Sacramental whether we like it or not

“As his sacramental people, we find him living and at work in our own life-experiences. We celebrate the presence, the gift, the healing, the reconciliation, the joy in our own life by connecting it with the earthly life of Jesus. We are a sacramental community because our life, our work, and our celebrations centre on Christ, the one true Sacrament. Our life together is sacramental because we live by faith in him and our everyday lives reveal and offer unexpected grace, his undeserved gift again and again.” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p.270)

Concise Dictionary of Religion calls a sacrament “a Rite in which GOD (or Gods) is (are) uniquely active”.

By this definition of what sacramental means every Christian church on earth is sacramental. If we invite the holy presence of God to meet us in our worship, which is usually the case in times of worship for without His presence in what we do, church is meaningless and should be regarded as social hour instead of worship. We do not pray to each other, so God becomes active in prayer therefore making it sacramental within our worship. When we read from His word, which we attest to being living and active and the only source of Christian faith and practice, we acknowledge that His word is vital and applicable to godly living therefore God is again active in our worship. By this definition alone we attest that we are sacramental people who wish to interact with a living and Holy God.

Sacramental living has unfortunately been compartmentalized within church to be specific actions or rituals in which we do or do not participate in, such as Communion or baptism. While these two specific acts of worship have the potential to be sacred moments in Christian living, they hold no more or less sacred value than that of corporate prayer or the call to salvation in an altar call setting. One could argue that we have been instructed through scripture to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) But many fail to realize the context in which Christ was instructing…what does remembrance mean? Where was Jesus and the disciples when he gave this command. Many would argue that it is strictly the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, but if we were to explore further in this context of this scripture the entire ecclesia of believers/disciples were gathered together over the dinner table and fellowshipping with Christ. This too is divine interaction in the context of worship! A meal together in the corporate sense of worship is sacramental as well, not just the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup…I believe historically we as Church have only scratched the surface of the sacraments when we only take a portion of the passover meal in the two elements and make it something more than it should be. Dare I say it’s a misrepresentation of scripture to evoke one segment of this meal with his disciples to be more important than the entirety as a whole.

We are sacramental as a people because of the unity of the body through Christ Jesus. When we as His people participate unified in the corporate setting we are doing this in remembrance of Him. Our worship is never perfect, we all have our hang ups, but when we invite God to partake in our prayers, songs, scripture readings, message, meals we are practicing sacramental living.

Holy living within the context of partaking in these sacred moments is the result of our invitation and reception of His presence. We enter into His presence not only in church but in our private prayer closets and daily devotional lives. We have received his holy presence at salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit prods us onward in becoming more like Christ in our new creation through continued surrender of every fragment of our being. Submission or fully surrendered lives to the Holy Spirit is by far the most sacred sacrament we partake in within our human existence.

We are sacramental in word and deed whether we like it or not…but I’m willing to venture a guess that upon receiving and accepting His presence in our lives this realization becomes all too clear through our surrender and His love which permeates every fiber of our transformed lives.

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“What Do I Stand For?” F2 = −F1 Action = Reaction…Choice=Consequence

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“…and that in consequence of their fall (Adam and Eve) all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.” (The Doctrines of The Salvation Army, Doctrine #5)

“We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.”  (The Doctrines of The Salvation Army, Doctrine #11)

What do I stand for?  This is the question I’ve been asking and trying to answer all week…

Thus far we’ve explored: Selflessness over selfishness; God’s Justice & Social Justice.  These are fundamental areas of a Christian life.  So let me throw some fuel on the fire, so to speak…when we recognize what it is we are standing for, where our ideologies lay and are guided by specific principles in our lives we must begin to recognize that Isaac Newton’s third law of action-reaction applies to our spiritual lives as well.

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Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law – Action/Reaction:

When a first body exerts a force F1 on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force F2 = −F1 on the first body. This means that F1 and F2 are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

Did you catch that?  Just kidding, unless you’re really into physical laws and laws of mechanics you might not understand this definition…here’s the definition that I understand:  “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” 

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In our world, morally speaking, this reaction is called consequences.  Everyone who makes choices both consciously and sub-consciously will find that there are consequences to each and every choice we make.   All too often, however, in our world today many people have chosen to ignore these consequences by blaming other people for their mistakes, or simply running away from the consequences.  Adam and Eve, as I’ve mentioned before faced God’s justice in the garden because of the choice they both consciously made:  Action (Choice)  = Reaction (Consequence).

Similarly, if we continue by this line of reasoning we come to a junction in the road that brings us to ultimate consequence.  Everyone whole heartedly embraces and understands that all humanity will one day face death…as it’s been said, it’s inevitable like taxes.  We will one day die.  It is quite sad to consider those who are Atheists who believe that there is no further existence after death…that this is all there is to this existence.  In the Christian perspective, we believe that our souls do have an afterlife and that within this afterlife there is heaven and there is hell.

As I’ve stated before some people have a difficult time facing this reality and that God would eternally punish those who reject Him.  But as I’ve mentioned before if our action is to purposefully and willfully turn our backs on God, then the eternal consequence of such an action is the reaction which leads the soul to eternal separation from God.  Hell is a real place!  Hell will be inevitable for some people…and I am not the judge, never will be and I’ve never claimed to be.  But if we are to embrace such a reasoning as an afterlife and the notion of heaven, then ought to understand that there is such a place as hell.

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Here’s are some closing thoughts on this for today:

1) Own up to your actions!

You and you alone are responsible for the choices that YOU make…I am responsible for the choices that I make!

2) Consequences are real!

If you make a poor choice the consequences are yours.  If I make a poor choice the consequence is mine.  Not someone else’s.  Stop blaming others when consequences come that we don’t like that are based on our poor choices.

3) There is always a right and better choice!

God doesn’t simply want a relationship with us, He want to transform us to become like His Son Christ on our spiritual journey!  He doesn’t want us to remain the way He has found us.  He wants us to choose Him every time in our daily lives.  This means consider the consequences of our actions, consider the path that we wish to take and also consider God knows what He is doing!  Choose Him, and His path…it won’t be easy but His path is right!

4) Believe in Eternity and live for God’s kingdom in the here and now! 

If we choose His path, His direction in our lives, we not only fall in step with His will but we recognize that life is so much more than just this human experience.  Eternity is so much longer and lives are at stake.  We must be Christ’s ambassadors in our world!  We are called to this higher calling to not only look forward to heaven, but to introduce Christ to those who have yet to believe and add to this heavenly family on this journey.

What do I stand for?  What do you stand for?  I will own up to my choices…I will face the consequence of my poor choices and strive, with His Holy Spirit’s help, to live a Holy life in word and in deed!

Holiness: Walk of Obedience or the Unattainable Summit?

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What do you think of when you hear the word holiness?  It might evoke in you images of people walking around in brilliant white gowns.  Perhaps Mother Teresa diligently working in the slums of Calcutta comes to mind.  But when we as people of God think about the word holiness seldom do we have these images of ourselves being Holy.  Holiness seems to be this aloof concept to most Christendom.  Perhaps there is this notion that it is some sort of attained level of spirituality brought on by years and years of serving the poor or living in a monastery somewhere very, very remote.  But the exact opposite is true.  When we are converted, when we have received Christ as our personal Savior, Redeemer of our sins, something amazing takes place.  We are indwelled with the very presence of God in the form of His Holy Spirit, living and active within us.  When He takes up residence within us, His mighty power flows through us, and He prompts us, prods us and convicts us to surrender continually in areas of our lives to Him so that we might become like Christ in every aspect.  The end result, or final product is that our human reflection becomes the very reflection of Christ…every fiber of our being is surrendered to Him so that we can be used to not only to declare God’s kingdom but to be the very representation of that kingdom of heaven right here on earth.   You see we often get hung up on this idea that Holiness is not attainable.  That holiness is impossible in this life and so we must wait until we lived out our feeble lives and die until we can be fully holy.  The simple truth is that we often misunderstand what holiness is in our human existence.  We often mistake human perfection for holiness, when this is simply not the case.  General Shaw Clifton puts it very well for us in his understanding of holiness;  

 

The holy life is not one of moral or sinless perfection.  We still make mistakes and get things wrong.  We are still capable of hurting others inadvertently.  The word ‘sorry’ is a crucial part of the holy life.  It is the hankering after sin that has gone now.  Sin has lost its attractiveness for us.  Holiness of life is not an optional extra for a believer.  At its heart is obedience to God and the will of God.  Without obedience there can be no spiritual maturity.  The walk of holiness centres upon seeking out God’s will for us.  He is there to guide and to control once we surrender.  He guides through his word in Scripture, through prayer, and through the wise counsel of mature Christian friends and leaders.  Obedience is the key to progress in the faith.”  –General Shaw Clifton (p.51, Hallmarks of The Salvation Army)

 

Mountain or path?

How are we to begin to understand holiness?  How can we ever contain so much Christlikeness in these fallible human vessels?  The fact of the matter is that alone we can’t.  Alone we can do nothing.  The problem often times that Christians struggle with on this topic of holiness is that we view holiness like a mountain.  This mountain is very, very far away and as we look up at this rocky precipice we quickly realize that not only is it very, very far away but it is also extremely high, reaching far above us to an elevation capped with snow and difficult, near impossible to ever traverse. 

 

This image of the mountain is how I have heard Christians attending church; bible study and Sunday school describe holiness.  They may use different terms, analogies and metaphors, but the simple truth is that most believer view this mountain and quickly come to terms with its enormity.  They look up and see holiness to be too big and too far away to even begin to attempt the climb.  But if the mountain that is holiness is too high to reach, then how does God expect us to climb, to “be holy as I your God am holy” ?  (1 Peter 1:6) 

 

After all didn’t Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) So how can we grasp such a concept of holiness which does not seem so easy and yet learn from Christ and find rest at the same time?   That doesn’t sound like rest that sound like a lot of work!   But we misunderstand.   We believe holiness to be an insurmountable mountain, when Jesus says to each of us “follow me”.  Part of Rabbinical teaching is the student or disciple not learning from the Rabbi but learning to become the Rabbi.  When Jesus says to us “Let me teach you”, what He is saying to us is “let me show you how to become like me!” 

 

Holiness is not the destination to the top of the mountain…holiness is the pathway of obedience, humility and love in our living right now!  Holiness is allowing the very essence of who Christ is to become the very essence of who we are as new creations of God.  It’s not about having enough strength or wisdom or knowledge.   As General Clifton has defined it, it is first about our obedience to our Lord.  When obedience takes the place of rebellion within us, when it seals up the cracks of doubt and uncertainty within us, then we begin to allow the Holy Spirit to walk with us on the pathway, and as He walks with us He guides us and corrects us. 

 

Obedience leads each of us to a deeper surrender to God.  We cannot surrender that which we do not understand to be images of our old self until the light of the Holy Spirit shines upon those marred imperfections within us and prompts us to surrender these mutinous remnants. 

 

What do you see?

Do you see a mountain before you?  Does it appear to be impossible, impregnable and daunting to behold?  Are you filled with fear as you hear the words holiness?  Don’t be!  We, as God’s sons and daughters are called saints!  We have within us this indwelling of His Spirit to guide, and direct.  What we are called to be is Holy and this begins with our obedience and our surrender. 

 

There’s a chorus that goes like this:

 

All my heart I give to thee;

Every moment to live for thee;

Daily strength to receive from thee

As I obey thy call.

While I bow to pray to thee,

I commit my way to thee;

Here, just now as I say to thee:

I dedicate my all.

 

May that also be our prayer today. 

“Woe to me” -A Holy Response

“Holiness is not absolute perfection, which belongs to God only; nor is it angelic perfection; nor is it Adamic perfection — for, no doubt, Adam had a perfect head as well as a perfect heart before he sinned against God. But it is Christian perfection — such perfection and obedience of the heart as a poor fallen creature, aided by almighty power and boundless grace, can give.” –Samuel Logan Brengle

Isaiah 6:3-8 (NIV)
3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

This is probably my favorite passage on holiness, anointing, and appointing.  Recently our church has begun a bible study series and sermon series on the topic of metamorphosis…and I can tell you right now that it is very difficult – next to impossible to preach and teach on such subjects and not be compelled, convicted and motivated to do the same in my personal life.  This topic of metamorphosis is more about holiness than it is about a self-help topic to church goers.  How can we, sinners saved by grace transform ourselves by our own power…the short answer is we can’t!  The power to do such saving, delivering and transforming is God’s alone.  His Holy Spirit alone has the power to transform us from the inside out, but don’t think for a moment that we do not have some responsibility in this transforming process.  Our responsibilities begin and end with our free-will.  We have to choose, we have to want this transformational power.

The prophet Isaiah writes in these verses that when he was in the presence of God he was convicted of how imperfect and unholy he truly was; “Woe to me!” I cried.  “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (v5)  I do not believe this to be some sort of preamble or allegory to explain his message to the people of Israel; I believe this to be Isaiah’s actual response to the very presence of God.  This is his eye witness report and his response. When God’s fallen creation stands before Him, we cannot but help notice our imperfections, our failures, our unworthiness in the light of His perfection and might.

Do you want to know a really wonderful fact about our God?  He is not content to let us remain that way!  God, through the power Holy Spirit, desires each of us to come face to face with our inadequacies, our imperfections, our faults.  When this happens, one of two things takes place, we either reject these promptings and ignore what He’s revealing to us, or we are brought to our knees in repentance and conviction declaring like Isaiah, “Woe to me, I am ruined!”   It might not be exactly that drastic, but the sense of heart wrenching conviction ought to drive us to our knees again seeking not only God’s forgiveness, but God’s power to be transformed, renewed and holier than before.

You see, God has the remedy for our imperfections, our faults and our failures.  Like Isaiah, who was broken in the presence of God, we too have to be broken vessels before we can be vessels for His purpose and His purpose alone.  When He breaks us, He replaces our imperfect pieces with His holiness further restoring that image of Him in us.  When Isaiah is touched with the hot coals by the Seraph, God’s purity touched impurity, and guess which one won?  Of course the purity and holiness of God cleansed and removed the guilt and shame of sin!

The awesome thing here for us to glean is that God wants to do this with you and me as well!    We may not be a mighty prophet like Isaiah, but we are children of God and because of this, God will not settle for the old imperfections and sin in our new lives and we shouldn’t either!     2 Corinthians 5:17 says; Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Christ is and should be the blueprint of godly living for us in our lives today!  When we give up our selfish desires, our foolish pride, and surrender our old ways of living, God can then begin this amazing transformation in us.

Lastly, the evidence of a transformed and holy life is the yearning and painful groaning in our hearts for the rest of humanity.  When God has saved us, and is transforming us with His holiness; when our pride and our selfishness is no more, we then begin to see how desperately the people around us also need this transformation in their lives as well…when that happens, we cannot help but say like Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”  Because it is then no longer about us, our pride, our desire for notoriety, it is about the power of God and His desire for right relationship with His creation – mankind.

This transformation of Holiness begins on our knees, as we too declare “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”  It’s not about beating ourselves up, it’s about humbling ourselves before God and allowing Him to penetrate our hearts and lives with His transforming power!

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