Christianity 201

March 14, 2021

“Set Apartness”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2 TNIV)

For the grammatical purists out there, “Apartness” is not a word, but it’s a better choice than what I really wanted to use, “Apartedness.”

…When this life ends, I don’t picture the next one including having casual conversations with the maker of the universe, but I can indulge my imagination for a moment, I can imagine someone walking up to God and saying, “Did you really care if people wore garments weaved from two different types of fabric?”

And of course God will answer, “Why would you want to mix a checkered pattern with plaid?”

No, seriously, in my imagination God answers as you might expect, “I was simply giving my people rules that would set them apart from the surrounding nations; I was helping them to learn to live with a unique identity.”

In the Brian Doerksen worship song, Refiner’s Fire*, holiness is equated with separating oneself from the world.

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You My Master
Ready to do Your will

God wants us to be different, but different in a good way. Some people struggle to fit in. Brant Hansen wrote a book titled Blessed are the Misfits, and while it’s true that those who, like Hansen, are somewhere on the autism spectrum, or have some other mitigating physical or mental challenge; that they have a place in God’s Kingdom, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be odd or quirky, while at the same time we should go out of our way to stand out from the crowd; to have that distinct identity that God yearned for Israel to have.

I guess a lot depends on what you mean by distinct identity. I Peter 2:9 in the KJV rendering many learned states,

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (Italics added)

For many, personal holiness is measured by the things we don’t do. By the outward conformity to certain behavioral metrics. Sounds easy, right? It’s effortless to not do things. But in fact it involves great effort.

A 2013 devotional here quoted Charles Price,

The alternative to holiness is that we are available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To be available to whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible with our own selfishness is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, called to live in step with Jesus, called to unite our interests with His and our agendas with His. As Peter wrote, ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord’(1 Peter 3:15).

In a 2010 devotional, I considered the Amish as an example of a people set apart:

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world,

What got my thoughts going in this direction is waking up this morning and realizing the extent to which my thought processes have been slowly shaped and conformed to the ‘spirit of the age;’ the world’s way of looking at everything. I’ve been absorbed into the dominant culture’s way of seeing the world.

Instead of simply staring at the Amish, we should be engaging them; asking them, “Hey, what’s the secret to all this?” “How do you manage not to be trapped into the contemporary mindset?”

In a devotional which appeared twice in both 2014 and 2017 I wrote that God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity goes dramatically and radically beyond not mixing fabrics or not eating pork. In Exodus 11:6-7 we read:

There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (italics added)

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.” (NCV)

In Romans 1:1, Paul’s very first words introduce the letter by saying he has been set apart.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (NIV, italics added)

In Hebrews 7:26, Jesus, our great High Priest, is described in similar terms:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (NIV, italics added)

So the question to ask yourself is: How do you rank in terms of “set apartness?” Or as one person said it, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”


*The song, Refiner’s Fire with Brian Doerksen and the Toronto Worship Project:


Tomorrow marks devotional #4000 here at C201. Still not sure what it will look like!

 

 

 

March 4, 2017

Maintaining a Distinct Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: … he emptied himself… he humbled himself… (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)


Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

February 14, 2015

Letters to the Exiles

This is actually the second of four blog posts (two are not written yet) by Alex Koo under the title Are You Reading the Bible Biblically. If you have the time, click here to read part one. Otherwise, we’ll jump right into the middle with part two. Click the title below to read at source.

Are You Reading the Bible Biblically? Pt. 2

Letters to the Exiles:

This blog post is the second post of the series I’ve been doing titled “Are You Reading the Bible Biblically?” My aim is to speak to the growing trend of individualism when it comes to reading our bibles, a trend that I grew up believing. More specifically, while the natural tendency is to read the bible with the only intent of applying it to the narrative of our lives, I write to encourage us to first understand the narrative of the bible and applying our lives to that story. So what is this story? Last week, I established the four-fold framework of the bible: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. This week, I want to specifically focus on the stage of Redemption (the stage we live in).

redemptionIf you open my bible to the front page, you’ll find scrawled in my handwriting “Letters to the Exiles.” Why? Because it changes how I read the bible. We all flip open our bibles with a particular lens or framework that has been established in our minds. How I approach my bible will be different if instead I wrote “Rules to Be Holy” or “Helpful Tips for Success”, or even “Captions for Instagram Photos”. What I mean is this: The way we read the bible is directly affected by what we think it’s primarily about.

Yes, indeed there are rules on how to live in a way that pleases God. Yes, to an extent, there are proverbs on how to live with wisdom and success. Yet before any of that, the bible is 1) God’s revelation of Himself and His glory and 2) His redemptive plan to restore all things and people back to the enjoyment of Himself. And like I said last week, this story is made up of four stages: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

When we understand that this is the narrative of the bible, we can begin to ask ourselves, well, how do I fit in? How does the Church fit in? How does my seemingly mundane schedule align with it? How do my relationships, my struggles, my hobbies, and my dreams fit into this narrative? When we start asking ourselves these questions, we’re on the right path. So, keeping in step with the four-fold narrative, it is crucial we realize that we are in the stage of redemption. Or, as Peter would say, we are in exile.

Peter opens his first letter with this greeting:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

The recipients of his letter would surely have begun to draw parallels to their past by his penning of the word “exile.” Hearing the word exile would have rung a bell in the minds of the readers. They would have thought back centuries ago, around 600 BC, when the nation of Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon. This event was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah; that Israel, because of their idolatry and disobedience, would be taken into captivity and live as exiles for 70 years.

The events unfolded just as God had said and Israel found themselves exiled from Jerusalem, under the rule of Babylon. And there in exile, God spoke to them saying:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

So back to Peter.

As Peter writes to his first-century readers, who now are followers of Christ, why does he still mention the exile? He goes on to call them exiles again here saying,

“Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11).

He calls them exiles, similarly to how the Israelites were exiles in Babylon, because with the arrival of Christ and the birth of the Church, this story of exile is seen again. However, this is now displayed on a grander scale. The Church, after Creation, after the Fall, and now in Redemption, is now in exile in this world. We, as Christians, are exiles in a foreign land — pilgrims and foreigners. This is our story. In our hearing and believing of the Gospel, we have entered into the Church, saved into a new community of exile, awaiting the return of our Savior when He will make all creation new.

Having that in mind changes how we read the bible. I have scrawled on my bible “Letters to the Exiles” because it reminds me that these 66 books all point to the reality of Christ redeeming people — all the way from Genesis 3 to Revelation. And when I read the Word of God from the perspective of an exile, it changes my perspective. Imagine if you and a couple of friends were visiting an island for vacation. You guys check into the hotel rooms you booked and start to unpack your stuff. You put your needed toiletries in the bathroom, perhaps throw in some clothes into the drawers (if you’re ambitious), and then jump on the bed. Imagine, however, if one of your friends brought some paint and some tools and started redecorating the room. He started working on one wall, explaining how he was planning to add an extension to the room so he could study in the future, and how he wanted to set up a hammock on the balcony. How ridiculous that would sound! It wouldn’t make sense to settle into a hotel that you are temporarily staying at. In the same way, it doesn’t make sense to settle down in a world we are temporarily living in.

One final note. Does that mean we draw back from the world and aspire to live a life of isolation and exiled solitude? Hardly. Remember what God told the exiles through Jeremiah in their time of exile?

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

While the Israelites were called to seek the welfare of the city they were exiled in, we are called to seek the welfare and good of the world we are living as exiles in. That is why we remove from our thinking this idea of a sacred vs. secular divide. That is why, though we are in exile, we still seek to excel in the field of business and politics. That is why we strive to excel in the arena of medicine and construction. One main reason is because we, in God’s image, are wired to do such activities as humans. Think about it, we would have pursued these activities if Adam hadn’t sinned and we will pursue these activities in the New Heavens and New Earth. Yet, a second reason why we still strive to do well in this world as exiles is we seek to bless this dying world.

In conclusion, it is imperative that we establish a framework of the meta-narrative of the bible, namely, the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption, and the Consummation. We understand that all 66 books of the bible were written with this grand story in mind and this whole book points and leads to Christ, who has made redemption possible. Thus, because of Christ in the Gospel, we now live as exiles in a world we do not belong to, yet seek to prosper. And as exiles, we are called to bless this world by first and foremost bringing to them the hope of redemption that is in the Gospel.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at what exactly this message of the Gospel is that we, as exiles, are stewarding and delivering to the world.

 

 

March 31, 2014

Maintenance of a Separate Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: …  he emptied himself… he humbled himself…  (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)

Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

October 21, 2013

Lessons from Lot’s Story

Two years ago we introduced you to the writing of Duke Taber, who blogs at Taber’s Truths, where you’ll find a mix of devotional articles, Bible studies, and marriage resources. This recent article appeared there a few days ago under the title Remember Lot’s Wife.

Luke 17:32
“Remember Lot’s wife.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Abraham’s cousin Lot barely escaped with his life. However what we do not talk about very often is Lot’s wife. She was the one who turned back to look one last time at what she was leaving behind and in doing so, ended up becoming a pillar of salt.

Jesus told us to remember Lot’s wife in context of looking for His return. It was a warning to us not to be attached to our cultural lifestyle here on earth. It is a reminder to be focused on His kingdom and the lifestyle of His kingdom. Eating, drinking, experiencing life with family and friends are not bad things. However when they become the focus of our life then they become anchors that attach us to this world in ways we do not expect. These anchors are something we all need to avoid.

Things That Tie Us To This World

These anchors can be good things that have happened in our life or bad things that have happened in our life. Let’s take a look at the good things for a second. For instance, family is a good thing. However when your family has more influence upon you than Jesus does then that relationship is an anchor that ties us to this world in an unhealthy way.

Another example of a good thing becoming a bad thing is in the area of finances. Making money is a good thing and we all need to do it in order to live. The problem arises when making money becomes the end in itself rather than just a tool used while we are here on this earth. I know many people who sacrifice their spiritual life with Jesus because they are so busy making money. They have to have all the latest and greatest toys life has to offer. Materialism becomes an anchor in their life that keeps them from following Jesus the way He would have them follow.

Even love can become an anchor when it is used in the wrong way. Our love for our closest family members is something that needs to be nurtured and developed. However that same love can become an anchor when it is mixed with grief and loss. I know many people who are trapped in the cycle of grief because they think if they really move on they are somehow violating the love that they have for the person who has gone on to be with the Lord. Their life becomes tied to that tragic event. They emotionally mark the calendar of how long it has been since the tragedy happened. This ties them to something that keeps them from following Jesus.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean in the scriptures.

Matthew 8:22
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 19:21
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 14:26
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

In these scriptures Jesus makes it very clear that following Him and the kingdom lifestyle is more important than even the most dear of things on earth. Now I don’t believe He wants us to actually hate our family. He is talking about placing them at a lower level than discipleship and following him.

Remember Lot’s Wife

So I just want to encourage you to remember Lot’s wife. Remember that if we are to be disciples of Jesus then we have to let go of the anchors that hold us back from truly following Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As I studied this devotional I was reminded of this song by the early Contemporary Christian Music band Fireworks. On low-speed internet? This is a static image video which plays audio only.