Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This blog is intended to supplement the book: Candle Drippings: Musings from My Mind and Other Itinerant Places. You may find many of those meditations helpful. If you are interested, you can check out the book at Amazon.com. Just type in the title to search for this inspiring book and read one or two of the reviews.

Thanks bunches for your interest!
Holy Ground

To many of the members of the Order of the Arrow, a fraternity of campers within the Boy Scouts, the Ordeal Ring at Worth Ranch was a sacred place.  It holds many significant memories.  There some members passed their own "ordeals," their induction into the Order of the Arrow, and their induction ceremony was in itself almost a religious experience, a sacred thing.  Not just anyone could actually enter the Ring.  It lay hidden in the woods somewhere down in the "bottoms"; and unless you were a member of the Order, you didn't even know where to find it.  Rock walls guarded it on three sides, while a gentle slope dropped off the back side.  A narrow passage between two boulders served as an entrance.  When not used for "Ordeal" ceremonies, the ring offered a quiet haven for solitude, meditation, and reflection.

            That Sunday morning in December, as our troop began cleaning up after breakfast, I set out alone for the ring.  I needed a moment of solitude and personal reflection before the boys gathered for camp worship.  The Ordeal Ring contained no seats except for an occasional rock here and there low to the ground.  There was a mosaic of grass and patches of dirt for a floor.  As I sat down on a rock near the center, I felt captivated by the sounds, a winter bird chirping somewhere in the woods, the breeze rustling high in the branches around me.  I sat there thinking -- I'm not sure what, now -- until a sense of God's presence seemed to drift around me, gently, quietly.  No burning bush.  No earthquake.  Not even a still, small voice.  Just a sense as real as the wind in my face that He had joined me.  I almost expected to hear a the voice saying, "Take off your shoes.  This is holy ground."  For the brief space of half an hour, it was holy ground to me.  Not because I passed my ordeal there.  I didn't.  But because the presence of God met me there.

            What made that spot holy ground?  Remember Moses?  While he shepherded the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, he had a more dramatic encounter with the Lord.  At the time, he was just an ordinary person who had found himself on a spot covered with patches of grass, rocks, a scattering of bushes meager in size as well as number.  But there God chose to reveal Himself to Moses.  First, "the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed." (Exodus 3.2)  This was unusual in that wilderness.  Not unusual that the bush caught fire, but that it never burned up.  When finally Moses could contain himself no longer, he turned to see why the bush had not burned up.  Then, the Lord Himself spoke to Moses from the midst of the bush.  And He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3.5)

            A patch of grass, dirt, and rocks -- holy ground?  You bet.  Why?  What makes such a scrubby spot holy?  A holy God stepped out of His holy place and stepped down to an unholy earth to meet a sinful man right where he was and to transform his life.  And the very presence of that holy God transformed that otherwise scraggly spot into holy ground.  Isn't it amazing?  Any place -- a church sanctuary, a football stadium, a clearing in the woods, or a spot on a mountainside -- can become holy if God is there.  When God reveals Himself at such a spot, that revelation nearly always includes a vivid awareness of His holiness.  God is holy.  How desperately we need to grasp that fact.  Of all the attributes theologians have categorized, this one dominates.  Jack Hayford said the holiness of God is that which preserves who He is as God.  In fact, biblical writers themselves use this term holy more frequently than all others to describe the nature and being of God.  He is the Holy One, or the Holy One of Israel.  His is a holy name.  He dwells in a holy temple.  He is addressed in prayer as Holy Father.  God is holy.

            When God shows up, the ground all around Him becomes holy ground.  When He reveals Himself to unholy man, it usually results in a response from him.  And it's usually more than just taking off his shoes.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Whole of Man

I love a good mystery!  When I was growing up, I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason.  In fact, I still love an occasional Perry Mason rerun.  But there is a mystery in the universe that makes a Sherlock Holmes adventure look like a child's puzzle.  That mystery is the Lord Himself.  He is inscrutable (Isaiah 40.28).  He is incomprehensible (Job 37.5).  He is unknowable (Job 36.23).  He is awesome, majestic, full of wonder (Exodus 15.11).  He is limitless (Job 11.7).  His ways are beyond us (Isaiah 55.9).  Great minds, past and present, have tried to penetrate the mystery of God, to fathom its depths, to comprehend His ways.  Scientists have tried to explain His ways while philosophers have treated Him as a quaint idea.  But after centuries of inquiry, God is still a mystery.

            God is far too complex for the scientist and far too deep to satisfy the philosopher.  By now, you have probably sensed some of my own struggle with this mystery.  Larry Crabb said men inevitably have difficulty handling mystery; and he's right.  So please bear with me as I consider once more the question how then should we respond to Him?  The wisest man in history suggests the only appropriate response a finite person can give to the infinite God:  "Here is the  conclusion, when all has been heard: fear God and observe His commandments, because this is the whole of man" (Ecclesiastes 12.13, my translation).  We have already seen a little of what the fear of the Lord means, but what does it actually involve?  How does it become a reality in our experience?

            In his conclusion, Solomon focuses not on fear and obedience, important as they may be, but rather on God and His commandments.  The Hebrew is more emphatic, reading like this: "God fear and His commandments keep!"  When we focus our attention on the Lord Himself, our response follows spontaneously.  And that response is essentially one of fear and trembling.  Albert Martin suggests several ingredients that comprise the fear of the Lord.  Let's look at two of them.  One is a pervasive sense of the presence of God.  If you are conscious of the presence of God manifest around you and in your life, you will naturally respond with fear.  Let me suggest (if we are not too proud to receive it) a modern example from Kenneth Grahame's delightful tale, The Wind in the Willows.  Rat and Mole are approaching the mythical creature Pan on some island in their world, speaking to each other about him as if he were God.  "'Rat,' he found the breath to whisper, shaking, 'Are you afraid?'  'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.  'Afraid?  Of Him?  O never, never, never.  And yet---and yet---O Mole, I am afraid.'"

            When we enter the presence of God, our response is much the same.  We are not afraid and yet we are.  A.W. Tozer calls this one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith, to fear and not to be afraid.  We enter His presence in fear and we walk with Him until our fear matures into fellowship.  But ultimately the fear lingers when we're in His presence.  Remember Jacob?  When he awoke from his dream, he said essentially, "The Lord is here and I did not know it.  I'm scared." (cp. Genesis 28.16-17).  The presence of God alone generates godly fear of the Lord.

            Martin offers a second ingredient, a correct concept of the character of God.  Even a brief glimpse of Who God is should send us trembling to our knees.  When King Uzziah died, Isaiah experienced the presence of God and a glimpse of His character at the same time.  His response to both was to fear the Lord.  He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, surrounded by angelic beings.  The temple was filled with smoke, the doors trembled on their hinges, the seraphim covered their faces with their wings and cried to one another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6.3).  The entire scene radiates the holiness of God.  As a result, Isaiah feared for his life.  He fell on his face and cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 6.5).

You see, God is a God of holiness, a God of majesty.  A God of transcendent glory.  Our God is an awesome God.  Perhaps the greatest title of honor we can place upon the Lord, however, is that of holiness.  God is a God of love, no doubt.  The Bible says so.  He is a God of light and of wrath.  But holiness reflects the majesty of His very name.  Holiness reflects the venerableness of His name.  The beauty of the Lord glows through His holiness.  Over three hundred years ago, Stephen Charnock said of all the attributes applied to the name of God, holy is the most frequently used.  The holiness of God, he adds,  is "the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them...."  According to Charnock, God's purity is the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead.  The majesty of God stands for His purity, His truth, His holiness, His justice, and every expression that indicates the moral supremacy of the Lord.  And it is the moral purity, the holiness of God that moves us to fear Him.  And Solomon said this is the very essence of our being ---to fear the Lord; it is "the whole of man."