Unholy Traffic

490px-Traffic_Jam,1953The roadways of the U.S. transportation system are a marvel of the modern, industrialized world. In a simple, pragmatic elegance, individuals daily execute complex patterns of motion to maintain their own particular life rhythms, operating their vehicles as part of a larger and interconnected symphony of mass motoring. To achieve this phenomenon, numerous factors have been carefully considered: mapping of routes, paving of roads, posting of signs and symbols, timing of traffic lights, manufacturing of vehicles to meet specifications, fueling of vehicles, allocation of parking, testing of drivers, lighting of thoroughfares, and the list goes on. And it all works beautifully…when it works. But when it doesn’t, an ordinary day can turn into a frustrating or even tragic day at a moment’s notice. For even in this most precisely planned of systems, there are variables. They are called drivers. Some drivers are largely ignorant of how the system is intended to work. Some drivers think the rules don’t really matter or just don’t apply to them. Others are distracted and oblivious to what is going on around them. Regardless of their state of mind, however, all these folks are wielding powerful machines and can easily become dangerous to themselves or others.

And so it is with sin. Sin creates traffic snarls in the patterns of our lives and those around us. God acts as a transcendent civil engineer to specify patterns that optimize movement. Not only with physical safety in mind, but with concern for our emotional and spiritual health as well. And his  prescribed patterns for safe travel on life’s journeys are born out of holiness, a divine trait foreign to mere mortals.

Holiness is different than goodness. Sometimes a term is best understood by learning what it is not. For example, “clean” can be described as “not dirty”; “dry” can be described as “not wet.” Some ideas are difficult to grasp without referencing a contrasting state that has been experienced by the reader. We have not experienced holiness, at least not in its fullness. This is a significant limitation, for the pure and unadulterated nature of the trait must be conveyed to comprehend the term. We have, however, experienced what it is not. We have experienced its generalized absence as “falleness” and its corruption or violation as “sin.”

Much like Jude (v. 3-4), I wish that I could only discuss pleasant concepts and beautiful thoughts, yet the bitter topic of sin must be addressed to remain true to the goal of promoting biblical literacy. And to be true to harsher realities that we all experience. It must especially be addressed during this time of year. For there is no spring without winter. There is no Easter without Good Friday. Yep, I just had to bring up the “s” word. And as soon as a Christian does so, non-Christians immediately begin to cry “hypocrite.” And indeed, there are hypocrites. And even if we are not deserving of the label, we probably at least sporadically demonstrate the characteristic of hypocrisy. But an accurate view of sin and holiness does not naturally lead to this end. Rather, it leads to humility. Authentic Christ-followers know that they are not devoid of sin, but are being saved from it. (1 John 1:8) Faith and obedience then follow out of love and gratitude rather than an effort to achieve a state of sinlessness.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.*

Like Paul, we find that it is better not to kick against the goads. (Acts 26:12-18) Or perhaps you more closely identify with barnyard animals…

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:8-9)

Try as we might, we don’t get to redefine holiness based on what we believe that we might be able to achieve. We are better off to just go ahead and confess what we might prefer to deny. When you are lost, stop and ask for directions. Get into the flow of traffic with corrected navigation and discover your part in the grand redemptive score — a holiness remix. (1 John 1:9)

*From lyrics at­trib­ut­ed to Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 1153 (Sal­ve ca­put cru­en­ta­tum); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Ger­man by Paul Ger­hardt, 1656 (O Haupt voll Blut und Wund­en), and from La­tin to Eng­lish James W. Al­ex­and­er, 1830.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Arrangement of choice for this week is “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” on Beginnings by Fernando Ortega.

Hungry Royals

EstherMany Christians around the world are currently observing Lent. I rarely do. Left to my own devices, I tend to feel that life produces enough hardship to make additional self-imposed suffering or discomfort seem unnecessary. Just being honest. But fasting is a spiritual discipline mentioned sporadically throughout Holy Scripture, and it is particularly evident in Esther — the only book of the Bible where God’s presence is made conspicuous by the absence of any direct reference to him. Beyond fasting, the more prominently featured characters carry out some other activities that seem bizarre to those of us who live in a different time, culture, and hemisphere. We read that Queen Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews in Persia do things like tear their clothes, wear burlap-like rags, cover themselves in ashes, and wail aloud. All these acts fervently externalize the grief and terror within as they face the prospect of annihilation. The twists and turns of interwoven plot strands contained in this little book all come together to fashion one of the most fascinating and compelling narratives ever told. A story complete with wild parties, seduction and romance, an assassination  plot, a genocidal maniac, a temperamental king, an orphan turned queen, a short war, the pronouncement of a new holiday celebration (still observed to this day), and some very satisfying poetic justice. Even some divinely ordained insomnia.

But back to fasting…why would anyone do it? In the case of Esther, it appears to be a physical manifestation of weakness and unworthiness in approaching God during a time of dire need. But I think there must be more to it. I found that John Piper offers some noteworthy commentary in his book “A Hunger for God”:

Bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself…

In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship…Each has it’s appointed place and each has it’s danger. The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower…

[Fasting] is an intensifier of spiritual desire. It is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things. It is the physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence: “This much, O God, I long for You and for the manifestation of Your glory in the world!”

At the end of Esther’s story we find that God indeed honors the prayers and fasting of the Jewish people. Fasting finally leads to feasting. And Queen Esther has played more than just a royal role. She has intervened on behalf of her people to save them from destruction. As Beth Moore points out in her women’s study on Esther, in a sense, this Jewish queen has also served a priestly role.

The book of Esther begins with Queen Vashti, who does not come before the king when summoned. But then enters Queen Esther, who risks her life by approaching the king though she has not been summoned. In doing so, she reconciles the Jewish people to the king and people of a foreign land. Likewise, we find in 1 Peter 2:9 that we to are to serve as royal priests (and priestesses), interceding and intervening for those around us in efforts to reconcile them to our Bridegroom and King. But unlike Esther, we are ever entreated to approach his throne with confidence. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…This week’s music pick is “Dance with the King” on Joy by Beckah Shae. Enjoy!

Reverent Roars

Little Drummer Boy_revised

A random search yielded this week’s image and the recommended song arrangement provided in Make Your Own Tracks. Both were found on a homeschool mom’s blog. Click the photo to visit her site.

Then I (Ezra) set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God.  I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and 2 fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold. I said to them, “You, as well as these articles, are consecrated to the LORD.” Ezra 8:24-28

she-cub69:  Today I stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me. (Habakkuk 2:1)  O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3) Yet, what can this poor, wounded soul give to a mighty King? Can He who holds the world in place have anything of need?*

LoJαΩ:  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, [I] will not despise. (Psalm 51:17) For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ (Isaiah 57:15)  For my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

she-cub69:  I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [this]…But I strain toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to which [You have] called me. (Philippians 3:12-14) For [you say] our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

LoJαΩ:  [Yes,] “this is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it, not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

she-cub69: So this is why you often don’t answer “why”? For even if you tried to explain, in ignorance we might conclude that your desired outcome is not worth the cost of the plan to achieve it?

LoJαΩ:  And that would break my heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) I have shown you what is good and what I require of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

she-cub69:  [So let] my soul [now] never cease to offer gifts of praise; I kneel in Spirit at your feet, a sinner saved by grace.*

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before [Him], each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:8-10)

*Lyrics from “Hosanna,” Beyond Imagination, a youth song collection. Additional reference information to be added, as possible.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…A modern arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” by Pentatonix can be experienced on YouTube. According to the lyrics of the song, what did the young musician learn about bringing gifts to a king? If you prefer a retro arrangement, check out “Little Drummer Boy,” by 4Him, Season of Love, 1993.