Treat Him As Holy

One of the more troubling aspects of modern evangelical Christianity is its emphasis on the casual and the familiar.  Whereas worship used to have a very formal and solemn atmosphere, the current trend is to make it more like a pep rally.  Several things characterize this trend.  One is that many preachers have stopped wearing coats and ties in the pulpit.  Some wear sports coats over t-shirts, while others have taken to “camp” shirts over khaki trousers.  In one church, the preacher recently wore a white t-shirt, wind pants, and running shoes.  With preachers dressing in this manner, it is no wonder that the people in the pews have become more casual in their attire.

While it is true that the scriptures do not dictate a style of dress for preachers or worshipers, the trend away from more formal attire is indicative of a greater issue.  That issue is the concerted effort to make God more “approachable” in the worship assembly.  The result is that He is treated far more casually than is appropriate for who He is.  It is not unusual today for worshipers to address God as though they were speaking to their best buddy down on the block.

An enthusiasm to have a close relationship with God is commendable, but we must never lose sight of the fact that He is God, first, last, and always.  Because He is God, He must be treated as holy.  This is not just the preference of an old “fuddy-duddy,” but it is what God Himself has said.  When Nadab and Abihu violated God’s instructions for conducting the worship in the tabernacle, He consumed them with fire from heaven (Lev. 10:1, 2).  Then God instructed Moses to tell their father Aaron why they died.  In Lev. 10:3 Moses said, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before the people I will be honored.'”

Nadab and Abihu did not treat God as holy because they ignored His command to use specific fire in offering incense to Him.  Their action showed their lack of respect for Him as they worshiped.  We might be tempted to wonder what the big deal was, since fire is fire, but we must not miss the importance of what God said through Moses.  Doing exactly what God commands is one way in which we treat Him as holy, and He will not overlook us failing to treat Him as holy.

Moses and Aaron learned this lesson firsthand at the waters of Meribah in Num. 20:8-13.  God instructed Moses to take his rod and speak to the rock in order to bring forth water for the Israelites.  Moses spoke rashly before the people, as though he and Aaron were supplying the water for them (v. 10), and then he struck the rock twice with his rod (v. 11).  God brought forth the water, but He punished Moses and Aaron for failing to treat Him as holy before the people (v. 12).  Because of their sin neither one of them was allowed to enter the promised land.

The requirement to treat God as holy did not end with the Old Testament, however.  God is still God.  He is still holy, and we must still treat Him as holy.  Peter said that we must be holy in all our behavior just like the Holy One who called us, because the scriptures say, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16).  Nowhere in the New Testament is God addressed by His people in anything but the most respectful terms.  This isn’t because He is aloof from us, but because His holiness is such that we cannot bring Him down to our level.  He loves us and wants us to be with Him for eternity, but He is God, and we must treat Him as holy.

Faithful Until Death

The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John to the seven churches of Asia in order to reassure them as they faced persecution from the Roman Empire.  Although this book is full of symbolic language that defies our ability to understand it, the basic message is a simple one.  It is that the Lamb, Jesus Christ, will be victorious over the evil one.  It is a message of hope and encouragement that sustained these early churches in troubling times.  It is a message that continues to sustain Christians today because nothing has changed.  The Lord will still be victorious in the end, and those who stand with Him will be victorious as well.

In Rev. 2-3 the Lord spoke directly to each of the seven churches of Asia.  In each message He exhorted these churches to live up to their calling as Christians, and He challenged them in the specific areas of faith and conduct in which they were lacking.  In Rev. 2:10, as the Lord spoke to the church in the city of Smyrna, He gave them an exhortation that is universal in its application.  He said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

The Lord’s exhortation to Smyrna was that they must remain faithful to Him until death in order to receive the promised reward at the end of time.  In their case, being faithful until death might mean being martyred for their faith.  Even at that time, however, martyrdom was a rare circumstance.  The more common situation, even then, was for a Christian to live until he or she naturally passed from life.  This is actually the greater challenge, and is what makes the Lord’s exhortation timeless.

When one obeys the gospel, he commits himself to live for the Lord from that day forward.  It is a lifetime commitment that requires our very best, as any worthwhile endeavor does.  The Lord, having washed our sins away, expects us to remain faithful to Him until our walk on earth is done.  This is certainly what the imagery of Mt. 7:13, 14 suggests when the Lord said to enter the narrow gate that leads to life.  One does not enter a gate and then stop.  Having entered the gate, we must continue on the way until we reach the goal.

A common adage in our time is, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”  Whether we know it or not, this is the biblical principle of being faithful until death.  Those who win with the Lord at the end of time are those who never quit their faithful walk as children of God.  Among those who lose at the end of time are those who did not remain faithful to their commitment to Christ.

In ancient Judah, King Asa is an example of one who began well, but did not remain faithful until death.  It is a tragic story that illustrates the folly of giving up one’s commitment to the Lord.  Early on in his reign, Asa fully depended on the Lord, placing his destiny and that of Judah in God’s hands.  His trust in the Lord was rewarded with great victories over his enemies and favor from His God.  Near the end of his reign, however, Asa turned away from God.  He suffered for doing so, and is today remembered as an unfaithful king.

Being faithful until death is the greater challenge, but we draw strength to remain faithful from the words the seer Hanani spoke to Asa long ago.  In 2 Chr. 16:9 Hanani said, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”  The Lord wants us to remain faithful until death, and He will empower us in this endeavor if our hearts are fully committed to Him.

Unmistakable Evidence

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The Psalms are replete with references to the evidence of god’s mighty hand in creation.  David, in particular, was one to speak in glowing terms of the handiwork of God in nature.  In Psa. 19:1 he said, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”  In Psa. 8:3, 4 he said, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”

The people of old looked at the world around them and at the skies above them, and they saw the unmistakable evidence of God.  For them there was no question that God existed, because they could see it with their own eyes every day of their lives.  Even in later generations people were certain of God’s presence and power just by looking at the world He created.

In more recent times, some have denied that God exists, and that He created the universe, in spite of this evidence.  Their choice to do so reminds us of the solemn words of David in Psa. 14:1, where he said, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.”  How said it will be for those who deny God’s existence when they stand before Him in judgment and try to answer why they ignored the evidence He left behind to show them He was there.

On the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in central California, there are several groves of trees growing at the 6,000 to 7,000 foot level that add to the unmistakable evidence of God.  These trees are the Giant Sequoia, and they grow only in a very few places in the world.  The largest of these, by volume, is the General Sherman tree, the largest living thing in the world.  It stands 274 feet tall and is more than 36 feet wide at the base, with a 102 foot circumference.  There are taller trees in the world, and wider trees, but none with greater volume than this monarch of the forest.  Two other trees, located within a few miles of this one, are the second and third largest living things, by volume, on the the earth.  They are the President tree and the General Grant tree.

These trees, and their smaller relatives, show evidence of God in several ways.  First, they grow from tiny seeds that look like the wings of flies.  It takes 90,000 of them to make a pound, yet all the genetic material to make a Giant Sequoia is found within each of these small seeds.  Second, Sequoias have a fibrous bark that insulates them from the fires that naturally occur on the forest floor.  These fires are essential to the growth and development of young Sequoias, but the big trees are rarely harmed by them.  Third, their bark contains a chemical that naturally repels insects and disease.  Thus, Sequoias naturally live for vast periods of time.  This enables them to reach such massive sizes.

All these qualities are necessary for the Giant Sequoias to become giants, but all of them are necessary at the same time for them to become giants.  These qualities could not have evolved over eons to produce these giants.  They had to have been present in the Sequoias from their beginning in order for them to develop to their giant size.  The fact is that all these qualities were present from their beginning because God put them there when He created them.

The 2,000 year old Giant Sequoias of the western Sierra Nevada have stood their vigil since the time of our Lord’s birth.  They are silent testimony to the power and majesty of God, who created them in the beginning.  One cannot stand in the shadow of these majestic giants and not see the unmistakable evidence of God in them.  There is no other reasonable explanation for their existence.  Only a fool would believe otherwise.

Where Is Your Heart?

An old adage says, “Home is where the heart is.”  We use this saying to convey a number of ideas.  One of the dearest uses of this statement is when a family has to move to a new locale because of work or some other circumstance.  It may be a wife and mother who says this to her husband to reassure him of her love, and who says it to her children to encourage them to accept the change that has taken place.  It is a statement which affirms that the family itself is the source of love and joy, not some particular location.

We also use this statement when we’re homesick.  A student away at school may pine for his family home, his friends who were left behind, or for the familiar places of his childhood.  His heart is still there, even though his body might be far away.  In this usage it is a statement of the love one holds for family and friends that physical separation cannot diminish.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord spoke of one’s heart in a similar way, but with an entirely different point in mind.  In Mt. 6:19-21 He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves break in or steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Lord knew that where one’s heart is will dictate how he lives his life.  If it is focused only on worldly things, even things that are not inherently evil, that person will never become a disciple of Christ.  This is why the Lord urged His audience to store their treasures in heaven.  If they focused on spiritual things, they would become His disciples, and they would receive the reward of eternal life.

The Lord spoke of this reward in Jn. 14:1-3.  There He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  Here the Lord was talking about our eternal home.  Those whose hearts are focused on spiritual things have a place prepared for them in the Father’s house in heaven.  They have a home waiting for them.

Paul the apostle understood this truth perhaps better than any other person, and was driven by it.  He told the church in Philippi that he was hard-pressed from both directions.  He desired to depart and be with Christ, but he knew that for him to continue in life was necessary for the good of the church (Phil. 1:23, 24).  Nevertheless, he stated his preference in 2 Cor. 5:6-8.  He said, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

Paul’s heart, as were his treasures, was stored up in heaven.  For this reason, he could not wait to get there.  He lived every moment of his life with that goal in mind.  He faithfully took care of all of his daily responsibilities, but in the words of the old song, he knew, “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.”  This is the attitude that each of us should have.  Paul’s heart was in heaven, so he was confident of his reward.  Where is your heart?