Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Does Any of This Apply to Me?

Divinely designed priestly garments, a signet plate of pure gold, inscribed with the words "Holiness to the Lord" worn on the front of the turban, an altar which has gone through a seven-day atonement ceremony to make it holy and fit for use... (Exodus 28) I read of these things and think, surely none of this has anything to do with me!

Until I recall the words:

"I appeal to you, therefore, make a decisive dedication of your bodies, presenting all your members and faculties as a living sacrifice (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1 Amp.)

And exactly how does one do that?

"Do not be conformed to this world – this age, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs. But be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind – by its new ideals and its new attitude – so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good, and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]. (Romans 12:2).

What does a world-conformed life look like? Watching an evening’s worth of TV commercials, for example, illustrates the fashions and superficialities our society values. We’re pressured to go after riches, good looks and sex appeal, a secure retirement plan, a car that enhances our image, the right social and business contacts, products which will make our homes reflect well on us, and on and on.

Those of us belonging to Christ, though, are not to be conformed to and strive after these things. Instead we are to be transformed and changed, with a set of different values. One can’t help but think of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5,6,7) as a template of new values, ideals, and attitudes.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The First Consecration

The first incidence of consecration appears in Exodus 19.

The Israelites have been out of Egypt and tramping through the desert for three months. They have traveled as far as Mount Sinai, where Moses there "went up to God." The consecration process begins with God’s invitation. He instructs Moses to say this to the people:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will obey My voice in truth and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own peculiar possession and treaure from among and above all peoples; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation [consecrated, set apart to the worship of God]. These are the words you shall speak to the Israelites." (Exodus 19:4-6 - Amplified).

So Moses gathers the people together. And after telling them what God has asked, the decision is unanimous: "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do."

Next God gives the people some specific instructions for the consecration process to begin. They are to 1] wash their clothes; 2] observe the set boundaries around the mountain and not trespass onto it, and 3] refrain from customary sexual activity.

On the third day after these instructions were given, God’s presence descends on the mountain. There is thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and a trumpet blast so that the people in the camp shake with fear.

Then Moses brings the people from the camp to the foot of Mt. Sinai to meet with God. Imagine their terror as they watch the peak wrapped in fire, smoking like a furnace and the whole mountain trembling in an earthquake, while the trumpet blast grows ever louder. Finally Moses speaks and God answers, calling him up to the mountain for more intimate conversation.

Some things this story shows about consecration:

1. God’s reason for wanting a holy, consecrated, set-apart people is to form a "Kingdom of priests", a people who are set apart to worship God. Now, we may argue, this was for the Hebrews of the Old Testament. But no, this is for:

To you then who believe – who adhere to, trust in and rely on Him.... But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God’s] own purchased special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9).
This is for us, today. God still wants a people, set apart, consecrated to worship God.

2. This setting apart of the people demanded preparation on their part.

  • They had to wash their clothes. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains it this way:
Not that God regards our clothes; but while they were washing their clothes, he would have them think of washing their souls by repentance. It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance upon the great god who see them as plainly as men see our clothes.
  • They had to stay off the mountain, for it was going to be charged with Divine electricity. How awesome God appeared that day - how frightening and fierce - not at all like the milquetoast God of illustrations. If mountains quake under His feet - how much more should puny humans reverence Him. I love what Wes Campbell says in the introduction to" The Theophanies" section of Praying the Bible - the Book of Prayers (the theophanies are the God-sightings in the Bible):
When we pray the theophanies we begin to touch his power, to hear that loud voice like many waters, to tremble in the presence of the thunders and lightning bolts. Any person who does not at some time pray the theophanies will likely limit God. To them, God may become smaller than he really is, because the person will be praying to God as they understand him to be, not as he has revealed himself to be. After all, God is who he says he is – not who we think he is! So it is essential to begin all prayer by praying to the Person of God and praying the theophanies will keep us from praying to an extension of our own darkened mind.
  • Finally, the people were to break with routine "Sanctify the people...Be ready by day after tomorrow; do not go near a woman." (Exodus 19:10 & 15). Matthew Henry again:

    Call them off from their worldly business, and call them to religious exercises, meditation and prayer, that they may receive the law from God’s mouth...Wandering thoughts must be gathered in, impure affections abandoned, disquieting passions suppressed, nay, and all cares abut secular business for the present dismissed and laid by that our hearts may be engaged to approach unto God.

God, as I enter into this season of consecration, purify me from my sin: "Wash me thoroughly [and repeatedly] from my iniquity and guilt, and cleanse me and make me wholly pure from my sin!...Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean [ceremonially]; wash me and I shall [in reality] be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:2,7). Help me to eliminate from my life for this time, things that would take my focus off You. Instead, help me to see and worship You as You really are. Amen

Consecrate - a Primer

1] To set apart as sacred; dedicate to sacred uses with appointed ceremonies.

2] To dedicate, devote (He consecrated his life to the cause.)

3] To apotheosize (deify, glorify, exalt) canonize.

4] To make reverend or venerable; hallow (consecrated by time)

Archaic - hallowed, consecrated.

From the Latin consecratus, pp. of consecrare - thoroughly holy.

consecrated: that act or ceremony or the state of being consecrated.

A Week of Consecration

Our pastor has challenged us to observe, in the coming week, a time of personal consecration. As he put it in his message this Sunday, Canada is in a time of moral crisis and it has happened on our watch. We need to prepare ourselves to meet with God. We need to spend time in intercession for family, community, our land, the world. But perhaps more than anything else, we need a time of personal revival. In the words of the prophet Joel.

vs.12 - Therefore also now, says the Lord, turn and keep on coming to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning [until every hindrance is removed and the broken fellowship is restored.]

vs. 13 - Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness, and He revokes His sentence of evil [when his conditions are met].

vs. 16 - Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elderly people, gather the children and the nursing infants; let the bridegroom [who is legally exempt from attending] go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. [None is exempt from the humiliation.]

vs. 17 - Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Have pity and spare Your people, O Lord, and give not Your heritage to reproach, that the [heathen] nations should rule over them or use a byword against them. Why should they say among the peoples, Where is your God? (Joel 2:12, 13, 16, 17 - Amplified Bible)

As part of my response to this challenge, I will be cutting back on my web activities this week, including making entries to this blog. I will be doing a personal study on consecration, which I will post here.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

This Year I Want to be a Sheep - 2

(A devotional look at Psalm 23 - continued)

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

One of the reasons I need to live rightly is that God’s reputation is at stake - the reputation He gets when others watch the way I, who claim to be His child, live.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.

I am not to expect to be spared the hard things, the close calls with death, feeling its cold breath on my neck.

The two statements in this bit will, I think, need some time between them to be proved, at least to feel true. When you’re walking through death valley, it can seem that evil is winning, and it’s easy to be fearful. Even though I know Job-like times are what grow me into maturity, and give my life depth and relevance to others on the same journey, it takes coming through to the other side of an experience like that to be able to say "I will fear no evil." If this is the worst - well, it’s not so bad that God can’t overcome it, transform it even, into something good. This blessing, posted by Ragamuffin Diva says it well.

For you are with me
your rod and staff comfort me.

Rod: used as a weapon against predators.

Staff: used by the shepherd to guide the sheep and set boundaries.

I’ve heard about it and experienced it at least once - the amazing presence of God in trials, making the crucible the best place on earth.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies

A banquet in view of hungry but uninvited enemies - what a great revenge scenario. It reminds me of Mordecai, honored by Haman.

You anoint my head with oil

In biblical times a good host would wash the guest’s feet and anoint his head with oil prior to the meal. Kings were chosen and singled out with an oil-anointing. The sick are to be anointed with oil, symbolizing the healing power of God the Holy Spirit.

My cup overflows.

The small receptacle of my life can’t contain all this good stuff.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’m thinking Anna. "She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying." She got to see Jesus, face to face.

But is there a way to do this - dwell in the house of the Lord forever - and not literally be in a sacred building?

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle reception to divine breathings." Thomas Kelly

Lord, help me live on that profounder level today. Amen.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

This Year I Want to be a Sheep - 1

I took a break from my read through the Old Testament over the Christmas holidays, and spent some time in the Psalms. I came yesterday to Psalm 23.

It is one I know so well, I can slip through it with nothing registering at all. Instead of glossing over it, as I was tempted, I decided to examine it phrase by phrase and let my wool-gathering mind range free. For what it’s worth, here is my meditation (in two parts, the next part tomorrow).

The Lord is my shepherd
He is in charge of me. I’m His responsibility, His property, available for His purposes. A shepherd raises sheep for wool, for mutton, for sacrifice. It’s all for the shepherd’s purpose, not the sheep’s.
I shall not be in want
The Shepherd takes care of my needs - even my wants.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I have so much, am so well provided for that even green pasture no longer tempts me to eat. I take my fill and then lie down and relax, knowing that when I’m hungry again, I only need to jump up and keep eating. Such abundance!
He leads me beside quiet water.
Refreshing, easy-to-get-at water. I don’t have to worry about losing my footing on a steep stream-side, or fear being cast into swift-flowing water as the bank is undercut. No. This place of drinking is calm, still, safe.
He restores my soul.
Soul - that emotional part of me which gets hurt feelings, feels inadequate, gets lost in the masses, is easily wounded by a thoughtless word, or bruised by silence and being ignored. That needy, high maintenance part of me is restored and healed when I sense that I, though one of a flock of millions, have my shepherd’s attention. He knows my needs, leads me to pastures and water, takes the burrs from my wool, binds up my bleeding feet and takes care of each part of my sheepness.

Lord, I request sheep appetites, sharp for your pasturage. I find myself easily led away by the manufactured food of success, the attention of others, ease, pleasure. Like unnatural animal foods which lead to deadly BSE, this unhealthy mixture puffs me up, but plants, then nurtures in me the seeds of death. May my thirsts be slaked by the quiet waters to which You lead. May my soul find restoration in Your presence.

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