we might call it a “yoga studio,” the reality is that this is a pagan temple, and we are as proscribed from engaging in what God intended for good there as we are at the temple Paul refers to. Eating and drinking, moving and stretching, and sexual intimacy are all created by God for good, but location, intent, association, and community all matter.

But what about this question? “What happened to the redemption theology we discussed back in the day – Christians through the Holy Spirit and practice can redeem the intents of evil, turning for good what Satan intended for bad?”

Indeed! We were redeemed in order to be redemptive. Nothing has happened to this imperative in my theological understanding. However, context, intent, location, association, community, and culture all make a difference. In the case of sexual intimacy, redemption means pulling it out of the public eye. In the case of eating and drinking, redemption means doing so in God-honoring settings, according to the rules He gave, and in accordance with needs and balanced desires. In the case of movement, it is theoretically possible to imitate yoga moves in your own home, independent of anyone else’s intention and practice, except…if you do some research you will discover not just that these movements themselves are flag signals in the spiritual realm, but that they are intentionally designed to open one up to influence and interaction. The details of this go beyond what I am comfortable discussing in a public forum, and frankly, if you decide to look into it, I would recommend doing so with another trusted brother or sister. This will take you some very uncomfortable places.

So, God created movement, envisioned stretching, and wanted us to glory in exercising the bodies He created and the wonder that they are: all to His praise and His glory. He also revealed some information and hid other information. It was rebellious spirit-realm-dwellers who began to reveal additional but only partial information that God had not revealed (cf. Gen 3:1-7; 6:1-5; 1 Enoch 6-10), and I think we are wise to remain within the boundaries of what God prescribed and proscribed.

That having been said, there is something called Praise Moves, which takes the idea of healthy movement and stretching and intentionally situates those movements within worship of the One True God. I have felt very ambivalent about this organization, even though the founder is a former yoga master, and is adamantly opposed to the yoga. But your challenge, Will, confirmed to me as I thought this through that it is possible to redeem the concept of healthy movement, so long as it is entirely disconnected from the practice of yoga, and situated within the context of Christian worship, rather than demonic obeisance. It’s still not my thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Wrestling with God’s Law as Ceremonial, Civil, & Moral

In light of recent posts that have touched on the overarching structure of Scripture and how the OT and the NT properly interact, I’m curious…how do you all feel about the traditional division of the law (moral, ceremonial, civil), and how would you say it’s proper to determine that something from the OT does *not* carry over?

While there is significant preceding evidence that God entered into covenantal relationship with humans, at Sinai he specifically and exhaustively made clear—in a manner intended to be received by all who heard it, and to endure for all to come—that he intended to relate to mankind in a covenantal manner. He thus promised to be faithful to his chosen (elected) people, and they in turn were expected to obey his law or Torah. The law dictated the lifestyle of the people and reflected how a human was to relate to God, to others, to self and to material things (see McGonigle & Quigley, A History of the Christian Tradition from Its Jewish Origins to the Reformation, pg. 34).

To the degree that these laws directly reflected the nature of God in universal and timeless application these laws have never and will never be annulled. Laws of this nature have sometimes, helpfully, been called the moral law of God. Those laws appear in seemingly random places throughout Scripture and are variously summarized in multiple places and ways, including the 10 Commandments, the 2 Great Commandments, Micah 6:8, and elsewhere.

It is impossible to ignore the observable reality that within the Sinai legislation are laws peculiar to the situation of national Israel within the Land of Promise, ruled by judges and magistrates constrained by the Sinai legislation as their national law, and in the presence of a functioning Tabernacle/Temple system. Christian men have therefore sometimes quickly summarized those laws which endure with universal application as moral, those which apply specifically to the Temple system as ceremonial, and those which specifically direct the nation-state of Israel in the Land and governing themselves as civil. This shorthand description can function as a helpful categorization in aid to the complex process of deriving healthy, biblical application in diverse times and places.

To the degree that so-called ceremonial or civil laws reflect the character of God in a universally applicable manner, these laws remain binding in every age, though they do not, necessarily, direct all men in every place with specificity. So, all men everywhere are required to acknowledge God and no god before Him (Ex. 20:2-3), yet it is also true that all men everywhere are not mandated to redeem their firstborn son for the price of five shekels, to be given to the sons of Aaron (Num. 3:40-51).

There are several Reformation-era statements on these matters that are very helpful, especially when read as summary statements, reflecting extensive underlying exegetical work. Here are two that I especially like:

I. As the ceremonial law was concerned with God, the political was concerned with the neighbor.

II. In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.

III. In those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.

(Johannes Wollebius [1589-1629]), Compendium theologiae christianae)

VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”

(39 Articles of Religion, 1562)

I’ve been giving this topic significant thought for several years now. In fact, I think I first mentioned it briefly in public at the 2013 New England Messianic Conference. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the topic recently because I think I’m finally making some progress in articulating something that will make sense to people. For a long time it was something I was intuiting, and I struggled to convey what I meant.

One thing I believe we should acknowledge is that the stereotypical response of pro-Torah people to this topic has not been well thought out, or sensitive to historical context. Among the Reformers and their early descendants (with some exceptions) references to the tripartite division of the Law were not meant to be rationale for how to escape the present applicability of God’s law, but used as a short-hand reference to figuring out how to apply God’s law. Unfortunately, being not well-informed on Reformation-era thought, too many have reacted against one sentence in the 19th chapter of the Westminster Confession (echoed in Chapter 19 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession), without being familiar with the broader context in which those statements were made.

I think we can all agree that figuring out how to apply God’s law to our contemporary situation is rarely easy. Just like “circumcision” had become shorthand for the proselyte conversion process in the 2nd Temple era, the division of the law into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories had become shorthand during the Reformation era and following for referring to the significant wrestling they had done to determine the manner in which God’s law should be applied in their time period.

But we read, “All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament,” and we freak out. Forgetting how precise these folks were in their working out of these concise statements. See, for example, the two quotes above.

There are at least four items of background we need to be aware of when considering this topic:

  1. For the Reformers, the reference to a tripartite categorization of God’s law was not a way to escape keeping God’s law, but a shorthand reference to textual exegesis focused on the manner in which his law should be kept.
  2. Over time, however, at least in practice if not in theology, this idea became a justification for why, essentially, nothing more than the 10 Commandments applied to contemporary Gentile believers.
  3. Dispensationalists seized on the complexity of the problem and the inevitable resulting inconsistency and said, “See, you can’t do this, it’s a unified whole and you must acknowledge that the entire thing has been done away with.”
  4. In reaction against the Dispensationalist’s view, which had increasingly influenced the practice, if not the theology, of Reformed people in the pews, Pro-Torah folks (ironically) insisted that the Dispensationalists were right and the law could not be categorized into parts, but must be accepted as a unified whole, but then in practice continued to inconsistently practice only those things which might be described as moral, while ignoring all those things which might apply to our congregational life (ceremonial) or political scene (civil).

It is time for us to stop reacting and to continue proactively articulating historically sensitive, theologically mature, biblically defensible, and eminently practical statements of our own. These will correct but not reject the overwhelmingly faithful line of reliable saints who have preceded us.