Friday, January 10, 2014

Living in Two Worlds

Note: This article is a little different than the posts usually assigned to "Daisies..." but here it is, from 2009.

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Elijah went before the people ad said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21).

There is nothing worse than not being able to make up your mind—except maybe when you try to avoid making a choice and attempt to live in two worlds at once. If there is anything to be learned from Israel’s example (which is why the Lord left it recorded for us) it is the impossibility of living between worlds or in both worlds, and pleasing God.

God told John to inform the leader of the church in Laodicea of this: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15, 16). Some things in life require compromise—but faith isn’t one of them, commitment to the Lord isn’t one of them, walking in His ways isn’t one of them. When it comes to God, it is all or nothing. The repercussions of halfheartedness are unpleasant. Being spit out of God’s mouth like something spoiled that tastes bad, is not likely to be an enjoyable experience. God goes on with His message through John to point out that these believers were apparently unaware of their condition—they thought they were fine. I shutter because this condemnation so closely parallels the thinking of so many believers and churches today. He writes: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (3:17).

The Lord isn’t talking about material things here, but spiritual wealth. North Americans are blessed with a surfeit of “things” provided in our religious world that make us feel good about ourselves. When we feel good, we think we are spiritually well. But the passion for pursuing God, for knowing Him, for seeking His face, for following Him no matter what the sacrifice, for putting Him foremost above everything else, is often strangely absent in the church and among believers. If it were not, the world would be a different place. We look good, but how close do we come to the Lord’s accusation directed at the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27, 28). The sad part is that this Pharisaical movement began as an effort to correct the spiritual drift away from God. It ended up paralleling the path of the legalists of today who put more stock in looking good than being good, in conforming rather than reforming.

When I examine my own life, I look good. But I know my own heart, at least a little. I know how weak my faith is, how impatient I am, the words that I think and sometimes say out loud that shouldn’t cross my mind let alone my lips. Yes, temptation is an ever present threat and I shouldn’t beat myself over the head when I am exposed to it. But, it is my choice to yield, and I so often do exactly that in spite of “looking” good on the outside. I know that as I pursue God and know Him better, I understand how little I do know Him and how little my heart models His, even when my life seems to do so. I can easily deceive myself into thinking I am rich in spiritual things, only to discover in the light of His Word just how poor I really am.

John goes on to write: “I counsel you to buy from me the gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (3:18). I am fascinated by this picture. It reminds me that the pursuit of God begins with repentance. This too is a lost value. How many testimonies have a heard of those who have made a profession of faith without mentioning a word about repentance. The two are joined at the hip—you can’t have one without the other. Faith requires an acknowledgment of the reason for its existence and its necessity. And repentance doesn't stop at that first-time visit to the cross. The Lord tells John that repentance is the first step to restoration and renewal. He invites us to come and buy what we need from Him, the price already paid with the coin of the cross, in order to know God as He knows us—intimately. In Him is healing. In Him are the riches of abundant, fruitful, righteous life, and the hope of eternal glory.

Then comes the capstone: “Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (3:19). In other words, choose who you will serve. Get off the fence. Stop trying to live in two worlds, or worse yet to live in the other world. Accept the rebuke and the discipline with a humble, repentant heart. God loves us, otherwise He wouldn’t bother to invest so much in us. Isn’t that the essence of love, to work for the benefit of another regardless of the cost to oneself? The Father, through the Son, modeled that love all the way to cross and beyond. From before the beginning of time, God’s desire was to restore the creation He knew would be lost and work in it until it once more bore His image. Romans 8:28 bears this out when Paul says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

The verse that follows in Revelation 3 is one we often direct at those who do not believe. In this context it is directed at those who have made a profession of faith, to the church, but to a lukewarm one sitting on the fence trying to live in two worlds. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20). The Lord wants to be, in fact not just in name, the Lord of our lives. But as long as we choose to be lukewarm, he remains on the outside, persistently knocking, disciplining us, in an effort to get us to open the door in repentance and commit ourselves to Him. He brings the banquet with Him.

What scares me most is the picture of Jesus knocking at the door of His own church. We have thrown Him out, however inadvertently, in the name of compromise for the sake of being “relevant,” in the mistaken belief that we can live in two worlds and get the best out of both of them, in the delusional state that we don’t really have to choose who we serve. And He, the Head of the church, stands on the outside patiently waiting.

Joshua declared that he and his household had chosen to serve God (Joshua 24:15). Elijah called on Israel to choose who they would follow. Churches need to corporately choose whose light shines from their windows. We choose, and daily renew our vows to the Master we are committed to following.

If anyone hears, open the door. Please open the door and choose wisely.

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