Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Walking Circumspectly

This morning we were greeted with a shiny coating of ice from freezing rain that had fallen overnight, making everything rather slick. It was by the providence of God that I made it to the parking lot at work without a collision. And the walk across the icy parking lot was no piece of cake either. I found myself taking very deliberate, slow steps as I made my way to the door.

As I picked my steps from the car to the door, a snippet of a verse (Ephesians 5:15) popped into my head, in the old KJV vernacular: "See then that ye walk circumspectly..." That's what I was doing, for sure. Being extraordinarily careful how I walked on that icy ground, lest I slip and fall and cause myself harm. But since "circumspectly" isn't an everyday word for most of us, what's the NASB say? "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise." Be careful how you walk. Man, that's exactly what I was doing.

Looking closer at the Greek, though, gives more insight into the meaning of this command that Paul gives to us as believers in Christ. The words first refer to watching, Greek βλεπετε, meaning to look at, to see and take care. As I was walking on the ice that's what I was doing - looking down at where my feet were going with each step. Making sure that I was stepping on a firm place that wouldn't cause me to slip or trip. And the Greek word for walk here is περιπατειτε, literally meaning to walk all around. The most common translation of this term in the NASB is "walk about". Notwithstanding the Australian use of the phrase, it refers to everywhere you walk.

So Paul's command is to watch very closely each step that we take as we conduct ourselves in this fallen world, wherever and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We are not to be like so many unwise and foolish people who blunder on through life, with their feet taking them down whatever path they find themselves on. Proverbs has a lot to say about the paths that we take, and the consequences of those steps. We are to keep our eyes watching where we are walking, making each step in life an act of righteous worship to Christ. We are to look around as we walk, keeping away from those obstacles that would trip us or slippery spots that would cause us to fall. We are to remember that the world we walk through is far, far more treacherous than any icy sidewalk, because as Paul says, "the days are evil."

So watch closely how you walk, Christian, wherever you walk. Walk circumspectly, taking deliberate steps that keep you on the path of righteousness. Because as Paul says, "you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light." (Ephesians 5:8)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"You", "They" and "We" in Worship and Confession

Been reading through Nehemiah as part of our current sermon series on the book. I hit chapter 9 yesterday and was struck by the prayer of confession and worship spoken by the priests and Levites before the people, after their marathon session of reading God's word to the people. And an incredible prayer it is. The thing that struck me is the repeated use of "You", as the Levites refer over and over and over again to the mighty works of their faithful God. Starting in verse 6 and continuing through the end of the chapter, they recite back to the Lord an historical account of His faithfulness to His people. You alone are God, You are the creator, You sovereignly chose Abram and made a covenant with him. You delivered Your people from bondage in Egypt and brought them out. You were faithful to sustain them even when they were rebellious, on repeated occasions. You sent prophets to warn them of Your impending judgments, and You graciously restored them again and again when they repented. The prayer refers to what "You" have done at least 45 times. The central focus and the hero of this prayer of worship and confession is clear: it is You, the Lord God of Israel.

Also noteworthy in this long public prayer is the use of the term "they." As the Levites recount the many sins and apostasies of the people of Israel against their God, over and over the term "they" is invoked. They were unfaithful, they were rebellious, they would not listen to God's prophets or heed His warnings. They were arrogant and stubborn and acted wickedly. The prayer is one not just of worship in ascribing glory to God for all His power and faithfulness, but also one of corporate confession of all the sins of the people of God to Him. In fact, God's faithfulness and compassion towards His people is portrayed even more starkly against this backdrop of rebellion and sin. God's glory shines more bright in contrast to the sin of His people.

But there's one further term used by the Levites that takes this prayer of worship and confession even deeper. That word is "we." The Levites make it clear that the "they" is not a distant indictment of their forefathers, but rather an identification of their own sin and guilt and rebellion with that of their ancestors. They state in v. 33 that "You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly." The confession here is personal, not abstract. And it's tied up within an attitude of worship and repentance. In fact, the whole prayer is a lead in to a covenant that the people are making back to God, to turn from their rebeliion and serve Him as He deserves and has prescribed.

Seems to me this is a pattern to consider in our worship and confession. First focus must be on "You", God alone, as we declare His worth and faithfulness and mercy. Then an identification with "they", as we corporately confess our unfaithfulness to Him in the past, and His repeated gracious response to our rebellion. And finally "we", as we acknowledge our personal participation in that rebellion and sin with our own acts against God, and as we desire to turn from them and serve Him fullly and rightly.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Wishes for 2010

I've been having an issue with the whole "Happy New Year" thing. As I've heard it and said it the past few days, it just seems so...shallow, superficial, and generally self-centered. Is the best we can wish for someone or for ourselves in the year ahead is to be happy? Happiness is such a fleeting, circumstantial and external state of emotional feeling. Is happiness the be-all and end-all of human existence? It seems that it is for most of the unbelieving world. Personal gratification and satisfaction, a state of happiness in the here and now, I guess is all the person apart from Jesus Christ can hope for. But can't we people of God, who have been given a new birth and a new nature and a new purpose to our existence through the grace of God in Christ, come up with a more substantial wish for our friends and family in the new year? I think we must.

Don't misunderstand me - I like being happy as much as the next guy. I'm not one of those dour-faced self-flagellating ascetic legalist types who think the most devout Christians should be the most miserable people on the face of the earth. There's enough of those people around to last a lifetime and more. But putting the focus on happiness, rather than on the One who is the source of happiness and joy and life and peace and righteousness for the believer, is just missing the point.

So my wish for my friends and family and the few readers of this blog, Christian and otherwise, is this: to have a Christ-centered and God-glorifying 2010. To have a year in which Jesus Christ is at the center of every facet of your life. Twelve months of being fully engrossed in and satisfied with all the He is. If that means receiving His grace in salvation, more the better. A year that is fully gospel-saturated with the person and work and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as a result of that, a year that is fully glorifying to God. Three hundred sixty five days of words, actions, thoughts, deeds, emotions and disciplines that reflect the holiness and worthiness of our Lord and Savior. A year of living out the purpose that He created you for and redeemed you to fulfill.

And as an outcome of these two God-focused wishes for your new year, I wish you not just happiness, but joy. The joy that goes deeper and further and wider than any circumstantial happiness, and that flows from a life lived for and satisfied with the presence of Christ and the glory of God. A joy that transcends all else, and that can and will produce a happiness in Him that will last far beyond 2010.

Next time you hear someone wish you "Happy New Year" - translate that slogan into these terms, and anticipate how He will fulfill them.