Amazing Holiness

Holiness is seriously lacking in the church today, or so I keep hearing. It’s not exactly a novel diagnosis – Spurgeon was making basically the same criticism over 100 years ago. The accusation is that there is more fun than gravity in our meetings, more world than godliness, more entertainment than Bible. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.” The apostle James’ words are borrowed and prescribed. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.”

I will not deny the absolute essentiality of holiness. Neither will I say that holiness does not ever involve tears, or that it never inspires solemnity. But I will say that I don’t believe tears or solemnity are its prime expressions. I want to defy the notion that holiness is austere, and that it is displayed chiefly by rigorous morality and a formal meeting style.

What, then, is holiness? Fundamentally, it is drawing near to God and learning to be like him. This will take many shapes! N. D. Wilson described it thus. Read and enjoy!

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“We say we want to be like God, and we feel we mean it. But we don’t. Not to be harsh, but if we did really mean it, we would be having a lot more fun than we are. We aim for safety and cultural respectability instead of following our stated first principles: that we are made in God’s image and should strive to imitate him.

A dolphin flipping through the sun beyond the surf, a falcon in a dive, a mutt in the back of a truck, flying his tongue like a flag of joy, all reflect the Maker more wholly than many of our endorsed thinkers, theologians, and churchgoers.

Look over our day-to-day lives. How do we parent, for example? Rules. Fears. Don’ts. Don’t jump on the couch. No gluten in this house. Get down from that tree. Quiet down. Hold still. We live as if God were an infinite list of negatives. He is holiness, the rawest and richest of all purity. In our bent way of thinking, that makes him the biggest stress-out of all.

But how does God parent? He gave us one rule at the beginning: “You must not eat from that tree.” Only one tree was held back. Besides, he was giving us an entire planet. A hot star. Wild animals to discover and name and tame. Animals with fangs and sinews that rippled in the sun. He gave us the Dragon to beat that beat us instead. And then he stooped down to save.

So now we have two rules—love God, love others—along with imputed righteousness, grace for our failures, and a door through the grave into eternal life. Do we act like all this is true?

Our Father wove glory and joy into every layer of this world. He wove in secrets that would tease us into centuries of risk-taking before we could unlock them—flight, glass, electricity, chocolate. He buried gold deep, but scattered sand everywhere. And from the sand came all the wealth of our own age.

Our God made things simple and funny—skin bags full of milk swinging beneath cows. And also hard: Skim the cream, add sugar from cane grass and shards of vanilla bean from faraway lands, surround with water cold enough to have expanded its molecules and become solid. Now stir. Keep stirring. Now taste. And worship.

Us: No more for you, Johnny. You’ve had enough.

God: Try the hot fudge.

God hung easily picked fruit on trees, and he hid the secrets of fine wine at the end of a scavenger hunt. He made horses with strong flat backs, lending themselves to an obvious use, and he hid jet wings behind the mysteries of steel and fossil fuels.

Without any creative help at all, our God made up peanuts and bulgy tubers. Squeeze out the peanut oil and boil it. Slice the tubers and throw them in. Now add salt from the sea.

Us: Those will kill you.

God: Take and eat.

We should strive for holiness, but holiness is a flood, not an absence. Are you the kind of parent who can create joys for your children that they never imagined wanting? Does your sun shine, warming the faces of others? Does your rain green the world around you? Do you end your days with anything resembling a sunset? Do you begin with a dawn?

We say that we would like to be more like God. So be more thrilled with moonlight. And babies. And what makes them. And holding on to one lover until you’ve both been aged to wine, ready to pour. Holiness is nothing like a building code. Holiness is 80-year-old hands crafting an apple pie for others, again. It is aspen trees in a backlit breeze. It is fire on the mountain.

Speak your joy. Mean it. Sing it. Do it. Push it down into your bones. Let it overflow your banks and flood the lives of others.

At his right hand, there are pleasures forevermore. When we are truly like him, the same will be said of us.” [1]

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[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april/lighten-up-christians-god-loves-good-time.html (accessed 02/15/19)

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God With Us

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

H. W. Longfellow

In a world such as ours it is often difficult to feel hopeful or merry. Some are passing through deep, dark valleys of grief or illness or loneliness. Some suffer the devastation of war, oppression or persecution. This Christmas Day, may we be reminded of, re-grounded in, and re-kindled with the wonderful truth that God himself came to us in the flesh, abides with us and walks with us by his Spirit, and will return to us in the flesh. Our blessed Immanuel.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

“Fully Known and Loved”

If you’re thinking maybe you don’t belong at His table because of all the ways in which you don’t measure up, take this song to heart.

“I’m fully known and loved by You
You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known, fully known, and loved by You”

Nature Is My Church

Nature is a magnificent sanctuary. Some of the most moving moments of my life have been those experienced all alone in the great outdoors. Surrounded by creation – no distractions, no social obligations (proper attire, standard small talk, conventional inhibitions), no boring sermons – just basking in the presence of God. Feet on holy ground. Honestly, it would be easy to make nature my ONLY sanctuary. However – quoting Ryan Dueck

“I was made for things like beauty and awe, certainly, but I was also made to be trained in the art of love. My soul was created for transcendent experiences and connection with nature, but it was also created for my fellow human beings. And, regrettably, I keep on blundering my way through life in selfish and stupid ways—ways that no mountain scene is up to the task of healing or forgiving or reorienting. I need to encounter God, yes, but God in the specificity with which God has made himself known, namely, in Jesus Christ. The God of creation can inspire me, but it cannot demand that I die to myself and become ever more alive and attentive to all the things that are ugly and easily ignored in the world—the parts and the people that don’t show up in carefully curated Instagram posts or status.”

The whole article here: https://ryandueck.com/2018/08/09/nature-is-my-sanctuary-but-jesus-keeps-dragging-me-back-to-church/

“Call It Grace”

“It’s the light that pierces through you
To the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away.”

It is that look of Grace – so piercing, so unflinching, so tender – that will take us just as we are, where we are. It is that same Grace that will refuse to leave us unchanged. “Though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”[1]

May we dare to step into that gaze and be known, loved, transformed.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

The Lion and the Lamb

In Revelation, “we find ourselves eavesdropping on a majestic mystery. John the Seer, who is describing the vision he has seen, is himself something of a fly on the wall, peeping into the very throne-room of God himself. We, watching the scene through his eyes, are as it were eavesdropping at second hand.

It is an astonishing sight. John begins by describing God’s throne, and even – though cautiously and obliquely – God himself. Thunder and lightning are coming from the throne; this is a place of majesty and awesome glory. Around the throne are the representatives of the animal kingdom and the world of humanity: the whole creation is worshipping God for all he’s worth.

Here we see God’s world as it should be, God’s world as it already is within the dimension of heaven.

This is the point at which most of us want to say: but the world is in a mess! It’s all very well for people to praise God as creator; look at the state of his creation! What’s he going to do about it? The good news – and this is also right at the heart of what Christian worship is all about – is that exactly this reaction takes place before our eyes in the heavenly court itself. At the start of chapter 5, John notices that the figure on the throne is holding a scroll, which we gradually realize is the scroll of God’s future purposes, the purposes through which the world is at last to be judged and healed. The problem, however, is that nobody is able to open the scroll. God has committed himself, ever since creation, to working through his creatures, in particular through his image-bearing human beings, but they have all let him down. For a moment it looks as though all God’s plans are going to be thwarted.

But then there appears, beside the throne, a different kind of animal. He is, we are told, a Lion; but then we are also told that he is a Lamb. To read Revelation, you have to get used to its kaleidoscopic imagery. The Lion is an ancient Jewish image for the Messiah, the king of Israel and the world. The Lamb is the sacrificial offering for the sins of Israel and the world. Both these roles are combined in Jesus, in a way nobody had ever imagined before but which now makes perfect sense. And when he appears, those who were already singing (the animals and the humans) turn their praise to God the creator into their praise of God the redeemer:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered, and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

 

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, pp. 123-126

May you have a wonderful Sunday celebrating our great Creator and dear Redeemer, our Lion and our Lamb, the Worthy One!