Backwards and Forwards, Be Holy

” For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” “ Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Leviticus 11:45; 1 John 3:2-3

On either end of Scriptures is the command to be holy, to consecrate ourselves, to be pure, and the reasoning stretches on either end of time, to the past and to the future. The Lord delivered us from slavery to be His own, therefore be holy. The Lord will come again to deliver us forever from the presence of sin and death, therefore be holy. This Lord God is holy, therefore, as His children, be holy. Because of Who He is, what He has done and will do, we have a pressing responsibility, a high calling, to be like Him as His representatives, His ‘little ones,’ in this world.

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When Paul writes about the Day of the Lord, he urges the Thessalonians to be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation… Do not quench the Spirit. Test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” This being holy is a cooperation of the willing and submissive believer and the sanctifying Spirit of God at work in us, and is both a propeller and end of our hope. If we are His, we are to be identified by and with Him in every way. How clearly do I bear His holy imprint in my demeanor, language, ways I spend money, choices of entertainment, topics of conversation, activities? What areas need His specific purifying fire? (1 Thessalonians 5:8,19,21-24)

Father, have Your way with all of me. Increase my understanding of Your holiness and my desire to be like You. Shape my will by gratitude for all You have done for me, and apply my sure hope of seeing You by making me holy as You are, to the praise of Your glory.

 

Slipping into Soul Poverty

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:30-34

Solomon’s wisdom was honed by keen eyes and active thought. The man described, whom we do not see, had every resource: property protected by walls, and grapevines, but by their condition we understand his proclivity to sloth and mismanagement. Closing his eyes to the deterioration of his walls and the creep of thorns necessarily riddled away at his defenses. Lacking sense and unaware of the slow slide, the lazy man was overtaken, held captive by his ease and the wily, deceptive thief that would strangle any yield from his vineyard, thereby ravishing his means of provision. (John 8:44; 10:10)

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A nap here, a small slip there, a pinch of giving in, a guard let slightly down– these “little slumbers” add together in our lives to make for a big sleep that allows room for the enemy thorns, roots, nettles that break down defenses and choke our fruitfulness. No matter our initial good intensions, and even healthy beginnings with ample supply, if we fail to maintain vigilance in the maintenance of our vineyards, we will not only fail to produce anything worthwhile and lasting, but will slide into ruined, wasted lives. There is no middle ground. Our souls must be kept, our hearts guarded, our minds protected, our lives abiding in Jesus, if we are to live abundantly for Him. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 23:3; Proverbs 4:23; John 15:5; Philippians 4:6-9)

What specific areas am I neglecting to manage, instead preferring superficial comfort and ease? What niggling pests of greed, selfishness, or irritation have I allowed to sneak in and eat away at thankfulness, optimism, peace? Where have I failed to drink in God’s rain of refreshing, enlightening truth, and begun to dry up and wither? What defenses, margins, protections have I relinquished due to laziness or apathy, and what stresses, frustrations, complaining, slippages of discipline are evidence of their absence? When and how will I shrug off my sluggard clothes?

Creator and Architect of my life, inspire me to watch and learn from Your illustrations in my day-to-day, and sharpen me so I recognize any slippery slope away from You. Keep me on Your straight and narrow, bearing much fruit that will last and show forth Your bountiful grace. (Matthew 7:13-14; John 15:16)

The Hope of Beholding

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord‘s throne is in heaven. The upright shall behold his face.” “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Psalm 11:4,7; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2

These promises that one day I shall see my Savior’s face quicken joyful hope like nothing else. To gaze upon God as He is, to see the mercy in His eyes, the love in His smile, the splendor and brilliance of His glory, the serenity of His limitless power under perfect control, is, as I noted years ago beside these passages in my Bible, “Allelujah, my great hope!” He Who reigns in heaven is the One Who pledges to me, His child, that one day we will meet face to face, and that catches my breath.

Moses’ desire to see God’s face and glory has always resonated with my heart, and Moses and God spoke with each other “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend,” yet the LORD told him he could not see His face and live. We are left to wonder at the invisible intimacy the two shared, the sense of communing so closely and being so close together, yet not seeing. Our humanity imagines with only limited capacity. We know they conversed, listened to and spoke with each other, and were tight in every way. Moses did not want to proceed without the Lord’s presence alongside, and his God vowed to go with him. Such companionship is a beautiful picture of what we can enjoy each day with our Lord. (Exodus 33:11,12-23)

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The more I comprehend my God, the more I want to see Him in all His purity and perfection. But for now, my joy is knowing Him by faith and through His holy word, and walking beside Him, His Spirit’s presence at times palpable in comfort, strength, peace, wisdom. As all my senses yearn for Him, He meets me in His divine ways and keeps my hope for the “one day” alert and expectant.

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.          

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.  

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.” ~Dallan Forgaill (pub 1905)

Confident in hope, established in Your grace, Lord, may I daily rejoice in Your glory, both present and that yet to be revealed. (Romans 5:2)

 

“Your Faith is Showing”

We give thanks to God always for all of you,.. remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers… For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere… For they themselves report… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-9

This letter to new believers in Thessalonica must have been a great encouragement. It is one thing to believe, to have your mind and perspective and life-direction change, and another for people to recognize and affirm the changes as becoming on you. Paul expresses his gratitude to God for this young church’s labor and commitment that were marked by faith, love, steadfast hope, and joy. The secret fuel was their receiving of God’s powerful word as truth, and allowing it to work in and through them. In doing so, their transformation from idol-worshipers to God-worshipers in a living and active faith blazed forth as an irresistible beacon in the whole region. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

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Does my faith so show and shine? Emulating scriptures’ examples, how eagerly do I offer my best, toil in reverent fear of God even if I do not understand His ways, move out and on in trust He will guide and provide? How readily do I take God at His word, and speak it, believing it is living and active, over others in blessing? Where do I choose to identify with God over enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin, and serve steadfastly, knowing my labor is not in vain? How willingly do I take risks when God calls, trusting Him with every need, fear, unknown, and result? Are my days and actions marked with courageous sacrifice, joy in suffering, bold loving, unwavering hope? What evidence of my faith in Jesus do those I love and live among see? (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 4:12; 11:1-40)

Lord, light up my eyes, keep me rejoicing and singing and purposefully pleasing You. May I not weary in doing good but work and serve wholeheartedly, in Your name, and for Your honor. May all my actions give evidence to my faith in Your character and promises, and magnify You as the trustworthy One Who is worthy of every effort. (Psalm 13:3,5-6; Galatians 6:9; Colossians 3:17,23; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 11:6; James 2:17-18)

More than a Watchman

Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” Psalm 5:1-3; 62:5; 130:6

A night watchman, stationed on some promontory and with eyes adjusted to the dark, watches like a hawk for any movement, anything amiss, any possible threat. As the hours stretch closer to dawn, his eyes strain toward the horizon, willing the light to arrive. Night after night, the watchman waits with eager anticipation, confident the sun will boast its entrance once again, washing his world with day. O, that I would be so consistent, so vigilant, in prayer!

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As a watchman fulfills his duty, he looks not so much for no disruption, as he is trained and prepared to handle what might come, but he looks for the morning light, under whose realm all will be visible and clear. When I pray, am I like the psalmist, prepared with my sacrifice of praise, of careful words, to the Lord? Do I fix my soul in Him, and eagerly watch, not so much for my answers, my design to unfold, but for His appearance? This watching seems to require less a clarity and direction of vision as an act of the will, a deliberate choice to beseech Him and wait expectantly, not passively, for Him to appear in whatever circumstance or life over which I pray. Watching means stationing myself where I can see, in the word where I understand God’s marvelous and mysterious ways and learn His personality and motivations, in the Body where I behold His wondrous grace and complementary gifts and binding together of His people. It means trusting that He hears and will act, and boldly taking action on His promises.

If we are to wait more than a watchman, we need be aware of the distractions that would steal our attention and distort keen eyes. We need to make preparation of thought, schedule time for prayer, and guard it as our only assignment and purpose, setting aside all that would detract from our intention. We can determine to follow the examples of Daniel, Paul, Epaphras, who diligently and regularly wrestled in prayer. What is keeping us from waiting on God? What are we waiting for? (Daniel 6:10-11; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 4:12)

Lord, establish my soul on Your ramparts! As I ask You to be attentive to my cries, make me fully attentive to You. Awaken expectancy in my daily watching and waiting for You, that when Your morning light appears, You will receive all the praise.

Not All About Me

“If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity.” Leviticus 5:1

It struck me as I read this single verse, tucked into rich and detailed teaching about laws for sin offerings, that from the start, God did not intend for us to live as the center of our universe. It would be easy to read this statement and think the guilty party is the one needing a witness for conviction, or is perhaps the false witness who made an unfair or dishonest charge against the defendant, but in fact, God here holds accountable the one who has known of the matter and refused to testify. His standard is justice, but His means for accomplishing that requires we set aside ourselves for the good of the whole.

I remember how grateful I was for a man, driving a car to the right of mine and entering an intersection beside me at our signal, after a woman ran a red light and hit my car, stopping to give over an hour of his time and care to state a witness report to the police. Dozens of people had witnessed the accident, all moved on around our disturbance and went on their way, but this one turned back to help. His testimony ended up breaking the tie of word-against-word, thus supporting a just resolution, and his example to me is one I will not forget.

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Why testify? It will cause inconvenience, stress, maybe some whispering or misunderstanding. It will take precious time, possibly preparation; certainly it will disrupt my schedule. If we know something that would promote justice and help another, then every excuse not to speak points to self– me, me, me. But life isn’t all about me.

I am not my own, but the Lord’s, bought at the highest price. He calls me to serve others in love, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than I, and looking to their interests. How often would I choose to turn my back, divert my eyes, to what I think is my benefit but could really be another’s hurt? Have I ever hindered justice because of my negligence or selfishness? Jesus Himself, in serving perfect justice, gave His life for me; how can I not give back? (John 10:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:3-4)

“To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage
To do my Master’s will!                                                                                                                    Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!”  ~ Charles Wesley (1762)

Holy God, fix my eyes on Thee and so wrench them from me. Engage all my faculties– heart, hands, eyes, mouth– to serve others, and in so doing, love You first and best.

Atonement Then and Now

“If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord‘s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest his offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord.” Leviticus 4:2,22-23,35; 5:17-19

The burden in the Old Testament was that of sin, and the way for which it was atoned. The guilty was to bring an offering to the Priest, who would sacrifice it on his behalf. The only way to be forgiven was through recompense and restitution, and there was a constant stream of sacrificial blood on the altar. The high calling of priests was a heavy and messy burden in itself, requiring regular handling of the sacrifices according to God’s specific commands on behalf of the people. Sin was sin, and holy God would have none of it, so justice must be met through the substitution offering. (Leviticus 11:44-45)

The burden in the New Testament is also that of sin, but by grace and the death of Jesus, our penalty has been paid! Our Great High Priest entered the Most Holy Place once for all, to satisfy justice, to redeem our debt, to win our atonement and secure our sanctification, that there need be no more shedding of blood. He opened the way between man and God forever that we may now directly approach His throne of grace with confidence and gratitude. (Hebrews 4:14-16; 8:11-12,15,26; 10:11-12,19-22)

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And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… you [who] were dead in your trespasses, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Colossians 1:21-22; 2:13-14; 1 John 1:9

On this side of the cross, an added gift for us is the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who warns and counsels us against sin, Who gives power to withstand temptation, Who convicts of even unintentional sin, making us aware of our erring thoughts and ways. He is the One Who teaches us the deep things of God and fills our hearts with joy at understanding the application of our blessed atonement. The Spirit indwells us, guaranteeing our eternal inheritance and enabling us to bear His manifold fruit. Atoned for, “at-one” with Him, we are freed from guilt and free to live for His glory. (John 14:15-16; 16:8-11,13; Romans 6:6-14; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 1:14; 6:13-17)

Father, help me daily live in the truth and freedom and assurance of the atonement accomplished by Jesus, to the praise of Your immeasurable love and mercy and glory.