Into Thin Air
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PROPHECY / HOLINESS SERIES
by Jackson Snyder, M. Div.
  It's a godly thing to climb to the top of Mount Perfection.  To make one's home anywhere upon it's lofty promontories of promise is to find satisfaction and assurance of success.  Still, striving for perfection is dangerous.  Even the Kingdom of God suffers violence, "and the violent [wish to] take it by force."  For way far below dwell the enemies of our happy Kingdom, described by St. Peter as those who inhabit "the nether gloom of darkness" (2:17), deep in the Mammoth Caves of mortal sin.  These troglodytes seek ever to destroy Jesus'  claim on the world and the efforts of his faithful for good.
 
  Their plan is simple; introduce to Yahweh's mountaineers an easier way, a more worldly way, a more pleasurable way, a more intellectual way, a more "spiritual" way, a more traditional way, rather than the painstaking and dangerous climb upward to Perfection.  Peter calls these connivers "false prophets and teachers" who, in their desire to trick us off the narrow way, speak falsehoods as though they were the very oracles of God.  But our guide exposes the false and their dwelling places.  He describes three foul and godless Mammoth Caves in which they dwell, each deeper into the earth than the last.  
 
  The first cave he calls Heresy (v.1):  Cave Heresy begins at the great stone door called Impiety, the vain attitude that says, "I can get away with this -- Yahweh can't see me."  In turn, Impiety leads to the Hall of Blasphemy -- speaking His precious name in vain -- cursing His children -- attributing His great works to the devil, which is the unpardonable sin.  Blasphemy, of course, often leads to action; and when blasphemy is full blown it becomes Desecration -- the marring of all things godly -- the persecution of the saints -- and the desecration of the church.  Not all heretics burn churches, but, all the same, they live in the depths of Mammoth Caves with those who do.
 
  The second Mammoth Cave Peter calls Licentiousness (v.2): Licentious Cave opens by a stone door called Vulgarity -- being common, vulgar, foul-mouthed and unclean in thought.  This door opens to a "Lack of Restraint" --  those who dwell there maintain that they have high moral standards, but their rectitude is really quite low, and they are easily and happily sucked into the deepest depths of the cave, known as Promiscuity - which generally just means, "if it feels good, do it" -- and they do.  
 
  The third Mammoth Cave is the deepest of all -- as deep in the earth as Everest is high above.  Peter simply calls this cave Greed (v.3): and its door is Selfishness, which leads to Envy, then to the breaking of the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet."  And Covetousness is the same as idolatry.  All three Mammoth Caves eventually lead downward to their terminus -- that great hall of judgment,  then on to the second death and ultimate destruction.
 
  Even now, the Apostle informs us, those who persecute the saints or seek to lead them into sin, are already being judged for their heresy, licentiousness and greed.  Peter proves this to us by citing three biblical examples of those whom God has already judged and condemned.
 
   He tells us the strange story of certain angels who, in the grip of heresy, left their first estate and descended to the earth to violate its godly women, bringing forth monstrous giants -- half human, half angel -- whose bones are still found in the caves of Israel to this day.  These angels and their progeny taught the children of Elohim to rebel against the authority of the Divinity.  They taught men and women the oldest trade in the world, left unmentioned by this writer.  They also taught earthlings war, and how to beat plowshares into swords, and how to call down devilish angels to aid their folly, and how to torture the weak just for pleasure, and how to cast the future by the stars, and how to work magic.
 
  After generations of subjugation by fallen angels and giants, the patriarch Enoch tells us that all creation began to cry out with one voice against these evil, demonic conquerors.  And the Lord of Spirits saw their desecration of his good earth and in his righteous fury he sent his great Angelic Sons against them to end their evil rule, who confined these fallen angels and their evil spirits in Hell and pits of nether gloom (v.4).  Thus we learn that the fallen ones were sorely judged by the Angelic Sons of the Lord of Spirits because they despised authority and engaged in defiling passions, as Peter goes on to explain.
 
  But Yahweh's judgment did not stop with angels.  The people of the ancient world were so corrupted by this time that only one person in the land was found with the potential for holiness.  That man's name was Noah, who, through the prophetic word of God, warned his people for decades that a flood was coming to wipe out the world; for "every thought and imagination of man was only evil continually" (Gen 6:5).  When it finally began to rain, only Noah and his kin were saved by God.  And his ark of salvation eventually came to rest on Ararat, a high and holy mountain not too far from Spiritual Everest.  Thus we learn that the people of the ancient world were judged by water because they despised the authority of God and engaged in defiling passions.
 
  Although Noah was saved from the flood by the Creator, did you know that some evil men and women escaped the flood?  Study Numbers 13 -- whole families of giants escaped the flood to become the ancestors of  Sodom and Gomorra.  Whereas, once upon a time, angels fell from heaven to ravish the daughters of men, now, at the home of  Lot , men demand to ravish angels.  You know the story.  Let's ask Peter a question, "What was Lot, whom you call 'a righteous man,' doing in Sodom in the first place, in an immoral city inhabited by  -- sodomites -- every one?  Shouldn't he have been on the mountaintop with his Uncle Abraham?"  Peter might answer,  "Lot had no business there, but for Abraham's sake Yahweh saved Lot; but he judged Lot's dear friends with fire because they despised authority and engaged in defiling passions."  
 
  And now, Peter tells us, the plan is already set and in motion:  for as surely as we live, the "unrighteous" are to be sorely judged and condemned, especially those who despise Christ's authority and indulge in defiling passions; but also those, like Lot's wife, who just go along with the crowd.  They're not all that guilty themselves, only really by association.  But such willing acolytes will follow the false shepherd right over the cliff into the final and deepest cavern of all.
 
  Peter goes on to describe such people for us so that we can be aware of their designs on us; and he does so in very harsh terms:  Peter tells us that these pretenders are irrational animals, born to be caught and killed (v. 12), shameless in their disobedience to the Divinity: adulterous and proud of it (v.13).  They'll do most anything if "The Price is Right" (v. 15) for they are greedy lovers of gain.  Worst of all, such have incredible powers of deception and manipulation -- with false promises they may even be able to entice the elect from the great mountain and into the caves of destruction (v.19).  
 
  The descriptions Peter uses for these people fly in the face of our notion of all being created in God's image, of all being inherently good, of all being children of God.  Simply put, Peter says that all are not of God's lineage nor created in his likeness and image.  
 
  Even Jesus described some well-meaning people by telling them, "You are children of your father, the devil -- and the lusts of your father you commit" (John 8:44).  So we learn both from Peter and from Jesus that there exists an entire generation of rebellious and sensuous people -- People of the Lie, one author submits -- whose every intention and action it is to destroy the gladsome things of Yahweh and the dear brethren who walk in Christ's footsteps.  Both Jesus and Peter expose to us the father of this evil generation, and speak of this evil generation collectively as "the world."  Friends, you may be "in the world" but you are not to be "of the world."  Don't be dragged down.  Instead, climb higher!
 
  Consider the hazardous life Ken Sumrall's pet cockatoo, wings clipped, escaping out of the safety of her  cage into the outside world, with it's predators and unstable weather.  The dear bird doesn't have a chance against those forces wishing to destroy her.  But unaware of the dangers, she picks at the earth for some little seed, but soon becomes the pickings of some devil from the sky.  
 
  Likewise, consider the hazardous state of good people surrounded by the defilements -- the heresies, the licentiousness, the greed -- of  a pagan society and a paganistic church.  Consider the wideness and slipperiness of the slope leading down, down, down from vulgarity to "lack of restraint" to promiscuity to the fires of Hades.  Friends, consider the greater society that we live in, sinking into the mammoth mouth of the earth right before our eyes, and consider our part in it's demise.  Just allowing it all to happen without doing a thing to change it may be the greatest sin of all.  Are we like Lot, the judge over Sodom, watching it all go down and doing no more about it than going down with it?  "Bad company" not only "ruins good morals," so we learn; but spelunking (exploring caves) also ruins good judgment.
 
  We visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky a while ago.  Deep within, the guide pointed out some freshwater crustaceans living in one of the subterranean springs.  It was obvious that these shrimp had no eyes.  He told us that at one time these creatures could see, but generation after generation of evolution in total darkness had caused these shrimp to lose their organ of sight.  Likewise, folks can't see because they have no eyes anymore.  It is no wonder people can't perceive spiritual things -- they haven't any spiritual sense.  And what people can't see they are not much interested in.  But, you'll notice, people are always evangelical in their blindness.  They want to usher those who see into the world of those who don't see -- the blind leading the sighted -- the false taking charge of the true -- until the sighted themselves become blind, blind as the shrimp in the spring.
 
  Soon after we saw the blind shrimp, the tour guide took us into a large corridor of Mammoth Cave and announced, "Without the artificial lights in here, it would be almost impossible for your to find your way out.  I'm the only one who knows how to get back to the entrance.  Think of that now as you experience -- total darkness."  And he turned off the light with a snap.  After about 10 seconds, someone could endure the dark no longer and cried out, "Turn on the lights! I'm going nuts in here!"  Everyone laughed nervously, because we were all going a little nuts there in the total darkness of Mammoth Cave.  And we realized a great truth, "The sons and daughters of God were not created to live in caves of darkness. After a while, we may lose the mind of Christ entirely."  Neither may we compromise with darkness in what we believe or practice; for there is a high spiritual price to pay.  Rather, if we must dwell in darkness, or if we're called to darkness, we are to display a great light therein (Isaiah 9:2) and light up that darkness.
 
  Peter tells us that those who dabble in heresy -- the licentious, the greedy, the passionate  -- will all, like fallen angels and Sodomites -- be judged, and, if they are alive right now, they are already being judged.  Their doom in the nether world of lightless caves is sure.  As is the vast judgment of the entire world of the flesh and the devil -- it is sure to come to pass.  But Peter confirms this judgment only so that he might remind us that "if the Lord knows how to judge the wicked, he also knows how to rescue the godly from trials."  After all, my friends, our destination is Mount Perfection, and when Peter says that the godly are to be rescued, he means that there is still a mechanism by which we may be extricated from the deadly crevasses we have stumbled into.
 
  Unfortunately, most of the real trials we face in our climb up upward are of our own making.  We reason that, since we live in this world, some worldly things won't hurt us much.  Or since we live in a democracy, some greedy attitudes won't hinder us much.  Or since we live in the American culture, some little pagan practices will not hamper us much.  Or since we are already church people, omitting some commandments won't hold us back much.  Or since we live in modern society, some biblical taboos may not be appropriate any more: Like holiness; too old fashioned.  Like perfection; too impossible.  Like evangelism; too embarrassing. Like doing good deeds for Christ's sake; too tiresome, too phony.
 
  This attitude absolutely infiltrates our churches today.  They have become known for Easter egg hunts and Christmas concerts and illicit marriage ceremonies rather than as armories for equipping the saints with power.  Our church, in fact, is heretical.  She tasted then embraced modern culture a century ago,  and, in the interim, she has slidden down the slippery slope into perdition.  The question is, have we as individuals gone too to be rescued; for even Christ is hard pressed to bring you out if you are already living in darkness.  "If, after you have escaped the defilements of the world, you become entangled in them again and overpowered, the last state is worse for you than the first" (2 Peter 2:20).  
 
  What shall we do to escape the slippery, downward trend of Mammoth Caves?  Peter doesn't tell us here, but he does refer to his previous letter.  There we find his answer (1 Peter 1):  (13) "gird your minds -- set them on his revelation" (presence);  (22)  "love your brother or sister,  for we've been born again"; (17) "conduct yourself in awe of God during your exile" -- "Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil."  We covered all these virtues in our last installment.  But consider one final commandment from 1 Peter 1:14,16: "don't conform to your passions, be holy, for, You shall be holy as I am holy" (also Lev 19:2).  It is this final commandment that we're going to work with a little.  Consider these words of Dag Hammarskjold in context with your own climb to perfection:
 
You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn't reserve a plot for weeds.
 
   we shall give the Lord Jesus permission as gardener to pluck out the weeds; or, in following our topic, to close the cave door and deal with the falsehood and hypocrisy that infects every one of us, no matter how high on the mountainside we think we are or how devoted we seem to others.  As we close our eyes and open our hearts, let me again spell the names of the Mammoth Caves and their mighty halls of evil; and as I do, allow the Holy Spirit to quicken your mind to that place which may be keeping you from climbing up where you belong.  Consider:  Heresy: impiety, blasphemy, desecration; Licentiousness: vulgarity, lack of restraint, promiscuity; Greed: selfishness, envy, idolatry.  Consider now the holiness of Jesus Christ and his almighty power to save, so that we, like Lot, may just walk away.
 
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