So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

All Prim and Proper-Clothing for the Well Dressed Christian

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Over the years and with each new generation opinions about what to wear to church have proven controversial, from mildly so to downright antagonistic and have ranged from dressing-up in one’s Sunday’s best to extreme casual.

In fact, this issue was prominent during the Jesus Movement (late 60’s to early 70’s) when scores of hippies were saved and attended church in their less than conventional attire to which some churches took great exception and basically said “dress appropriately or leave”. And leave they did which gave rise to Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel where they were welcomed with open arms. We know the rest of the story, how Calvary Chapels are now almost as ubiquitous as Starbuck’s and still maintain a ‘come as you are’ philosophy, at least the one’s I’m familiar with.

The point is that focusing on externals as opposed to inward, spiritual transformation has always been an issue with Christians, as it was for the Jews of Jesus’ day, because it is easier to changes one’s clothes, hair-style, or hem-line than it is to change one’s life. There is, however, an appropriate Christian uniform we all should wear that displays character and action, virtuous living and fierce battle, taking the offensive while also defending what is right and just. It has nothing to do with outward appearances but everything to do with victorious Christian living.

A favorite phrase of Paul is “put off” and “put on” which, according to the Greek verbs, means ‘changing clothes’. The “putting off” is connected with evil, darkness or sinful behavior while “putting on” refers to Christian power, virtue and a changed life in Christ, or even Christ Himself. Consider the following verses that make this point:

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53 italics mine NKJV)

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:26-27 italics mine NKJV)

“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have herd Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:20-24 italics mine NKJV)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Eph. 6:11 italics mine NKJV)

Echoing Eph. 6:11 a final striking example is Romans 13:12 (italics mine NKJV) where Paul tells us to “…cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός) and will mark the beginning of a series on what the proper wardrobe for believers might look like.Romans 13:12 is one of several where Paul uses the word ‘armor’. Unlike Eph. 6 this reference to ‘armor of light’ hasn’t have been so widely commented on, probably because there isn’t much information in the passage itself about exactly what Paul meant. But there is enough in other passages to glean some wonderful ideas, so here we go.

First off, consider some observations about ‘armor’ itself. It needs to be forged, or sewn together depending in what it’s made of; it is used for both defense and offense; it provides protection; it identifies the wearer as one engaged, or about to be, in heated battle; it can be taken off and put back on; there is skill involved in its proper use, and, finally, it must be regularly maintained.

Of these facts about armor in general, it is the idea of armor being forged that catches my attention because forging armor made of light seems the exclusive domain of light’s Creator. It stands to reason, then, that this armor possesses an almost indescribable radiance and/or brightness (φωτεινός) very much like the radiance associated with the appearance of angels and, most dramatically, in the transfiguration of Jesus. One feature of this transfiguration noted by Mark is a profound radiance emanating from Him and that His clothes were whiter than any earthly ‘laundry’ could ever approximate together signifying purity, holiness and other-worldly transcendence.

It seems to me, then, that the terms ‘darkness” and ‘light” are not just metaphors, although they can be; I rather think they have a substantial structure that can, sometimes, be ‘felt’ directly by our senses in the natural world and most certainly by the demonic (see Matt. 8: 28-34).

So, for example, that light and darkness can be instantiated in the believer is evidenced by Eph. 5:8: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Here we are to actualize what is already true about us further evidenced by Col. 1:12-13: “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,…” (NASB)

There is, then, something already ‘heavenly’ about us and it can, and should, be steadily increasing. This armor of light we can ‘put on’ is just one example.

More to come soon in this series.

© W.G.Ryzek 2013

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American Idolatry (And The Whole World For That Matter- Postcript

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Paganism never gets nearer the truth than Pilate: What is Truth? And with that crucifies it.

Soren Kierkegaard, Journals

American Idolatry (And The Whole World For That Matter): The Only Solution

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It’s time to begin bringing closure to this topic although much, much more could be said. We begin by returning to where we started, Psa. 115.

Psalm 115:1–8 (NKJV)
1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
2 Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
3 But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
5 They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
6 They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
7 They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
8 Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.

These verses set the stage for understanding the true nature of idols and the assertion that those who worship idols become like them, namely deaf, blind, impotent and stupid. Now we turn to verses 9-15, along with v3 above, to see what the solution, the only solution, is to idolatry:

Psalm 115:9–15 (NKJV)
9 O Israel, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
12 The LORD has been mindful of us;
He will bless us;
He will bless the house of Israel;
He will bless the house of Aaron.
13 He will bless those who fear the LORD,
Both small and great.
14 May the LORD give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

Verse 3 is important because it describes a particular cosmology about creation, namely that God is in heaven and, because He is God, does whatever He pleases. This means He has both the will and the means to accomplish whatever He sets out to do, unlike everything else that is limited by finitude and absolutely dependent on God.

Idols, however, are earth-bound images first formed from the vain imaginations of fallen humanity (Rom.1) and then fashioned using the very material God, who is in heaven, brought into existence from nothing (creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing). Idols, therefore, are ‘nothings’ since they are made from substances that once never existed and can, at His discretion, cease to exist at any time (the irony that we share, with the exception of the soul, similar substances as idols is interesting). The contrast is important to see.

Now, in verses 9-15 the operative words are “trust in the LORD” and directed to three groups of people: all of Israel, the Aaronic priesthood and then everyone who fear the LORD, whoever and wherever they might be. To the degree they do trust the LORD, His blessing is assured.

The Hebrew word used for trust in these verses is batah and denotes both the experience of well-being and an accompanying sense of security because of confidence in someone or something that is deemed worthy of such trust; it is to be “care-less”. The same word is used of idols in v8 and shows how such persuasion can be ascribed to what is deceptive, thereby creating a false security and false sense of well-being that is essentially self-destructive.

Reading from the Septuagint, we note that the translators did not chose for batah the Greek πιστευω “believe in”, which has more to do with intellectual assent to truth about God, but used ελπιζω “to hope” instead which has more of an emotional overtone, or ‘feeling’ a certain way, in this case safe and secure with God as opposed to ‘feeling’ dread and anxiety.

Although hard to admit, trusting God, Who is invisible, inscrutable and uncontrollable to provide safety and security is not ‘natural’ to us. Most of the time we think we have “to do something”, and quickly, to fend off threats to what security we have. Trusting God, of which waiting on Him with patience is a necessary requirement, almost seems irresponsible, especially if we think that “God only helps those who help themselves.” The words of Jesus “be anxious for nothing” while beautiful seem just too impractical given the magnitude of our needs.

However, we all end up trusting something, or someone, mostly ourselves, to achieve some semblance of control over the uncontrollable. Psalm 115 teaches that we either trust idols or trust God and, furthermore, trusting anything but God is idolatry. However, it is often the case that this clear either/or is turned into a both/and. One example is saying we trust God, devising clever plans to get what we want/need, and then asking God to bless our plans and efforts. Engaging in this sort of thing, however well-intentioned and ‘spiritual’, is really using God as a means to our ends. This is idolatry, plain and simple but difficult to discern as such because of all the religious trappings attached to it and, even worse, gross misapplications of Scripture (the ‘prosperity’ gospel, for example).

Trusting the LORD so described in our passage by the words batah and ελπιζω is like a sigh of surrender, a giving up of self-effort and abandonment of all self-interest, an acquiescence to both the vicissitudes of human existence far beyond our ability to solve and to God who is far greater than ourselves or our problems. Such acquiescence, while including a rational choice, is much more an existential capitulation leading to a state of ‘blessedness’ (verses 12-13), a transcendent experience rooted in the reality of Who and what God is to us.

In the Old Testament, when God blesses He is granting power for success, prosperity, fecundity, and longevity to those who trust in Him. As we have seen, these are the very things the heathen seek from their idols. It was Israel’s privilege to know the true Source, the One True God from Whom all blessing flows and Israel’s bane when it substituted this revelation for the fallacy of idolatry. And so it is with us of the New Testament.

Along with God’s blessing, those who trust in Him exclusively (all of Israel, the priesthood and everyone else) will enjoy His “help” and His “shield” (verse 9-11). The Hebrew word for ‘help’ signifies assistance or support militarily, materially, or spiritually. That ‘help’ associated here with ‘shield’ suggests a military application which includes actual physical combat or spiritual combat. The word for ‘shield’ indicates protection. The picture is that trusting God sets into motion His assistance and protection in the midst of life’s dangers and unpredictability while, at the same time, promising eventual victory and success in all spheres of our existence.

Together with His blessing, this help and protection insure that those trusting God will “increase more and more…” (verse 14). Contextually, this idea of being ‘increased’ is a consolation, a comforting word that, in spite of the oppression of surrounding heathen nations, when Israel trusts in the LORD and nothing else their numbers will increase, their might to overcome their enemies increase, and their presence as God’s people will inspire awe in the sight of her enemies. This idea echoes the promise of fecundity, longevity and prosperity that God’s blessing (see verses 12-13) brings.

Therefore, because we trust/hope in God we enjoy security and well-being so much so we become carefree, able to pursue Him and His will with reckless abandon and can say with Paul that “…nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Tim. 1:12 NKJV) In this verse we can easily see the ‘about God’ and the ‘with God’ that our text in Psalms 115: 9-15 (in Hebrew and Greek) expresses and the ‘persuasion’ that He is ‘able’ which lies at the center of what trusting God means.

In the next blog, a closer look at the three groups of people called to trust God will be considered. If you haven’t read the other blogs in this series, I encourage you to do so. This installment will make more sense in that context.

© W.G.Ryzek 2013

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