Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holy, Holy, Holy


“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning, our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty, God overall and blest eternally.”  How true it is – God is holy, and as we have seen previously, He expects His people to be holy.  This seems to be something of a lost virtue over the past few decades…but, it is no less important in relationship to living a Godly life than it has ever been.  In fact, it is my contention that this is a significantly important reason as to why our society is in the shape that it is today…and it is not going to get healthy any time soon.  And yet, this also changes nothing as it relates to our responsibility to be God’s people, who value and live in relationship to purity and morality.  I truly believe we see the words of Jesus in Matthew chapters 7 and chapters 24-25 coming to bear more so all of the time.  That which is going to separate those who are on the wide and narrow roads, or separate the sheep and the goats…and we are talking about religious people…is the difference between whether said people live holy, servant lives and remain as unstained by the world as possible.

In Leviticus 24, it is revealed that there were two sections in the tabernacle…the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  In the Holy Place was located three pieces of furniture – the golden altar of incense, table of showbread, and the golden lampstand. Since there were no windows in the tabernacle, it was necessary to have light in the holy place so that the priests were able to see as they were ministering in there.  The lampstand provided the light.  Each morning and evening when the high priest burned incense on the golden altar, he was to care for the lights on the lampstand to be certain that they would continue to burn.  The lampstand…with the oil…symbolized the Word of God, the light that God provided for His people in this dark world.  God’s people couldn't see effectively without it then and they cannot today either. The lampstand also provided light so that the priest could burn incense on the golden altar…this symbolized the prayers of God’s people going up to Him (Psalms 141:2).  In a like manner, apart from the Scriptures, we cannot pray effectively. The lampstand also symbolized the nation of Israel, called to be God’s shining light to a dark world. Unfortunately, the priesthood became wicked and failed to maintain the nation’s light before the Lord.  Still, the people needed to bring oil so the lights could be kept burning in the holy place.

Loaves of bread were put on the golden table every Sabbath…and then the old bread was given to the priests to eat.  What do they symbolize?  The table was called, “the table of showbread,” and the loaves were called “the showbread”, which can be translated, “the bread of presence.” God was present with his people and they were able to be in His presence in the tabernacle.  It assured God’s people that He was concerned about the “practical matters” in their lives. No matter where the Jews were in the camp, they needed to remind themselves that their people were represented (12 loaves for 12 tribes) in the holy place on the golden table (Colossians 3:1). Also, the loaves reminded the priest that his ministry was for real people.  Being somewhat isolated in the tabernacle day after day, the priests could easily get out of touch with the people that they represented before God.

The final matter in this chapter is of a more serious concern.  The Jews knew the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”  So fearful were they of breaking it, that they substituted the name “Adonai” for “Jehovah,” when they would read the Scriptures.  Here is the account of a man who has blasphemed, who used the name of God in vain.  There was a consequence…there was a punishment to pay…and it was death. Obedience to the Law was a very serious matter.  To respect a name was to respect the person who would bear that name, and the opposite was also true…and their highest respect was to belong to the Lord. Moses sought the will of the Lord in the matter. He was humble enough to admit that he did not know everything, and he asked the Lord concerning what to do in this situation. The Lord’s decision was handed down to the transgressor…as the lex talionis, “law of retaliation” was in effect (Exodus 21:22-25).  It showed respect for the law, life and humans made after the image of God. For the guilty one, the punishment was carried out.  The law, at this time, was an expression of God’s justice and compassion, because it helped to restrain personal revenge in a society where there was no police force or large judicial system.  It is challenging for us to understand, nonetheless.

It is important to understand a principle that does not really get much respect today, unfortunately, so it is difficult for us to understand it.  God’s “proper” name, Yahweh, was and is a sacred and holy name.  His name is to be respected by His people Israel…and it was so.  The power of God’s name was evident, just as Jesus’ is during the time of the first century (and beyond).  Those who would call on the name of the Lord had life, just as those who misused the name would be punished with death. In this regard, nothing that God has said that is holy has changed – it is still holy.  The consequences of blaspheming by using the name of God may have changed, but not the respect all should have for God’s Holy Name…although, those who blaspheme the name and will of the Lord by living ungodly lives will face the consequences of their attitudes and actions.  We must give God’s name the respect that He deserves as our Creator and Sustainer. It is quite evident that our world abuses God’s name and ignores His power to its own destruction.  And I will say this – this also has never changed.  We must call on His name to empower us, as seen in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed (holy, but beyond this really -- ultimate respect) be your name.”  We must regularly remind ourselves that we need to rely, not upon ourselves, but upon the Lord God in His holiness, understanding. When we do…He makes us holy, mature.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Passing from Death to Life, Part 2


Mike Wilkins tells this story -- In Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz,” he has a chapter called “Love: How to Really Love Other People."  He was at a lecture by Greg Spencer that talked about the metaphors that we use around (amongst other things) relationships. We talk about how we value people, invest in people, how we say people are priceless, or that a relationship is bankrupt. All these metaphors are economic ones. “And that’s when it hit me -- the problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money. Professor Spencer was right, and not only was he right, I felt as though he had cured me, as though he had let me out of my cage. I could see it very clearly…if somebody is doing something for us, offering us something, be it gifts, time, popularity, or what have you, we feel they have value, we feel they are worth something to us, and perhaps, we feel they are priceless. This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.” There are always going to be those situations in our lives where it feels like we are going to use love “as a commodity,” rather than allow love to transform us. We cannot withhold love from our friends, or from those with whom we disagree. We learn and grow in relationship to allowing the Spirit, in love, to help us to learn to disagree agreeably…to move on and to grow.  In this, we mature in Christ.  I think that this is the concept that John shares in his first letter. In 3:11ff, love isn’t just a commodity, but it is who we are – we are producers.

I my previous message, I talked about how the Christian is supposed “to pass from death to life” in the Ephesian letter.  It is a personal, spiritual journey…we go from living in the flesh to resurrected, spiritual beings for Jesus. So…is that all there is to it?  Does this take place in a vacuum…or, is there more to the story?  John says…yes, there is.  So, here we go. He starts us off by talking about the children of our “first parents,” Adam and Eve.  Cain and Abel had the same parents, but they approached life from completely different perspectives. They both had the same opportunities – they both brought sacrifices to God…both acted, but one had a heart that was thankful, while the other had a heart that was indifferent.  Abel’s offering was “by faith”…Cain’s, however, was not. And instead of listening to God concerning His heart problem, Cain listened to the voice of the evil one. Instead of repenting, he was filled with jealousy and hatred toward his righteous brother, whom he plotted against and destroyed. Cain’s attitude represents the system of this world…serve self…look out for number 1…trample on those who keep you from goals #1, 2.

When people in the world come face to face with the truth of Jesus Christ, it forces them to go in one of two directions – repentance and submission to Christ…or defiance and antagonism. In effect, hatred is the destruction of the spirit, according to John and has the same effectual quality as “murder”…which is not a good thing, obviously. This is where the world resides, but it doesn’t have to be this way…what is the answer? It is found in “passing from death to life,” which John equates to “living according to love”.  It is a living out of the resurrected life that we talked about last week…it is about living in the Spirit, walking in newness of life, and so on. We cannot stay in the angst of hatred, jealousy and living according to the flesh – this is “to stay dead.” John says that “true love” means loving in deed and truth.  We are no longer simply to talk about meeting needs or loving others…we must find ways to do it. One of the reasons that sinners were so attracted to Jesus is that they were certain that He would love them in a sincere and unbiased way.

What kind of love would it take to come down from heaven to be among men?  What kind of love would it take to struggle through the Garden of Gethsemane…to die on a cross and be raised from the dead to eternity? This is a costly love, a sacrificial love…it is unconditional. When believers choose to live in this committed, sacrificial way of love, there are some tremendous benefits. The first is assurance. If we love, our understanding of God’s truth grows and we can enjoy hearts filled with loving confidence before God, and confidence in our salvation. Another blessing is answered prayer. Because of our confidence toward God, we can ask of God…and He can answer. Love proves that we are living in the will of God. In addition, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be divorced from our prayer lives.  Living in the right, loving relationship with our brothers and sisters enables our prayers to be answered.  A final blessing is abiding.  From the upper room to the garden, Jesus illustrated this principle, comparing His followers to branches in a vine (which we are going to get to in a couple of weeks). If we abide in Christ…obeying His Word…living holy lives…then the fruit of the Spirit of love is going to become evident in our lives. 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18 NIV). As the saying goes, “All it takes in order for evil to succeed is for ‘the good’ to do nothing.”  One might think I am talking about politics…no, but the everyday living of the Christian life. As Randy Harris shares, “What happens when people make themselves available to the work of the Spirit? (To use a band/choir analogy), He helps us to hit or sing the right notes.  We can trust our instinct to be right most of the time…this is spiritual maturity." Love is not indifferent…as it was with Cain, but is proactive…as it was with Abel.  Love is not static, but dynamic.  Love is a verb, much more so than a noun when it comes to our lives. Love is not apathetic (notice there is only one letter difference between “apathetic” and “pathetic”), but it is passionate…it cares enough to encourage, to confront, to bless. We live in a culture, not only where people…including many believers…are apathetic, don’t care, but where people expect things to come to them -- but this is not the way of Christ. We can’t expect that it is always going to be “someone else’s responsibility” as it relates to being Jesus to the world or to the brethren. There are way too many folks who live a “consumer Christianity”…who treat it like a “commodity”, rather than a “producer lifestyle.” Once again, James has a word for us, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). Be a producer.

Blessings, Don