Wednesday, May 23

Love, Power, and Purity!

Some people think of "holiness" as some kind of everlasting pickle sucking contest, or some game of collecting "smug points" for not having any fun. Some people to play games like that, but is holiness what they get from it? What if it's really about being more fully human?

Growing up, there were folks I'd see in town who seemed to always dress in dark old-fashioned, clothing, and be trying to see could keep from smiling for the longest. They called themselves, "Holiness:" They belonged to churches founded in a great, joyous awakening of the Christian Faith ' back a hundred or so years before. Later, I was reading in the Psalms, "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." I stopped and said, "Lord, what is the beauty of holiness? All I could see in that word was life as a mummy! This was a God-ordained prayer.

Around that time my own "devotional life" had no life to speak of, and at 19 as I gravitated toward yoga, zen and psychedelics. In time the Lord Jesus called me to Himself and set me into a really close fellowship with other young Christians, where we lived, worked, and ministered together. The answer to that prayer was coming. The people in that fellowship lived in houses scattered across the States, with the houses set up for reaching some of the millions of young people who were on the roads and streets back then, feeding, sheltering, and teaching them. We offered "free food and lodging in the Name of our Lord," and took jobs where we could all work together to uphold and encourage each other in the Lord through the day. As part of our schedule we would all get together for a prayer meeting in the living room every Saturday night. The Lord was so present in those meetings that there tended to be a rush for the prayer closet afterward as people wanted to continue in that Presence.

Early on in my time in that fellowship, after prayer meeting, the pastor prayed with me for the Lord to fill me with His Spirit. The earth didn't shake, but I felt my Father's love and acceptance flood me, and I knew I was His. At that particular time there was a guest in the house who showed no interest in Christ: one of the many who passed through from time to time. He was on a hitchhiking tour West, and my own wanderlust had me half persuaded to travel with him. After that prayer with Pastor Jeff I had gone down to my bunk. The guest walked over. I turned and looked at him, and saw him in a whole different light, no longer with envy but pity. He looked quickly down and walked away, as if embarrassed. At that moment I saw the temptation for what it was, and it no longer held any appeal.

Discussions about being filled with the Spirit seem to always gravitate toward gifts like tongues, healings, and prophecy. Sure, these are valid gifts, but are the gifts what He came about? First Corinthians, chapters 12-13, is the Bible's most detailed discussion on spiritual gifts. In the middle is an important note about the proof of the Spirit. Charity, perfect love, is what matters most. Since it is the direct result of the Lord working in our lives, and really can't exist without Him, we can read it, "Jesus-in-me." " Jesus-in-me suffers long, and is kind; Jesus-in-me. envies not; Jesus-in-me. vaunts not (my)self, is not puffed up, does not behave (my)-self unseemly, Jesus-in-me seeks not my own, Jesus-in-me is not easily provoked, Jesus-in-me thinks no evil; Jesus-in-me rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Jesus-in-me bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus-in-me never fails..!"

Back in the '90's I worked part-time at a Southern Gospel radio station. Emmitt, the manager, was a great guy, with a great mike voice. This job was such a blessing in that I got to listen to Gospel music, and meet some great people, and actually get paid for it! Some preachers were talking there in the hallway outside the control room, and I heard one man point out that Galatians 5 says that the fruit, not fruits, of the Spirit is, not are, love.. I could see that, but didn't see what difference it made. Yes, I am a slow learner...!

Two or three years later I was reading back over that passage and, with the Lord's help, finally saw the difference. You can "cherry-pick" fruits, but "fruit" means the whole package. We sometimes hear or read about the fruits of the Spirit, like we can pick and choose- "I'll take a dozen joys, no longsuffering today, thank you. I don't think I need any meekness, a half-pint of goodness, and, well, I've got a party this weekend so maybe I'll hold off on the temperance 'til next week...." When Paul wrote this letter he didn't have colons and such, so when we read it, either the whole list is the fruit (which doesn't really work), or read the sentence to say, "the fruit ..is love." 1st Cor. 13 describes that love in terms of joy, peace, longsuffering... All the traits on that list that follows the word, "Love," are the signs of real love being there. In my Bible I marked in a colon after the word love. Reading it as with the colon there it makes perfect sense without having to assume that Paul really meant to say "fruits," but got distracted. With real, perfect, love there is joy, peace, patience/longsuffering, gentleness, and the rest. If the Spirit of the God-Who-Is-Love has His way in my life, then love will be the evidence. What is the beauty of holiness? I didn't realise it, but I was starting to understand the answer.

At another of the ministry houses a couple stayed with us for a few days, and of course guests were treated as pretty-much part of the fellowship- they slept at the house, ate with us at meals, and joined with us in worship and Bible study. Now this couple told us they were married- no matter to us, we didn't have any private rooms anyway. He made a profession of faith while they were there, she didn't. Once they got their apartment back she started coming over for the Bible studies, but he didn't. She gave her life to the Lord at that time, and said she couldn't have done it before because she was having to go along with his lie in saying they were married. Now as a Christian she purposed to obey the Lord in their relationship and so would only sleep on the couch, and then after a few days called the house to say she needed help moving out, that she wanted to move in with us. The pastor asked me to go over to escort her back to the house. I wasn't there but a few minutes when her "husband" came in from his job at the slaughterhouse. Now what I knew of this man was that he was a troubled, heavy-drinking, recent Vietnam veteran, and he was a big fellow. Now, he was coming home drunk, his girlfriend was packing her bags, and there was a 140# Jesus freak in there with her. (Can you say, "OOPS!" boys and girls?) But the Lord was assuring me that He had matters well under control. So as the fellow was going on about all the men he had killed in 'Nam, what he could do with a knife, and what my corpse was going to look like, my biggest trial was not grinning back at him too big. I knew the Lord was totally in charge, and I was getting the picture that he knew it, too! After a while he turned around and left, and I helped her carry her suitcases through the roughest part of the city as she began the next step in her new life as a daughter of the Most High God! What is the beauty of holiness? The answer was getting clearer all the time!

So- what is the beauty of holiness? All that Jesus is! For a quick sketch: In the Old-Testament Law, a lot of art work was forbidden. No carved images, no representational art of any kind. In the Temple, though, God commanded bright colors, and all kinds of artistic beauty, and beautiful instrumental music as well as choral. The High Priest, a picture of Jesus, would wear big gem stones on a breastplate, representing all of the people of God being next to his heart, and on his head was a large, very visible hat, with a slogan written on on a gold medallion, front and center.it. It didn't say, "Go Leafs," or "John Deere," or "I'm With Stupid:" It said, "Holiness unto the Lord." Holiness to the Lord was the main theme of the Temple. It was all centered on the part called The Holy of Holies, the one place on Earth where you might find a man standing in the very Presence of God!

Not that it could just be any man, but a man whom God had chosen, who had prepared himself, who had separated himself to the Lord, from worldly distractions, whose sins were covered by the holy sacrifice, and who was meeting with God at the time God had chosen. hen Moses met with God on the Mountain his face glowed from the encounter. The New Testament promises us that, by His Spirit, we can keep our focus on the Lord and the Spirit will transform us from the "glory," the appearance, of what we used to be to the very glory and likeness of Jesus.

When all that gets down to you and me, it's all about the very nature of Jesus showing through from deep within you and me. How can this happen? If something is holy, then it's set apart for a special purpose. An electrician says a circuit is dedicated if the breaker is set aside for only one appliance. We could say it is "holy" (wholly?) for that one purpose. The "holiness" folks I mentioned earlier were set apart- but, well, maybe a bit more for their tradition than God's glory. The Bible says that marriage is holy, and that's probably the best picture we have of what the word really means. What it's saying is that in God's plan, first, the husband and the wife must be fully and totally loving each other, fully separated from any ties with anyone else, and fully dedicated to each other's good, and, second, nobody had better mess with it! Another picture is of sonship. We can only be the child of one father.

As a boy, I really prized the times spent with my Dad. Mostly it was hunting, or fishing. Not a lot got said on that fishing boat: It might've scared the fish. Hunting was about the same, except it's cold out there. At the same time at the Presbyterian church, we learned about and sang about a great and distant God Who predestined all things according to His own transcendent wisdom, as if on very long puppet strings, as if He were, "untouched by the feelings of our infirmities." (The Bible says He's not.)

Some people had told me that they had a hard time relating to God as "Father," because of a bad example their earthly fathers had given them. I heard them say that, but kind of figured there might be a bit more in the picture. Just a little while ago it hit me that a major hole in how I understood God to be was about the shape of my Dad with a fly rod in his hand, or with his twelve-gauge, looking the other way. I knew that God loves me, well, He loves everybody, right? And I knew that he knows my thoughts, and that he thought about me more times than there are grains of sand in the sea, but I had written that all off as going with the territory of His being infinitely wise and powerful. Kind of like the scene from Exodus where God's presence is brooding over Mt Sinai, with lightnings and flaming clouds. But even then, part of how God announced His coming to Moses, He didn't send angels before Him to announce His coming like a royalty might have their heralds to go before, He announced Himself to Moses, more like a friend at the door. He wanted Moses, and us, to know just what kind of God He is, and started off saying that He is, "..merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,..." If I'm going to show mercy or goodness, if I'm going to suffer long with somebody, I'm going to be going out of my way to do that; but that is His way. God loves us, each one of us, individually.

Most married men think they know their own wives pretty well, and love them for all the good stuff they know about them, but God loves us, period. Not just what we do, or how we smell... but He loves us- He delights in us- you, and me! And wants to spend time with us. When we have our little ones in the house, think: There's often not a lot that that 4-yr-old knows that his daddy doesn't, but don't we get a kick out of hearing all about it just the same? If the kid is trying to do something just a little bit out of his ability, don't we get a kick out of helping, or even giving him a boost so that he might even think he did it "all by himself?" And we love to watch that kid grow up, and to be there to help him grow up, don't we? And we like to hear that our son looks just like us, or is learning to do things the particular way we do them, even if it's a little thing like the way the kid walks, how he talks, or stands. The same way the Lord puts His "mark" on us: The word most used in the Bible for this mark is, "seal."

The book of Romans tells us that God set His "seal" on Abraham with the sign of circumcision. Paul told the Corinthians that they were the seal of his ministry; and in 2nd Timothy, that, "..the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are His. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." The seal of the Spirit on our hearts is just that- His mark on our lives: That we belong to the Lord, and that we no longer live for our own pleasures and preferences, but for our Redeemer. I had a foreman one time who was living a life of blatant sin. He had a real case of "BBS:" Big Boy Syndrome. The big kid that, growing up, was doted on by his Mama, feared by the other boys, and lusted after by the girls. He had deserted his wife and children and was living with another woman on the other side of the same small town. Even though I never (right or wrong..) confronted him about any of that, he complained to me one day at lunch, "You never let me do what I want to do!" God's "seal" was showing, and putting a taste of the fear of God in this big boy's heart, when all I was doing was the cell tower!

The "Prodigal Son's" heart was bitter against his dad when he was out in the world, and it had been bitter against him at home as well, or he would have never told the old man that he couldn't wait for his funeral. After he repented, set that bitter attitude behind him and submitted himself to his father, his father then gave him a ring showing that he was approved by the father and that he was co-owner in all his father's accounts and authority!

I used to look at the whole Purity thing as some kind of impossible goal that we can only wish for, but would God command us to do something impossible without making a way to make it possible? When Jesus sent the Disciples out to preach, heal, and cast out devils, did they stop off at the nearest donut shop to discuss what He really meant by that? They went forth and obeyed Him; and they came back: Rejoicing at the great power they had seen demonstrated in the Name of Jesus, that, "even the devils were subject" to Him! Do we imagine that God would not give us the power to harness our own imaginations? Of course He would- He, "..is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us!" Eph. 3.20 Jesus said one sign of His soon coming would be, "Men's hearts failing them for fear." One thing that we always have to deal with in these days is fear. We fear bills, and mortgage payments, the weather, other drivers,... We fear for our children, our parents- our families; We fear for our jobs, and we fear the effects of fear. We might call it different names- stress, anxiety, life's frustrations, road rage, or just responsibility, but whether we are talking about facing immediate death, or the daily grind of bills, meetings, and deadlines, our Lord, Jesus, has given us two solid answers. Time fails for me to tell all the different stories of how the Lord had brought me through fearful or stressful situations, and I could give plenty more examples of when He tried to but I just couldn't manage to let Him, but Jesus' first answer is to give us understanding of the nature of fear and how to approach it. The main principle is that right relationship with God that gives us the right perspective to know that whatever threats we face in this world, the Living God, "whose we are" is the real threat. That's hard language in an age when all the talk is about a God of only love, acceptance, and forgiveness Who ever lives to bolster our self-esteem, but it truly is a "fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God," "..for our God is a consuming fire!" Once He had made that point, our Lord told the same disciples, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give to you the Kingdom of Heaven." That gives us the doctrine, in a military sense, concerning fear. The second answer, the application, comes from the boldness, the joy and the courage, that comes from the fullness of the Holy Spirit within us when we are, in fact, filled with the Spirit. Peter and John went face to face with the Sanhedrin, the Israeli Supreme Court and legislature all in one, and the Sanhedrin backed down. Timid Peter, just before that, had stood out in front of thousands of mocking party-goers and proclaimed the News of Jesus' resurrection, and didn't hold back the part about the crowd's own guilt in His death, and three thousand from the crowd were saved. Nineteen hundred-some years later, one little Jesus Freak led by the Spirit, backed down an angry, drunken, butcher in his own living room. God does not change.

All this goes with the promise in 2nd Timothy that, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound (or pure) mind." The Spirit He gave us at the moment we confessed Christ as our Lord, the same Spirit Who baptised us into Christ, is the same Spirit He promised to baptise us with as we give ourselves wholly over to Him, as we worship our Lord, and seek to do and to know His will fully in our lives. So, what is the Beauty of Holiness?

I. That God loves us! Not only that His official position, being that "God is love" and all that, but He purely does love us, fervently, out of a pure heart. He loves spending time with us, and He loves growing us up in His love.

II. God wants to make us pure, and free from, "every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us," and,

III. God wants to give us boldness, in this life- confident of His love, and with a pure conscience, empowered by His Spirit, to be witnesses- living proofs to the world of the fullness His salvation!

3 comments:

  1. Georgia Smith, Tallahassee, FLWednesday, August 15, 2007

    Oh, thank you, Robert Easter, for sharing your wonderful testimony of Christ's work in you (so beautifully written)with all of us!

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  2. Enjoyed reading this Robert. Thanks and Merry Christmas,
    Peter Walker

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  3. Glad you found a blessing there! Sorry for not posting a reply sooner, but the Lord bless your coming year in the superabundance of His awesome grace!!

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