A Tale Of Two Mountains

It is easy when people speak about “holiness” and “righteousness” for people to interpret the message as a demand of perfection, unattainable and futile, frustrating and infuriating.  It’s easy to interpret it that way. It’s wrong, but I can see how one would hear the message that way, because I used to hear the message that way.

In the past few years I have learned that holiness and righteousness are not about adhering to a list of demands from an unfeeling master, but rather about relying solely and fully on the only one who is truly holy and righteous.

Hebrews 12 speaks to me to that point more than any other passage in the Bible. It begins with a heavy portion of the chapter addressing how we behave, instructing us to press on, to focus on Jesus, to expect ridicule and attack, to endure discipline as a blessing, to strengthen your spiritual self, to refuse to fall short, to reject anything that might cause you to reject Christ, because in unrighteousness is incredible and terrible consequence.

Alright, seriously, how do you read that and not think again that this holiness thing is simply about behaving better? You read on, because in the second half of the chapter, following some of the strictest admonishment in the New Testament of how to live our individual faith lives, comes some of the most freeing, sweetest breath of life and hope kind of words that I have read.

Add suYou have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those

Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law, but there were strict boundaries placed which limited the Israelites from drawing near this event. Exodus 19 recounts this story and makes it clear that to attempt approaching the holiness of God by climbing the mountain would result in death. Hebrews sends us back to that moment, to remind the listeners of the familiar story, Moses going up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. These commands and the law were given to God’s people so they would be set apart from the rest of the world,

But the writer makes such a strong statement saying “You have not come.” You have not come to the kind of mountain where law is given as a method of setting you apart, of making you holy. At Mount Sinai, Moses had to consecrate himself and follow strict guidelines and then he still had to wait for the trumpet blast in order to approach God there.

When I didn’t understand holiness, this is how I thought of it. That it is marked rightly as burning with fire, darkness, gloom and storm. That it is about consecrating yourself, following those rules and regulations, and then waiting for a trumpet blast to tell me that I’ve been good enough to come to God. However, Paul makes it clear with those 4 words “You have not come…”

So if we are not approaching the mountain of the law, what do we approach?

you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstb

There it is. “You have come.” The other mountain, the mountain of God, where the first indicator is one that points at worship, thousands of angels in joyful assembly. And then “You have come” again, this time, not to a place, but to Him, to God. It is this path that ends in communion with our holy God.

How is this accomplished? By the word of The Word Made Flesh, which speaks better than all of the condemnation laid out from the first condemnation, that of Adam.

But it doesn’t end there! It goes on…

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from

Just before Moses stepped onto that mountain, it shook violently. These details would have been so familiar to the Hebrews receiving Paul’s letter here, that to connect the shaking of Mount Sinai before Moses went to receive the law would translate so sensibly to what is experienced when the Holy Spirit came to the new believers in those days.

The writing of the shaking mountains moves into the consuming fire, this Holy Spirit symbol that we still recognize today, thinking of those tongues of flame that rested on the apostles as the Holy Spirit came upon them. It connects to Exodus 19 as the mountain shook, it was covered in smoke “because the Lord descended on it in fire.” Paul connects the power of holiness on the mountain to the fire witnessed at Pentecost to explain the power now available to us through His Spirit.

Before we are ready to allow the Holy Spirit into our lives, to experience him not like the nation of witnesses kept at bay down at the foot of the mountain, but to experience Him in full at the mountain top, we will find a shaking away. Just as God shook the mountains and arrived in fire, just as the Spirit arrived with rushing wind and fire on Pentecost, so to will He come to us in an experience unlike any other.

When my shaking time was on me, a friend heard a song and gave me a lyric from it which says “You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” My friend, there is deep truth in that. I ran those words through my mind as things seemed to go from bad to worse. I found myself, at last, at a point where I was out of options and out of ideas on how to fix the mess all around me. I sat there in the sanctuary with what sounded like thousands of angels singing around me and in front of me I saw two empty hands with up turned palms. “Those are my hands,” I thought “I have nothing to offer. I have no more ideas. I have nothing.” Then into those empty hands slipped another pair of hands, filling them, curving around their edges, the meaning clear. Now that I had empty hands, they were ready to be filled by His. Now that I had nothing to give, He could give to me. Now that I had no more ideas, He could use me.

When you feel control is slipping through your grasp, don’t clench your fists. Let things fall around you, leaving your hands open so that what is of this world shakes away. Let His hands fill yours so that instead of you trying to grapple and grasp on to whatever you can grab to hold as the world breaks around you, He can hold on to you.

Unleashed

I don’t know if you carry on full conversations with other people in your head, but I do. I plan out what I’ll say, and what their response could be and what my response to their response will be. By the time I reach that person, I hardly even need to have the conversation because I’ve had it 20 times and with every possible pattern of multiple choice answers.  We won’t talk about how I usually replay the worst case scenario conversations over and over to be sure I can handle those tough conversations and generally the real conversation is the best case scenario.

I also have question and answer sessions in my head, where I ask myself “How would I respond if someone asked me…..” And then give myself something to think about, to self reflect, to think on what I really believe about things or find out if there are areas where I could study and learn more.

In a related note, I recognize that I have a lot of free time on my hands.

The nice thing about conversations with God is that it doesn’t leave me feeling lost in messages trying to guess the answer the other person would give. It is uniquely different from the kind of conversations I’ve described where I think of the smorgasbord of replies and taste test each to see if they’re palatable. There is just one plate served at the dinner conversation between Him and me.  I may at times be tempted to arrive at the table with my own carry-in dish, but ultimately and consistently, God waits til I see that it is His table, His meal. He is the host, not me.

Since the day we moved here I have revisited this same conversation with God. Why did you bring me here? What are you doing with me here? This question about purpose has come up over and over again. Each time He has responded, “I’m preparing you.” Preparing me. For what? “I’m preparing you.” Just over and over the same answer.

There is no struggle on that answer. Just assurance that even if I don’t know what I’m being prepared for, that’s what God was doing with me since we moved to Va. Now, I understand that God is always growing his followers, always stretching them and perfecting them as they allow, but a number of months ago, God stopped answering me with that same phrase and started using a new phrase, showing me what this preparation is for.

I drove into Harrisonburg yesterday having one of those head conversations with a friend, trying to explain this sense I have, the root of my confusion. It is as if for years I’ve been on a leash, learning to take steps at my master’s pace, learning that there is no use pulling against the collar, I can’t drag God. I have spent the past 3 years being taught how to heel.

And then he took off the collar.
I’ve been unleashed.

I see this common dog standing there looking up at the one who has trained him with questioning eyes, and hear the master say “GO!”

But where? To what end?
How does this beast whose nature has been improved begin to take that journey?

I got to my destination and had the conversation with my friend that I’d been playing in my head when that comparison came to mind, but in the conversation it never came up. I shelved the thought and figured I’d carry it around with me for a while and soak in it til I understand it better, something I have a tendency to do, marinate in a concept.

Last night I went to church, the third Monday of each month there is a gathering where the topic of holiness is taught. There Pastor Kerry shared how after the emancipation of the slaves, there were slaves who resisted leaving their masters. Their masters had loved them and the slaves grew to love their masters and even though they’d been set free, they chose to stay with their slave owner families. Even though their owners would say “Go,” they wouldn’t accept their freedom and just stayed.

That image of the unleashed dog came back to the surface and I saw the difference. Jesus has liberated us, continues to liberate us, supplying more and more freedom to us as we fall deeper and deeper into Him. However he doesn’t take the leash off and say “Go.” That was never His intention with our freedom.

Just as God created us to be relational….
Just as Jesus came down to commune with us….
Just as the Spirit came to dwell within us….

The nature of God is never to unleash us and release us.
It is to run with us.

I stand at the knee of my master, looking up at Him, wondering where He wants me to go, what He wants me to do. He says His new phrase to me, “Let’s go,” and breaks into a slow jog glancing to be sure I understand, and happily, I am running to keep pace.