Just dropping you guys a quick note to let you know that for the next couple of days you can get my book “Beautiful Ruin” for free on Kindle. Simply click the picture of the book below to pick it up!
If we were to put together a list of God’s attributes certainly Holiness would rank amongst the top. This is good as it is very important that we understand that God is a Holy God. It is even more important however that we understand what exactly Holiness means, and what it means to say that God is Holy, and how that relates to each of us as Christians.
The first time we see the word Holy used in Scripture is in Genesis 2:3. In this verse Holy is used to describe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day set apart and blessed by God. Blessed by God for the purpose of rest. The next instance we see the word Holy used is in Exodus 3:5 to describe the ground on which Moses stood as he spoke with God at the burning bush. Moses was commanded, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses was so afraid to look at God that the scriptures tell us, he hid his face. Moses had good reason of course, for we find out in Exodus 33:20 that no man can see the face of God and live. Then, in Leviticus 11:43-45 God commands his people, “You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them and become unclean through them. For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” In 19:2 he says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
In just a few verses we can gather rather quickly that the word Holy as it relates to God means, set apart, sacred, undefiled, and pure. To say that something is Holy is also to say that it is perfect in every way. Certainly this definition can be applied to God.
God does not just say that he is Holy though. God also commands his people to be Holy. Anyone with eyes to see can see that there is a problem here. Ever since that fateful day in the Garden in which Adam and his wife Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, holiness has not been a word that can be used to describe humanity. Certainly the Prophet Isaiah saw a problem:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! (Isaiah 6:1-5).
As Isaiah was confronted with the unimaginable holiness of God, all he could do was shout out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”.
Isaiah was stunned by the awesome Holiness of God, as he should have been. Isaiah’s response is the correct response to the God who is perfect and holy in every way. The fact that God is so holy, and we are so unholy means that there is a problem. We as unholy people cannot approach this perfectly holy God. Since Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, holiness has not been able to dwell in the midst of unholiness. That is of course, unless God does something.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with thongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7).
In order for Isaiah to stand in the presence of God, his guilt had to be taken away, and his sin had to be atoned for by God. You and I are no different.
This same holiness that we have been talking about that is attributed to God here in the Old Testament is also applied to Jesus in the New. Let’s look at just a few verses to illustrate this point.
In Mark 1:24 even the unclean Spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Hebrews 7:26 uses the following words to describe Jesus, “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”
1 John 3:5 says, “…in him there is no sin.”
In Luke 5:8, Simon Peter takes our minds back to our Isaiah 6 passage earlier as he responds to Jesus with these words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Again, as we are confronted with holiness, we shrink back in fear, for we know deep in our hearts that unholiness cannot dwell in the same place as holiness.
Now some folks see an issue with this. They think that yes, God is Holy, but he is also love. Therefore, if God loves us, then he can just look past our sins. This attitude however is a mistake. When we take this line of thinking, what we are actually doing is elevating God’s attribute of love above his attribute of Holiness. God is love, perfect love in fact. God is also holy, perfect holiness. To think that God simply looks past sin is a dangerous mistake. It leads straight to a path of licentiousness because we begin to think that sin is not a big deal. But the bible tells a much different story. Sin is a really big deal. So big in fact that God had to send his son to die on a Roman cross for it. The love of God and the holiness of God are not in opposition. Within God, and within Christ who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Holiness and Love dwells perfectly together. At the cross of Christ we see love and Holiness at work all at once. Certainly love put Christ on the cross, but if it were not for the Holiness of God, there would have been no need for him to be there. The Holiness of God demands Holiness in return from his people (1 Peter 1:15-16). Yet, we cannot attain that Holiness on our own. Therefore, Christ had to attain it for us. That was the purpose for which he died. 2 Corinthians 5:21,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry is that, “…he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she (the Church) might be holy and without blemish.”
It is here that we find peace and rest. Often as we are confronted with the Holiness of God, we respond in ways similar to that of Moses, Isaiah, and Peter. We cower in fear. We hide our face from God. We ask Him to flee from us, for we are sinful people indeed. But in Jesus, these sins are removed from us. In Jesus, we are holy and without blemish. In Jesus, we are the righteousness of God. We no longer need to be fearful of the Holiness of God. Now, we get to embrace it, for it is ours.
This week as I was preaching through Psalm 1, I made the observation that the Psalms are meant to draw us into worship. I defined worship as: Drawing closer to God so that we can see Him as He is in all his beauty and splendor and majesty, then giving Him honor and praise for who He is. I’m certain this isn’t a complete definition, nor the most theological definition, but still I think it helps us to get an idea of what worship should be.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I tend to think this in itself is a pretty good definition of what worship is. There are many other definitions that I’ve heard for worship: To give weight to, to ascribe worth, to reverence or give adoration…
No matter which definition we like best, there is one commonality I see in them all: Worship works best when God is the object of our worship.
This seems like a “no-brainer” but my experience tells me this isn’t always how we approach worship. So often I see folks, myself included, think of worship as more of a performance than anything else. Now certainly, none of us will say this…but when we take a good look at ourselves in the mirror, I think you’ll see that I might be more right than you or I would like to admit.
I have a group of pastor friends I talk to on a regular basis. We send each other encouraging words and pass along our prayers each Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon and Wednesday nights we will often ask each other how the day went…More times than not, we will discuss how we feel we preached. Instead of focusing on the goodness and graciousness of God…which I know is the message that we’ve preached…we are instead focused on our performances in the pulpits. If there is a technical difficulty in the leading of the worship, or if I forget the words to a song (I’m also my own worship leader) I’ll tend to dwell on it. I pay way more attention to the areas that I feel I messed up, than I do on the God whom I was there to proclaim and worship, and lead my people in worshiping.
This is not how it ought to be.
But I don’t believe this just happens among those in the pulpits. I know, because I’ve been on the other side too. How many times do church goers leave talking more about whether the worship band or choir had a great day(or off day), or how well the preacher did that morning?
Is this really worship? I don’t think so.
Worship is focusing on, rejoicing in, and resting in the one to Whom we came to give our praises to.
Worship is not a performance, and it must never be…or else it ceases to be worship at all.
It doesn’t just happen in church either. We are called to live lives of worship. But how many of us are more focused on our performance or the performance of others than we are on the God for Whom we are to be living our lives for?
There is much more we could say here, but I fear I may go beyond the scope of this blog post, so I will leave us with this…
Worship your God today. Draw near to Him, so that you can see Him as He is. Gaze upon His beauty, be awed by his splendor and majesty…honor Him as best you can. Praise Him for who He is.
The call to peach the Word of God and to shepherd God’s people is a strange thing. Obviously it is an honor and a privilege that I don’t take lightly. It is also humbling because few things make me feel so small and so inadequate. Because it is such a large task it is very easy to get caught up in yourself and your work that you often neglect other areas of your life. Because it is such a humbling task that makes you so aware of your own limitations you can easily get overwhelmed at the things you have to do to prepare and you can begin to lose sight of those around you and their own struggles.
Because I have six kids and a part time job outside of my church work I do much of my studying and sermon prep late at night. I often feel like I’m a step behind where I need to be. My wife works night shift as a nurse so our quality time together is very limited. When she is home and able to help out with the kids I often find myself letting her handle things as I give myself over to study or writing. Saturday nights and Sunday mornings are always a bit tense as I make my final preparations to my sermon or getting the music ready for our worship service. I’m not complaining, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade my life for anything…But there is a point here I’m trying to make.
I often get so caught up in myself and my own work that I forget how hard my wife works. I’m not even talking about her “job” as a nurse. She is the one who picks up the slack around the house and with the kids while I work on my sermon. She is the one who makes sure I get to escape to my office so I can work on my Sunday School Lesson. She is the one who allows me to “sleep in” those couple of days she’s here, because I was up late writing. She is the one who goes to get the kids from school while I make my pastoral visits. She is the one who stays home and makes dinner and gets the kids ready for bed when it’s late on Wednesday night when I come home from our mid-week service. And she is the one washing the girls, and brushing their tangled hair on Sunday morning when I’m making the final tweaks to my sermon or yelling at everyone to hurry up out the door so we aren’t late to Sunday School. She is the one who wrangles the kids in the front pew while I preach and proclaim the truths of God’s Word.
It’s very easy for me to think about all that I do or need to do in ministry. But I often forget how important my wife is to my ministry. The truth is apart from her hard work I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. While I shake hands and chat with folks after Sunday Service, and breathe that breath of relief because another one is “in the books”, I often see her exhausted face and slightly disheveled hair after wrestling with a one year old for an hour and don’t give it a second thought.The fact is, she has worked every bit as hard as I have that morning.The call of a Pastor’s wife is just as sacred and just as important a call as the call to Pastoral ministry. The difference is the value of one is often overlooked, even by the Pastor himself.
I know I often take for granted what my wife does and how important she is to my ministry. I have a feeling I’m not alone. So Pastors…Tell your wife thank you and you love her and give her a kiss. Thank God for her. If you’re not a Pastor but find yourself reading this, show your Pastor’s wife some love…she deserves it. And please, pray for both your Pastor and his wife.
And just in case my wife happens to stumble upon this…Thank you Babe, I love you.
There is a big push in many churches these days to make our churches ethnically diverse. I was reading a social media post by a local pastor and he was speaking about how we need to make our worship services “cross-cultural” so that our churches could be “ethnically diverse.” And on one level I believe many of us would give a hearty “Amen!” to these two thoughts. On the surface these things sound good and true. And lest you misunderstand me, nothing gives me greater joy than to walk into a church and see a group of people of all colors, backgrounds, generations, and even shapes and sizes, for this is indeed a foretaste of Heaven…But as I reflect on this thought…of making our worship services “cross-cultural” to make our churches “ethnically diverse” I can’t help but think we might be missing something…
The fact is, we don’t need to make our services cross-cultural. The Gospel IS already cross cultural. Frankly, it disturbs me when churches say we are aiming for this group, or this demographic. The call of a church is to preach the Gospel to the area in which they are called to. If you have been called to a ethnically diverse city, then yes your church should look ethnically diverse. But, the church should resemble the city/area to which it is called. If you are called to a small town filled with older white farmers, then your church is probably going to be made up of older white farmers. If you are called to a college town, then your church is probably going to be made up of mostly younger college kids…I think you get what I’m saying.
My point is…The Gospel is cross cultural. Jesus is cross cultural. If you faithfully preach Jesus and His Gospel as a church to the place where God has called you AND live it out, then I believe people will come and I believe people will be saved and lives will be changed. Paul says in both Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 that we are all one in Christ, the walls that separate us according to cultures or ethnicity have been broken down. People are reconciled and united in Christ!
So, we don’t need to make the Gospel anything other than what it is…The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.(Romans 1:16) We don’t need to make the Gospel cross-cultural…it already is. Our goal is to be faithful to the Gospel, not try to change it or mold it into something else in an effort to attract certain people groups to our church so that we can point out to others how diverse our congregations are. When we do these things, we end up changing the Gospel or watering it down, and sometimes end up with a false Gospel which has no power at all to save.
We don’t need to strive to be cross-cultural, but we do need to strive to have a culture of the cross. It is my conviction if this is true of us, then God will work powerfully through us in our communities to draw all peoples to Himself. And depending on our locale, this is going to look different for us all.
I know, I know…It’s been a while.
I knew it had been a long time since I’d blogged, but I had no idea it had been almost four months. My apologies to the 3 people who missed reading my posts. I would love to make excuses, but I’m not sure that I have any good ones.
Have I been busy? Yes, but that seems to be the new normal. I’m still working towards completing my Bachelor Degree (a little over halfway finished!), I’m still working at my day job (though at a greatly reduced schedule), and I’m still wrangling my six kids. I also have been called to pastor a precious group of folks whom I dearly love (Cheerful Hope Baptist Church). But as busy as all of that sounds, and it is busy…I can’t say that this is why I haven’t been blogging. The reason I haven’t blogged is honestly I haven’t known what to write! Perhaps this is that thing called “writer’s block” that I hear so much about.
It hasn’t been from lack of desire…goodness knows I’ve wanted to write. I’ve even confided in my friends that I really wanted to get back to blogging…but I simply didn’t know what to write about.
I’d love to say I’ve passed that point, and now have a head full of ideas. But I’m not so sure. There is certainly enough going on in the world. I spout off the occasional opinion on Facebook…but I’m not sure what I have to add over here at the blog. We shall see how it goes. I have a few ideas, we will see how it pans out. I won’t promise I will write regularly…I’ve done that before and failed…So, I will say I’ll try.
Just thought I’d let you all know I was thinking about you! Peace.
Been feeling really frustrated lately…as I’ve looked at the world around us, a feeling of heartbreak and even disgust has taken hold of me. This morning these feelings were especially heavy on my soul as I went to get my two year old daughter out of bed. As we walked down the stairs my daughter said, “Daddy, God can see!” I said, “Yes Baby, he sure does. Did you know he can see you right now?” She said, “God sees me and he sings!”
Zephaniah 3:17 is one of my favorite and one of the most powerful verses in all of Scripture in my eyes…It says this: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
My daughter has never heard this verse and I’m not sure where she got this statement or why she said it…but what a powerful reminder as she brought this verse to my mind this morning. As God dwells in the midst of his people, those whom he has redeemed…he will rejoice to the point of singing over us. If that doesn’t encourage and lift our spirits I don’t know what will. We have a mighty God who is at work redeeming his people and his creation. It is in him that we hope. It is on him we put our focus…Not the troubles of this present world.