Next to Godliness

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty…” (Revelation 4:8)

It says around that little proof-texted line that the beasts encircling the throne of God “rest not day and night” in their acknowledgment of His holiness. Evidently they see something—where they’ve been perched around the throne since God-knows-when—that keeps them effusing this most-effective line of praise. Try it sometime. Tell Him the same, He more than warrants it.

“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:9-10, emphasis mine)

Anti-alias

I don’t know how your father was. As you are an extant being, I feel I can safely assume you had or have one though I don’t know how close you are or were. Perhaps he wasn’t even present at all! I’m sorry to hear that. My dad passed away last month and while I can attest to him being there for me as I grew up, I am slowly beginning to feel the void. But I’m an adult. We need this closeness, this presence, as we’re making our way through childhood. This being said, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says in effect that our dads disciplined us not so much because of what we might gain as we grew, but more due to the fact that it was their best attempt at dealing with a wayward child even as they continued to grow up themselves. Something for “their own pleasure”, their own reasonings. This is a broad and blanket statement, admittedly, but I think some aspect of its truth applies to many-if-not-most father/child relationships. It certainly doesn’t sound like love nor does it sound like our dad always had our best interests at heart, all the time. I am childless but I can tell you firsthand that you don’t want to be living vicariously through your children. They are not here to relive your life. My dad did the best he could, I’m sure yours did the same. I digress.

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

That Jesus would come to earth as a man! As we are human, we will ever wonder at the profound mystery that is God would choosing to be born of a woman. And then live among us for a time. And remember: Jesus remained holy throughout His life on earth—it’s one of the reasons we can—how is it worded?—“partake of his holiness”.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55a)

A perfect circle

“Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

As it’s capitalized, you know the scripture above refers to being “God’s Son”. Not just Joseph’s (that’s how you know). As an aside, there is no such thing as a naturally occurring perfect circle. Though with the cold math of computing, a perfect circle is easily drawn up and implemented on screen. In order to determine whether or not a circle is perfect, all points on the aforementioned “natural perfect circle” (i.e. in nature—not possible, humor me) must be measured out simultaneously into infinity. But this doesn’t do us any good, does it? This is why Jesus came. All of the numbers, letters, symbols in the law of Moses didn’t bring one any closer to the perfect holiness of God. And because of original sin, any evidence of His holiness was obliterated from this earth. But as it says above, Jesus had things to learn too. He wasn’t just born in a manger and then fast-forwarded to eternity. He had to suffer in order for God’s holiness to be found in Him, and for it to grow.

“So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again, He said unto them, Know ye what I have done unto you?” (John 13:12, emphasis mine)

Here’s the thing about holiness. It is exclusive to God. It is wrapped up in His very nature. It is unutterable perfection, it is ineffable light. It is peace beyond compare and it is joy that reaches up, far past the third heaven. It is Absolute; something only He possesses. It is something we cannot touch (see 2 Samuel 6:7, Hebrews 12:20-21), that is, if our heart is not right with Him. And, very simply, the way to have a heart right with God is to know Jesus and to walk with Him. In the above verse, Jesus had just finished washing the disciples feet. They had been following Him, we know that much (except Judas, of course) and—Oh no!—their feet had gotten dirty (He gets around, what can I say?). What are you going to do? Because any worry we expend as to the state of our rightness with God is also sin—i.e. it isn’t about simply making no mistakes. Thing is though, the disciples were still following Him. That’s the way. His holiness will grow in you as you follow Him, as you commune and fellowship with and worship Him, but remember: His holiness is never divorced from His person.

“For the Kingdom of God is…righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)

He’ll ensure you see His holiness through the correct lens. And He’ll redirect any perceptions we may have, however incorrect they may be, regarding it.

“Because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

In situ

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him… (Philippians 3:8-9a, emphasis mine)

Lost in Him

I find that the real test of life, er, tests of life, are bought with time. With years. We spend what we have (and all we have is time and ourselves) and we gain something that can be obtained in no other way. This is how.

I drove back from a vacation about a month ago, you know how it is. As the valley from which I hail slowly came into view, I began to ponder. Prior to that it had been alternately a memory and then a realization, the rolling, evergreen hills up and down the state of Oregon had done their part to temporarily erase my somewhat humdrum existence. The time in a big city had effectively cleansed me of that grit and grime. I felt new. But again, driving back into what I’d escaped from, I had this epiphany: Dear God, I’ve been doing the same thing in the same area for so long. And it struck me anew. It was actually quite poignant, if saddening. I saw the area as a sort-of gray wash—dry, boring and a dead end. But how does God see it? That question was my saving grace for this moment.

“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

Think about the place where God dwells. Assuming all He does is sit on a throne all the livelong day, what do we have to complain about when we feel we’ve been in the same place for too long? I suppose I should add that the Lord isn’t affected by time like we are. But if He’s wherever we are by His Spirit and also in Heaven, bodily, what’s the problem? In other words, He’s not going anywhere. This is good news, with reference to God. For us though? It can be a harder thing to wrap your mind and heart around.

“For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.” (Proverbs 28:2)

What do you know about this? Referencing Jeremiah above and then linking that scripture with the one here from Proverbs, it would seem that there are things in the spiritual realm where you’re at—that don’t belong. Think about it: “the transgression (i.e. sin) of a land”. And Jeremiah says to “pray for the peace of the city”. In other words, lacing these two verses together—and taking them out of context, admittedly—it looks as if God is calling you to help affect the area for His glory. To watch and pray and forgive. And love. Jesus didn’t say “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) for nothing. When He left (He’s coming back, you know), He left us the power by the Holy Spirit to bring about change on a global scale. But it starts where you are. Let it bloom where you’re planted.

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16-17, emphasis mine)

Found in Him

When I was a kid, maybe twenty years ago, I dreamed I was riding an inner tube down a local creek, fishing as I floated by. I pulled up a small yellow puffer fish I knew was poisonous. While it resembled said puffer fish in real life, it was sans spines and had the appearance of a sizable globule of fat. I remember its oversized and silly-looking lips (it was a fish with lips so I threw it back). Interesting. I never sought an interpretation because I didn’t sense it had any meaning behind it. Fast-forward to a week ago and I dream again. While the scene I’m about to describe was merely one part of the night’s oneiric entertainment, it stood out in stark contrast to the rest of what went on. In the dream, I find myself in the back of an SUV going over a bridge that runs lengthwise over a river. Either there was a break in the bridge or else a wide open space between the two tracks over which we drove, because I looked down and saw a massive yellow monster battling another, in the water. The first monster (I won’t describe the second) looked, for all intents and purposes like it could have been the yellow little fat-lipped puffer fish from my childhood—all grown up. It was grotesque. I should add that this insight came after I journaled upon waking what I am describing. The monster in my dream had a long snout, fat lips intact at the end. And instead of fins, it was bipedal but had extraordinarily long arms with long, slender, clawed fingers. The other monster didn’t stand a chance (or did it?). Either way, it was horrifying. Though I was removed from the action down below and as such, the feeling that proximity to the fight would afford. I wasn’t scared, looking on. What does it mean?

“Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.” (Psalm 73:7)

Don’t think for a second that we as Christians don’t encounter, and therefore walk in, the aforementioned sins that John lays out in the passage above. “The lust of the flesh”. “The lust of the eyes”. “The pride of life”. I’ve felt these things seek to take root in myself and I know any Christian looking to follow God throughout their life is tempted the same. And we meet Jesus (and see Him as sufficient) when we choose to obey Him in these arenas. Are you having a struggle with “the lust of the flesh”? Talk to Him. He’s right there with you whether you feel it or not. Lust of the eyes? Are your eyes “stand[ing] out with fatness”, or as the New King James words it, “Their eyes bulge with abundance”? God knows. Nothing wrong with a little minimalism for His sake (in other words, when you’re tempted with more than you can handle, throw it back—don’t let it become full grown, it’ll destroy you). This would be the lesson the Lord had me learn while I’ve been here for so long. And the “pride of life” doesn’t hold a candle to the joy God gives you as walk with Him.

“When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” (Psalm 102:16)

See, if you believe in God, He has lessons for you to learn. When you accepted Christ as your savior, you enrolled in a course of study that will last your whole life long. One of Jesus’s titles while here on this earth was Rabbi, or teacher. He’s the same today. And while the Holy Spirit is the power of God on this earth “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10), He’s also your teacher as well (see John 14:26). And He’s mine. I’ve been where I’m at for a long time and while I can attest to being stubborn and slow in certain curriculums, the stuff that God’s had for me to learn has been more complex than I could ever assume on my own. It’s just that way. Thank God I get a vacation every once in a while.

“And now little children, abide in Him; that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)

Looking the Part part 2

I read half of Andy Weir’s The Martian last year. It was hardback and as I have the distinct privilege of checking out a book from my place of employ in that, and only that, format, yeah. It was good though the two reasons I stopped reading (i.e. only made it halfway through) were as follows. One: I can keep a book for two weeks and as it necessarily requires you slog through a bunch of science (!) in order that you might get around to the (figurative) fantasticality of what Mark Watney goes through being left behind on a planet 1.4 million miles away, I was hard-pressed to continue. Though his internal, self-deprecating dialogue and sense of humor are def a draw. Okay, now I think about it, I had crested it. I made it halfway and, by God, I was gonna finish strong. The science of planting potatoes in a void, or whatever, had done its worst and even then hadn’t dimmed my enthusiasm to continue. But the two weeks is almost up. Oh no! 
Here’s the second reason: Mark explains how—upon reestablishing contact with Earth that unless he uses more of the aforementioned science—if he’s not at the exact right place (Mars’ stratosphere), the rescue mission will be a bust, a waste of time—essentially a “Mars flyby”, I distinctly remember that. The reason I stopped reading, however was not because the book was bad or because it failed to keep my attentions and affections. It is because I had just become painfully infatuated with someone who turned out after a year of hope and yearn and ween, to not even be a friend. And there was a typo. Right there deep in the body of that hardback book I had checked out from work—that killed it. I knew with what I saw that this thing, this budding relationship I felt in all its incipient glory and hope and passion, would never be anything. And so I stopped reading. I am not superstitious but I do notice things. I believe signs and signifiers and indicators point to overarching truths regarding our lives. I mean, were one detail out of place (he alludes to this many a time throughout the first half of the book) in Watney’s calculations, he would have died any number of horrible deaths. And while this next statement is illogical, I don’t know anyone who elects to withdraw from the whole spectrum of information-transmission-via-graphic-representation as a means of substantiating one’s person (In other words, we need information to make it in this world.). But I’m not here to argue over something as seemingly inconspicuous or seemingly innocuous as one letter out of place having conclusively shown me that the one I met was not “the One”. Though I will ever remember my experience reading (the first half of) The Martian through the filter I just lined out. But the real reason I bring it up and title this post what I do is that, yes. I have in my mind an image of a character and as The Martian “hits theaters” later this year starring Matt Damon, I must call shenanigans. It should be Chris Pratt. I mean, the sense of humor! I dunno man. Read it, see it, see what ya think.

Event Horizon

“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written…” (Psalm 139:16a)

I find this to be true even when I’m so far out on the edge of life, having involved myself in all the things I feel to be necessary for my moving forward. And then I get overwhelmed and miserable and despondent. The Lord is always good to bring me back to this substrate realization: He’s always known everything about me. And He loves me the same now and then and whenever I don’t feel it. He doesn’t change. Why should I?

“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

While I resonate with the above words to Jeremiah, I can’t say that I feel I’m “ordained a prophet unto the nations”, but you never know. The thing about Jesus is that He calls us to greater and greater influence for Him. Things scale and grow and in light of that, all the activity I mentioned above do I seek to have grow out in that pattern. But, inevitably, I come back down to feeling weak and like everything is upon my shoulders. Here’s another verse:

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

I know we’re doing our best. Dealing with our hangups and our sins and habits of mind and character that aren’t perfectly in keeping with the Lord Jesus Christ. But that thing that keeps us going! What is it? I would say it has to do with whatever it was that the Father wrote on your heart when He first thought you up. Think about how big a miracle it is for you to have met Jesus! Because without Him, all those words He wrote won’t amount to much. Keeping this in view is what helps the burden ease (I can feel it lessen even as I write) and what brings us back to humility. God is in control. His mercy and peace and His abundance are keeping us on the path He has for us. We can do things, of course, to help it along. But if we end up getting mired in things we had no business getting involved with, where did we go wrong? I find that meditating on the top two passages and others like them (see 2 Samuel 22:33 and Philippians 1:6) are necessary to keep in tune with the Lord. And prayer. Jesus prayed all the time and all the more when things pressed Him to breaking point. He would spend all night alone with His Father (see Luke 6:12) praying and struggling and obtaining that peace He needed to continue.

“Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:7)

The writer of Hebrews quotes the psalm at length describing Christ (See Hebrews 10:7-10). The Father had a preordained path for His Son to walk in and it’s no different for us. It includes both His permissive will and His perfect will and also the unraveling of mistakes we make. God knows it all. He knew you were on your way so He made ready. This might run counter to the idea of us making ourselves ready (see Revelation 19:7) but what I mean is, the Lord knows everything about you. About me. And He loves you, wrap your mind around that and don’t forget it.

Revel In the Details

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him…” (Proverbs 3:6a)

Did you know that’s the antidote to any fear based on circumstances that seek to inundate you? It surely is. Think about what Solomon is saying when he says “in all thy ways”. When I was a kid and my dad would admonish me to live according to this verse, I would get supremely discouraged as I felt it was a literal thing—to be actively engaged in sharing every single sensation I felt with my Heavenly Father. The thing about my dad was that he sought to live it out in that very way though. He would tell me this story of having gone back to school after Winter break. It was during that two weeks off that he met the Lord and so everything going forward had been wiped clean of the past and all was fresh and new. He tells me he has this jacket of indigo blue with red, yellow and green lines running the length of the sleeve (and, I assume the body of the jacket). He remembers looking down at his sleeve seeing individual snowflakes light on the fabric and stand out like intricate diamonds against the dark, multicolored backdrop. And now I have this story. There’s obviously something there because the story fires in my mind when I really screw down my attention to this verse and ponder its truth in light of my avalanche of circumstances. But then there’s the rest of the verse:

“…and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6b)

The thing about the details of life is that life is made up of millions of tiny details. Details are the stuff of life. Thoughts are about the smallest thing I know, only because they would seem to be symbolic of something else: that synapse firing in your brain (another intangible) that gives rise to whatever thought is in your mind while you read this. I’m reminded of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians wherein he tells us to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) And it would seem any and every physical detail we elect to focus on to the neglect of the greater whole (seriously, letting go of the big picture at times is a sign, an act of trust) has its own thought. Like a snowflake or a piece of glitter you notice in the carpet. A mote of dust floating through the air. Any pattern on any surface you encounter has exquisite detail if you know how to look. It isn’t even a matter of knowing where. Revel. All around you is this rich, beautiful loam of perception that you (and I) get the gift of experiencing.