I have been watching something happen in the Church today. Something that almost appears insignificant on the surface, yet a spiritual microscope reveals its complexity. Due to such intricacies, I find myself overwhelmed with how to respond to it and how to find the Scarlet Thread of Jesus in the warp and weft.
For purposes of discussion, I must visually define a few terms.
If I were to ask you to describe the differences between these two images, you might say that the one on the left seems to have more extreme, definite angles not having a lot of room for error while the one on the right is just as connected as the other one but with more curves and likely more flexibility. The left is more linear and clear, and while the right still offers symmetry, it also appears a little more involved. In the first, you are looking at multiple threads, the second is one continuous strand. And you are extremely savvy people, so I am sure that is only the beginning of your observations.
So, let me ask you what I have been asking myself: is the nature of God something woven or something knitted? Does it have definition or is it fluid? Is His Being something I define or something He does? If it is definite and certain, what are the implications of that in my life? Is there a place for stretch in the doctrine and theology of God?
We know from Romans 1:19 that there is a limit to what we CAN know about God, the limits that He Himself established. But we also know from the same verse that He is not hiding that which is necessary for us to know about Him. He is clear about what many of His attributes are, but at the same time we will not plumb the depth of any single one of them for all eternity on account of His infinitude.
God is like a WOVEN fabric in that He is UNCHANGING, DEFINITE, SECURE. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Culture (yes, even Christian culture), popular ways of thinking, experiences, emotions, financial situations, government mandates and ordinances, current trends in definitions of what love is, losses, and even gains CANNOT alter the reality of Who God has declared Himself to be. He Himself is ABSOLUTE TRUTH at its finest.
But here's the thing. God is also like a KNIT fabric in that all of His many attributes are interconnected, so to pull on a strand of one is to unravel it all. To yank on His goodness, for example, and say that He is only good some of the time calls into question His sovereignty, His omnipotence, yes, even downplays His love by making it seem conditional. Or to tug on His holiness diminishes the uniqueness of His mercy and His grace. There is no picking and choosing. Because the Lord our God is one, everything must be wholly and completely unified.
Now, this can all seem very rigid rather than freeing, though I would argue there is far more adventure in the discovery of Who He is as well as security and safety in letting God define Himself rather than letting my finite mind try to figure Him out. I can't help but think of the account of the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai: FREAKING OUT in ungodly fear at the power of God on display, so much so that they told Moses, "Look, you better just take it from here. We can't handle Who He is showing Himself to be." Because their hearts and minds could not handle this reality, they chose instead to make a god that better suited their well-being and gave them a false sense that they were worshiping the right god (Exodus 20:18-21; ch. 32).
Satan directly assaulted our Savior Jesus for 40 days and nights, and in the culmination of that temptation, we see that he attempted not only to appeal to a hungry man's humanity, but His ability to REASON too. In essence, saying, "If you are hungry, it MAKES SENSE to eat." And how did Christ respond? He answers Him with something even more LOGICAL, something far more sure: the written word of God. Even Peter seemed to agree with the weight of the Word of God as something that goes beyond even his own eye's ability to see (2 Peter 1:17-20).
I am sadly seeing a more fluid approach to the theology of God in the Church at large, perhaps as a response to an onslaught of tolerant methodology, or letting the individual decide for themselves what truth is. This implies that somehow a rigid holding to Who God has revealed Himself to be in the Bible and in Christ Himself is also stagnant in growth, that a fluid theology is on a higher plane of understanding, much like the concept that only true believers speak in tongues.
You know what DOES need to stretch and adapt though and act more like a knit fabric? My need to be right. While all of this IS true and I believe all of the above wholeheartedly, I also see my own tendency to win, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Biblical doctrine and theology of God is right when that might not be the most important thing in a conversation, especially among my Family Members. My motives might be skewed at times, and it is only by the Spirit of God that I can have the discernment of what actually IS the most vital element, the most precious, God-pleasing words in a conversation. Practically, this gets worked out by asking a whole lot more questions, having the patience for when to ask coupled with the grace that while time IS fleeting, not every moment is the one to prove a point. Again, Jesus could have proved all kinds of things to Satan during his temptation, or even at the cross, when others were taunting Him to do the same, but He stayed focused and in touch with His Father in even those moments too. That did not diminish the fact that He Himself WAS/IS Truth, He just chose to display His Patience, Wisdom, and Grace in those moments. He always knew which hearts were ready to receive any information He would give them. Do you see what it is so vital to be filled with the Spirit of our God??
I am so thankful for Jesus, the Scarlet Thread that is both woven and knitted in the Fabric of God who lets us see the beautiful tapestry of His glory.
Lord, teach us, help us to see where we may have believed things about You that are not true, that are not revealed in Your Word or in Your Son, making You into a small and false version that suits our own preferences, experiences and feelings. We confess that there is so much about You that we do not know and we end up spending a lot of energy trying to figure those things out rather than celebrating what You HAVE told us. Thank You for everything that You have shown us about Who You are. Forgive us for the times we have prioritized what is ultimately self-righteousness in the name of zeal for You. You are perfectly capable of defending Yourself and You can show us if and when the time is right to make a stand. Eliminate any fear of what man thinks as we grow in our godly fear of You and rejoice in Your satisfying and steadfast love. Unite our hearts, Lord to fear Your name. Keep us from the "fightings within" that would profane Your Gospel. We love You and we worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.
"Blessed by the LORD, the God of Israel,
WHO ALONE DOES WONDROUS THINGS.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!"
It is only right that this gem of a doxology should be called a Marquis, though the One we're talking about ranks far above anyone with such a title.
To bless the Lord is ultimately to come kneeling before Him in adoration, and we acknowledge that a thankful and joyful heart worships Him by giving Him accolades that are due Him. Essentially we are coming into agreement with Him about Who He is. Though He is well aware of His own awesomeness, we are frail in our ability to properly heap up glory without His help. Thankfully, He has given us His Word and His Spirit, both Helpers in our quest to rightly honor Him.
Psalm 72 is rife with requests for God, Elohim, to take action. Solomon is petitioning his God to do all of these things: judge with righteousness and the poor with justice (v. 2), defend the cause of the poor and needy all the while demolishing their enemies (v. 4, 12-14), have dominion over all (v. 8-11), etc. But as he continues to make these supplications, he recognizes that the only reason he can make these requests is because of Who his God is and what He is capable of doing. Solomon can't help but end the song with giving praise where it is due! For his God's reputation, his God's very name ought to be lifted high by all over whom He has dominion and rule...which is EVERYTHING!
That word, "wondrous" actually means causing to marvel, distinguished from anything else because it supersedes everything in being extraordinary. And it carries with it this implication that it can be hard for others to understand who don't share in actually being "wondrous" themselves...which in this case is everyone BUT God Himself. Solomon praises Elohim for being totally unique in his ability to do all the things He had just prayed for. We talked last week that a doxology is about highlighting the infinite nature of God and specifically what we see here is Solomon addressing God's powerful, sovereign and loving Kingship. What a humbling thing for a king to say! That he could admit that God was better than he was at saving the people is driven by his realization that he paled in comparison!
So, today, in the midst of "the daily," as we ask our God, who hasn't changed by the way, for specific things like deliverance from whatever our situation is, let's not forget that He ALONE can do WONDROUS things. Make time to praise Him for His power and His love even before you see His answers, and BLESS. HIS. NAME.
C'mon, I can't be the only one whose very first reference is to that catchy Aretha Franklin song? Well, Aretha and I share a goal with one slight caveat: rather than finding out what it means to me, let's explore God's opinion on the virtue.
There's something about the way we expect to be treated by others than seems almost built-in. We easily identify its lack when others appear to have no regard for the dignity of another, and as authority gets continually questioned (and yes, even in the Church) it seems like this quality is about as watered down as it can get. What used to be a given, is now something that needs to be taught, and if you don't believe me, just take a quick looksie at the world we're living in. Respect gives way to appreciation, love, and trust, and I long that we might return to a spiritual understanding of this word which can help us better live it out in our relationships with ALL our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as who are made in His image but don't know Him.
Implicit in the Biblical definition of "respect", at least according to the Greek, is a reverence based on the fear of God, NOT of man. It is the way we are to go about defending our faith (1 Peter 3:15), how we are to submit to those God has placed over us (1 Peter 2:18), and it even appears to be associated with the command to repay it as a debt (Romans 13:7). We'll talk about that last one more in a moment, but for now here is our working definition of the word:
Respect is the dignified way we honor another,
the very least we can do to demonstrate the love of God,
the action which reveals that it is Him we reverence
Lest you think him perfect, Paul failed in this as recorded in Acts 23 (the passage He had me in this morning, yes, on the very day I type this because that's just how awesome He is!). He was before the council and this is how it went down:
"And looking intently at the council, Paul said, 'Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.' And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, 'God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?' Those who stood by said, 'Would you revile God's high priest?' And Paul said, 'I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'" Acts 23: 1-5
Certainly, a slap in the face would seem to justify Paul's response, at least in our eyes, yet the Spirit was quick to remind him of truth, a quote which is a bit more explicit in Exodus: "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people." (Exodus 22:28) The Holy Spirit gently chided Paul with the concept that to revile a ruler whom God had put in charge was to revile the very God who had put him there. After all, he was in that very moment, God's vessel to pour out the love of His God which took on the form of respect.
And truthfully, a lot of times this is the simplest way we can reflect Christ.
I'm going to say something now to my fellow white believers that may be hard for you to hear: we are in deep debt to our black brothers and sisters in Christ. We are behind in our payments of respect , and only the One who is able to correct something so outstandingly grievous is the One who could clear our debt of sin. He can help you (and me) begin to see the chasm of our own making, ask forgiveness and start anew with a clean slate.
If you are looking for a shortcut to loving others, if that virtue of love feels too daunting, start here with respect. Many a war has started because of the loss of this, but that doesn't need to continue! Begin by looking at each person as the creation of Your God that they are. God came up with the idea of them including their personality, He has even chosen to continue to sustain their very life when he could snatch it away in a moment. Remember that in your hard conversations, in your awkward interactions, in your desire to avoid them or hold on to apathy. Acknowledge where you've failed and move forward with the help of your loving God.
My first impression of this often larger-than-life word is a little tune from my childhood.
"Integrity means always being honest, making sure you tell the truth,
So people can depend on whatever you say.
Integrity means being fair in every situation, doing what is right in every part of your day,
We must do, what is right, in each part, of our day,
We must do, what is right, in each part, of our day."
Trust me, it's catchy, and it's been a great foundation for my understanding of the word. Maturity has certainly played a role in broadening my definition; however, and as the eyes of my heart have focused in on this virtue, the call for our lives to be described in this way is daunting and truthfully almost scary. But I don't want to shy away from something that's going to show off the nature of God in my life, and I hope you don't either. Especially because this very virtue is absolutely vital to being in the world but not of it.
When we look at Scripture, nearly all instances of this word are located in the Old Testament. It pops up in the NT too, but it's pretty rare. Often times it accompanies the concept of walking with God. We'll use the word with the following definition:
Integrity is the rampart against anything in the world or in the flesh
that would threaten to corrupt a sound mind, body or reputation that is centered on Christ.
I'm sure Biblical heavy hitters like Job, Joseph, or Daniel come to mind and rightly so, for they exemplified integrity in various ways. Job's blameless reputation reached right up to heaven, Joseph and his notorious sprint from Pharaoh's wife displayed his purity, and Daniel refused to be defiled as a way of setting himself apart. These bold moves toward honoring the name of the Lord meant a graduation to more difficult trials and temptations. Job especially sheds light on the agony it was to hold fast to his conviction especially when those around him, namely his wife, would have him renounce his honest ways and curse His Maker.
We need to stop thinking of Integrity as this sweet little virtue and start thinking about it as the rampart it is: the protecting wall around our hearts that shields it from acting outside of what would please God and make Him look good. It is nearly impossible to talk about integrity without highlighting "conviction," and certainly integrity itself is being threatened by subjectivity and tolerance in our culture today. All I can do is point to the Word, asking you how easy it is to practice Philippians 4:8 (thinking on all those good things) when you have let sex, violence, and the like to penetrate the rampart of your heart. It's not just the outward fightings but that stubborn inward flesh that leads us to compromise in countless ways. But, don't worry. all hope is not lost.
Jesus Himself is now our Rampart. He was and is, and always will be integrity in human form, the only One who flawlessly thwarts any attempts to defile what is pure. If he has taken up residence in your heart, then His holy and sanctifying process is happening RIGHT NOW. There is a pretty significant list of positive benefits that become a life of integrity and great gain in holding to the Rampart. Just check out this list:
"Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your HOPE?" Job 4:6
"May integrity and uprightness PRESERVE me, for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21
"VINDICATE me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity." Psalm 26:1
"But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; REDEEM me, and be GRACIOUS to me." Psalm 26:11
"But you have UPHELD me because of my integrity, and SET ME IN YOUR PRESENCE FOREVER." Psalm 41:12
"he [the Lord] is a SHIELD to those who walk in integrity." Proverbs 2:7
"For the upright will inherit the land, and those with integrity will REMAIN in it." Proverbs 2:21
"Whoever walks in integrity walks SECURELY." Proverbs 10:9
"The integrity of the upright GUIDES them." Proverbs 11:3
"Whoever walks in integrity will be DELIVERED" Proverbs 28:18
Integrity is not a small thing, and don't let anyone tell you differently. It's a BIG deal to God, possible only by His Spirit who dwells within us, and oh, how such a life makes Jesus famous! May we be characterized by this mega-virtue!