Unnatural HOLINESS

Holiness is a word and a subject that’s a part of our Christian vernacular. The Lord is holy. We have holy space. Our literature is filled with the word. So, define it. Right now.

I’ll wait……..

If you answer is in any way rules based, then you are in good company. In the modern Christian style guide holiness has become synonymous with following the rules so as to remain in God’s good graces. Whether it be the Commandments, any parts of the Levitical code  or even fashioning a rule book from the Sermon on the Mount or one of Paul’s sin lists, holiness, like a lot of Christian practice, has become a human-oriented and crafted practice. It is not a state of being. Rather, it has become a way of measuring how close to the boundary lines we are walking.

And that is to our detriment.

When holiness becomes adherence to the rules, we attempt to be holy under our own power and guidance. The Holy Spirit is left to His other duties and plays no role and the outcome is not the holiness of the Bible. It is a completely natural holiness, one that we have pressed and prodded into our own image.

The holiness of the Bible, on the other hand, is completely unnatural.

The holiness of the Bible is in no way possible within our fallen state. The state of holiness as declared by God is that of being fully set apart. Not in the Benedictine monastery sense of hiding within the safety of stone walls, tucked away from the influence of the world. Instead, the holiness of which the Bible speaks is a holiness in which His people demonstrate their radical set-apartedness while living within the culture and influencing it. The holiness of the Bible is demonstrated in radically living out the Great Commandment—loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor in the same way. Loving others in such a sacrificial way that there is no natural explanation for your ability to do so. Loving others in such a way that the only possible explanation that those who are not yet God’s people can offer is divine intervention.

Holiness is an unnatural love. It is not the acquisitive love of the world: do for me and I’ll do for you. Holy love is I’ll do for you despite what you do to me or what you can do for me. The love of holiness demonstrates unequivocally that the Holy are set apart, that they have moved their existence to a different plane. The Holy are living a life of service in response to the magnitude of the Sacrifice, seeking to please the Sacrificer at every step; unconcerned with the approval of the world while loving those in that world at the same time. Holiness declares the divine power of the Spirit within rather than our human efforts to follow a rule book. Holiness is unnatural and unmistakable.

Psalm 66 – He Has Not Withheld His Love

imageCome and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. ( v16 )

God has a history with each of us. He has pursued us and extended immeasurable grace to us that we do not deserve. Many of us have been brought to repentance and restored into relationship with our Savior. No matter how many years have passed in this relationship, or if it is still brand new, our proper attitude is ensured by a consistent practice of rehearsing in our minds and with our lips all of the things that God has done for us.

Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!

He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come let us rejoice in him. (vv 5-6)

You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. (v 12)

If we turn back through the preceding pages of the Old Testament, we find that over and over the people of Israel recite all of their history with God as they praise Him. The blessings and the testing are all there, and from the rehearsal of this history His people are reminded of how deeply God loves and wants to restore them to holiness and relationship with Him. Both His loving blessing and His difficult testing are meant to achieve the same purpose, that you and I become who we were meant by His design to be.

Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.” (vv 3-4)

image by j samoral

Lent 2009 – 35 Steps to the Cross

PeterStepsHis divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who call us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Before Peter could write these truths, he had to learn them for himself. Before the Lord called him away from the lake, Peter had developed a pair of traits that would undergo a transformation as he followed Jesus through the land. As a hard working fisherman he had no doubt developed a high level of self sufficiency. He knew how to fend for himself as a businessman and on the dangerous waters that he fished, especially in situations where he could rely on no one else to get him out of trouble. As a Jew, Peter had also been steeped in the legalistic practices of Judaism.

Jesus taught him something completely different as He sought to make the notion of grace clear. Peter could not nor should not bring anything to the party. God provided everything and any attempt to supplement that gift simply got in the way of the outworking of grace. Like Peter, we often find ourselves struggling with grace. We impose restrictions on ourselves that God has not in an attempt to infuse godliness into our lives but in doing so, we get in the way of the work of the Spirit. He was given to us so that the transformation of our souls could come from within, not from our own efforts. The extent of work should simply be reliance of the work of the Holy Ghost. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…”

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Life With God 8

imageThe life with God drives us to see what  could happen we are faithful doers of the Word rather than just hearers. As Foster begins to wind down his book Life With God, he is emphasizing the ‘why’ of spiritual transformation. He says that “ the quiet power of a life transformed by God is so explosive that it can redirect the course of human events.” When we are deeply enmeshed in a life lived in the immediate and intimate presence of God, we find ourselves with transformed inclinations. Our purposes are driven less and less by personal desire and worldly avarice and more by the subtle whispers that guide our fulfillment of God’s purposes through us.

Coming to this spiritual awareness is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines. Remember, the definition of discipline that we apply to our spiritual nature is the ability to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. The spiritual practices are not intended for record keeping, that is, we are not rewarded by the measure of their exertion. Rather, the reward for the practice of spiritual disciplines comes in an increased sensitivity to the words of God through which He moves you to action. As Dallas Willard says, we are being prepared to enter a state of unthinking readiness in which we are able to respond despite pressures from outside to act otherwise. When the moment of action arrives, we  move in the Spirit without having to consider the possible societal implications of doing so.

There is a liberating truth that we can come to understand through study and focus on the lives of the saints that have gone before us such as John Woolman (pictured above.) The truth is that we do not become godly by trying to become godly. We become godly as our worldly habits are replaced by holy habits such as love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. When our character is filled with these traits we will instinctively do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. Our practice of the Disciplines is not intended to change ourselves, that is God’s work. Rather, our practice is intended to open ourselves to His power so that the transformation may occur. This is the principle of indirection.

This principle works by addressing human character issues by attending purposely to the attending spiritual virtue. For example, pride is overcome by intentionally seeking out opportunities to serve others. Over time, this consistent practice puts us in a proper relationship with others, engendering humility within us. Paul mentions this intentional training in 1 Corinthians;

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24-27)

We do not train in the Spiritual Disciplines solely for the sake of training. We train for transformation. The key to this shift in our understanding is to remember that it is God that will provide the transformation, not our own efforts. We must become expectant of the change, sensitive to His whispers that slightly change our mechanics as a coach would do. All of our training and the resulting transformation of our character will reorient us for life in the kingdom of God and our thoughts and attitudes and our behaviors will gradually become radically different from what passes for normal in this world.

Now, that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Psalm 15 ~ I Will Never Be Shaken

The psalmist asks,

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? (v1)

It is a reflection on one’s approach to the Temple and the appropriate condition of one’s holiness before nearing the throne. The ‘response’ cites a variety of ways by which a person can judge the condition of their heart and how closely they adhered to the Law. He or she are blameless, they speak the truth, loves their neighbor, etc. As we read the psalm in modern times we are driven to question our own approach to meeting with God in worship. Are we as worthy?

Some corners of the kingdom have substituted tolerance in place of holiness in the sanctuary. We often fail to consider the condition of our hearts before approaching the throne. In some ways, we approach the altar with the same casualness that we approach the Starbucks counter. Our personal holiness is of little concern during the week and yet we fully expect God to receive our praise and hear our prayers on Sunday. We don’t take holiness seriously and this attitude cannot be masked from God when we enter His house.

Each of us would do well to rewrite this psalm in our journal as a personalized prayer reminder to be used for reflection all through the week. It can aid the Spirit in cooperating with the transformative work in which He engages in our lives. He does so purely that we might be presented at the throne, today and into eternity as righteous and blameless.

Psalm 14 ~ The Fool Says There is No God

As God looks down upon His creation seeking the righteous far and wide, the brokenness that he finds is pervasive. It has reached every corner of humanity.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (vv 2-3)

A cold, sobering splash as we pray through the psalms. The reality of our situation writ large on the pages of scripture. There is none of us that truly selflessly seeks God. Whether realized or hidden, there is some corner of our being that sees ourselves as little ‘g’ god of our own world. We are fools.

And yet, the same Father who knows that none could stand before Him makes a way for us…

Psalm 13 – I Will Sing to the Lord

When we find ourselves in the midst of a silent period in life when God seems distant or especially quiet, despair can set in. We cry out for his attention only to hear our voices echo back.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? ( vv 1-2 )

Our recourse should be to examine our lives. Is there something in our character, life, or practice that God turns away from? Is the Lord calling us to patiently endure a tempering season, honing our edges and readying us for His purposes? Both should turn us back to Him in repentance for our sin or for questioning His decisions. In all things we return to Him in worship.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me. ( vv 5 – 6 )