Christianity 201

December 4, 2019

When Your Habits and Speech Have Morphed

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As shows like Extreme Makeover program opens the door, this type of speech becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters will follow the trends, at which point it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…

September 19, 2019

Settling In as Christians to the New Normal of a Post-Christian Society

by Clarke Dixon

Should we, who are Christians in North America, still be bothered with Christianity when most North Americans are not? If so, should we be bothered by those who could not be bothered with it? There is a new normal in Western society, marked by a move away from traditional Christian beliefs and values. Should we just go with the flow and melt into the new normal of society? Or should we resist the changes, kicking and screaming all the way? How do we as Christians respond to the new normal?

Assimilate, or Be Different?

Daniel and his friends, from the Book of Daniel, would have faced similar questions. Daniel was facing a new normal:

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:3-7 (NLT)

Daniel and friends were likely overachieving teenagers, perhaps as young as 14 when they were taken captive. They were born Jews in Judah, but now they are being educated in, or more accurately, indoctrinated into, Babylonian ways in Babylon. With three years training, which of course would include training in Babylonian religious ideas, and with name changes, they were facing a pressure to assimilate. They were to become model Babylonians. Should these teenagers even bother with trying to be Jewish? After all, their new normal seemed like a pretty good gig, including the finest food!

Daniel made a decision:

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Daniel 1:8 (NIV)

Biblical scholars are divided about what exactly was wrong with the king’s food, whether it was not “clean” or had been used in idolatry, but we need not be caught up in that discussion. What is important is that Daniel decided that he was not going to be assimilated, he would be different! He might be learning to speak like a Babylonian, but he will be Jewish.

Where did Daniel’s resolve to remain Jewish come from when becoming a Babylonian might seem to be an enticing and easy path? Daniel and his friends knew something very important. Despite everything, God is still God.

The opening verses of Daniel highlight this fact:

1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2 (NLT emphasis added)

Due to circumstances, king Nebuchadnezzar, or the gods he worshipped, may appear to be in charge. However, it was God, described here as Adonai, meaning ‘lord,’ who was really sovereign over the situation. Since God is still God, Daniel resolves to be different.

God is still God today. Jesus is still Lord. Since God is still God, do we, who are Christians, have the same resolve as Daniel to be different? Is there something different about us that demonstrates that we have not wholly been assimilated into society around us? Perhaps church attendance is one thing, but is that it?

If we resolve to be different, then how will we relate to those who are different?

Since God is still God, and since Daniel resolves therefore to be a God-fearing Jew, what will that look like in Babylon? How will Daniel relate to the Babylonians? Will he fight them? Will he lead a movement against them? Will he be confrontational at every opportunity? Will he refuse to serve the king because he serves the King of kings?

We are told what Daniel does:

18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Daniel 1:18-19 (NLT)

Jewish Daniel served the Babylonian king. In fact we will discover, as we keep reading, that Daniel will spend his whole life serving the current king, the next king, and even the king of the next empire to seize power. Daniel’s life is marked by serving people very different from himself. Daniel is different, but he also fits in. His attitude is not one of confrontation, but of servanthood. He does not come across as a warrior for God, but a servant of all.

How do we relate to the society we find ourselves in? How do we relate to people who may have quite different beliefs and values from us? God is still God, so we can be resolved to not be assimilated. But are we therefore to be warriors in a fight to the death? Or are we servants, like Daniel and his friends, and like Jesus? Are we to be confrontational at every opportunity? Or do we have an attitude of servanthood? Let us remember that Jesus came, “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Daniel and his friends served the Babylonians, and quite well, we might add:

20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. Daniel 1:20 (NLT)

Daniel and his friends will be known as different, but not because they say they are, so much as because they really are. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, not in the shouting out of the recipe.

In our being different, is the proof in the pudding, or the shouting out of the recipe? Are we different in ways that matter? Not in being overtly and overly religious, but in subtle and important ways, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), which are the fruit of the Spirit? If we are truly different, and genuinely serving others, people will ask about our faith. We will have opportunities to speak about it, there will be no need to shout about it.

Daniel resolved to be different, to not be assimilated, to not become a Babylonian. But then he did not live in a Jewish bubble either. He had no plan to destroy the Babylonians. Rather, he served the Babylonians as someone who feared God and loved people. Can we serve our fellow North Americans as God-fearing, people-loving people?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

August 12, 2019

On Sanctification, Holiness and Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Twice a year we visit the blog of K.W. Leslie and I always know I’m going to end up reading four or five articles and then having to make a hard choice as to which to include. In the end I chose the one below, but was equally torn between this one and this one. References to KWL are the author’s own translation.

Holiness… versus goodness

SANCTIFY ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ verb. Set apart as holy.
2. Have blessed, made legitimate through a religious sanction, or made to seem legitimate through custom and tradition.
3. Purify from sin.
[Sanctification sæŋ(k).tə.fə’keɪ.ʃən noun, sanctifier ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ(.ə)r noun.]

I bring up the popular definition of sanctify because I wanna point out what we English-speakers mean by sanctification, is not what the scriptures mean.

I’ve read loads of Christian books about sanctification. Been reading one in particular lately. The author goes on and on and on about sin, and how it taints humanity, and how Christians ought not do it. (And, well, duh.) But the more he writes on the subject, the more obvious it becomes he’s addressing his own particular hangups. Certain sins he finds really nasty, so he spends a lot of time really pounding away at those sins like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood: Stop doing those things! You’re making baby Jesus cry.

Thing is, he’s not actually talking about sanctification. He’s talking about goodness.

Christians mix the two ideas up all the time. Seriously, all the time. I challenge you to find a writing where the author recognizes there’s a difference between the two. And there is a difference. Holiness is about being set apart for God’s purposes. Holy means we’re not like anything else. It’s definition #1, and only definition #1. The other definitions are the product of Christian popular culture… which is perfectly happy to settle for mere goodness.

God tells his kids, “Be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44-45, 1Pe 1.16 God’s different from everything else, and if we’re following him, the natural consequence is we should be different from everything else. But when the LORD said this in the scriptures, he wasn’t talking about goodness! Check out the context:

Leviticus 11.43-47 KWL
43 “Don’t pollute your lives with any swarming vermin.
Don’t be ritually unclean with them, or be made unclean by them.
44 For I’m your LORD God. So sanctify yourselves! Be holy because I’m holy.
Don’t make your lives ritually unclean with any vermin which swarms the earth.
45 For I’m the LORD who brought you out of Egypt’s land to be God to you:
Be holy because I’m holy.
46 This law is about animals and birds,
every living soul in the waters, every soul swarming the earth:
47 Separate between the ritually unclean and the clean,
between living things to eat, and living things you don’t eat.”

Yeah: He was talking about the kosher rules. About ritual cleanliness. Not goodness, not sins: Food animals versus vermin. Because people of other nations eat any animals they please, with no thought to anything but their taste buds. And God doesn’t want his people to be like any other nation. He wanted ’em unique. He still wants us unique. Holy.

Christians who teach on sanctification, zero in on being good. That’s not nothing. We oughta be good. God is good, so we should be good like he is, and when we’re not, we clearly aren’t following him. I’m certainly not saying God’s okay with evil! But goodness is only a fruit of sanctification. It’s not the same thing.

So if we’re gonna be holy, we have to be more than merely good. We gotta be different.

Nazirites.

The reason Christians focus on goodness so much, is for much the same reason as this author I wrote about. Sin offends us. It offends God too, but God’s way more patient and forgiving than we are. God wants everybody to repent and be saved, 2Pe 3.9 and is willing to put off judgment so he can save as many as he can. Whereas we humans, especially those Christians who write popular books on sanctification, wouldn’t mind so much if God judged and smited away. Right now.

Hence their books on goodness. And in order to not sound like crazy legalists who threaten everybody with hell unless they behave themselves, Christians insist it’s not about legalism: It’s about holiness. We’re not threatening anyone with hell; we’re just reminding people God hates sin and expects better of his kids. So stop sinning, dammit!

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with telling Christians to be good. Nothing wrong with telling everyone to be good. But when the scriptures describe people getting holy, it talks about stuff like this:

Numbers 6.1-8 KWL
1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Israel’s sons.
Tell them when a man or woman makes an exceptional vow, a separation vow, to separate themselves for the LORD:
3 They separate from wine, liquor, wine vinegar, malt vinegar;
no drinking any grape juice, no eating fresh grapes or raisins.
4 All the days of their separation, they don’t eat anything made of grapevine—seeds to skin.
5 All the days of their separation vow, no blade comes to their head till the days of separation to the LORD are complete.
They’re holy: They let the hair on their head grow.
6 All the days of their separation to the LORD, they don’t approach a soul who dies.
7 Their father, their mother, their brother, their sister:
They don’t make themselves ritually unclean for them when they die,
for the separation to their God is on their head.
8 All the days of their separation, they’re holy to the LORD.”

The word for “separate” is נָזַר/nazár, which technically means “unprune,” like a grapevine grown wild… or like someone who doesn’t cut their hair, groom their mustache or beard, or keep their eyebrows from growing together. Unpruned, in ancient Hebrew, became a synonym for “unlike everybody else,” or separate. And a person who took this vow of separation was called a נָזיִר/nazír, or in English, a Nazirite. Notice the conditions of this vow, the way you made yourself particularly holy to God… was by swearing off four things which aren’t sins. In fact it’s really inconvenient when you do abstain from them:

  1. No alcohol.
  2. No grapes.
  3. No haircuts or shaving.
  4. No coming near dead bodies.

If you broke your vow ’cause somebody died (and the way the LORD phrases it, it likely wasn’t by accident), you had to wash yourself as part of your usual ritual purification from touching a dead person, but now you also had to shave your head, shave your head again a week later, perform a ritual offering, then start your vow all over again. Lv 6.9-12 All the time you abstained till then, didn’t count.

These vows were temporary. When the time was up, you went to temple, brought ritual offerings for sacrifice, shaved your head at the temple door, and burnt your hair in the sacrifice. Nu 6.13-20 That way, commentators figure, you can’t keep your hair as a souvenir, and show off how you were once really dedicated to God. The hair growing at this very moment out of your head was the only token you got.

Apparently Paul participated in this ritual too, Ac 21.23-26 to demonstrate he still followed the Law, rumors to the contrary aside.

And certain people in the scriptures appear to have been lifelong Nazirites. Like Samson, Samuel, and John the baptist: They never cut their hair, never shaved, never touched grapes or alcohol or dead bodies. (Samson broke a few of these, but he was a sucky Nazirite.) Again, none of these practices are, ordinarily, sin. But if you promise God not to do something, breaking your promise is sin, so these things become sin to you. Jm 4.17

Still, y’notice what made a person Nazirite, and holy, wasn’t simply being good. Nazirites were expected to be good, but everybody was expected to be good. Being specially dedicated to God involved more than goodness. It was being unique. Nazirites were different from anyone else. Couldn’t drink what everyone else did. Couldn’t deal with death, even though everybody must deal with death at some point. Couldn’t trim their hair; they had to look weird. Nazirites had to stand out.

And that’s what true sanctification entails: Standing out. Not just being good; of course we’re to be good. But if you wanna be holy, you have to stand out. Can’t be like everyone else. Can’t just be good.

How? Well, you could become a Nazirite of course. But the scriptures don’t offer Naziritism as our only option. God ordered various people to make themselves holy to him in various ways. Basically he customized each individual’s relationship with him. He still does. So if you’re talking with God on a regular basis (as all of us oughta be), it makes sense to ask him how he wants you to stand out. How should you be holy to the LORD? He’ll tell you.

Holiness can take all sorts of forms, and I’ll discuss a few of ’em in other articles. But mere goodness isn’t one of these forms. Goodness is the bare minimum of how we as humans oughta live, and if all our sights are set on is goodness, we’ve set them far too low.

May 15, 2018

The Reluctance of Moses to Serve

Today we’re back at Lightsource, but this time on the page for the In His Grip Devotional, which features the writing of Dr. Chuck Betters from MarkInc.

…God’s confrontation with the Old Testament patriarch, Moses, gives us a glimpse into our own hearts and often excuses for turning down God’s invitation to partner with Him by using our own gifts to introduce others to His son, Jesus.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Moses, when given the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, objected strenuously (Exodus 3:1-4:17). First, Moses questioned, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God responded, “I will be with you,” the very promise He made to Abraham (and to us, Matthew 28:28).

Second, Moses objected, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is Him name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God responded, in effect, “Tell them that Jehovah, the faithful and trustworthy God of their fathers, has sent you.”

Third, Moses doubted. “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Moses probably remembered his earlier rejection by his people and questioned why this time would be any different.

Throw Down Your Staff

God responded that Moses should throw down his staff, the symbol of his identity as a working shepherd. Without his staff he could not take care of the sheep or protect himself. God changed the staff into a snake, the national symbol of Pharaoh’s alleged sovereign power. God changed it back into a staff when Moses obediently picked it up. This was no magic trick; it underscored God’s power and authority over Pharaoh. Moses had to surrender his shepherd’s calling in order to accept God’s commissioning. Though Moses carried the simple staff of a shepherd, God had invested it, as indeed He had invested Moses, with a power far beyond its humble appearance.

Fourth, Moses continued to object, claiming he was not a man of words. “O Lord,” he complained, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

God responded, reassuring Moses and promising him that the Lord Himself would help him speak and teach him what to say. As with Moses, God also promises to give us the strength and abilities we need. As it says in the book of Ephesians, every child of God is “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10).

Fifth, Moses decided he wasn’t the best man for the job. God’s promise of His presence, power, and authority was apparently not enough for Moses. He desperately exclaimed, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it(Exodus 4:13).

This is the first time during this encounter that God actually became angry with Moses. He bluntly told Moses that his eloquent brother Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesman.

Moses at last acquiesced and obeyed. On his long journey back to Egypt and into the jaws of his enemy, however, Moses did not travel alone, for God was with him.

Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

Everyone who answers God’s call to know Him intimately must confront His call to courageously serve as Moses did.

Look around your local church. Are you the missing piece needed to reflect God’s compassion and mercy in a broken world? Which of Moses’ excuses is your favorite one behind which you hide?

What gift, talent, or resource are you hiding in your pocket?

Are YOU the missing piece in your local church? Share the love of Jesus in you, by sharing the gifts He has given to you!

February 19, 2015

A Vessel for Honorable Use

Today we want to introduce you to servantsofgrace.org and if you click the title below, you’ll not only get the article, but links to a large number of quality articles just like it. In today’s reading Zach Barnhart looks at four distinctive marks of holiness we can apply to our own spiritual diagnostics test.

Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The discussion of holiness in Christian circles is inescapable. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and thousands of articles and blog posts on it. The word “holy” appears in the Bible over 600 times. This conversation is not only inevitable, but can often be burdensome to believers trying to live the Christian life.

HolinessIt’s easy to talk about holiness and feel utterly disheveled. Oftentimes it’s because we, as heirs of grace need to acquire an honest view of the difficult process of sanctification. In order to discover this, God’s people need to understand their sin nature. We do this by understanding that Satan hasn’t left God’s people alone. Not to mention, it’s growing seemingly more difficult to live a holy life in a pleasure-driven, tolerance-demanding, all-things-go culture. Holiness, in short, is hard. Take heart and find Paul’s encouraging spirit in these words in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Only then will you not feel bogged down, but motivated by His grace. Christians should not feel stripped of their armor, but equipped with it. Paul writes Timothy from a heart of encouragement, calling him “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). He encourages Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace” of Christ (2:1), reminding him “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (1:7). Paul aims to encourage both Timothy and you.

In 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul begins an illustration: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver…” Just as a house holds various kinds of vessels, so the Church has many different members and gifts. Some vessels are gold, others are silver. Both are precious metals, with some more refined (gold) than others (silver). These precious metals are all a sight worth displaying in the home; they are treasures we love. But there are also vessels of wood and clay.” Wood and clay are certainly inferior to any gold or silver. A necklace made of wood is of fractional value when compared to a necklace of pure gold. These are “vessels of dishonor,” referring to the hypocrites, or those who stand in moral or doctrinal error in the Church. The Church will be full of not only vessels of honor (running towards holiness), but vessels of dishonor (running from holiness).

As believers, we have to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” Sometimes it’s difficult to interpret the data of our own spiritual diagnostics test. What are the signs and indicators? How can believers tell if they are moving in the right direction? How does the Christian become a vessel of gold and silver, and avoid becoming like wood and clay? Thankfully, here Paul has provided four distinctive marks of a Christian who is running the race of holiness.

He will be a vessel for honorable use”
The first mark of spiritual holiness is that we embrace our transformation. What is a vessel after all? A vessel is best used when first emptied, then filled. All are born incapable of achieving righteousness by their own strength (Isa. 64:6, Rom. 3:10-12). Any chance we have, then, of being counted righteous before God is to be completely emptied of ourselves, and, in the new birth of regeneration, being transformed into new life, a life “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Only the power and grace of Jesus can accomplish this feat, and when He does, He fills His people with His spirit “for honorable use.” Whether filled to the brim or down to the last drip, God is filling His people with His Spirit, for His use, for His glory. The end result of this is His people embracing true transformation.

Set apart as holy”
One of the main differences between a gold or silver vessel as opposed to a wood or clay vessel is the physical appearance of the vessels. A vessel of gold shines; it illuminates when a light is shined on it, and it is more eye-catching than other elements. Similarly, we must also reflect the King to an unseeing world. Scripture shows the importance of being set apart. Christians must evaluate themselves and ask, “Am I living a life that walks the walk and talks the talk?” We don’t ask out of unhealthy piety or competition, but rather to determine what our life is reflecting to a lost world. When the light shines on us, do we reflect it back, as gold and silver? Or do we, like wood and clay, look dull, dark, and unfazed by the light? To live in holiness is to live a life of non-conformity (Rom. 12:2), putting on the new self (Col. 3:10), walking in wisdom (Col. 4:5), “for we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

“useful to the master of the house”
A third distinctive mark of our holiness is when we serve a purpose for the Kingdom of God. I recently heard the illustration from a friend on how we must approach our duty as the Church like a battleship, not a cruise ship. Cruise ships are consumer-driven. People eat at will, soak up the sun, etc. No one is there to be working or sacrificing. But on a battleship, everyone works. Everyone has a purpose and desire to be useful, because there is a fight to be fought. People don’t go to a battleship to be served – they go to be useful. We cannot approach God and His Word and His Church as an opportunity to merely be filled, but as an opportunity to be useful (1 Cor. 4:1, Gal. 5:13). Christians must accept the call, and put their hands to work for Christ’s Kingdom.

“ready for every good work”
The fourth mark of holiness Paul outlines is when we prepare for battle. There is a level of desire and preparation that we should have in wanting to be a vessel of honor. I am not suggesting that preparedness affects God’s control in situations or opinion of us. I think what Paul is saying is, “Do not tarry. Be on guard.” When preparing to become vessels for honor, our battle sword doesn’t need to be sharpened, because it already is. There’s no need to go rummaging around for our armor, because we’re already wearing it.

You and I are not worthy to receive righteous on our own. But let this truth fill you with deep longing for the power of Christ. Don’t let the scorching sun of holiness wither you; let it root you. Be a radiant, cultivated picture-in-progress of the Spirit’s working power. Be encouraged. Your journey in holiness is designed to give you Kingdom purpose, and passion for it. It helps you shine reflections of Him to a dark world. It helps you be eager to fight in Jesus name.

In summation: Embrace your transformation. Reflect the King. Serve a purpose. Prepare for battle.

December 18, 2010

When Worldliness Invades

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last 2-3 years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a few years, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As programs like Extreme Makeover program becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters follow the trends, it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…