Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't Tell It On the Mountain

Is faith any more than simple words? Is the love of God any more than a good idea?

It's our job, as Christians, to proclaim the word of Christ. We think this means we're supposed to speak it. We think this means we're supposed to sermon it. Neither is the case.

I'm going back to Ezekiel 44, just a few verses after the passage I quoted yesterday. Here is God's further instruction for His priests:

They must teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is unholy. They must show the people how to tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. (23)

When we see that word "teach," particularly as we grow into our more adult Bible studies, those sophisticated Sunday mornings we spend together philosophizing about the Lord and what this particular passage might mean, I think so many of us see that word teach and interpret it lecture. We read the second part of the passage and think it must be some sort of educational display, a diorama maybe that we set up at the theology fair where on one side, we have the clean sock and on the other side, we have the unclean sock and we use this poignant visual aide to explain the difference between clean and unclean, holy and unholy.

You guys, our world has been lectured to death about holy. But they haven't been taught. They haven't been shown. What we've been offering for far too long is nothing more than what Noah Webster provides - a simple definition of the word. A good idea, at best. The lost world is looking back at us with contempt, saying they know the definition of our word holy but they've never seen such a thing in all their lives. Certainly not from us.

It's that selective reading of the Bible we're so fond of. We read a passage, and whatever sticks out, we take as our lesson without putting it back in. This verse from Ezekiel? It may strike you as the thing you are supposed to do - teach and show. It may leap off the page. But take a second and put it back in. He's talking here about the holy, faithful priests who have continued to serve the Lord honorably. Verses 15-31 are all about what a priest must do, or may do.

They must not shave their heads or let their hair grow long. They must keep the hair on their heads trimmed. None of the priests may drink wine when they enter the inner courtyard. They must not marry widows or women who have been divorced. They may marry only virgins from the nation of Israel or widows of priests. Then here is our verse from before - They must teach my people the difference between holy and unholy. They must show the people how to tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. (20-23)

He goes on to list several other things the priest must do - be fair in judging, be humble in serving, be faithful in serving, etc. It's easy to read "duty, duty, duty, duty, duty," but maybe a more accurate reading is "example, example, example."

They must keep their hair trimmed, not shaved or shaggy - this is discipline It is attentiveness to a set of criteria, a certain way of being. Discipline is a major attribute of living holy.

They may not drink wine in the inner courtyard, that is, in the presence of the Lord. This is sobriety. This is not allowing anything else to interfere with your experience of the presence of God. It's letting nothing get in the way. It's coming naked before Him, knowing full well what is going on. That is a huge part of being holy.

They may not marry widows or divorcees - this is purity. This is holding oneself pure for the right things instead of chasing after desires of the flesh. It's being able to set aside what looks good or seems good now for the sake of the better thing, the honorable thing. Holiness requires purity.

I could go through all sixteen verses and show the example God is trying to set through His priests as He gives these words to Ezekiel, but I think by now you get my point. Each of these things, it's easy to read as a duty (particularly when you'd rather not be invested in the nitty-gritty or the dirty work), but read it in depth and see the example. If it's just a list of what you do, what does anyone ever know about holiness?

Holiness must be a clean-kept head of hair, limited liquor, an approved marriage.... But what if instead of doing these things, you lived these things? Then holiness is discipline. It is sobriety. It is purity. It is a whole host of other things that right now, people aren't getting from our mere definition of the word.

It's easy to stand around and lecture on holiness, but the people in our lives have been lectured to death about good ideas. What we to live it. And love them.

Don't tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born. Show it through your life that He lives.

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