The Most Important Piece of Clothing

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves,

you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,

kindness,

humility,

gentleness,

and patience.

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.

Colossians 3:12, 14 (NLT)

 

 

Photo, My closet, from m01229 on flickr

Love is My True Identity

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.  -Thomas Merton

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3: 3 (NASB)

And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:5 (NLT)

Yes, Lord, fill my heart with your love. Let your love become my true identity, my name, my character. Let my life be hidden in you Jesus, let me live in love. May the world only see you and how much you love them when they look at me. May the words I say, the prayers I pray, the thoughts I think, the healing touch of my hands be yours – for you are Love.

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019

Flight Simulator

You Samaritans worship what you do not know … Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks (looks for, desires). John 4:23 (NIV)

I have read this verse many times and always have skipped right to the “spirit and truth” part. But this time I couldn’t get past that word “true.” What is a true worshipper? The adjective, “true,” used in this verse is the Greek word alethinos. It basically means the real deal. It means “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine.” It is the “opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended.”

Imaginary. Simulated. This reminded me of a flight simulator. You really feel like you are flying in a flight simulator, so much so that you can even get motion sickness and it is used for training pilots and astronauts.

So, is it possible to give imaginary or simulated worship? This is scary to me, but seems important to know, since God is seeking the “true” worshipper. As in a flight simulator, could we feel like we are really worshipping but not be?

Emotion, in and of itself, is not the same as worship, though deep emotions may be evoked. I remember as a teenager back in the sixties a young man (immediately labeled hippie) stood up in the congregation after the sermon and criticized and questioned our faith. The reaction of most was indignation and the next song on the program, the Hallelujah Chorus, was sung pointedly with [self?] righteous gusto. There was a lot of emotion happening, but even at that young age I wondered about the amount of worship going on. John Piper has written that “Right worship, good worship, pleasing worship depends on a right mental grasp of the way God really is.”[i] God is love, and I think true worship in that case would probably have involved loving that guy, no matter what he said.

When we go to a worship service and criticize the songs chosen or the way they are played/sung – if we “just can’t get into it” – what does that mean? We may be having a bad day, but sometimes we may be worshipping worship and its trappings and not God. An example is in 1 Samuel.

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4: 3 (NIV)

They were worshipping, trusting in, the physical Ark not the God who promised to meet with them above the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:22), not the One whose glory filled the temple (Exodus 40:34).

“This, the remedy suggested by the elders, was to employ their God as a talisman or charm. The ark was the symbol of Jehovah’s presence among them, and of their being his especial people, and by exposing it to danger they supposed that they would compel their God to interfere in their behalf.”[ii]

Wow, that is very scary and sobering indeed. Is it possible we can do pretended, counterfeit worship as kind of a good luck charm, or, even worse, to try to hold God hostage to his promise?

The woman at the well in the above verse was stuck on the outer trappings, the where of worship: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem (John 4:20).” Jesus’ answer took worship away from a physical place or a building and into the temple of our hearts. What’s going on in my heart?

The word “worship” means to kiss the hand to, like a dog licking his master’s hand, to fawn or crouch to, prostrate oneself in homage, do reverence to, adore. Is there something in you, like in me, that cringes at the “dog licking his master’s hand” fawning, crouching imagery? Something that wants to hang on to some self-dignity and pride? Yet, if I really saw Him “high and lifted up” and let myself realize who He really is, if I really entered into His Presence, and really knew His holiness and my corruptness – wouldn’t I fall down and like Isaiah (6:5) cry out, “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

“With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.” A.W. Tozer[iii]

Jesus said to worship God in spirit (or Spirit) and truth. There has been a difference of opinion on whose spirit, ours or God’s that Jesus meant here. But it doesn’t matter, because it is both. My spirit meets His Spirit there above the Mercy Seat in the temple of my heart. That’s the worshipping God in truth part. Jesus, the Mercy Seat (see Mercy Seat). Jesus the Truth. The one who made it possible for me to come before God. And I am amazed and awestruck that He is right there with the merciful answer to my cry, “Woe to me!” My Redemption, my justification, my acceptance in the Beloved. And I worship Him there.

… let us draw near to God with a sincere (alethinos) heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 (NIV)

 

[i] What is Worship? https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-worship

[ii] Pulpit Commentary. H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell.

[iii] Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. Preface.

 

Image by SuperJet International – SSJ100_FFS_1, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29394082

 

 

In My Distress

The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. He reached down from on high and took hold of me;     he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. (Psalm 18:1-19 NIV)

I love this Psalm. The imagery of a passionate God tearing apart the earth to rescue me is breathtaking. And it reminds me of something that happened when I was twelve.

My little brother is eight years younger than me and could be very naughty when he wanted, which seemed most of time to his big sister. At four years old, he especially seemed to aggravate one of our neighbors with his antics. My mom tried her best and kept an eye on him out the kitchen window, and his big sister got to babysit. One day, when he was out playing he did something that was the proverbial “straw” and the neighbor raged out with a baseball bat raised high. I was paralyzed with shock, but in a blazing second, there was my mom standing between them, armed with nothing but her fury and the glorious passion of a mother. The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast. That picture is forever seared in my memory and is why I love Psalm 18 so much. The zeal of The Mom for her children – like a mother bear for her cubs – is a perfect picture of God’s love and zeal for us.

Remember that when you feel under attack, when you feel hopeless and helpless as a four year old child, when the enemy stands over you ready to crush you once and for all. Cry out to Jesus and he will come blazing out to rescue you. For he has already stood between – the Intercessor – he took all the blows meant for you. The Good Shepherd, like David, defending his sheep with his bare hands from the destroying lion. He will passionately rescue you. He will be there and hide you in his shadow and comfort.

He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us … We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. Luke 1:69-71, 74-75 (NLT)

The LORD will march forth like a mighty man (champion); he will come out like a warrior, full of fury (jealousy, zeal). He will shout (for joy, triumph) his thundering battle cry, and he will crush (prevail against) all his enemies (adversary, foe). Isaiah 42:13 (NLT)

The Mutual Gaze

Have you ever seen two lovers staring into each other’s eyes, or have you been one? When my husband and I were going together we could sit and gaze into each other’s eyes forever, it seemed, without saying a word, and be perfectly happy and content. That same kind of mutual gaze appears in the Bible between God and the apple of His eye, His delight and love – that’s us!

“When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is ‘Thou God seest me.’ When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Chapter 7, The Gaze of the Soul)

“God looks at us lovingly, searching for room in our hearts. Knowing this, how can we not turn our attention to God? In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him. He so esteems our turning to look at Him.” —St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, 26.3

“Meanwhile brethren, that we may be healed from sin, let us now gaze on Christ crucified; for ‘as Moses,’ saith He, ‘lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth on Him may not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Just as they who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites, so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins.” – Augustine, Tractate XII ch.3 Homilies on the Gospel of John

Have you ever seen two lovers staring into each other’s eyes, or have you been one? When my husband and I were going together we could sit and gaze into each other’s eyes forever, it seemed, without saying a word, and be perfectly happy and content. That same kind of mutual gaze appears in the Bible between God and the apple of His eye, His delight and love – that’s us!

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes (gazes at) the sons of men; his eyes examine (try, prove) them … For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright (straight, level) men will see (gaze at) his face. (Psalm 11:4 and 11:7 NIV)

At first, these verses may sound kind of scary. He is examining me to see if I am upright? Sounds like I am being judged. Can I only gaze back if I pass the test? Job 36:7 says “He does not take his eyes off the righteous.” But who is righteous? In this verse God is looking down at us, and the righteous are gazing back at Him. Sometimes God is gazing only hopefully, as in Psalm 14:2, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” He is always looking for somebody who is looking back.

But, if I had to depend on my own merits I would never be able to look him “full in his wonderful face” as in the beautiful hymn by Helen H. Lemmel, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. In my own strength I will always fall short; I will always fail and hurt those around me. But he loved us and yearned so much for us to have that relationship with him, to be able to gaze back, that he made a way through Jesus. In Numbers 21 the people of Israel were being bitten by poisonous snakes and dying. God gave Moses instructions to save them: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived” (Numbers 21:8-9). Jesus refers to this incident in John 3:14-16 when he said,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

So just as the Israelites had to look at the metal snake and believe that it would heal them, so we look up at Jesus hanging on the cross and believe in what he accomplished there. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Me and you, the righteousness of God! He did that for us so that we could gaze back, unafraid, unashamed. In Hebrews, Paul urges us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus.

Let us fix our eyes (consider attentively, look, turn the eyes away from other things and fix them) on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy (gladness, persons who are one’s joy) set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

Jesus had his eyes fixed on us as he endured the cross – the “persons who are one’s joy”† – and the joyful fellowship we would have together. Let us turn away from all things that would keep us from gazing back – sin, rebellion, self-centeredness – and fix our eyes on him as we walk with him on our journey, for we are his joy and he is ours! Let us pray with David:

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4 NIV)

Keith Green put it so well.

Oh Lord, You’re beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me

Oh Lord, please light the fire
That once burned bright and clear
Replace the lamp of my first love
That burns with holy fear

I want to take Your word and shine it all around
But first help me just to live Lord
And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown
For my reward is giving glory to You

Oh Lord, You’re beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me

(from Oh Lord You’re Beautiful by Keith Green)

“O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

† Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

Hostile combatants two

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort.

You must be ready (adjusted, prepared) all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Luke 12:40 NLT)

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort. David said, “I have set (shavah) the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 NASB). Shavah (ָׁש ָׁוה) means to level, to agree with, resemble¹ (I always think of a carpenter’s level, with the bubble in it, between me and the Word). This implies changing myself – by attitudes, thinking, words and deeds – to line up with the Word, and the Psalm says this is a continual, constant, daily effort.

The Parable of the Sower is told in Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:14-20, and Luke 8:11-15. In each, Jesus essentially tells the same story – until the last sentence, which describes the fruitful hearer of the Word. In Matthew 13:23 this hearer understands or wrestles with the word he has heard, in Mark 4:20 he accepts (admits, delights in, receives) the word, and in Luke 8:15 he retains (holds fast, keeps from getting away, keeps in memory) the word and by perseverance (hupomone) produces a good crop. The word translated “retains” is the Greek word katechó (κατέχω). It also means to “check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship”², to keep it on course. Hebrews says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV). This retaining the Word, keeping the course, holding the ship from drifting away implies constant effort. It is only possible by “keeping the Lord continually before me” or “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The key to this perseverance, or hupomone, is hidden in the Greek word itself. But, more on that next time.

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 4:1 NIV)

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” Tolkien, The Hobbit (chapter 5)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

¹ Brown-Driver-Briggs http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7737.htm
² Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary