Perception Reborn

What would we need to say about building a Christian culture?

First and foremost, our only reason for living on this earth is to bring glory to God, specifically to the name of Jesus Christ. To put a finer point on it, our purpose in living is to let His glory shine through us. He will glorify Himself one way or another, but we are invited to participate in the process.

A primary means of making His glory visible is our laying claim to the divine heritage of shalom — to live a life that harvests His promised blessings. When we stand in the place where His mercy rains down on us, people are going to notice. They may not understand what they are seeing, but the Holy Spirit will draw their attention to our blessed lives.

Those blessings were promised as a condition for living according to revelation. That brings us to our second point: the otherworldly orientation. We know that revelation comes from Heaven into a fallen world. It’s not that Creation is fallen, but we are. We are born under a veil of moral darkness and cannot see reality, only what our fallen human capabilities tell us is real. Revelation teaches us not to trust what our human perceptions tell us, but to place our faith in what God says is real.

Through revelation we discover that Creation is alive, sentient and serving its designed purpose. We learn to displace our human perception with faith and commune with Creation directly because we commune directly with the Creator. He breathes His Holy Spirit into our dead spirits and we come to Life. We awaken to a far higher awareness that calls us to a Home we’ve never seen. We know we have a mission here to point the way out of the darkness, and when that mission is done, we go to be with Him directly. We find ourselves no longer a part of the shadowy existence into which people are born.

So the third point is that we are overwhelmed with gratitude. The overwhelming sense that we are unworthy, yet declared worthy on grounds we could never comprehend, leads us to humility. At the same time, we have the unshakable confidence of His divine favor. But instead of thinking so highly of our favorable position, we live with a deep sadness that so few in this world seek His favor. They know nothing of our joyful Life. It makes us sober about giddy the same time — sober about human frailty and blindness, but giddy about what we have found in Christ.

It would be easy to get lost in our paradoxes, but we have a vast heritage of what this paradoxical existence should look like in seeking His glory. We are told to examine the record of God’s testimony in Scripture and let His Spirit guide us in breathing life into that ancient record. Granted, it’s no small task to discard everything our world values in its arrogant rejection of God’s truth, but we have the assurance that such effort is rewarded.

I testify to you today that it can be done. We can examine the record of God’s people and see with spiritual eyes what it demands of us today.

We can build a Christian Culture.

Psalm 121

No petition here, this is a responsive hymn celebrating the protection of Jehovah. Palestine is a hilly land, and any route toward Zion meant looking at ridges and mountains until you saw the Temple itself, visible from quite a distance in most directions. But the symbol of the first line is someone who is clearly in a valley of trouble. Looking for help meant scanning the high horizon. From which direction is rescue coming? It comes from the Lord who made heaven above and all of the earth below. Indeed, it’s a hard to escape Him.

Our Lord gives us a solid, firm path to follow. There’s no slipping on the road to Zion because God wants to see us. And He’s never asleep; His truly God who does not rest. How else could He protect Israel all these centuries? He never takes a break.

Have you ever been exposed to a merciless sun in dry terrain? Then you’ll understand what a relief it is to come under a cool shade. That’s our God; He makes life worth living. Not just the sun, but He prevents us being moonstruck as well. Because He never closes His eyes, we can handle whatever comes our way.

And He is a shield against all afflictions, showing His clear intent to keep us alive and healthy for His glory. The business of “going out and coming in” is a Hebrew phrase that covers just about everything we do as humans. It doesn’t matter what life demands of us, He’s there making it happen. He stands watch over us beyond the end of this life, too.

Psalm 107

Book 5: Psalms 107-150

This is a catchall collection of several smaller collections of public worship songs, including the songs of Ascents and Hallelujah psalms. In other ways it seems to celebrate specifically covenant promises and how to claim them.

Psalm 107

This is called “The Song of the Redeemed.” While the specific focus is how God has kept His covenant promises, we do well to remember there is more than one covenant with humanity. The promises under Moses are specific examples of how God acts in all times and places. If you cling to a heart-mind awareness of His divine moral character in Creation, then Creation will respond of itself, but He will amplify those natural blessings to those who love Him.

We are treated to five examples, but the last is more of a summary. All are in dire straights, as is the norm for fallen humanity. In some cases the trouble is because of a failure to keep faith with God, but some are simply the result of seemingly random circumstance. God does what He does, and humans often stumble into His works without full knowledge and run the risk of perishing. In call cases, calling on His name is the key to deliverance, while giving thanks and praise is the key to staying out of more trouble. Does anyone have to explain that the symbolic or parabolic meaning is more important than the specific imagery?

It’s not hard to pick out the pattern of musical stanzas in the first four examples. Someone comes into difficulty, cries out to God and He delivers. The psalmist encourages all to glorify God for His greatness, as demonstrated by the repeated phrase, “His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the sons of man!”

First are the travelers. For Israel, the standard symbol is wandering in the semi-desert wilderness. There is no particular sin at work; this is simply how the world is. By default, we are blind to God’s promises of provision. We cannot with our own human abilities find the basic needs of life and create a stable society. The symbol of shalom is summed up as stable and prosperous life in an Eastern feudal community. But if mankind calls on God, He will provide their needs, in this case by guiding them into His divine provision. He shows them the place He made for them and it provides all they need. When you respond to God’s call on your life, He provides all you need to glorify His name.

Second are the captives; there is little difference between slavery and prison in the ancient Hebrew world. In this case, it is the result of disobeying God, hinting at idolatry. This is a parable for those who reject whatever revelation God offers, and are forced to serve the Enemy of our souls. Calling on God is the only deliverance.

The third group is portrayed as ill, but the primary cause is moral illness — insensitive to the moral fabric of Creation. There is no pleasure in this dissolute life, and they approach death rapidly. But calling on God brings healing and restoration.

Fourth are sailors, a job that is high risk with a high payoff if you succeed. Ancient mariners were uniformly religious and quite superstitious because they were so powerless. They were fully aware of the power of God’s mighty works in Creation, because they saw it up close. When by His inscrutable will He sends storms into their lives, they experience the radical ups and downs of high waves, hardly able to keep their feet under them. But if they cry out to God, He can deliver them and guide them to their destination.

Finally, the psalmist summarizes God’s faithful to Israel. Had he called her to occupy the most desolate land of all, it would not have mattered. Were she faithful to the covenant mission, God could have easily made the desert like a garden, with streams and pools aplenty. It would become fertile and produce abundant food. Life would explode, including their own population. And if they stray from that mission, it could all be reversed and they would be oppressed and humiliated by their enemies. Don’t get too fat and sassy, because God favors the humble who depend entirely on Him.

The psalm closes with a final warning to heed the moral character of God as indicated by these examples.

Love Is the Law

I behold the face of my beloved. I seriously doubt you would find it aesthetically pleasing, but you haven’t spent a lifetime in her love, so I can forgive you for that. But I’m willing to bet you would understand how I can gaze on her face and in my mind trace every detail with rapture.

One of my favorite songs offers the following lyrics:

In mirrors I have seen Your face
Your voice can reach me anywhere
And I begin to turn away
And You just turn me back again

And I belong
Yes, I belong
To You, oh Lord my God

(Mylon LeFevre, “I Belong” from Crack the Sky 1987)

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 NKJV)

When you come face-to-face with God, you see yourself as He does, reflected back in His eyes. Both the terror of disappointing Him in our sin and the mercy of His love welcoming us home will you see in His face. Paul says there will be some moment in our future where we experience this in some ultimate sense beyond literal, but that we experience it in some measure even now. When you turn inside yourself, you’ll find God waiting there all along. He wants this for us.

But it takes some doing to get our attention because we are born so deeply distracted. We come into life with a body yelling and screaming for resources to build according to that pattern in our DNA. At some point, we become aware that the world is not a mere extension of those demands, but that it has its own will. That’s when we discover our will, too. A critical element of human consciousness is what behavioral science calls “individuation” — an awareness of ego and boundaries. If we are fortunate, this eventually results in some intellectual development, but working from our resources alone, that’s where it ends.

It is not enough. We may believe our senses and reason provide sufficient answers; our intellect assumes it is sufficient for all that matters. It is not. The intellect did not make the world, so it cannot discern the full essence of things. It requires input from the One who did make the things we encounter in our world. It requires revelation.

God granted that revelation. He did so on His own terms, based on His expertise in how things actually work. But that’s not all; as time wore on He continued that conversation of revelation with humanity. He responds. And the initial encounter for humans tends to be in terms of His Law Covenants. It’s “law” in the sense of personal demands regarding the entire realm He owns. His character is the ultimate Law, but we must transition from our moral blindness to His face, such that we are able to bear the terror of His face and receive the mercy. We were designed for that, but something happened to destroy that natural communion.

The destruction of our natural state in communion with Him was in asserting the conscious reason as master over the moral will. In my writing, I use the image of the heart as the higher moral faculty, and that the intellect must learn to obey the heart. The Fall includes breaking that linkage, though it is far more than that. The point is that we were created with a full awareness of the Creator’s moral character as the essence of how to live, but we lost that direct awareness and must gain it back. And it’s not easy nor simple. The first step is an awareness of His Law Covenants.

The Law Covenants in the Bible manifest His moral character in a limited fashion, providing examples and hints of what life would look like if we understood His character. He built and provided a cultural package for receiving and preserving the understanding of His Law as a part of the Law itself. The message is granted in terms of a particular set of assumptions about reality, assumptions long lost and actively hidden from us today. It’s not enough to translate the words of the Law Covenants, but to embrace the assumptions that go with them.

Assuming we can get folks to grasp that need, we discover a wide variation in the human talents necessary to do this quickly. In other words, most folks need some help because they are slow at absorbing the whole thing. Those who can run are obliged to come back and guide those who crawl. Some of us quickly discover that the verbal expression of Laws are not actually the Law itself, because the Law is the character of the Person. Words indicate the path; you are supposed to come face to face with God as close as you can and explore every feature of His Face. And do it often, rather like lovers who can’t get enough of each other.

That intense loving relationship is the essence of the Laws.

Our witness to the world is living the implications of the Law Covenants. They give shape and structure that makes the face of God distinct and recognizable. We can’t make people see His face, but we can certainly walk in His Law Covenants in the sense, not of intellectual abstraction, but in the sense of abstraction on a higher level of the heart and moral conviction.