Is Holiness A Turn-Off?

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“As we study the holiness of God, we shall see in increasing clearness  how, like fire, it repels and attracts, how it combines into one His infinite distance and His infinite nearness. But the distance will be that which comes out first and most strongly. The sense of sin, of unfitness for God’s presence, is the groundwork of true knowledge or worship of Him as the Holy One.” Andrew Murray

Remember the story in Exodus 3 where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because where he is standing is holy ground? Moses hides his face in absolute fear, understandably so. We are well aware of our distance, of our unfitness. We feel it through our sin, our selfishness that we can’t always overcome, our flesh when it demands it’s way. It isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, but it does push us into making a decision: does it repel us from God further into our own darkness and hardness or does it bring us low and nearer to Him? God sees Moses’ pain and dilemma and shows him there’s a way out.  The man cries out “I’M NOT” (eloquent, ready, etc.) and God replies  “I AM” (all those things and more).

We are not, but He is.

We are not holy or worthy, but He is. He tells us “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Old Testament makes us acutely aware of this distance, our unfitness to draw near, and the New Testament provides our promised savior who came and bridged that gap. If What is in Him, it now also in us. The holiness of God in the ‘old’ leads straight into the love of God in the ‘new’ – but it’s not a one way street. That love should point us right back around to desiring holiness.

We hear about the need these days to just love more. Yes and amen. Our greatest commandment is still to love God and love people. What does that look like? Love doesn’t just pop up as some separate entity or feeling because we want it to, not real love anyway. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We all have the capacity for it, but it’s through Jesus that we are able to actually walk it out.

Be holy because I am holy. Love because I first loved you.

As we draw near the fire, we become holy and we receive the ability to love. Holiness gets a bad rap though sometimes – it means judgment gets reconciled with all that love. We need holiness. Not to go alongside our love, but to give birth to it in a sense, because without it, it’s just fleeting human emotion. Sin has hooked us and the world has guilted us into thinking convictions equal unholy and cruel judgment.  The “no hate”/”all you need is love” campaigns mean nothing without the backing of a Holy God behind them. If those things worked, we’d be living in a pretty wonderful world and we’d have no need for a Savior at all. Jesus came not to improve us, but to give us new life. His holiness gets grafted right into our very being. If we find ourselves empowered by the idea of love that starts and ends with our own awesome abilities, we are missing love the way God intended it to be, the emptiness of it all will eventually come to the surface.

Love flows out of holiness. It’s the source from which all else is made possible. It’s not some extra attribute we strive for like kindness or charity, holiness is the pure character of God where mercy and judgment join together. Sin has so desensitized us that we no longer recognize holiness or even seek it. Love is the idol of the day, it sits separate out on it’s own little island and gets trotted out by Christians and non-believers alike as a kind of argument-ending silencer – who can argue with love? It sounds good. Only a jerk wouldn’t want people to love more. It just doesn’t thrive without holiness as its foundation. When coupled with Christ, that love is tangible and unstoppable. When it is born of our own desires, it’s fragile and fleeting.

As believers, it’s vital we value and receive God’s holiness in our lives. It’s not something we strive after like some pie in the sky behavior chart where God gives us a gold star for good deeds – it happens when we let ourselves be drawn to the holy fire, not repelled by it. We must crave all of Him, the merciful and the holy because that’s who He is.

It repels or it attracts. It hardens or it melts. Don’t ever underestimate the need we all have for repentance and drawing near, even if it is uncomfortable at first. We don’t escape any hardship by pulling away from the heat, but like Moses we come to find out that He does actually hear us and see us:

“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heart their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… I will certainly be with you.”(Exodus 3:7-8)

Is love the way to holiness? Is holiness the way to love? Is it like the chicken and the egg? Here’s what I know: They don’t exist in a vacuum. God is all-loving AND He’s all-holiness… a contradiction that fits perfectly together when we stop focusing on just one.

The Feelings Train Has Left The Station

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I love me a good ‘satire-as-truth’ article, so here’s a little bit of reality-based humor from over at the Babylon Bee:

SEATTLE, WA—After reading several chapters from the gospels over the weekend, local progressive believer Wendy Butler reportedly published a Patheos blog post in which she criticized Jesus of Nazareth for “not being very Christlike.”  

The blog post took Jesus to task for His “unloving and problematic” teachings.“He devotes entire sections of His sermons to ranting about archaic religious concepts like hell and the last judgment instead of just coming alongside the marginalized and affirming their sins,” Butler said. “Very little of what He did on earth I would describe as life-giving. Frankly, I do a better job of being Christlike than Christ Himself.”

Zing! Is anyone offended?

Our experiences lead the way when defining how we think about God, its partially true. It isn’t right, but it’s true. How can some have such a reverent outlook while others dismantle Jesus down to nuts and bolts only to put Him back together how they’d like to see Him? To be fair, it plays out on both sides of the fence, the end result being the same, a kind of build-your-own-Jesus that never really resembles the real one.

I’ve known people whose Jesus still lives up on a cross , defeated and sad. They revere Him but know none of His power. Others take a more charismatic view, Jesus is their sandal-wearing buddy, here to serve or comfort in time of need. We conveniently take certain passages from the Good Book and use them to reinforce ‘our Jesus’. Each side has their go-to verses they like to use: “He hung out with sinners!” vs. “He turned over the tables in righteous anger!” and everything in between.

Here’s the rub: we are all human with vastly differing views and experiences. The minute we start trying to form the Word to suit our agenda is the moment we might as well toss in the towel. We have to begin with Jesus. He is our starting place. We don’t need to pull out passages that prove our point, we need to just point to Him.

Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 
We are told in Proverbs that wisdom and knowledge is found when we seek it out like treasure and when we cry out for discernment (2:3-4). We do have the answers, and they actually are kind of a “one size fits all” in the sense that Jesus is who He is. Now, of course He deals with us on a most personal level and it is a beautiful thing, because we are certainly not one size fits all people. He knows our life road map that got us where we are, our quirks, our wounds, the silly stuff we believe that may not be entirely true, He gets it. He just offers us all a clear lifeline out of the muddy waters and into the Living Waters of truth.

There’s a lot of buzz lately in Christian (especially womens) circles about the need to be brave and fierce and true to your ‘tribe’. It’s all about that ‘tribe’. That’s all fantastic, provided your tribe is grounded in the truth of God’s Word. We are meant to support one another, but we are not meant to replace Jesus for someone else. That’s the thing about following the feelings, they aren’t solid and what’s true today may not be six months from now.

There’s a lot of truth to the satire, we decide we know whats best and what Jesus really meant when He said such and such. We tweak it a bit to fit our desires. And it takes off like wildfire into the next thing and the next, and before we know it, Biblical Jesus is a blurry image in the rear view mirror and we are taking off full steam ahead on the feelings train that we have no business driving. When you have voices inside Christianity doubling down on distorting the gospels to fit a hurting culture, you wind up with half the listeners believing a lie and the other half left either in fear of speaking up or disgusted confusion.

“Your Jesus is meeeeaaannn. I don’t like mean. I like tolerance. Jesus loves everyone. It isn’t right to hurt and exclude people the way you do.” 

“Your Jesus is a hippie. The real Jesus stood for truth and justice and would never put up with sin. It isn’t right to be so permissive of outright sin.”

While we’re busy firing off cheap shots at the other camp, that ugly snake slithers away hissing and grinning at having performed his duty to perfection.

When Jen Hatmaker and others came out in support of gay unions as godly and permissive, the church understandably fired back. I read a LOT of the responses and fallout when this happened and I can honestly say the disagreement was for the most part, civil but strong. Her response to it all was to attack the ‘Christian Machine’ that oh so predictably called her out on her claims. There were many heartfelt, well thought out responses to their very heartfelt departure from Biblical teaching. I’m not attacking her, I’m pointing out that when we place our self and feelings at the center of our arguments its a losing battle. When the argument becomes about ‘you’ it’s over. The vast majority of people weren’t attacking her, they were standing up for long-held Biblical truth, which, by the way, we are supposed to do in love. If our response is to shut others down and (like the lovely young lady in the satire article) imply we have the upper hand on compassion that Jesus Himself doesn’t seem to have, well then, prepare for some healthy debate coming your way.

We are all fallible and prone to wander. We all want the latest hot take of how to make this life thing work to our advantage. Most Christians I know of, Hatmaker included, want to mend hurting hearts and bring people to Jesus. Nobody wants to be smacked upside the head with a hard cover King James and told they’re scum. And those who have been pulled from the ledge will tell you they don’t want to be coddled in their sin either. (See Rosaria Butterfield’s beautiful essay on that topic if you want to be encouraged about speaking truth in love).

We are mandated, by Jesus Himself to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) AND honor Christ as Lord, being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; doing it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). So the two dueling-Jesus guys actually do meet up in the middle! They both exist! Let the truth speak for itself. We miss so very much when we try and mold Jesus to be how we want Him to be. Let the entire Word of God be your home base, your safety, your map; the real Jesus will show up in ways you’d never expect.

 

 

Hashtag Campaign Or A Sound Mind?

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I noticed on ‘the Twitter’ today that “world mental health day” is trending. For those less inclined to serious topics, it’s also “national handbag day”, so take your pick. A day for literally everything, because someone started a hashtag. It’s fascinating. I’m all for a mental health day though, the world feels positively apocalyptic lately. The keyboard life-coaches are out in force, giving us tips on loving ourselves, giving ourselves a break, and doing more yoga. (I’m not kidding, I just read a tweet that said veganism and yoga are the way to perfect mental health.) I think bacon is, but whatever. Hashtag #BreakfastMeats…

I’d like to offer up the non-fancy, not-new (but AMAZINGLY EFFECTIVE) idea that all the self-help on the planet and awareness campaigns aren’t going to help chase the demons we all deal with away. Quickie solutions sound good, but why oh why do we need other messed up humans to tell us how to not be messed up?

I’m not making light of needing help. Who doesn’t? We struggle more than ever with fear, anxiety, depression and everything in between. I’m saying, if there ever was a lasting answer, it’s found in God’s word to us, not in some guru’s latest bestseller.

Here’s why: God created us to live with sanity and sound minds. 2 Timothy 1:7 is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, it says “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” I struggle with fear. Fear of letting my kids out the door some mornings. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known. But that fear isn’t from God, its the enemy whispering into my ear to disable me. The world feeds on fear, even if they don’t realize it. Twenty-four hour news cycles, disgusting tv dramas that elevate death and gore to an art form, commercials telling us we’d better get these  pills because new this disease is gonna get us. On and on.

We long for a sound mind but we don’t spend any time at all pursuing one. And we wonder why we are riddled with such manic instability in our culture. Our kids are pressured to compare themselves to everyone else, to be perfect at all times and always win the trophy. Middle schoolers are racked with issues I never even knew about at their age. They are living their lives based on what feels right or doesn’t feel right, and have become lost to the idea that a sound mind settled on Jesus is the rest they long for.

There’s a popular little idea going around that assures us we aren’t really the problem, the messy world we live in is the problem. I see the meme all over and it drives me nuts, takes away my sound mind, you might say. People, sometimes we actually are the problem, as hard as it is to admit that. Our selfishness, our refusal to obey and do our own thing, it gets us into trouble. Jesus takes care of all of that if we let Him. It takes humility, not pride in our abilities. He alone is our mental health solution. He promises us a sound mind, He took the place of all our shame and guilt and made us FREE to move forward in perfect peace.

Please don’t fall for the trendy sayings and feel-good band-aids for such deep issues of the heart. Don’t fall for the lie that you can replace the emptiness with material things or status updates or someone else’s idea of truth. The fact that we are “shocked” when humans we’ve put on a pedestal fail and act as humans baffles me. Friends, we are all human and not one of us has an upper hand when it comes to issues of the heart, unless we’ve handed our lives over to Jesus.

We have a duty to run after holiness, to pursue Jesus the way He pursues us. When our focus is abiding in Him, our mind is set in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He keeps us steady, sane, sober and healthy. No shortcuts, no cute hashtags, no useless symbolic awareness campaigns… the living word and Jesus Himself. Anchored and at rest in a world that is tossed to and fro.