So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the category “The Whole Shebang”

It’s About Time… Part 5 Look Out…It’s Happening

 

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I’m a bit of a news junkie and particularly interested in reading about events, ideologies, political pronouncements, social issues, environmental changes, the mainstream ecclesiastical ‘mood’ revealed in religious writings, sermons, books and the like that show movements away from orthodoxy and Biblical theology. Summing up what I’m reading nearly every day it seems the vice-grip of sin and lawlessness around the neck of kosmos is getting tighter and the hammer of God (not Thor) is about to fall as history bends to His inexorable will fulfilling a plan conceived in eternity; I just keep getting more and more excited.

I don’t welcome disasters, famines, wholesale destruction, disease or war but they are here and increasing in number and severity; as one politician recently put it: “the whole world is upside down”. If this is obvious to those outside the faith, how much more should it be to us who await His appearing? Indeed, it’s happening, all those things the prophets spoke of millennia ago, the very words of Jesus unfolding before us written in newspapers and displayed through visual media.

Christians feel the pressure of this vice grip as well. It is not unreasonable to think we in this country might endure persecution, rejection, hatred, and ridicule especially since these things are already happening. The truth is seen as a lie, lies seen as truth; light is darkness and darkness, light, evil is good and good is evil and so it goes. It is remarkable that since we stand for light, truth and goodness, we are by the world as dark, as liars and as evil; all other world religions are given a pass but Christianity is now widely considered a threat to an ordered and civilized society.

In stark contrast to the foreboding and increasing disintegration preceding His appearance the Lord tells us to “rejoice” as we witness it all coming to pass. This, of course, will make those of the world around us even more disgusted and angry because our joy reflects a disregard for a world under the dominion of sin and death and an expectation of a new creation wherein the rule of God is finally and forever established.

Indeed, the time has come at last…now, today, this moment, in this generation. Therefore, the words of Jesus about the times we’re in are critical, especially His repeated exhortation to watch. For example, consider Matt. 24:42:

 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

The verb ‘watch ’used here is in the present tense, imperative mood meaning a continuous watching with the command to do so now, this moment, no hesitation; i.e. DO IT NOW! The word γρηγορεῖτε itself means, among other things, to be alert, awake and alive.

This all might seem a bit passé since His people, us included, have been watching for over 2000 years. What is different in our time from past generations, however, is the globalization and causal interconnectedness between international governments, economies, and communication conditions absent to those who have gone before yet necessary to bring about the events foretold in the Bible.

Another difference is the increasingly global phenomenon of lawlessness and rebellion against all rule of law and authority. Again, this sort of thing has always been around here and there somewhere in the world, but never on this scale and with such severity. Jesus gives us a reference point namely “as it was in the days of Noah…”; the evil of which God described was ‘global’. Therefore, these ‘days’ we are in now are very much like, or perhaps identical to, what Noah faced and which brought about God’s judgment.

So, even though some of our Christian ancestors got their eschatological predictions wrong, they nevertheless were intently watching just as Jesus commanded. And now, given this global interconnectedness, the need for watchfulness in our generation is greater than ever before.

That this is the case is clear from Mark’s version of Matt. 24.

35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:35-37 (NKJV)

Twice the word “watch” (γρηγορεῖτε) is used in these verses. Such an emphasis shows the high probability that many followers of the Lord will succumb to slumbering, overcome by some sort of worldly stupor, their spiritual senses dulled or much worse, like those Peter wrote about, scoffing and saying “where is His coming…?” Familiarity with the epistles of the New Testament supports this assertion with repeated warnings and exhortations to stay vigilant.

Jesus Himself announces this suddenness and unpredictability of His coming not only in the Gospels but also in the Revelation.

15 “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Revelation 16:15 (NKJV)

And similarly the glorified Lord speaks to a church that He pronounced as “dead”.

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:1–3 (NKJV bold italics mine)

The particular meaning of “watch” as “being alive” (see above) directed to the “dead” congregation of Sardis is especially interesting here. That a church bearing the name of Christ should be in such a condition to be called ‘dead’ is sobering, indeed. The point is, becoming sleepy, complacent and careless is all too easy today and being watchful is difficult given the plenitude of distractions in the world. And by all indications, being watchful will become even more difficult as the vice grip tightens. It is certainly a time where none of us can “go it alone” nor a time where we tolerate church conduct or leadership that is anything but wholeheartedly committed to the ways of God. More to come next time.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s About Time… Part 4 Godly Arithmetic

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Psalm 90:11–12 (NKJV)

11    Who knows the power of Your anger?

For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.

12    So teach us to number our days,

That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

 

Numbering days is just that, counting them but, in this context, with both eternity and the brevity of human existence defining the sum. It is a gaining of that particular perspective necessary for resisting the temptation of thinking time is anything other than a creation by God and a gift from God.

This numbering of days has at least four consequences-it reminds us that time is passing by and with each passing day fewer remain. It also focuses us on the day we now have, how valuable it is as an opportunity to please God in some way or other and not waste it on vain and empty projects. Thirdly, it places our lives within the framework of God’s time, measured by the days, months, years seasons and holy days He established from the beginning in Genesis and reiterated again and again throughout the Bible. Finally, numbering our days leads to wisdom that is something we gain and something we give to God, like a gift of a life well spent.

The basis for this fourth consequence is the language of Psa. 90:12 suggesting two interpretations about this wisdom of numbering days. The NKJV reads “that we may gain a heart of wisdom” whereas the NASB reads “that we may present to You a heart of wisdom”. These are both entirely acceptable translations and, therefore, can be considered together like both sides of a single coin. In other words, numbering our days does something to us and something for God. The former seems easy to understand but the latter provokes a pronounced wonderment, at least for me. It make me think that if I can present to God wisdom, I could present something else as well, say stupidity for example, like engaging in the wanton consumption of all things worldly. Consequently, according to the first translation, instead of gaining a heart of true wisdom I might instead gain that kind of wisdom James describes as “earthly, natural, demonic”. (James 2:13-15)

Given the sweeping panorama of this Psalm it is noteworthy that numbering our days follows a reference to understanding the full depth of God’s wrath and judgment, i.e. the proper ‘fear of God’ which we know is the “beginning of wisdom”. It is true that familiarity breeds contempt and with the grossly warped views of God being promulgated these days, portraying God as an indulgent parent, such familiarity excludes the respect due His Name; it is in my judgment an idolatrous frivolity. This is not to say that being a Christian is morbid but that the joy, gladness and happiness promised us can only be such when balanced with a proper fear of God; this is  ‘wisdom’ we bring to God. The upshot is we need God to teach us this unique and wise numbering of days. Left to our own devices, the gravity of the matter will surely escape us. And Who better to ask for help than the creator of time Himself? And, so with David we can pray

4      “Lord, make me to know my end,

And what is the measure of my days,

That I may know how frail I am.

5      Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,

And my age is as nothing before You;

Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.

Selah  (Psalm 39:4–5 (NKJV)

 

W.G. Ryzek 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persecution Upside Down

 

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Questions about the morality and acceptability of homosexual, transgender, bisexual and lesbian life-styles is causing divisions within church institutions and amongst people who identify with Christianity. This much is obvious. What intrigues me is those who engage in and champion the cause of legitimizing and “Christianizing” these behaviors think of themselves as being ‘persecuted’ by those who believe these behaviors are immoral, unbiblical, and worthy of God’s wrath. This sort of thing has happened before. The Jews persecuted the early Christians and then, later on, Christians persecuted the Jews. The Roman state persecuted the Christians and later Christians persecuted people involved in what were once the official Roman ‘state’ religions. Then Christians persecuted other Christians for deviating from the ‘official’ doctrines promulgated by those in ecclesiastical power. Other examples are plentiful throughout history.

The point is this: the only real justification for crying ‘persecution’ amongst those calling themselves ‘Christians’ is if and only if Jesus Himself is the reason for the persecution. Being persecuted for being His disciple, believing Him to be the Incarnate Word, believing He is the One and only Savior against all other ‘pretenders’, believing that everything He said is true, and proclaiming these truths openly are examples of appropriate ‘reasons’.

Consider these verses from Matthew’s gospel:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And these from John:

20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also.
24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.

Now, these words from both Matthew and John show a correlation, what we might call a dialectical relationship, between Jesus and His disciples regarding His person and the truth He embodied and proclaimed. In these verses, the correlation is persecution; i.e. because His Sonship and the words He spoke from the Father provoked persecution against Him, so shall it be amongst His followers. Furthermore, this correlation is stated in such a way that persecution because of Him should be expected; just saying His Name with praise and reverence is enough to provoke violence against his people in some parts of the world today and, I might add, with ever increasing frequency.

The verses from Matthew’s record Jesus saying that all who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” are blessed. This means, among other things, that being persecuted for any other reasons than Jesus Himself, His Words or the righteousness He proclaimed and demanded isn’t really persecution at all. So, those living in sin, overtly practicing sin and demanding to be accepted while doing so, encouraging others to do the same, and demanding they not be criticized or censored because this constitutes ‘persecution’(along with its close cousin ‘intolerance’) is clearly a condition of unrighteousness.

Now some will say “But we are being persecuted this way because Jesus loves us and accepts us as we are, deviant lifestyles and all.” “Besides”, others say, “we are in love and expressing our love sexually, what can be wrong with that?” This is an appeal to a “lovey dovey Jesus”, a unbiblical Jesus who because of this so-called love is portrayed as having never spoken of moral obligation, sin, ‘holiness’, righteousness, judgment and obedience to God. It is sloppy agape writ large and anyone who dares question such a Jesus is obviously unloving, judgmental, and simply not in touch with 21st century theological progressivism, social and political correctness, and that much ballyhooed word ‘tolerant’.

Here’s the hard part: “speaking the truth in love…” As much as we might despise the promiscuity all around and the flagrant displays of idolatry in our culture, we are called to love those trapped by their own evil practices. Speaking the truth carries within its own structure the judgment of God; we don’t need to add anything.

The fact is that whenever sin is brought into the light of God’s truth four general responses are evoked: denial, hostility, indifference or repentance. Denouncing sin, resisting it, and remaining steadfast against those who encourage it is not persecution but faithful, uncompromised proclamation; i.e. “speaking the truth”. On the other hand, when anger and harm are leveled against those doing the proclaiming, that is persecution. The difference is clear. All true prophets in the Old Testament regarded the will and word of Yahweh above all else and, as Jesus points out, many paid for their commitment with their lives. It was the false prophet who culled favor with the wayward by speaking smooth words and assuring them that God was not angry with their conduct. And, more often than not, it was the false prophet that led the persecution against God’s truly appointed representatives.

 

What To Say to a Zombie If You Meet One

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I’ve heard death described as “just part of the natural order of things” like it’s all normal and therefore acceptable. Others act like death is a gross inconvenience, disrupting their grandiose schemes and must be met with elaborate attempts to squeeze just a few more days or years out of a life already wasted by consumption and unbridled hubris. Still others, as their last moments arrive, cower in fear, trembling before the great unknown that faces them, while some act arrogantly and defiantly thinking their bravado will ‘scare it away’.

I despise death in whatever form it takes because I know it isn’t supposed to be here. It is an aberration, an abnormality, a foreign invader, a much reviled interloper, but, most of all, an enemy. It came when sin entered His creation and indeed, thanatos reigns.

Unless you’re a Christian, that is. Believers know that death has no more sting for those born twice and that death, the last enemy, is swallowed up by life; not just any life, but eternal life, the very life of that God of the living whom we serve and worship. And because He is the God of the living, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also eternally alive now, this very moment, along with all who have faith in He Who Speaks, the I AM, the Word Incarnate, the Alpha and Omega, He who was, is and is to come. We who name the Name of Jesus say to death “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” because “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

We must come to understand that there exists all around us a real ‘walking dead’ very much like those depicted in numerous zombie movies. They must be given the antidote, the only antidote, to this scourge of death inflicted upon mankind which is His death and then His resurrection, that grand finale to God’s plan that all who share in His death share also in His resurrection. It is here that death is turned on its head, no longer an ending but a beginning.

The message to these ‘walking dead’ is this: “You are already dead so finish the job and die to the self that cruelly and inexorably drives you ever deeper into sin. Exchange your death with His redemptive death and victorious resurrection through faith and join the countless millions who can say with Job that “though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

The God Who Speaks,The God Who Hears- Part 2

 

 

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Last time we considered the remarkable fact that God has a Voice and speaks to His people, His Voice spanning the centuries between the Old and New Testaments, the very same speaking to us now. We began with Israel’s encounter with the Voice of God at Sinai and ended with that same Voice becoming Incarnate in the Jesus, the Word of God.

This installment is about the equally remarkable fact that God listens and is quite concerned with what we have to say. Once again we turn to Exodus and the experiences of God’s people, only now instead of being emancipated and hearing Yahweh in the wilderness, we see the Hebrews crying out because of their horrific bondage as slaves in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25).

“They cried out and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel and God took notice of them.” (NASB)

It is interesting that remembering His covenant with their ancestors and taking notice of their plight are associated with God hearing them. In the Septuagint, the verbs heard, remembered, saw, and took notice are all in the aorist tense, indicative mood indicating events occurring in the past; i.e. He had already heard, remembered, saw and took notice of His people, it was not something new to God, but to the Hebrews it was good news, indeed that God had, after all, heard them and was still hearing. Ex. 3:7-8 sheds light on this when God says to Moses that He has been aware of their sufferings and is now preparing to act on their behalf.

Now, fast forward to the New Testament when Jesus talks to His disciples about prayer and what we are to seek after (Matt. 6:7-8, 32). Twice in these verses Jesus says that God knows about those things we all need. The verb ‘know’ is in the perfect tense, indicative mood meaning God knows now even before we ask. He hear us and is listening, not just to the sounds but the meaning of what we say, therefore knowing what we are all about.

Speaking requires hearing and listening is an essential part of hearing, really hearing. What I mean is listening suggests an attitude, an inclination towards, an interest in what is being heard. But, nothing is heard without first speaking, at least in these contexts. God speaks and then listens for a response and when a response comes, He hears it. We speak, listen for a response and when it comes, hear it; that is if we are interested at all in whomever our speech is directed. And herein lies the rub: there are those who “have ears but do not hear” or, we might say, hear sounds but do not understand what they mean, or hear but do not listen. This is the difference between us and God, and thankfully so; God both hears and listens with perfectly clarity of understanding and always, without exception, responds appropriately. On our part, however, His words may be clamoring for our attention but we simply are neither hearing nor listening.

The point of all this is that God hears us, really hears us, hears everything in fact and is constantly listening for our response to Him. He is never deaf as we sometimes are and even answers us when we haven’t even uttered a word, like those times when anguish of heart smothers verbal speech and all we can do is groan and travail, just as the Hebrews did in Egypt. Therefore, we are encouraged throughout the New Testament to pray, even pray without ceasing, all the while knowing our words are not falling on deaf ears. He is eager to hear from us and listens closely to what we say.

This whole thing about communication between Creator and creature, this speaking and hearing on a two way street is astounding when you think about it. And think about we should for no greater privilege is afforded us than to have an audience with God whenever we want and no greater power available than aligning our will with His. Hear then, and listen to the words of Jesus, our God Who Speaks:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:12-17 NKJV)

 

All Prim and Proper: Clothing for the Well Dressed Christian- Putting on Christ

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Gal. 3:26-27  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.

 Rom. 13:14    But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

 

I think it’s fairly clear that when Paul’s uses “putting on” and “putting off” his main concern is the moral and ethical conduct of his readers reflecting the new way of life appropriate for a Christian. This is especially clear in Eph. 4:20-32 and Col. 3:5-11.

Now, “putting on Christ” expands our focus to the union existing between the believer and the Lord Jesus. This union is the basis for, and necessary condition of, the very possibility of “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man”. It is a new kind of existence expressed by a new kind of life-style and the reason the Christian life is a transformation into something totally new, not a reformation of something old.

It can be said that Jesus is the first New Man, the ‘first-born of many brethren’ (Rom. 8:28-30) because He is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Through His kenosis (self-emptying) and incarnation (Phil. 2:5-8) He became Godman (Gk, theanthropos) and, subsequent to His resurrection and glorification, He remains Godman forever. He is that Singularity, infinite, eternal, irresistible from which all creation springs and the Source of a new humanity. There is none like Him, nor can there ever be, and there is nothing in all of creation, old or new, that is like the Church of which we are a part.

There is, then, an everlasting connection between the nature of the ‘new man’ we ‘put on’ and Godman, the Lord Jesus Christ.(Rom.13:14) Baptism is the external ‘sign’ of being enfolded into, identifying with what Jesus did and Who He is by ‘dying’ to all that preceded this confession of faith, the life of the ‘old man’. (Gal. 3:27) Thus, the union of our redeemed existence with Godman is the ‘new man’ created in every believer and, collectively, in His Body, the Body of Christ in which each of us participates and contributes to the praise of His glory. This is what we are to “put on” and doing so is life eternal.

This imperative to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” takes on even greater significance given its context, one that is particularly àpropos for this time in history; indeed, “the night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (Rom. 13:12) There is a wedding soon to come and we are warned to be prepared for the event. Two parables of Jesus point to this. The first is found in Matt. 22:1-14 about the wedding feast with verses 11-12 pertinent to this discussion. One of the guests is confronted by the host for not being properly clothed and then taken away to anything but a party. Being properly clothed, then, is far more than a fashion statement but required for the events soon to come.

The second is found in Matt. 25:1-13 and addresses specifically the need for preparedness. Again, the focus is on a wedding and the participants advised to have their ‘lights on’ when the Bridegroom arrives. (see Rom. 13:11)

If you have been following this series, recall the first installment had to do with “putting on the armor of light”. Interestingly, that passage (Rom. 13:12) is in the same context as Rom. 13:14. Therefore, putting on the ‘armor of light’ and ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’ go together and speak of being properly clothed and being adequately illuminated as the above parables suggest.

The point is, then, that being a properly clothed Christian means ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’. In other words, ‘putting on the new man’ supersedes, overcomes, and ‘kills’ the ‘old man’ thereby becoming successful at making “… no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts”. (Rom. 13:14)

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

 

Sticks and Stones

I’m sure all of you have suffered the taunts, ridicule, excessive criticism and sarcasm of your school mates and siblings at one time or another. Unfortunately, this kind of speaking, and even worse kinds, occur among Christians. The old saying that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is patently false. While it’s true that words can’t physically do damage, like sticks and stones, certain kinds of words and the way they are spoken can inflict far worse injury on their victim.

The power of words and their delivery is why James spoke of the tongue in largely unflattering terms because, when uncontrolled, it wreaks havoc upon the speaker and those within earshot. Giving someone a ‘tongue-lashing’ is a good example. But how is it words and speech are so powerful that they can change the course of history, change the lives or millions, bring kings to their knees, or cause someone to feel pain?  They are, after all, only words, ephemeral things having no physical dimensions at all.

The short answer is because the universe itself was created by words and the breath that gives them utterance; speech and speaking, therefore, are part of the very structure of existence itself. (Heb. 11:3; Gen. 1:26, 2:7). In like manner, when we speak there are effects, consequences, so much so, in fact, that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). This power resides in the meaning of words according to the definitions they possess. Definitions in turn are made up of concepts, or ideas, that give content to the words being spoken. When a word enters the mind of a listener emotions are stirred, the intellect is quickened and the will moved to respond to what is being said.

But there’s more to this. Behind the words is the act of speaking itself which always intends to accomplish something, whether to clarify, explain, reveal, upbraid, comfort, guide, extol, criticize, harm, deceive, persuade and so on. Furthermore, and most important to understand, words expose the person speaking, their motivations, desires, attitudes, personality, agendas, motives; in short, who and what they are behind the veil of flesh, self-deception and their own assumptions. All of this is why Jesus said with absolute surety that “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…”  Speech is self-revelation and self-definition; it is who I am and what I mean. So, when I speak I am engaging in the very activity that brought about the creation of the worlds, I am creating an environment, a kind of world in fact, in which I and others who hear my words are affected, for good or for ill, whether by clean air or pollution.

By my reckoning, the ‘right to free speech’ in our Constitution doesn’t go near far enough since even the foul-mouthed, unintelligent, uncivilized, profane and unjust among us (see Psa. 5:9 and Psa. 10-3-11) are protected and can say what they want. Christians are governed by a far higher and noble standard whereby speaking is elevated to righteous, holy and truthful utterances that imitate the speech of He Who spoke the worlds into being.

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right thing…Really? (Part 5)

I’ll begin by stating what is obvious to many cultural observers: our society suffers from information overload, internet addiction, anonymous media manipulation and distorted on-line relationships where a person creates what they would like to be instead of being who they are. Misinformation, falsehoods, bizarre ideas seeking fertile ground in undiscerning minds is promulgated as ‘truth’ just because someone says it is. Adding to all this is a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard, affirmed or at the very least, noticed.

There is one voice that cuts through this clamor like a two-edged sword, the Voice of the Good Shepherd, the God who speaks and upon whose words the very existence of creation rests. And if we are His sheep, then we know this Voice and hear it no matter the noise surrounding us; that is, of course, if we are listening. To those who hear and know his voice, Jesus the Good shepherd will “lead” them, He goes before them and speaks to them; He even knows their names (John 10:3). He marks out paths that will benefit the flock the most, guiding them away from danger, and bringing them to appropriate destinations (Psalm 23). If the flock of the Good shepherd is listening, it hears His voice and knows His voice so well that it will not follow (and even run from) a stranger’s voice (John 10:4-5).

But, we know that sheep do follow other voices, usually off into some la la land where everything is fake, attractive maybe and looking very much like the real deal, but fake nevertheless. It is hirelings (hired hands, not true under shepherds) they listen to, ones that “drive” the sheep from behind forcing them to face dangerous conditions while they hide behind the flock. It is by the voices of such hirelings many sheep will be deceived these days and “…will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)  To not endure sound doctrine literally means “not putting up with it” and suggests it was too restricting, too familiar and lacking the ‘newness’ of other doctrines (read proto-gnosticism), or boring, staid, and predictable. But far worse is the implication of actual rebellion against sound doctrine, actively resisting it, rejecting it outright and encouraging others to do the same.

So, what’s the point of all this and what has it to do with church leaders? Of particular concern, to me anyway, is the dearth of coordinated, systematic preaching of Biblically ‘sound’ doctrine which, you’ll notice, is first on the above mentioned list about the use and value of inspired scripture. The early church made doctrine a priority; it had to because so many aberrant teachings were gaining footholds here and there amongst the churches. The ante-Nicene church fathers and their prolific doctrinal treatises are an example. These days in many non-denominational (so-called) churches where being ‘seeker friendly’ and avoiding any controversy that might offend someone is paramount, doctrine is rarely mentioned. I know there are exceptions but I don’t think making doctrinal preaching a priority should be exceptional; it should be the norm. Simply put, the flock needs to know what it should believe and why; it is the under shepherd’s responsibility to meet this need (Titus 1:9).

The fact is, no matter how formal and uninteresting it sounds, doctrine is critical because it marks off the pasture that is safe for the sheep to graze; it is the fence and Jesus, the Good Shepherd is its Door. Under shepherds that make doctrine a priority in their preaching provide guidance and guidelines, markers, so to speak, to help the flock recognize more readily the Good Shepherds leading. This at least lessens the chance they run off after strange voices (read ‘doctrines’) looking to get their itching ears scratched only to end up thoroughly confused, disoriented and, in the worst scenario, lost altogether.

Well, if this is anywhere near true, then what doctrines should we be most concerned about? Given the days we’re living in, I would address four major issues consistently and regularly: Christology (primarily Jesus’ deity because it is under attack, even in so-called ‘Christian’ churches,  followed by soteriology (the doctrine of salvation with emphasis on the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice), and next the inerrancy, authority and dependability of Scripture, and finally theology proper, namely the doctrine of God with emphasis on Trinitarianism.  For some of you reading this, these topics will seem obvious. But it is not enough to just say “Jesus saves…” when so many other avenues of ‘salvation’ are being sold to people. We must show how and why He is the “way, the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the Door, there is no other, period, end of argument. Convincing others of this finality and making sense of it ourselves requires a working knowledge of Christology, the authority of the Bible, what salvation is and why we all need it (soteriology), and how Jesus is related to the Father (Trinitariansim). This doctrine all by itself is so critical that if any sheep stray from it or reject any portion of it, then all is lost. I hope you, the reader, are securely ‘fenced in’ because your church leadership, your under shepherd is teaching you what ‘sound doctrine’ is, why your faith depends on it and to reject all voices except the Good Shepherd’s.

(For those reading this blog and not the previous ones, this series is in response to Ezekiel 34-part 1 explains why)

You’re Approved!

“Approved”.  I always get a little thrill (accompanied by relief) when this comes up on the little screen after swiping a debit card. Maybe it’s because I’ve been denied before, much to my embarrassment, like at Costco after having a huge basket of stuff ran through the checker and a long line of people behind me impatiently waiting their turn. Usually this kind of approval only requires that you have enough money in the bank to cover the charge and that your arithmetic is correct; you don’t need anyone else’s involvement with your affairs.

On the other hand, gaining approval for a mortgage or car loan is more rigorous than swiping a debit card. Only after being scrutinized, your finances laid bare and your past weighed in the balance are you handed the keys to your new house, car or both. You passed though the gauntlet of intense personal exposure victorious.

Then there’s the approval of your friends, co-workers and casual acquaintances. Like most of us you seek some kind of approval from others as a way to reinforce your sense of self-worth. After much hard work and sacrifice, you secure a good reputation, the opinion of others about you is positive and important people respect, maybe even admire you. Hopefully, a similar but more significant approval meets you when you go through the front door at home, either by a wife and children or an adoring dog.

Now, let’s consider the measures by which these examples of approval are gauged. To a large degree, the first two have to do with prevailing monetary customs and expectations which in turn are decided by certain social, political and financial entities that in turn are made up of people like you. To the extent you succeed in meeting their ‘measurements’ (which include at the very least income, work history and credit history) you can expect a positive result. You are, in essence, allowing yourself to be judged in order to be ‘approved’ for whatever it is you want from these entities.

The third kind of approval is sometimes decided by a different set of measurements, what we might call personality, or character, traits. However, this all depends on what kind of approval you seek; you can gain the approval of others either by the things you have or by the kind of person you are; you decide what the measurement will be unlike the other two that are imposed from the ‘outside’.

But, there is a fourth kind of approval that all of us should be most concerned with that has nothing to do with other people or groups of people but only with God. One example of this approval is found in Hebrew 11:2 where “men of old” gained God’s approval by their faith in Him. What is interesting is that, for the most part, these “men of old” were everyday people made extraordinary only by their faith. Their now famous exploits are instances of God’s power in and through them, not some intrinsic nobility or genius they possessed. In fact, you might find pictures of them of in our Post Offices had they lived today.

Here, the measurement of approval has nothing to do with your circumstances (good or bad) or other people (important or otherwise) but only God and this puts you and the rest of humanity all on the same footing. Nothing we have or nothing we have done (or not done) makes one whit of difference in gaining God’s approval. All that matters is this: that we are found trusting and believing Him in all aspects of our lives and even death itself.

I mention death because the word that is translated “approval” in Heb.11:2 is from the Greek root word martyreo. Our English word “martyr” is derived from this term which we know refers to someone whose life is taken, either voluntarily or by force because of their “testimony” (another meaning of the word martyreo) about some set of religious convictions. In the case of Christian martyrs, they were put to do death because of what they believed (their faith in the One True God and His Son, Jesus Christ) and their proclamation of that faith (the testimony that salvation comes only from God through Jesus Christ).  So, it is said of those that have died in the faith that God “…is not ashamed to be called their God…” (Heb. 11:16). And, in a truly remarkable passage from Revelation we read of the great power of our Christian testimony; the “accuser of the brethren has been thrown down…and they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev. 12:10-11)

What is marvelous about all this is that our testimony about God and our faith in God is in fact an approval of God which is reciprocated to us by God. Put another way, if we believe in God, believe His Word and testify to this faith we have, then God testifies approvingly of us. Jesus Himself suggested the same principle in the negative when He said “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this sinful and adulterous generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38 NASB) So, the question for us is this: are we more concerned with the approval of others than God’s approval? And since the approval of which we speak is reciprocal, the second question is do we approve, really approve, of God in our lives as evidenced by our testimony?

Much more could be said but this blog already seems too long. How long are blogs supposed to be anyway?

Egypt or Exodus: How Memory Defines Us

As a species we are time and space bound creatures. Our bodies move us through space and provide contact with the external world while our minds provide the means of understanding the external world and give us an inner sense of self-awareness.

Now, this much seems fairly obvious but it raises an interesting question concerning the issue of self-identity: what is the ‘I’ in ‘I am feeling happy now’ or ‘I had an episode of indigestion yesterday’ or ‘I’m looking forward to my vacation in two months’?  To complicate things further, how can we say we are the same person today as we were yesterday or thirty years ago when many of the identifying features of our existence have undergone physical, emotional and mental changes?

Although the details differ, most people who study this sort of thing agree that memory is one key component to the experience of self-identity. The memories I have are obviously mine and therefore provide a sense of centered experience through time. In other words, I’m quite sure I’m me today because I distinctly remember being me a few seconds ago, minutes ago, hours ago, days ago etc and having had certain experiences during those seconds, hours, days and years. The fact is our past continuously grows larger behind us while our future grows smaller the closer we come to the end of life’s journey.  Memories are drawn from this ever-increasing pool of events and are vital to the kinds of expectations and potential we have in this present moment.

These issues of self-identity and memory are especially important for Christians because we have undergone the most radical change possible for a human being; we have been born again. This created second pool of memories that are sacred and identify us as “in the world but not of the world” and uniquely and forever as sons and daughter of God. And, as we progress along this new, sacred time-line of past, present and future, the way we think is radically changed; we just don’t see things the way we used to, our values and judgments are changing, our friends are new.  Even though we now have memories of two different worlds at the same time it is the sacred memories around which our sense of self-identity is grounded.

The importance of memory and remembering to our spiritual lives is paradigmatically illustrated by the history of Israel. The rehearsing of history was integral toIsrael’s ongoing relationship with, and worship of, Yahweh. That is, the relationship was defined by historical events, the revelations, the covenants and the actions of Yahweh on behalf of His people.  The recitation of these events was a reminder to Israel of God’s dealings with them, His promises to them, His faithfulness to them and His power and protection on their behalf.  It was also a reminder of His judgments of sin, idolatry, andIsrael’s unfaithfulness.  All of this  gave Israel a sense of meaning, purpose, and destiny; it defined their reason for being.

So, in like manner for all of us of the New Testament, sacred memories of the Gospel history, the history of the church from its inception, our personal salvation history, the history of our local church community all provide a framework for our sacred experience now, this day, and this moment. They define who and what we have become through God’s grace.  Remembering has the effect of reorienting us when the path is no longer clear. This is especially true when things aren’t going particularly well for us. The bottom line for us is this: are we remembering the attractions of our Egypt or the miracles of our past and continuing Exodus? Who we are and where we are going is in the answer.

Faith and Magic

 

I’m assuming everyone that’s reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that . (Heb. 11:6)   All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him.  This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means.  But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.

Now, on the face of it, this claim that ‘faith is not magic’ seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning.  But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God.  I’ve known some who conduct their affairs as though God’s Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example.  The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and ‘poof’ whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say.  Of course, if it doesn’t, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more.  It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He is a genie in a bottle.  And that’s the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.

Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market.  Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed ( it is ours, after all) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we ‘have enough’ faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is ‘bigger’ than someone else’s.  I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that ‘size’ (read quantity) doesn’t matter as much as using what we have.

Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living.  By this I mean reducing faith to a list of  “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life’s way and never allowing the ‘such and such’ to actually change the way we live and think in our day-to-day affairs.  Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula’s right, God should respond favorably to our requests.  Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.

Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him.  Anything else, including faith so-called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends.

So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done.  Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost ‘magical’!

 

Whatever Happened to Repentance?

The first message Jesus preached was: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The operative word here, of course, is repent. Repentance means to turn around, change one’s mind and go in the opposite direction one is heading, in this case from sin to God. It’s clear you would have to know what the right direction is in order to turn around which, at the very least, demands a proper understanding of sin.

We’ve been told by postmodern gurus ranging from psychologists to atheists that the notion of sin is really just a social construct based on ever shifting opinions of right and wrong. And our culture has bought into this so there really isn’t a compelling reason to change directions because (with the exception of God) there really is no other direction to choose.  However, if sin turns out to not be a social construct but a violation of absolute truths revealed to us by a Perfect, Holy and Righteous Being to whom we owe our very existence and the penalty for such violations is eternal death then changing directions is of utmost importance.

Now, I have been to churches (the ‘seeker friendly’ type) where invitations to become followers of Jesus are given without even the mention of repentance. In fact, every attempt is made to remove negativity from the messages and emphasize all the positive aspects of being a Christian. This fits nicely into our cultural milieu of ‘make me feel good’ and instant self-gratification (the natural result of ‘there is no such thing as sin’) which is the very worldly attitude the church should denounce. In the absence of such censure, the “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10-11) that true repentance generates is out-of-place. I mean just imagine scores of people crying, weeping, feeling horrible about their lives, prostrating before God and asking His forgiveness (like the ministries of say Billy Sunday) during a church service; this just wouldn’t be compatible with a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. It would no doubt compel many seekers to seek the first door out of the sanctuary.

Anyway, the argument goes that society has changed and people see the world differently than they did centuries ago. Therefore, we must change along with it to remain ‘relevant’. I counter this fallacious thinking by invoking the one constant that remains no matter what a culture is like: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” is as relevant today as it was during the time of Jesus and, just as in the times of Jesus, some will be offended at the message while others will embrace it along with its Messenger. Only the right message will bring about the right result and the Church is responsible, not for its content, but only for its accurate and complete proclamation including repentance.

On a final note, repentance is enjoined upon Christians and must continue long after initial conversion.  Read the letters to the churches found in the first three chapters of John’s Revelation. With the exception of one, the final word of Jesus to His churches was “repent…”. What this tells me is that repentance is part of any genuine Christian experience. This means that the preaching of repentance in our churches should be an ongoing practice which, in turn, requires reminding us all that sin must be taken seriously, very seriously. More on this later.

 

God Particles and Immortality

Scientists say they’re close to unlocking the secrets of immortality.

I saw this article today about living forever. This along with numerous articles on the “God” particle that physicists say might soon be verified all reminded me of the Tower of Babel. I mean, the tower incident was about humanities attempt to reach God with neither God’s permission or His help and thereby bringing God down to their level. Both represent the arrogance of human pride and are  examples of the pride I spoke of in the “Wow!” blog.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not an adversary of discovering how the universe works nor do I disdain long, healthy life spans. The peril I see is the cleverness of our species warped by sin and its ambitions squarely under the dominion of malevolent forces it can scarcely imagine. I mean, look at the condition of the world. Here we are on the brink of unprecedented disaster and understanding how the universe works or how to live longer will not fix the planet or the people living on it. Why? Because there is a fatal flaw in the very structure of human existence that compels it towards sin and death. Living a lot longer only delays the inevitable and, in the meantime, allows more time for mischief. I mean, living longer only means more time to sin. The only worthwhile eternal life is one of purity, righteousness and holiness and this is simply beyond the reach of human beings to achieve no matter how long  they live.

Oh, and by the way, God is not a particle.

WoW!

 

Job 21:14–15(ESV)

14    They say to God, ‘Depart from us!

We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.

15    What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?

And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’

 

In other words, don’t hang around with us God, we are happy with our ignorance and your Presence is a distraction. You may not even be that almighty after all and therefore unworthy of our service and besides, service without profit is not something we are interested in anyway. This is Job’s description of the wicked who, in spite of their wickedness, seem to get along just fine ( vv 1-13).

When I read this today I just went ‘wow’ because it is a description of the nature and depth of human pride and is in every way the same that led to Lucifer’s fall. It infected our parents in Eden and has been passed to all generations since. Hence, Romans 1 is an absolutely accurate description of humanities rejection of God’s knowledge and the consequences of that rejection; it forms the conclusion to this passage. Anyone in their right mind, angelic or human, understands that rebellious humanity has lost its mind and fallen into utter insanity.

Note the idea of ‘profit’ in these verses. The implication here is that God is seen not in the light of His utter majesty and transcendence (the Almighty) but as another way to get what we want; prayer is reduced to a “what’s in it for me” exercise. What’s more, serving God is viewed the same; i.e. if I serve God what will the benefits be?

Now, I’m certainly not saying that being a Christian is without benefits, quite the contrary. But these benefits cannot be our motivation for Christian service or for prayer because the whole impetus behind them is giving and sacrifice, not getting and accumulating. I have witnessed preachers frame the gospel message solely in terms of its benefits and little else. And this sort of message appeals to those in a materialistic culture like ours. The fact is that only by losing one’s life can it be gained, the last will be first, and the greatest are the servants of all.

A day of reckoning is coming (vv 27-34) when evil and evil men will be judged. This is both a hope and a warning; a hope insofar as we know that righteousness and goodness will prevail over all injustice and a warning insofar as we know God is neither blind nor deaf to what goes on in His creation.

 

 

 

 

 

Who do we think we are, really?

It’s clear there is an increasing anti-Christian sentiment growing
in our society.

As it increases, and I believe it will, we take our place alongside those of past centuries who endured the same kind ridicule and venom by the same sort of societies under dominion by the same spirit of antichrist. This perpetual resistance to Christianity and the faith that overcomes it is one of the profound similarities that exist between the Church of today and the ancient Church. Jesus said it would be like this to His followers then, so it shouldn’t surprise us who follow Him now. Yet, I find myself asking the rhetorical question “Just who do these people think they are, railing against God’s people?”

 I think sometimes we treat these assaults, caricatures, lies and distortions as if there were something true about them. The early Christians seemed to, so much so that much of the New Testament was written to Jewish and Gentile converts who suffered a kind of cultural inferiority complex because of their faith, some even to the point of denying it (1 Peter comes to mind). And the picture the New Testament paints is breathtaking by describing us as magnificent creatures in Christ dead to this world but forever alive to God and who possess a wisdom, knowledge strength, love and joy that belongs to beings destined for eternity. So, I’ve learned that a better question to ask is “Who do we think we are as Christians?” The answers we give go a long way in dispelling any feelings of inferiority.

So, for example, we are the sons and daughters of God the Father and therefore royalty because of our lineage to the One that was, is and is to come, the Alpha and Omega, the eternal Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus the Christ. Nothing, or no one, in this world can even remotely come close to the majesty, power, wealth and dominion of the very least in the kingdom of God. You who are His child, no matter if you are sick, crippled, weak, poor or any other such thing, are more glorious than can be possibly imagined by the those who see you as inferior or useless. This creation and the one to come, even heaven itself, is your inheritance through Him who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Consider secondly that we are priests to God.  No higher honor or position is possible than serving God in the performance of worship; it cannot even be matched by the angels who continually serve Him. But, as priests we serve the needs of others, including the ones who see us as ignorant, uninformed or deluded. By interceding for them the power to change the course of their eternal destiny and the destinies of whole families and even nations flows through us. Perhaps the most important task we have as priests is standing in the breach and praying for those who curse us, hate us, spitefully use us and persecute us so that they too might come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and the greater the resistance the greater the power that flows through us.

Consider thirdly that we are saints. Simply put, a saint is a ‘holy one’, someone separated from ‘normal’ humanity and set apart solely for the Lord’s bidding. In order to serve the Lord, a saint is first purified and then consecrated. They then take their place among a holy and consecrated people. We are called saints in the Bible because we are separated from the world, the flesh and the devil, purified by the blood of Jesus Christ and consecrated by the Holy Spirit for the sole purpose of serving God and serving others. In this capacity we act very much like priests unto God. However, the real significance is that we are ‘different’ from mainstream humanity because we are not citizens of this world anymore but pilgrims who already possess a destiny beyond imagination. We await its fulfillment while representing God’s kingdom here on earth just like an ambassador from one country to another.

We never can, nor will we, ‘fit in’ with popular culture as long as we resist sin and champion righteousness. If we try we will fail unless we abdicate our citizenry and fall into lock-step with a world in open rebellion against God. The truth is by trying to readjust our calling with the expectations of the world we become pathetic creatures who are neither good citizens of the world nor of heaven and whose effectiveness as ambassadors is lost. To openly reject the world, the flesh and devil, to live as ‘holy ones’ invites ridicule and rejection from those who have yet to know Christ as their Lord. They may be our families, our friends, our business associates or even other Christians so-called. But, whatever the case, we are commanded to stand fast in the faith we have received for we owe the world nothing but to God we owe everything.

Consider fourthly that we are members of the Body of Christ. Among other things, this means we are the hands, feet, ears, eyes and mouth of Jesus. As member of His Body we have a part in saying and doing the very same things Jesus did that changed the lives of people forever. A kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a kind look, the delivery of much-needed food or healing in lock-step with preaching the good news that salvation is available to all are but a few examples of our work.  And, notice, that as the members of His Body all that we do is a service to others, not ourselves. It is always an outreach and a sacrifice with no thought of getting anything in return; the reward is the service itself.

This idea that each of us is part of a larger whole is an important counter to the destructive individualism that our culture claims is a virtue. The truth is that societal individualism is the breeding ground for all kinds of self-serving enterprises under the guise of ‘success stories’. I understand this description does not fit all instances but a daily reading of any major newspaper suffices as proof that self-serving individualism ruins many, many people financially, emotionally, spiritually (yes, even Christians can be guilty), and politically.

Finally, consider that we are the Bride of Christ, a people destined to be joined with Him forever, cleansed by His blood, clothed with His righteousness and given life everlasting, a resurrection life that is the final triumph over sin and death. We are His inheritance and His inheritance is ours. His Father is our Father, His Spirit is our Spirit, His reign is our reign, and His eternal destiny is our destiny. We are joined with Him and nothing in heaven or in hell can separate us from His love.

This is who we are, really and no amount of derision, persecution, mockery or disdain from the world or the Devil (they are allies you know) makes one iota of difference.  What does make a difference is how we think of ourselves. Let God define who and what you are and leave the opinions of the world far behind on your journey with the Lord of heaven and earth.

By the way, there are other descriptions of the Christian in the Bible besides the ones I’ve pointed out. It might be interesting for you to search those out. Let me know what you find.

What’s So Beautiful about Holiness?

Worship and holiness go hand in hand.  Every act, every thought can be a doxology of embodied worship by lives separated to God and consecrated by God. 1 Chron. 16:28-29 illustrates this connection by declaring to the “families of the peoples” (i.e. the whole world) that only the God of Israel is worthy of worship and, therefore, they are to “…come worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

Israel’s experience of God’s holiness was unique. They knew of fear and trembling in God’s presence and learned of the great separation between Creator and creation because of sin. They learned they were a “holy nation” that belonged to Yahweh and must remain separated from the surrounding nations. But, most importantly they learned of God’s intrinsic holiness, His absolute Otherness to all creation, and His righteousness, justice and judgment.

These days, even though we talk about and sing of God’s holiness more than ever, it seems to me that we passionately desire and pursue it less and less. Why? First, the very notion of holiness often conjures up images of stodginess, no-fun-at-all seriousness, stifling conformity to rules of dress and conduct, and long hours of sheer boredom. Monasteries and convents come to mind or hermits in caves. Second, the culture we live in is so thoroughly hedonistic and narcissistic that a holy life would surely be ostracized and condemned; being accepted rather than rejected by friends, neighbors and co-workers is more important. Third, many Christians have bought into the postmodern view that all things moral and ethical are matters of personal, or group, preferences, conveniences, and agendas, not the authority of “thus says the Lord”. Fourth, and often the result of the third, we just like sin too much and the pursuit of holiness would curb our carnal self-indulgence. So, if any of this is even true what is so ‘beautiful’ about holiness and how does it relate to worship?

The phrase “beauty of holiness” (KJV) is thought by some commentators to refer to the worshipper and the language supports this view. So, for example, the RSV translates “beauty of holiness” as “holy array”. Worshipping God in holy array emphasizes the actions, character and disposition of the individual outwardly displayed by what they wear in His presence. For example, the priests and the High Priest were required to dress a certain way when conducting the affairs of Yahweh on behalf the people of Israel. The particulars of these garments were described by Yahweh and each component represented something true about God and about the priest. Being properly dressed was a condition for acceptable worship in the presence of Yahweh. In Psalm 61:10 David refers to this kind of wardrobe change as a time of great rejoicing because God clothed him with “the garments of salvation” and covered him “with the robe of righteousness” just as a bridegroom “decks himself with ornaments” and the bride with “jewels”.  And the New Testament version of this change of clothes tells us to “…put off (as if it were a garment) the old man and “…put on (like a garment) the new man who was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22, 24)

However, “beauty of holiness” can also be rendered “when he (Yahweh) appears in (His) holiness”.  Together with the other passages where the phrase is found (i.e. 2 Chron. 20:21, Psa. 29:2) we can say that the appearance of God’s holiness is beautiful and that His beauty is holy. God is said to cover Himself “with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2) and seraphim continuously cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts and the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). I certainly can’t imagine what being clothed in light would look like but I do know that just as light dispels darkness, so God’s holiness dispels evil, sin and the Enemy. It’s really no wonder that the word for “worship” in this phrase means to prostrate oneself; what else could you do seeing the beauty of such Holy Light?

Sadly in many churches and in spite of all the references to His holiness, God has become “tame’, a comfortable concept, a familiar word and we have let the world tell us what is beautiful. Think of all the money, time and energy spent these days on cosmetics and cosmetic surgery in order to look beautiful and forestall the aging process. The degree of human vanity is breathtaking. In profound contradistinction, we are called to “…be holy, for I (God) am holy” and exhorted to “pursue peace with all people and holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14): we must learn that such holiness is true beauty.

So, the answer to the question of this essay “what’s so beautiful about holiness?” is this: God is beautiful in His holiness and because of what He does for us according to His mercy and grace, we are beautiful as well. In fact, nothing is more beautiful in all of creation than a human being clothed in the light of God’s holiness. And we are the most beautiful when we worship God’s Holy beauty being clothed with His righteousness through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Recovering from Our Insanity

Christians generally agree (although we might disagree about
the details) that two kinds of realities exist. The first is called kosmos and
refers to the material universe and, at the same time, to all that which is
under the dominion of sin and death because of humanities rebellion against
God. The other is ouranos, or heaven, and refers to, among other things, light and life and to all that which is under the dominion of God’s rule and will.

Now, we also generally agree that these two realities are at odds with one another; that they are, in fact, at war. The front lines of this conflict between good and evil, the kingdom’s of heaven and hell, is our personal life along with our neighborhood, our local school, our government, our culture and our religion and the intensity of this war upon all Christians is increasing.  It is so intense that the ranks of those claiming allegiance to God are becoming divided.  Christians holding fast to the traditions which they have received (represented by the Apostolic and Nicene creeds, for example) are often considered by their post-modern ‘brethren’ as a roadblock to social, political and religious reforms that, so they argue, any rational and compassionate person should readily embrace. This version of Christianity declares there is no such thing as absolute truth, that old traditions must yield to post-modern progress that morality is a matter of personal choice and preference, that one religion is as true as another, and that Jesus was not the Son of God nor did
He arise bodily from the grave and so on.

But while this battle rages, we have our personal battles going on as well.  Because we are both material and spiritual beings we are in the world and can feel its influences while, at the same time, not of the world because we are citizens of heaven.  We are often at war with ourselves in a battle fought in our minds over what we will or will not do in response to the overtures of heaven and the temptations of hell. The enemies of God are continually pressuring His people to be conformed to their values, morals and ambitions instead of being transformed into the image of His Son.  Paul spoke in his letter to the Romans in one of his many do not do/do formulas; i.e. do not be conformed to the world, do be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The words ‘conform’ and ‘transform’ are important. They both have as their root the term “form”.  Now, to form something is to change it in order to fit a certain pattern or serve a certain purpose that it might not otherwise be inclined or capable. So, for example, “…the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground…” (Gen. 2:7)  Dust and earth by themselves cannot become a person but in the hands of the Creator they can be patterned after His image and given the purpose of serving Him.  A more mundane example is concrete.  By itself, it is merely a viscous substance without pattern or purpose. When it is placed in a form, it can become a wall or a floor and serve the purposes of a builder.

With these ideas in mind, think about the word conform. When used to describe change in people’s lives it usually means they are submitting to a pattern of common expectations or set of ideals and, therefore, “fitting in’. If we conform to a
particular group, then we blend into the larger whole by going along with
whatever the majority deems necessary or beneficial in spite of what we might
otherwise desire. It has a wider social application and is often associated
with ‘peer pressure’. In other words, I might change my opinions and mannerisms in order to ‘be like’ others in the same group and win their acceptance but still secretly retain my own agendas. I change but only outwardly; my inner condition remains the same.

For a Christian to conform to the world, then, is to follow its moral, political and cultural ideals, to ‘fit in’ to a pattern that is, at least at the time, the accepted norm. One word often used to describe this is ‘fashion’ and one has to think only of how things go in and out of fashion, from clothes to morals, to understand its meaning. To fashion ourselves after the world, then, is to embrace the temporary and reject the eternal; it is to think as the world thinks and into step with what is described in 2 Tim 3:1-17. In short, it is a preoccupation with all things transitory (money, power, possessions) and ignoring that which is incorruptible.

 Reformation, on the other hand, is the correction of inappropriate behavior by the imposition of an alternative set of ideals or purposes that lead to a different behavior. Note the structure of the word reform.  It suggests a rearranging of what is already there into something different. But because the components are the same, the overall essence of what is reformed remains the same. So, alcoholics are reformed when they stop drinking and pursue a responsible life-style but all the while they remain alcoholics. They stop doing but not necessarily desiring what is destructive to their lives.  They change, but, then, not really.

The only counter to this constant and incessant pressure to conform and reform is to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Unlike the term conform which suggests an outward molding of a life according to a definite pattern (in this case, a pattern of rebellion against God) transformation suggests inward changes that, by proceeding outward, produce real change in our actions and attitudes. It is the actual altering of our being, the core of existence into something wholly new and unprecedented and quite impossible apart from direct divine involvement. In fact, it is nothing short of an infusion of the Divine into our souls.

It is an unfortunate fact that conformation and reformation are often confused with transformation and considered as synonyms.  That is, social pressures, including
religious ones, compel people to adopt certain obvious and mostly external
characteristics that supposedly reflect the ideals of their religion.  So, for example, smoking cigarettes might be considered contrary to ideas off holiness; a smoker in such a group is pressured to quit, to give up the external act that is offensive.  Now, the smoker may indeed give up the habit, but that in itself is not holiness; it is merely ‘fitting in” to a social group and meeting their expectations of conduct.
They are reforming and conforming at the same time but the real issue of
transformation is forgotten because the immediate cause of offense is no longer
visible.  The person’s appearance now looks acceptable and mirrors the appearance of others in the group; all is well.

Frankly, judging by the decisions we make and the relationships we seek out, we are not in our right minds most of the time.  I sometimes imagine that those benevolent angelic beings given charge over us must think us quite insane when we act as
if the natural world is more real and important than the spiritual. We need
healing from this delusional behavior because what we think and how we think
determine our actions.  In short, the aberrant insanity of the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) that motivates the world, and many Christians for that matter, must be replaced by the sanity of mind that only desires to “do the will of God” (1 John 2:17).  And, according to Rom 12:2, it is only a transformed mind that is able to “discern” what God’s will is and, once determined, then actually do it.

And one fundamentally important thing a clear mind will show us is the real difference between kosmos and ouranos, that this world is under
the dominion of principalities and powers bent on destroying all God has made
and no compromise with it is acceptable. It will reveal just how deeply seated
sin is in our lives and how opposed we really are to the things of God.  It will reveal that most of what we think is valuable and important in this life will soon forever pass away and only “treasure in heaven” will remain. It will reveal that at the end of days all of creation will undergo a final transformation and only what God’s Spirit touches will remain, unmoved, eternal and permanent.

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