Tuesday, March 24, 2015

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.

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