Is Holiness A Turn-Off?

images

“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

facts faith feelings 2

 

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.

 

 

sober silence

fullsizeoutput_67d2

 

“I want to to suggest that, at 41, if you still feel pressure from the culture to say something, then you’re probably not prepared for the hard cultural onslaught that is coming in the next two decades that will bring you to 61.

For sober silence rather than self-indulgent promotion might just get us through the cultural squeeze we are about to face in the coming decades, and reform us in a manner we desperately need.”  Stephen McAlpine

Our pastor at church has begun a series he’s calling “Unselfie: How to Live Selflessly in a Selfie World.” I think it’s one of the most important topics he could possibly address right now, how Jesus calls us to be sacrificial and authentic while culture says we must filter and promote our latest pursuits. We really are up against some powerful messages from the world about how to best present ourselves, and it’s a tidal wave that I think promises to sweep us away completely if we don’t actively fight against it.

The pressure to say something. Anything. If not on the internet, then in real life. Not everything is a battle worth fighting, although knowing the difference is becoming more and more crucial. I tell my kids most of what they watch and hear online is useless information at best that just takes up more space in their heads that was meant for something better. This isn’t a battle that’s easily won.

The other day they were watching a uTube video of a little boy reviewing Kraft Miracle Whip. My first question was, of course, “WHY are you watching this?! Who cares about a six year olds opinion of condiments?” They just thought it was funny. That’s it. They can’t comprehend my hatred for uTube and stupid videos of useless stuff. I can’t quite grasp it either, but it is high on the list these days of things that baffle and perplex me.

I’m pushing forty now and maybe it’s just because I don’t feel like I have the headspace for all the random junk that’s out there. I’m more about quality over quantity these days. I don’t believe in reading every new book that comes out, and there are a lot of them. The messages of the day are self, self and more self. Everything has become really grey, as people whom we trust or who have a platform to influence believers cave to culture while tossing in a bit of Jesus for good measure. In the end it’s about selling feel-good stuff that gives you the readers equivalent of a sugar-rush and then inevitably, a crash.

I think the internet has (wrongly) taught us that the most important thing we can do is put ourselves and our faces out there with our big opinions and clever takes on everything from mayonnaise to Bible reading in order to be seen. The manic need to self-promote over Jesus-promote is such a sign of the times we are in. We are convinced that we need to make some kind of phony platform for ourselves so we can get noticed so we in turn can share some truth.

I think it works in reverse. Each of us already has a platform from which to start discipling right where we are at. It starts at home and in our little circles. It starts when we stop self-promoting and put others ahead of ourselves. It flourishes when we stop fretting about what culture wants us to say and ask Jesus what He wants us to say. There must be times of “sober silence” when that old flesh of ours has to be crucified a bit, because there’s a world out there that needs to hear solid truth. Not “my truth” or “your truth”, but Biblical truth that doesn’t change with the winds of opinion.

That pressure we feel from culture to “say something” doesn’t have to steer us. How amazing if we would all just take some “sober silent” time to see what Jesus would have us say before we run amok with our words. He absolutely wants us to speak up, and when the words are His, they are powerful.

Lord, help us see the difference between self-promotion and promoting YOU. Help us lay down our selfie life and choose to put others ahead of ourselves so that Your kingdom can be promoted here on earth. Give us discernment to know when to keep silent and when to speak up.