ARE YOU ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD?

Many years ago, like in the 1970s, there was a song sung by Karen Carpenter called “Top of the World .”  The lyrics for the chorus of this song were:

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation, and the only explanation I can find, is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around, your love’s put me at the top of the world.

We often want to be on the top of the world, don’t we?  For most of us, that is simply a wish that we could get out of the dismal surroundings that confront us on a day-to-day basis.  We want to be taken out of our current situation and put on top of it so that we won’t have to deal with the issues, be hurt by others, face difficult consequences, etc.  We will be on top of the problem and it won’t be able to adversely affect us anymore.

A picture that comes to my mind when I think of escaping to the top of the world is that of  the Meteora Monasteries in Greece.  These monasteries of the Greek Orthodox Church were built high above the ground between the 14th and the 16th centuries.  In fact, they are about 1,300 feet above ground.  Wars and invasions were the norm, so having the monastery up above the fray was a way to minimize distractions, enable the monks to meditate more effectively, and, not at all an insignificant concern, it provided them a place of safety because of their incredible isolation from the world below. 

monastery-of-the-holy-trinity-meteora-greece
Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora, Greece, a 14th century monastery on the cliff tops.

In fact, goods and supplies, as well as visitors to the monasteries, were transported to the top by way of ladders lashed together and baskets tied to ropes, which were then hoisted to the top via pulleys.  Now there are steps for easier access to some of the monasteries, but hundreds of years ago the way to the top was, indeed, formidable. 

For more information, see the CNN Travel article about this area at http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/meteora-greece/index.html 

It is indeed enticing to be on “top of the world”.  But is this where we are to stay?  Is this following the mandate that our Lord gave to His disciples?  I think not.

Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven, He and his disciples were gathered together and He gave them His final instruction:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

We are to go and make disciples, this is what the Lord commanded.  This does not sound like we are to retreat from involvement with people, does it?

In a prior post we looked at living in a cave, something that has been done throughout history. Even King David hid in a cave when hunted by Saul.  Thus, he spoke from experience when he said in Psalm 139: 

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Psalm 139:7-8 ESV

Simply put, we cannot run from God.  He is with us and sees us in the cave as well as on top of the mountain. 

I certainly do not deny the good work that the monks have done, and are still doing, in the Greek Orthodox Church worship that occurs in these monasteries.  Indeed, a retreat to the mountain top is exhilarating and we can experience God in a new way by stepping out of society and into a meditative cocoon, into silence and tranquility so that we can hear God’s “still small voice” [1 Kings 19:12] as He speaks to us in the way He has done through the millennia. 

But, ministry, the work of the Lord in His world and the fulfilling of His command to His disciples, requires that we interact with those who are lost, who do not have a life-giving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It requires that we go out of the place of worship and into the world; it requires that we be the light guiding others to Christ; it requires that we be the salt that heals and preserves as we introduce the Lord Jesus to those who do not know Him by our words and our lifestyle witness.

Whether it is a cave or a mountaintop retreat, we need to come out and interact with people as we make disciples. We should obey the Lord’s command, because we love Him; and we should do it all to the glory of the Father, the Almighty God.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to honor Your Son, Jesus Christ, as I live before others in the power of His Spirit.  May my witness be glorifying to You and may Your Spirit bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

HOW CAN I BE HOLY?

We often watch DVD classes from The Great Courses to learn and experience lands and peoples that we would likely not see in person.  In the class “Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul”, Professor John R. Hale talked about, and had pictures of, Byzantine architecture found at Meteroa.  (By the way, I would highly recommend these courses for anyone who wants an armchair education.  They are excellent and well researched and presented and the topics are myriad.   thegreatcourses.com.  But I digress!) 

Meteora was a cluster of monasteries built in Greece in the 14th century.  The name “Meteroa” means “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”.  One look and you realize that these were aptly named.   

meteora-monastery-15
Monastery in Meteora, Greece

Originally there were 24 monasteries in this group, but now there are only four that house religious communities and they are important sites for the Eastern Orthodox church.  The monasteries were built on natural sandstone rock pillars that were virtually inaccessible so that they functioned as a place of sanctuary from the violent controversies on the land below. 

The pinnacles rise over 400 meters above the Peneas valley.   They are incredible examples of architecture that transformed rugged rock spires into places of calm serenity and retreat.  Access was deliberately difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets on ropes that would be used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith, both in the people doing the hauling and in the ropes transporting visitors and goods up the sides of these pinnacles. 

[Some of the information and the picture above was obtained from  http://www.amusingplanet.com/2012/09/5-most-inaccessible-monasteries-in-world.html a website that includes more information than that which is presented here.]

Do you have to be ensconced in a monastery on top of a pinnacle in order to be holy?   And, what is holiness anyway?

According to Strong’s Thesaurus/Lexicon, the Hebrew word translated as “holy” or “holiness” means “apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness … set-apartness.” 

We are told that we are to be holy.   He wants us to be set apart for Him, rather than being one with the world and its culture.

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Leviticus 11:45

Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:5.  Moses had stepped aside to see the burning bush and God instructed him to take off his sandals because God’s presence rendered the very ground “holy”. 

God is not our “Buddy in the Sky”.   Notice that even though God and Moses had a very close relationship, there was a great difference between them.  He is holy and this holiness is one of the attributes of God, it is intrinsic in His being and it cannot be violated.  Because He is holy, we cannot come before Him — our sin has dirtied us up from the inside out and God cannot countenance any disobedience to His law, i.e., sin. 

The difference between us and God is monumental.  God omniscient and omnipotent.  In contrast, we are temporal and totally dependent on God for life itself.  God is holy, and we are not.

Isaiah’s vision of God is descriptive of this difference:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Up to this point, the vision of Isaiah is very similar to the vision that the Apostle John had as recounted in Revelation 4:2-8.  Isaiah, however, gives us his response to what he saw:

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.   And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:1-7.

Isaiah’s response to seeing God on His throne in heaven was an immediate recognition that he was lost, sinful, and unworthy to stand before the King, the LORD of Hosts.  In fact, God did not speak to him or acknowledge his presence until after the angel had touched his lips with the coal from the altar saying that he had received atonement for his sin.  After this, God spoke.

He is a holy God and we must not forget that fact.  We have absolutely no standing before God in and of ourselves because of our sinful disobedience to His commands.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.  He is just and we are unjust.  This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.  The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge.  We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us.  We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified.  Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147

Becoming holy has nothing to do with your physical location.  Rather, it has everything to do with your relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who died so that you could be justified, and then be “comfortable in the presence of a holy God”.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 

The faith that saves is faith in Jesus Christ, the One who died as an atoning sacrifice, taking your sin on Himself, so that if you believe in Him, you will be clothed in His righteousness.  In that way, God sees Christ in you and adopts us as His children. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6.

The answer to “How can I be holy?” is “You can’t!”, at least not on your own.  None of us has anything that we can give to the holy God … we are sinful creatures with no redeeming merit no matter how good we seem to other people.  Yet we are called to be holy, and we can be so in and through Jesus Christ.

“Be holy as I am holy.”   We don’t need to be on top of a pillar to be holy.  Our holiness is not dependent on anything that we can do or anywhere that we must go.   Praise be to God the Father and to His Son for giving us a way to stand before God and call Him Father.  We can be holy – if we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. 

Listen to the choir sing “Clothed in Righteousness” from the album Glory to the Holy One, lyrics written by R. C. Sproul:

Here are the lyrics for your review while you listen:

Fallen race in Eden fair Exposed and full of shame Fled we naked from Thy sight Far from Thy holy Name

Refrain

Clothe us in Your righteousness Hide filthy rags of sin Dress us in Your perfect garb Both outside and within

Sent from the garden in the east Outside of Eden’s gate Banished there from Thy pure light Were Adam and his mate

Scarlet souls are now like snow By Thy atoning grace Crimson hearts become like wool For Adam’s fallen race

Refrain

No work of ours is good enough For evil to atone Your merit, Lord, is all we have It saves, and it alone

Refrain

Father, I pray that these words would be encouragement to believers and that they would be used by the Holy Spirit to convict the nonbeliever of the need for repentance and faith in the Savior.  Thank you Father for making a way for us to come before you in faith.