What ever happened to holiness?

When I first became a Christian it seemed like it was all about holiness. Maybe that was because I didn’t have any. Having come in contact with Jesus-the not-dead, I knew without a doubt that I was made right in the eyes of God the Judge, there was no doubt in my mind. I could feel it. Unfortunately there were still things engraved in my human mind that were far from holy. You know, things that were at the other end of the values spectrum from Jesus. But I wanted to follow him. I wanted to follow Him close, I wanted to be right on his heels. Life became a series of conquests of the Grace of God over the sin-things that had become part of my life. Some of those things were difficult, some of them were easy, it was thrilling. Sometimes events and circumstances fell into to place that led me to a victory, sometimes the Holy Spirit, as I learned to recognize, did the work on the inside of me.  I am so thankful for a couple of guys who came into my life and were always there encouraging me to give up my own ideas to the Holy Spirit. When I became a Christian I was blessed to be part of a group of people, many new Christians like myself, who shared a passion to please an amazing God through whatever sacrifice. It wasn’t just church. In fact church was basically just a celebration about the busy-ness of God in every day.

The Bible I was reading said “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (NASB95) Alternatives notwithstanding, I want to see the Lord. I also realize that holiness, sanctification, is a very practical matter to God. I accepted this and as a new believer I did my best to pursue it. That word translated pursue is about going after it pushing the accelerator not the brake, there is a sense of extended effort and passion. In fact the word translated pursue in Heb 12:14 is often used in the context of persecution.

I can’t say that I have always pursued, there have definitely been seasons when I did not and there are oddly still challenges to holiness in me (Romans 7 – oi!). You can’t earn grace and shouldn’t confuse justification with sanctification in this sense, but as I think about the amazing things that God does to encourage this pursuit I can’t help but think that this is extremely important to God.

We often talk about the two parts of sanctification, our part and God’s part.

For our part we pursue (see Heb 12:14 NASB), strive ESV, try GNT, follow KJV, make every effort NIV, work at NLT holiness; holiness being things and behaviors that separate us from the world and make us special to God. Clearly there are things that we do that express or incarnate our being special for God, things like acts of worship, resisting temptation or giving to someone in need. Conversely there are things we will not do because they are unholiness, or that make us un-special to God, things like lying or worshiping something He created, things He has said “Don’t do”. It’s a fool’s errand to make an expanded list of things that fit into these categories, the Bible covers these things, just be honest with yourself – are you moving toward God or away from Him?

We can’t make ourselves sinless in the sense of being perfect, or justified, before God, Only God can do that through our faith in Christ, we’re “justified by faith”, and faith alone.

Also, God’s part in sanctification is something that only God does. Call it what you want, He pours out His Spirit or fills with or gives or anoints with the Holy Spirit – no need to obsess on the terms. Clearly God sanctifies by personally doing something to a person with the Holy Spirit. That is God’s part. To deny it is to disregard major parts of the New Testament not to mention thousands of years of human interaction with God. This pentecostal experience is something God will do, it seems to me, in response to your or my willingness to carry on with Christ. We shouldn’t miss the fact that the120 believers in Acts 2 were doing what Jesus told them to do.

Why even talk about it? I wonder if we don’t forget the first part of that equation. I wonder if we haven’t convinced ourselves that God really doesn’t care about any of the personal action stuff. Truly one of the most breathtaking things about God, who is holy, is His endless compassion and kindness. His attitude towards messed up, broken, train wreck people like myself is an attitude of love and acceptance. And His one never-ending goal for us is our sanctification. However, collectively it seems like we forget this. The last few church experiences I have had make me think so. It was almost like church existed to comfort us because we wanted to belong to God without challenging or changing anything about ourselves. Maybe that was because we thought that disciple making could take place in our one hour worship setting on Sunday morning. This is a delusion I have never ascribed to. When I became a Christian there was a group of people with a passion to please an amazing God who was both holy and loving and they sought to do it through any means available.  It wasn’t just Sunday Worship or home Bible studies, although there was plenty of all that as well, but the real changes were taking place in every-day activity in which we pursued God. Maybe it’s because of those folks, but I have always thought that walking with God should be big and exciting. It wasn’t perfect and weathered some abuses, but I kind of miss those days. I know we can’t go back, but can’t we be revived?

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It’s all about the street

Or better, it’s all about the man on the street. This is the front line where Christlikeness stands or falls. I believe, like most Christian people, that I should be actively reaching people outside of my own community of believers. And yet sometimes the things I am most passionate about have the effect of isolating me from the very people I could help the most.

“I’ve got enough headaches without all that,” was a response I once got from a man who presumed that we (church) were on a crusade to stop abortion doctors, expel gays, impeach a president .. whatever. You’ve probably had similar conversations. Even though most of us, including my friend and I, are very engaged in issues like these, the tragedy is that he and many like him think that Christianity defines itself solely by what’s wrong with the world. And his interactions with Christians left him feeling like we were all angry and defensive about it. And, possibly, angry at him. Unlike Jesus who was open straightforward, and lovingly engaged with the riff raff on the street.

David Kinnaman made this observation about the generation we call the Millenials: “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

Ouch. They think we suck.

Group’s recent poll found churches fall behind bars and homes on the friendliness scale. No surprise there, I mean come on, go get a buzz with friends or go to church and try to keep your kid quiet? Ministers, on the other hand fell in line with our hairstylists and grocery clerks. Which isn’t so bad when you think about it. Unless, of course, we think we’re at the top of the list with Jesus himself.

I think if church is going to win the Millenials were are going to have to put much more heart into engaging outsiders with attitudes that are open and  honest. You can’t really lead someone you’ve isolated yourself from. Some of us will have to reconfigure our church culture’s to be more respectful of people we don’t exactly agree with. We wil have to lead our groups into becoming the “only institution that exists solely for the benefit of nonmembers.” (G.K. Chesterson)   This value will have to be as deeply embedded in our culture as are our doctrines.There has never been a time when we need to be clearer about what we believe and why. Which is exactly why is so important that we should be open to others, wherever they are coming from. What is encouraging is that there is a movement underfoot that is about taking personal responsibility for how the watching world sees Jesus’ followers. It is a movement about doing our best to model love like Jesus’ did. I get the feeling that any religious group that does not love the man on the street is not going to accomplish much with the Millenials. Like the hippies always said, why can’t we just get along?

Casual Christians

George Barna in The Seven Faith Tribes discusses the values that we Americans share across our very varied culture. The point being: if we are to move forward together as a nation we will have to find agreement on some very fundamental values. Barna finds twenty common values in the country’s definable faith tribes.

The largest faith tribe the book describes are Casual Christians.  This tribe comprises 66 whopping percent of the population. The others, in order of their size are: Captive Christians – 16%, Skeptics -11%, Jews, Mormons, Pantheists -2% each and  Muslims – .5%.

To the monstrously large group of Casual Christians (from the website)  “Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding.  A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.”

What makes them/us tick? ” Casual Christians are driven by a desire for a pleasant and peaceful existence.” I guess this is good news for the church growth crowd,  bring them in build a big church and maybe save America too. Sounds nice this being a Casual Christian. It also explains why one of the larger churches in a town I used to live in was called the Nice Church.

The problem with Casual Christianity is Jesus. What do you do with such a dangerous character as Jesus if you just want a nice life? We would have to have some rationale for separating ourselves from much of what he taught. We would have to relegate much of his teaching to something other than our personal lives – things like his teaching  on personal success, or our love for wealth, or getting our hands dirty helping people who don’t have nice lives. What do I as a Casual Christians make of Jesus’ guarantee of persecution? And all of this, he seemed to feel, was motivated precisely by a non-casual relationship with God/himself.  I think many of us consider all this non comfort teaching to apply mainly to professional clergymen or an institutional thing called church.

The second group, Captive Christians, would presumably include people like me who try to apply our belief to every day stuff. The thing that has been killing me for the last few years is that we are so negative that we drive more and more into the Casual Christian crowd with our inability to see past the end of our evangelical noses. We really do not seem like the most caring people sometimes. We are so motivated to own the world that we alienate ourselves from the people we should love, (according to our supposed leader – Jesus). I’m sure that the discussion among us will be how do we capture the casual and bring them in. Sadly we produce more activity about voting and cultural phenomena than being what Jesus called being salt and light to our immediate neighbors. Oddly, these are strategies that Jesus never even hinted at using.

Anyway, as a used to be politic junkie who has tried to lay down that sword and pick up the Jesus’ plowshare I get Barna’s point:  we do share a lot of values as Americans and will have to rally around those common values if America’s future will have any resemblance to its past.

9th commandment in the toilet

You have probably already wretched at a Christianity Today blogger’s truth twisting via their recent Twitter headline” Mandating Euthanasia: Health care bill offers doctors incentives to have “end of life” discussions” (the title has since been changed). I am no fan of the present health care bill, so far there is nothing about it I am comfortable with.  But what is more bewildering to me is how comfortable we are with gaming the truth to accomplish our self-appointed mission.  It just seems like truth telling is take-it-or-leave-it for us. I just came out of a church whose leaders contrived and published a church letter that garbled the facts ever so slightly to defend a regressive choice.  Like the CT blog there was a technicality buried in the details that made taking a little license seem defensible, But the truth is the statements were misleading. It is a relief to hear some protest over the CT bloggers title, at least some of us still have a conscience.

Do we think people are really that stupid? Well, OK, maybe it seems like it sometimes. Do we think God is that stupid? I know we all makes mistakes, and sometimes we speak before thinking. But it gives me a chill when we are collectively willing to accept the flushing of the 9th commandment for a supposedly noble cause.

It’s made me do some real soul searching. The 9th commandment is about lying to or about a brother. Have I ever done that? I don’t think so, but then when I read the rest of the Bible on the subject I get a sense of what God is going for here. “Don’t pass on malicious gossip. Don’t link up with a wicked person and give corrupt testimony. Don’t go along with the crowd in doing evil and don’t fudge your testimony in a case just to please the crowd. And just because someone is poor, don’t show favoritism in a dispute.” (Ex 23:1-3 the Message) I can easily imagine a situation where going along with a lie might seem like the only way to get justice, but it seems like God is more concerned with truth. I have been in situations where telling the truth put me in a losing position, especially when another party has no such scruples. Sometimes you tell the truth and it seems like you lose. This is one of those points where Jesus’ valued are in direct conflict with the world’s value. Once Jesus called a group of people the children of the father of lies (devil). He said the language of lies was his (devil’s) “native language” (NIV) “from his own character” (ESV). By implication the language of lies was this very religious group’s native language too (John 8.44). They were the most religious people on the street.

Jesus seems to think our “native language” should be truth telling. Sometimes it seems that our goals – definitions – causes – reputations are more important to us.

No wonder the Millennials are the most unreached generation ever. I wonder if a couple generations of political activism and denomination planting have desensitized us to truth telling.   Are we willing to compromise integrity to get what we want.

I want to be honest. honest with and about myself. Not pretending to be perfect because I’m religious. I want to be honest with my brother, speaking the truth in love. I want to be honest with a world that does not believe in the same things I believe in.

When God chooses.

Out of control. It just sounds bad. For most of us it just feels all wrong. Most of us are not control freaks, but most of us equate a little control with safety, if not survival. I feel it about my kids sometimes, “they might get hurt if I don’t control… ” – A lot of us feel it about our self -“I might get hurt if I’m not in control of…”, both true.
But what if God was in control? What would that feel like. We all say we would like that (after all we are good Christians) but do we really want a God coming out of nowhere and taking over stuff? Our stuff. What if God said “I’m going this way, change direction and follow me.” What if he said “I want to change the way you think about being a believer,” or “I want you to quit spending so much time at work” or “take lunch to that drunk” or “Your church life is a drag, lets change it”.
God is changing things. God is bringing together a ragtag bunch of spiritual warriors who will have done with all the usual distractions and enter the rhythm of prayer and power – and strongholds will come down. We are laying aside all other motives, honorable or not, and deferring to God’s call for our lives and our city.
“It’s a frightening thing when you blink and discover that you’re in a speeding car but no longer driving. It’s scary to realize that God is moving and you are somehow caught up in something much bigger than you could possibly have known.” (Red Moon Rising, Greig/Roberts)
There are people all around you that are beginning to welcome this reality into their lives. God is calling people to turn over the controls and people are responding.
Doesn’t look like church? “A revival is something that can only be explained by the direct action and intervention of God…these events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce…and if you can explain what is happening…then it is not revival.” – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

New day

I woke to new day #4 feeling a little heavy, mostly just because of my concerns for the needs of my family and the unknowns of how I will be providing for them.  Then I started reading…. where Paul told the body to be devoted to prayer, watchful and thankful. Col 4:2

Keep reading.  When he mentioned his (and his ministry partners) personal needs it was all about an “open door for our message” and his ability to proclaim it clearly. You know what it’s like when the Holy Spirit comes in the room and settles in to counsel with you? The hair is still standing on the back of my neck.

This is what Janelle and I have always believed our calling to be about, and if so then why wouldn’t we welcome God to make everything in our life supportive of this purpose. Oh sure, it was easier when we were twenty and we could live in our car, but the only thing that has changed is us. The call of God is still the same, and the need for it is greater. Maybe the situation we were in before was a closed door for the message … and God is answering our prayer right now.

My heart is so full of worship. What an amazing God.

A little message of comfort to the great Christian voting block of the USA

The other day I heard a couple Christian people talking about ‘people of faith’ and the 08 election. One of them made this stunning comment, “You know we could lose again.”

We could lose again?

If I could be facetious for just a moment: Surely you realize that Barak loves you, so does John, not to mention Mike, Ron and Hill, and probably Ralph and Cindy.

80’s retro Billy Squire (From the days of Ron R and Jimmy C)