Are You Holy?

Growing up in a Pentecostal background much emphasis was put on the need to be holy.  I was told that God was holy – and I needed to be also.

Well – Scripture does back that up.

In the Old Testament God is called “Qedosh Y’Israel – Holy One of Israel.”

Holy-One-of-Israel-Q_dosh-Yisra_el-150x150

 

Isaiah uses this term multiple times – I counted 29 times.  Perhaps he used this term so much because of his vision of the Holy One.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel also used that term as did the Psalmist.

The New Testament affirms that Jesus is holy.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that Gabriel told Mary:

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.

Evil spirits, when confronted with Jesus recognized His holiness as Mark tells us:

Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

And both the Old Testament and the New Testament called for us to be holy also.

Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Tell the whole congregation of Israel: Be holy because I, Yahweh your Elohim, am holy.

Peter reiterated this command to be holy as he reminded us what the God had spoken in the Old Testament:

For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

Being holy is an important thing because the writer to Hebrews declared:

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

But, what exactly does it mean to be holy?  That has been a subject of debate and study for centuries so I am not going to pretend that I have “the” answer.  But I think for too long we have looked at holiness as something we can obtain by our own efforts.

We see it in every denomination as we all have our lists of “do’s” and “do not’s”.

For me a lot of what it meant was all about outward appearances – and most of that was for the women.

  • Your hair must be long
  • You cannot wear any makeup
  • You cannot wear slacks or pants
  • You cannot wear jewelry

And on and one the list went with what I could not do.  Not much was said about what I should do.

I joke now that if I wanted to know if something was a sin I would just ask myself “Would I have fun if I did this?”  If the answer was “yes” it was probably a sin.  It really was not that bad, but  it always gets a laugh.

The big one for my Catholic girlfriends was

  • You cannot use birth control.

I want to share more in future posts about how I came to realize holiness was more about what was inside of me than outside.  I don’t want to give the impression that being holy does not require an effort on our part but I believe (as I will share more in later posts) that holiness shows up on the outside only when it is rooted on the inside.

For now I would love to hear from some of you on this subject of holiness.

  1. What does holiness mean for you?  How would you describe it to an unbelieving friend?
  2. What were some of the “rules” you grew up with in your church?

 

Jesus Wept

I posted this back in 2015 but think it is so appropriate today as serving God seems to have become to many more a hobby than a real conviction and calling….so I’m sharing it again.

Jesus wept

Then Jesus took His disciples up on the mountain and gathering them around Him, He taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are they that mourn
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are they that thirst for justice
  • Blessed are you when persecuted
  • Blessed are you when you suffer
  • Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”

Then Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?”

And Andrew said:  “Do we have to write this down and take notes?”

And James said:  “Will we have a test on this?”

And Thomas said:  “Do we have to get this signed?”

And Phillip said:  “I don’t have any paper.”

And Bartholomew said:  “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said: “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.”

And Matthew said: “May I go to the boys’ room?”

And Judas said: “What does this have to do with real life?”

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and inquired of Jesus:

“Where is your anticipatory set, your aim (long-term goals), your objectives in the cognitive domain?”

AND JESUS WEPT!

Taking Three Views at Communion Time

communion

Christians around the world take communion.  Some take it every time they go to church (Catholics, Lutherans, Christian Church among others).  Others take it monthly and some just at Easter or Christmas.  Since Jesus said to observe communion as a remembrance of Him and what his death on the cross meant, I question why some churches only take communion occasionally.  Do we only need to remember that sacrifice for us from time to time?

Through communion we are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the  Messiah.  That is why we need to realize that communion is not just a ritual we go through each week, but it is a reminder—and a celebration of all that the death and resurrection of Jesus really means.

As we take communion each week, we need to look three different ways:

past

We look back.

cross

When Jesus shared that Last Supper with His disciples He told them, “‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”.  Luke 22:19.  This should not be a hurried “Oh yeah, Jesus died for me” kind of remembering.  We should take time to reflect on what that death on the cross cost Him.  The  agony in the garden as He asked if possible this death could be     avoided.  The human side of Him must have experienced such distress that we cannot imagine    because He knew the painful suffering that was ahead of Him.  We do not totally understand what He was feeling as He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but it indicates there was also a moment when God the Father turned His back on Jesus.  We cannot even begin to understand what that would have been like?

We look inside.

heartTaking communion is a sacred thing.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 tells us “that is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if he eats the bread and drinks from the cup unworthily, not  thinking about the body of Christ and what it means, he is eating and drinking God’s  judgment upon himself; for he is trifling with the death of Christ. ”  When we take communion we need to look inside, reflecting on the meaning of the ordinance and confessing personal sin.  Do we really understand what communion means, and are we taking it for that purpose? Are we actually walking out our faith and living in active relationship with God, allowing Him to do His sanctifying work in our lives? If so, communion is a sobering celebration of Christ and His church. If not, we make a mockery of the ordinance.

We look ahead.

returnJesus told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. “  The second return of Jesus—not as a suffering servant—but as victorious Lord of all is the hope of the Christian.  When we take communion we need to gain hope as we realize  that the death and resurrection of Jesus means ultimate victory for us—victory over sin in this life and victory over death in the life to come.  But more than that, it means that someday we will have the joy of seeing Jesus face to face.

“We shall behold Him!!!!”

 

Have You Had Your Checkup?

doctor

Every six months I get a routine checkup from my doctor.  She checks my A1C, my cholesterol, vitamin D levels, my blood pressure.  She listens to my heart and takes a look at my ears and my throat.  We discuss any problems I might have.

I keep these appointments faithfully not because I am sick but because I want to make sure I remain healthy.  By seeing her on a regular basis and discussing my health if something does go wrong, we can catch it before it is a serious threat to my life.

As a follower of Christ, I think it is good that I also do a routine checkup on my spiritual life.

Some questions I ask myself:

  1. Am I sharing the good news of Jesus or just sharing my own ideas?  Do I study God’s Word so I know what it says or do I just pass on what someone else says without bothering to check God’s Word for the truth?
  2. Am I making those in my cirlce a matter of intense prayer.  What am I doing to reach beyond my own circle?  Am I praying for other groups of people, other nations or only “my four and no more”?
  3. Am really living in agreement with what I say I believe? Do I “walk the walk” or only “talk the talk”?
  4. An old song I used to hear goes through my mind when I ask these questions.  That song said:

If I were arrested for being a Christian, would there by any evidence to convict me?

 

guilty

 

 

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did….1 John 2:6

spiritual checkkup

 

 

 

Angels All About Us

I was recently asked to give a speech to a women’s group on the subject of angels.  As I began to research this subject, I realized I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on angels, or being in a Bible study on the subject of angels.

While I do not remember hearing that much about angels in the church, the world at large is getting quite interested in them.  Unfortunately, the portrayal of angels that we see on TV and in the movies often fall far short of the Biblical description of them.  I collect angels, but I must confess the angels in my collection look nothing like the description of angels in the Bible.   The angels in my collection either look like beautiful young women – gorgeous enough to be Miss America – or little, fat winged infants half-dressed.

angelsangels 3

These portrayals put them more in the category of fairy tales and fantasy than messengers of the Most High God.

No wonder they seem unbelievable to many people.  On the other hand, many who are disillusioned with our modern secular world are turning to the supernatural.  You can now find many who claim to have angel encounters with the angel of a tree or a flower.

To live by Scripture rather than the ideas of the world means that we have our own way of thinking about angels. The fact that we have neglected them, or been taken in by the movie, TV, greeting card or New Age version of them, tells us we had better get back to the Bible and its description of angels.

Angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament.  While the Scriptures give no definite figures, we are told that the number of angels is very great.  Since angels are spiritual rather than physical beings, they don’t have to be visible at all.  Elisha once prayed that his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city, and the young man discovered that he had overlooked a lot of invisible beings.   When angels do appear, they generally appear in the form of men.

In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed three angelic guests who appeared at first to be nothing more than some travelers. In the following chapter, two angels went to Sodom where they were assumed to be simply a pair of human visitors.    Sometimes an angel appears to be a man with unusual features. Daniel saw an angel with arms and legs resembling polished metal and precious stones, and a face like lightning. The angel that rolled back the stone from Christ’s tomb was radiating dazzling light.   The books of Isaiah and Revelation describe some highly unusual beings referred to as seraphim and living creatures.

Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants! They are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe, not to reach out and tickle an adorable baby.

angels 4

We don’t know whether every angel carries out the same tasks, or whether some of them specialize in certain areas. The Bible does speak about classes of angelic beings like cherubim, seraphim and archangels.  We are even told the names of two notable angels both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament:  Michael and Gabriel.

The unnamed angels who appear most often in Scripture carry out a variety of tasks—all designed to serve God…

  • Worship and Praise

Isaiah 6:1-4 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”   And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.”

Revelations 4:8 – The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:  “Holy, holy, holy,   Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”

What is exciting to me is that Revelation gives a hint that we will one day join these angels in worshipping God.

Revelation 5:11-13 – Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”  And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:  “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

  • Angels have a second ministry in Scripture. They are there for news as well as praise. In fact, the Greek word for angel is “messenger of God.”

We see this ministry in the Christmas story.

Luke 1:28-31 – And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”  But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.   Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.   And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.

Luke 2:8-14 – Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

In fact, we see angels at every turn of the life of Jesus Christ — at the end as well as at the beginning.

  • It was an angel that announced to Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would be the parents of a man we call John the Baptist.
  • It was an angel that appeared in a dream to Joseph to reassure him that the child Mary was carrying was the Son of God.
  • It was angels that rolled away the stone at the grave of Jesus and appeared to the women to tell them that Jesus was risen.
  • It was angels that appeared to the disciples after Jesus had risen into heaven and told them that this same Jesus would come again.
  • Jesus Himself said that He would return someday with His angels

Third ministry – the one I want to really think about today is that angels are used by God to help us.

  • They guide us
    • Joseph at the birth of Jesus
    • The women at the tomb
    • Cornelius in the book of Acts
    • Phillip in the book of Acts – led him to the Ethiopian
  • They protect us and deliver us
    • Lot and his family
    • Daniel in the den of lions
    • Disciples set free from prison and then later Peter
    • Even Jesus was ministered to by angels after his temptations and again in the garden just before going to the cross

Does that mean every human being has a “guardian angel”?  Only scripture I could find in the entire Bible is one where Jesus was speaking of the little children.  In Matthew 18:10 He says:

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Whether we can take from that one verse to say we all have a personal guardian angel –  I don’t know.

As Scripture teaches, the “hosts of heaven” — whole legions of angels — watch over us. We cannot settle for less.

Psalm 34:7 – The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them

Hebrews 1:14 – Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

angels 5

In all these roles, biblical angels are about God’s business. They are instruments of God in the struggle with sin, evil, error and death. Their praise, news and deeds, therefore, have nothing to do with our private agendas. Here we part company with many popular views of angels. Angels do not spend time looking after our personal interests, or furnish us with horoscopes about our future or give us directions on how to plant flowers correctly. Angel “sightings,” so to speak, always have a godly purpose and must be tested to see if they witness — as the angel Gabriel did — to something about Christ, or in conformity to Scripture’s teaching.  Paul warned us in Galatians that even if an angel preached something contrary to the Word of God, we were to not accept it.  In fact, he said if such an angel appeared with a new doctrine, they should be cursed.

Scripture teaches us also that angels are not just a now-and-then occurrence. The angel hosts are everywhere! They are present wherever the truth of God hits home — in reading the Bible, in hearing a sermon, when our sin is forgiven by Christ’s word of mercy, when our life is changed.

But God’s business is not just conducted in church. It takes place in daily life. When we follow what we know is true and good, when we go against the crowd, when we “do the right thing,” the angels are present. In moments of consolation over the loss of a loved one, when healing happens, when truth is told, the angels have played their part. On the larger landscape, when our nation is saved from some foolish action by our leaders, when it does do “the right thing” instead of following a cowardly course, God is at work. But so are the angels! When a victim on a Jericho road is ministered to, when oppression is resisted and a deed of justice is done, the angel with the flaming sword has been at work.

You have all probably heard stories of missionaries who have been protected by angels.    You may have experienced yourself a time when you knew angels were looking out for you.

For those who take this leap of faith into the biblical world, life does begin to look different. If the hosts of angels do surround us, why should we get up in the morning so worried about this or that? Who is afraid of the terrorists? Of tyrants? Of sickness? Of death? O, yes, they can do a lot of damage. But can they do us in? Can they finally defeat God? Overcome Christ? No, the hosts of the angels of the Lord will not allow it! They shall overcome. We shall overcome!

While we thank God for that angelic host we must never worship them or give them a place that is due only to God.  We should never seek for an encounter with an angel.  If your experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit is so rich and full, there is no need for the angels to make themselves known. We don’t have to have angel sightings to make it through life. We have enough in our communion with Christ to last for a lifetime.

Are You Blessed?

We love the idea of being blessed.

We greet one another with:

god bless

But what does all that mean?

Can we cause God’s blessings to be given to someone simply by saying “God bless you.”  Is God waiting around to hear us pronounce blessings on someone before He blesses them?  Is He obligated to bless someone because we say so?

We claim God’s blessings on our country:

god bless 2

When we say “God bless America” what are we wanting God to do for our country?  Give us peace?  Make us rich?  What exactly do we expect from God – what do we want from Him for our country?

We often declare:

blessed

What are the reasons that make us say we are blessed?  We have a good marriage, we just got a promotion, we brought a new car, we won the game.  We know God is the giver of good things and we certainly should thank Him.  However, are we reducing blessings from God just to material things, times when things go our way.  Do we feel blessed when our marriage falls on rough times, we lose our job, our car breaks down, we lose the game?

Often, we tell people they should:

blessings

Again, we should be a grateful people and it is always good to stop from time to time and really look at all God has given us.  But in counting our blessings, what is it we count?

Do we include those times when life felt apart – but God was there?

Do we count the privilege of being able to worship God freely without fear of being thrown into prison?

Do we count the joy of knowing we are forgiven?

Or do we again just think of material things we have been given?

And if we are going through a difficult time, do we feel like we have no blessings to count?

What does it really mean to be blessed of God?

What does His Word say about that concept?

Hope you will think on that question for a while.

question mark

Give me some feedback on what you think being blessed is really all about.

I’m taking a long look at what the Bible has to say about this subject and will write more in the days ahead.

But, give me your thoughts on this.

 

.

Tradition in Religion – Good? Bad?

This past week I was at a women’s Bible study when our leader asked us:

What is today?

Everyone immediately called out:

It’s Valentine’s day!

valentine.png

She then asked us:

But what else is it?

Sadly, only a few realized it was the beginning of Lent, it was Ash Wednesday.

ash wed

For this week’s lesson we had been asked to read the first 15 chapters of Exodus.  Strange you might think to read in Exodus when you are studying in Mark.  Our leader used Exodus to point out to us the similarities between Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and our belief that Jesus came to lead us out of bondage to sin.

She shared with us the tradition of Passover and how the Jewish people at Passover reflect on their past deliverance from slavery and look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  She said, for the Jewish people, celebration of Passover allows them to:

experience what they do not remember and to remember what they have not experienced.

During the Passover time, the story of how God delivered the Jewish nation is recalled.  Though the present generation naturally cannot remember that event from thousands of years ago, through the special food and the retelling of the story, they take time to try to understand what their ancestors experienced that night.   They take time to remember what they did not experience and let it give them hope and encouragement as they look forward to the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy when he shared the word of God:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

As Christians we celebrate our own time of deliverance from bondage and we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior.  With His death and resurrection He gave us freedom from the bondage of sin.  We now celebrate this important event every year just as the Jews celebrate Passover.  We call it Easter but I think a better name would have been Resurrection Sunday.

Many churches at this time observe Lent.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection…..from the United Methodist website

Coming from an evangelical background I never observed Ash Wednesday or Lent as a child.  To be honest (please forgive me my dear Catholic friends), my church thought the whole “ashes on the forehead” and giving up something for Lent was simply “tradition.”  And we all knew that Jesus condemned traditions of men.  Right?  We go to the Gospel of Mark and the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees when they questioned why His disciples did not follow the traditional washing of hands before they ate.  We know Jesus said, in part,

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:

So we have taken pride in rejecting the “tradition” of the mainline denominations.  We have felt that we were somehow more “spiritual” because we, like Jesus, rejected religious tradition.

But, in rejecting many of the traditions of the other churches, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

This week I have continued to think of how the Jewish people still observe Passover.  It is not just a meal that they hurriedly consume and move on.  There are days of preparation as they remove all trace of yeast from their homes and prepare the special food they will eat at the Sedar.  They take time to really remember their past deliverance and look forward to their expected future.  There is a lot of thought and reflection in this time.

As I look at our evangelical Christian community, I see little time spend in real reflection on what Good Friday and Easter should mean to us.  We might attend a short Good Friday service, but for most of us Easter is one service on Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection.  Little or no time is spent reflecting on what Good Friday really meant.  We take no time to reflect on our own lives and as the Jews remove yeast from their homes, ask God to help us remove from our lives the things that hinder our walk with Him.

I feel I missed something growing up without observing Lent.  Without taking time from my busy schedule to take a closer look at my own life, to really remember the pain and suffering Jesus went through for me.

To take a long hard look at the cross

the cross

before I rush into celebrating the empty tomb.

tomb

The dictionary says a tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.  Perhaps some of the break down in our society today is the failure to pass on beliefs or behaviors that were the very foundation of our own lives.  The word is derived from the Latin tradere and literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.

So, I ask myself as I reflect on Lent this year:

  • Are we missing something in rejecting some of those traditions of the church?
  • Are our children really understanding the true meaning of  Easter or Christmas when we make it basically a one-service event at church and little more?
  • Should we not take more time in celebrating the events of Good Friday and Easter?

I’m not ready to put ashes on my forehead (again forgive me my dear Catholic friends), but I’m taking time this year to observe this season of Lent and do more serious reflection on what my Savior’s death really means.  Not just an empty tomb, but pain and suffering that He took on Himself for me.

Give me some tradition!