Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land?

"So the area was 875 feet on each side with a wall around it to separate the holy place from the common." ~Ezekiel 42:20

This verse is referring to Ezekiel's vision about the new temple area, but it got me thinking (as scary as that may seem)...

I am holy. I am a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). What separates me from the "common?" God's grace obviously does (and without it, I am nothing), but what in my life visibly shows that I am set apart? Is there a barrier or wall of character or love or humility that makes me different?

Interestingly enough, in my Bible reading plan I also came across the book of 1 Peter, where it opens with the words, "This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God's people who are living as foreigners in the lands of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood." (1 Peter 1:1-2, emphasis added.)

1 Peter uses alot of terminology in referring to believers as foreigners, so does Hebrews chapter 11.

"All those people [those in the "Hall of Faith"] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had oppurtunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16)

This is a pretty popular theme, then. To help me get a better handle on this subject, I tried to put together a list of what makes a foreigner...well, foreign! Here are some of the things I came up with:

~Foreigners are visibly different from "commoners." Their appearance itself isn't the same. They often have different skin tones, facial features, or wardrobes. As Christians, we as foreigners won't always have different colored skin or prominent characteristics. However, our clothing can be remarkably changed. Christian women can dress modestly, and believers as a whole can clothe themselves with dignity and promote images that reflect Christ.

~Foreigners speak differently, whether they have an accent or an entirely different language. Christians should speak their own language too. Our speech should be "gracious" and "seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6). The Bible says that "out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." If our hearts are different and truly changed, we should sound like it.

~Thirdly, foreigners live differently because they dwell in a separate culture. So should Christians. We are not to live by the culture of this world. Instead we are to lead upright and godly lives, like those described prior to the Hebrews 11 reference above.

The world's culture speaks of self. We are not to conform to this earth...there are better things in store for us! We need to "long for a better country--a heavenly one" and admit that we are aliens and strangers on this earth. Our personal culture should speak of sacrificial love, compassion, mercy, selflessness, and peace.

Different cultures demand different mindsets. A Christian's cultural mindset should be focused outward and upward. It should zoom in on the unseen and the eternal. What is seen is temporary. We are called to invest our time in what will really last...the work of the Kingdom.

I'm sad to confess that I spend more time worrying about how to fit in, rather than how to stand out. Romans 12:2--a rather popular verse--offers some hope for me, however. It says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." More and more I'm witnessing the power God's Word has to transform. I'm confident that as I continually read it and become more holy, he will build that wall of separation. His son Jesus laid the foundation, and now through His faithfulness, it will only become stronger.

I don't want to miss out on the blessings Hebrews 11 speaks of! I don't want God to be ashamed to be called my God.

The Clay (Jeremiah 18:1-6),
Ellie V.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pride is Like Coffee...

It stunts your growth. Now, that old myth may not be altogether true. If you Google it, you'll find that there is very little evidence to support it. However, for the sake of this post, we'll pretend that it's Scientific Law.

I was reading in one of my favorite New Testament books this morning, and a couple verses really stuck out to me. Here they are in the New Living Translation:

"...As Scriptures say:

'God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.'

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor."
(James 4:6-10)

In addition to this passage I checked out Obadiah 1:3, which uses the phrase "the pride of your heart has deceived you." I got to does pride deceive us? I believe it trips us up in a number of ways.

1.) It quietly takes the focus off God. This is rather obvious point because pride is selfish. However, I rarely find myself in the middle of an arrogant moment thinking, "Man, I'm totally focusing on myself right now." Pride is so tricky in that way.

It is my prayer that I can be like the apostle Paul in his resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. (See 1 Corinthians 2:2.) The word 'know' used in this sense refers to Paul making Christ his only boast. Pride ever so sneakily takes our eyes off Christ and puts them on ourselves, making Christ less than our only boast.

2.) It convinces us that we really do have reason to boast. I was confronted with a rather simple question while thinking on this. "What do I have to be proud about?" I started trying to list all the bullet points in my head, but failed to come up with anything worth bragging about in the eyes of God. However, isn't it strange how easily we can be trapped into thinking that we do?

So often I must remind myself that I a deserve nothing. Actually, that is not altogether true...I deserve something, and that something is hell. By the grace of God I am who I am. Even if I were capable of living my life perfectly from now on, I would still have nothing to boast about.

3.) It is easily disguised. Have you ever heard of the phrase "self-esteem?" Or what about "positive self-image?" Pride so readily hides behind these things. By using certain terms just so, we can justify our sinful behavior.

[And on a complete side note, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27.) With that truth in mind, low self-image should not have a foothold in our lives. The world is loud and full of lies about our appearance and worth. It has never been more important to distinguish what is false from what is true, and to realize who the author of lies is, and how he pales in comparision to the mighty Truth we serve. (John 8:44, "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.")]

4.) It ties us to this world. Pride is not of God, and it never will be.

1 John 2:16, "For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world."

Satan is the prince of this world, so in a way, one could say that pride comes from him. It makes sense then, why the James passage would read, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

And that brings me to my final question. How can I extinguish pride in my life so my relationship with God is not hindered? If I refer back to the James passage once more, humility is clearly emphasized. With humility comes God's blessing, (as seen in the Beattitudes in Matthew 5: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit...'). Another verse I just recently discovered is Psalm 138:6, 'Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar." This verse also paints a clear picture of how pride affects our relationship with God and stunts our spiritual growth.

Secondly, resisting the devil (and his lies about pride) is very key. One way to resist the devil is simply to draw nearer to God, whether that be through prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other believers, or simply quiet time with Him.

And finally, an attitude of mourning over pride will magnify its sinfulness and decrease its attractiveness. Note the words in verse 9: sorrow, deep grief, sadness, and gloom. Those who mourn are also listed as blessed in Matthew 5, "for they shall be comforted." God honors brokeness and humility. When we mourn over our sins and the sins of others, we are truly showing our desire to live set apart.

To God Be the Glory,
Ellie V.