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Posts Tagged ‘holiness’

Sometimes we experience some unplanned things. That describes how I met Gwendolyn. I suspect our relationship is over, in all, it lasted about twenty minutes. It was about 9:30am on Thursday morning. I had just walked out of FedEx on Paxton Street and was busy plugging my phone into the cigarette lighter when there was a knock on the window. I rolled the window down and could hear her already talking. Unable to catch everything she was saying, I heard her apologizing for upsetting me and messing up my day. At the same time she was saying something about being pregnant and getting out of the hospital and hitching a ride to get here.

I stopped her to ask what she wanted. She said she wanted to go home. I asked if she needed a ride to the train or to the bus station. She said she lived in town and I told her to jump in.

She did and I introduced myself. She told me her name was Gwendolyn and repeated she was pregnant, had been in the hospital, and had hitchhiked this morning. She then told me she hadn’t eaten and asked for a couple of dollars. I told her I don’t usually carry cash but we both noticed that I used the cigarette lighter as a change holder. I told her she might find a couple of dollars there.

She did not waste time and by the time we turned onto her street she had a hand full of change, claiming there was almost fifteen dollars there. She asked if we could turn around and go to the bank. At this point I am not believing Gwendolyn’s story and thought strongly about saying, “No, we agreed I would take you home” and “I thought we agreed on a couple of dollars.”

But there she was, in the car, hands full of change, and I’ve been reading I Thessalonians. This is a letter that strongly encourages love. This letter encourages living with a holy heart. I remember thinking that might have something to do with Gwendolyn.

Twenty minutes from the time I met her, it was over. We met on Paxton, stopped at a bank on Thirteenth Street, and I dropped her off at a place that I suspect was not really her house. As she climbed out, Gwendolyn turned to say “Thank you Randy, you are an angel.” And I begin to think this short friendship was not for Gwendolyn’s benefit at all – but for mine. Probably because God wants me to have a holy heart.

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We know the church was created by a holy hand. Yet we look around on any given Sunday and it is easy to overlook the holiness. Can we say this gathering is better behaved than those outside? Are they better looking? Do they possess more skills? Are they more likely to succeed? How then, are we to ever remember this is a holy people?

This collection of people may not look like much. They may not be thinking they shake holy hands on the way through the door, or that their own hands are holy. They may need reminded again of the sacrifice that gives them life. They may not remember they are dripping grace into their bodies when they eat the bread and drink the cup. They may not recognize the image of God shining from the faces of others or be aware it shines from their own.

Yet here we are again, gathering to be in the presence of a God who hides in the bush until He sets it afire so that we may find Him. We are gathering in the presence of a gusty God who blows where He wills. We are gathering in the presence of a God who hides swaddled in a stable to catch us unaware.  We are gathering in the presence of a holy God who knows what it is to hide in flesh, the place we try to hide each day.

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As another year comes to a close and our journey into the century continues, I find myself thinking about the excitement and questions raised by our entry into 2000.  Media hype sparked fear and imagination.  A trip to the grocery revealed timely sales on canned goods, bottled water and batteries.  The end of the world, er, the end of the millennium was used to sell french fries and tennis shoes, diamonds and automobiles.  At the theatre, people lined up for “End of Days.”

In a local department store, I was asked to sign up for a chance to win my own millennium bear.  Not far away, I noticed the opportunity to purchase my own millennium time capsule.  Later, a millennium T-shirt.  The bank was pleading that it is not necessary to withdrawal money.  President Clinton assured us that everything would be fine.  Not everyone was alarmed; I overheard a conversation where the main concern was what to wear on New Year’s Eve.

Now we learn that the world will end again in 2012.  Prepare to hear words like Armageddon, Apocalypse, and Anti-Christ.  These buzzwords and other catch-phrases will again be used, misused and overused.  Manipulated for profit.  Writers looking for a quick bestseller, preachers trying to create a stir, and other marketers trying to earn a dollar.  At times, Chicken Little and Henny Penny seem to have us surrounded.

If nothing else, the Y2K scare did show us that we must not put our faith in technology.  We are not able to save ourselves.  Maybe Big Blue can beat Kasparov in a chess match, but it is unable to save us.  Such talk does cause response from the Christian community (as it should).  Some make predictions, some write books, and others chart the end of time.  While some responses are certainly more appropriate than others, what we need is a reminder of how to respond.  Is it necessary to continue preaching and teaching, inviting and praying, opening the bible or seeking God’s will?  Has our calling changed?  We do not wish to ignore the excitement of it all, but we do wish to maintain our focus through the next millennium.  The way to maintain focus is to have a well thought eschatology.

Eschatology is a big word with a simple definition.  Simply put, it is the study of last things, the study of the end of time.  When many seek for meaning all that is found is a self-portrait.  Eschatology presents a bigger picture.  For those of us overly concerned with the here and the now, a proper eschatology corrects our perspective.  It gives urgency for holy living.  A reminder that our lives now ought to be lived not only in response to what God has done but in anticipation of what he will do.  For us, eschatology is not a doomsday sentence; it is a source of hope.  It is not reason to stand and wait; it is a call to live as holy people.

While certain buzzwords may become trendy, the end of time is not new discussion.  This discussion has been around for centuries.  Some of the earliest participants were Paul and the Thessalonians.  Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians emphasize this theme enough that John Stott entitled his commentary on these letters, The Gospel and the End of Time.  This makes it particularly interesting for us to take a look at what is emphasized there.

One of these emphases is the coming of Jesus.  Another is the theme of holiness.  At I Thessalonians 3.11-13 and 5.23-24 we find both these themes together.  This is not by accident, for Paul, the themes are inseparable.  For him, the vision of Jesus coming with his holy ones is the greatest stimulus to holiness.  In order that we might be holy then, Paul prays that we might be holy now.  Here is our statement of how to respond.  This sanctification theme is related to worship and religious instruction (5.12ff.).  But also, to conduct and behavior.  Including the everyday human experiences of work and family (4).

In this portion of scripture, we discover that the end of the world is intricately tied to the theme of holiness.  We discover that our behavior now is tied in with what is to come.  Eschatology may involve words like Armageddon and apocalypse.  Yet, it also involves words like holiness, and sanctification.  Eschatology is a source of hope and of holiness.

Therefore, our response is not to buzzwords or predictions of the end.  Our response is to the coming of Christ.  This event is directly connected to the way that we live.  It is to spur us toward holy living.  So we will continue to encourage others to become followers of Jesus.  We will continue to look through eschatological eyes to realize what lies ahead (we have hope) and where we are now (called to be holy).

We will not share the fate of Chicken Little, because we know whose hands hold the sky.  Instead, we side with Paul who stresses holy living as necessary if one is to be prepared to meet the Lord at his parousia.  He emphasizes God’s sanctifying work in the believer.  He assures the church that God will finish the good work he has begun in them.  He sees sanctification as preparation for the coming of Christ.  For Paul, eschatology and holiness are so closely related that they cannot be treated separately.

Our message is not only “in the beginning God” and “in the end God.”  We will also say “in the now God.”  Eschatology is world-changing.  Our words, actions and decisions bear witness to God’s final will for the world.  Yes, our future hope gives meaning to today.  So, we desire to live as a holy people now.

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Reflecting God

One afternoon, under a blue October sky, we watched a soccer match.  The field sat alongside Yellow Breeches Creek and was surrounded with hardwood trees near the peak of autumn color.  Someone sat along the grassy sideline and said “it doesn’t get better than this.”  At halftime, I look over the bank into a still pool and admire the reflection.

It may sound strange, but at times like these I think of holiness. I read I Peter 1.15-16 and make the following observations; God is holy, God calls us, we are to reflect his holiness, and such a reflection is to be evident in all our behavior. Peter then reminds us that this is not new revelation.  He is just repeating what he has read before in Leviticus (11.44f.;19.2;20.7).

Before it is anything else, holiness is a description of God.  God is the Holy One.  His name is Holy.  The hymn writer adds that “Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, Perfect in power, in love and purity.”  God is the source, the pattern, and the reason for our holiness. We are challenged to reflect the character of God.  In our public activity, our private activity, our relationships with others, in all of life.  This proposes some serious implications.  But then, God is serious about the way we live before an unbelieving world.

God calls us to express our sanctification by the way we live.  The call to reflect God affects how we treat others.  How we talk with them, talk about them, encourage them, forgive them, pray for them, break bread with them.  This is important for holy living is not something that is expected to take place in isolation from others.

When God sanctifies us as individuals, he establishes us as members of a holy community. God’s purpose in bringing us to himself as a distinct people is to glorify himself in the world.  This happens as He is reflected in the worship, teaching, and lifestyle of the church.  Corporately, we are the reflection of God.

On a Sunday morning we may find ourselves listening to words from a Holy God.  We may respond with praying and singing and giving.  It is easy to label such activity holy.  Other activities may be necessary but appear to be “less significant” things.  But, we still find time for haircuts, teeth-brushing, lawn-mowing, garden-weeding, oil-changing and bill-paying.  We may even find ourselves at the soccer field on a Sunday afternoon.  We give priority to both the supernatural and the ordinary.

I read portions of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God and John Piper’s Desiring God.  Both are excellent reading but I find myself wanting someone to write Reflecting God.  A book about living as a holy people.  Our desire to live as holy people must be demonstrated in the everyday, ordinary stuff.

Some activities appear to be more holy than others.  Yet, if Peter is to be taken seriously, if we are to be holy in all our behavior, then seemingly trivial or ordinary activities are not exempt.  Frequently, I am reminded that I am not God.  Yet, this does not diminish the call to be holy.  I can not escape the imperative to reflect the character of God.  We must live as sanctified people no matter where we find ourselves, whatever we may be participating in, or with whom.

While singing, praying, and giving.  By brushing, mowing, and weeding.  While in attendance at Sunday afternoon soccer matches.  When reading Peter, Piper. and Packer.  There are a number of ways and places to express God’s character.  While standing along the bank of the Yellow Breeches, I think of holiness.  I think about God and I admire the reflection.

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