Category Archives: holiness

A cold shower?

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word..

(Ephesians 5.25&26)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

(Psalm 19. 7&8)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

(Hebrews 4.12)

Sometimes, the things which are good for us, are not the easy or comfortable things…as fallen creatures, we lean constantly towards the quick fix, the path of least resistance, and the minimising of effort and discomfort. But in our hearts, we know that such traits are unhealthy – in the long run, we will pay the price for our current bad choices.

Healthy eating, appropriate exercise, moderation in our spending and generosity in our giving…we know that these are good for our bodies and minds, but what about the nurture of our spirits?

The bible is very clear that for the follower of Jesus, there is an obligation to pursue holiness – a lifelong quest to become like Christ, in obedient and loving response to his sacrificial death for us. It is also made clear that left to ourselves, we will twist and distort this noble quest into some travesty of God’s plan – we become bitterly judgemental like the Pharisees of Jesus day, and fall into the sin of pride in our own achievements.

Praise God, that in his mercy, he has not left us alone to pursue this quest. Instead, we read that it is Christ at work in us, the Spirit moving in power, who makes the changes. And the tool he has appointed is his word, the revelation contained in the bible, which is God’s inspired and infallible word to us his children.

We turn to the pages of the bible gladly enough for comfort, and for inspiration, but there is a danger that we will choose to ignore those passages which come too close to our bad habits and cherished sins! It is certainly true that God is working to sanctify – to make us clean and pure and whole – but we are called to work to cooperate with him in that process. Such co-operation requires our willingness to be open to rebuke, correction and the death of pride. When God grants us faith to believe that his love is perfect, and has only our good as its goal, then we find the will to trust that love in action, in convicting us of sin, bringing us to repentance, and re-shaping our minds and hearts so that sin’s stain is forever removed.

I believe that we must discipline ourselves to submit every part of our lives to God’s searching and transforming power, holding nothing back. It may be that there will be things we don’t even recognise as sins until the Spirit takes the word and cuts through to the heart, showing us the ugly realities of thought and deed. God is merciful, he knows how frail we are, and does not choose that we should be overwhelmed by understanding all at once just how deeply rooted our sinful nature is – we are not able to bear such self-knowledge. Instead, as we open ourselves up to the truth of the word, he opens our eyes, little by little, so that over the years, he washes us clean of stain after stain.

These words of an old hymn express a beautiful prayer for such steady, cleansing interaction with the word of God – an interaction which should be just as much part of our daily routine as eating, washing and brushing our teeth!

Make the book live to me, O Lord, show me Thyself within Thy word;

Show me myself, and show me my Saviour, and make the book live to me.

(R. Hudson Pope)

Sometimes, it will be a comforting encounter, sometimes as shocking and bracing as a cold shower, but every time we open the word, we invite God to do something in our lives. All praise to him, that in his mercy he is working patiently and lovingly to make us holy, and beautiful in his sight!

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And yet I dare to enter…

And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

(Isaiah 45.21-24)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Hebrews 12.22-24,28&29)

One of the pitfalls of having spent my entire life within a christian community, is that so many of the phrases we use and read are so familiar – I stop seeing them, stop noticing how bold and audacious they are!

And then God in his goodness gives my mind a nudge, the Spirit opens my eyes and ears, and suddenly I see it afresh. That happened with the little phrase from Isaiah, “And there is no God but me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.”

To the mind of sophisticated 21st century humankind, that statement is outrageous, arrogant, or ludicrous – depending on one’s viewpoint. As a follower of Jesus in Scotland in 2017, I am in the minority, regarded by many as deluded and foolish, by some as dangerous in my commitment to my faith. The notion that there is a God is mocked by many, and others would argue that all faith systems lead to the same place, so that all “gods” are equal.

Where do I stand? I am made uneasy by the strength and vehemence of the secularists, as they denounce my faith and my God. I am dumb in the presence of articulate intellects, mocking all that I hold dear, and dragging away the foundations of my world. I cannot defeat clever speech, nor do I desire to mock others for their beliefs – mockery is no way to gain respect or a hearing for my own belief.

When I am conscious of being under assault, I fling myself back at the foot of the cross – that great pivotal point in history, when God declared that He would not be mocked by sin, and that the devil would not have lasting dominion over God’s creation.

I believe in an historical Jesus, God-incarnate walking the earth, working steadily towards the unveiling of an unparalleled act of divine intervention. Who else has a God who is utterly holy, just and pure – a searing brilliance that our polluted minds cannot being to imagine – and YET who is full of mercy and love, and chooses to reconcile his love and his justice in order that He might be re-united with his unfaithful people?

There is truly NO God like this, and all our philosophies and science, all the pride of  man in his thinking and discovering has uncovered nothing as beautiful and life-changing as this God in his act of reconciliation through Jesus death on the cross.

I would rather be a fool for Christ, than considered wise by men; would rather remain on the fringes of society as a faithful follower, than enjoy popular success without my Lord. He has opened the way for me – even me, so broken and flawed by sin – to enter the presence of this righteous God, and not to enter as one dreading well-earned punishment, but rather as a beloved child.

What does it matter to me if men mock? My eternal fate is not in their hands, but safe in the hands that bled for me, the hands that are raised to intercede for me, the hands that extend to welcome me with love into my Father’s presence. He is mighty and glorious indeed, and worthy of reverent praise, but because Jesus died, I dare to run to him, to cling and call him Father. In his house, I am at rest and safe, and nothing can drag me from his arms.

How true is my vision?

Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because..the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

(Exodus 40.33-35)

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim….When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

(1Kings 8.6,10&11)

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look”, he said,” I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”….While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,”Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

(Acts 7.55, 56, 59&60)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2Corinthians 4.6)

We really have no idea just what the ‘glory’ of God is like, although the references quoted from the Old Testament suggest that it is something before which humanity quails and cannot stand. Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple sees him convicted of his sin and unworthiness to be in God’s presence, and the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth were terrified by the glory which shone around them.

We habitually think of glory as having some of the quality of light about it, especially the light of the sun, which obscures its source because of its brilliance and concentrated power. We quite literally cannot bear to see the sun with our naked eyes, and must wait for a reflection, or a veil, or some other device to moderate the light by which we see and by which all life is sustained.

Is the glory of God then something like this sunlight which ancient peoples worshipped as a god which gave them life? God is pure, there is no spot or imperfection in him. His justice, holiness, power and love are of scale and quality beyond our ability to see or comprehend. God is literally hidden from us by his own indescribably beautiful and holy qualities – we cannot bear to see him unveiled, because we are made of such inferior stuff, tainted and undermined by sin. Even a glimpse in a dream or vision was enough for Isaiah to proclaim that he was a doomed man, certain to perish from having been exposed to such divine power and holiness.

And yet, the bible story is one of God’s yearning to reveal himself to us, to be known by us, and to welcome us into his presence for all eternity that we might share in his glory! How is this possible?!

It is the miraculous revelation of God’s character through Jesus Christ which has allowed fallen humanity to behold the face of God and not perish on the spot. All the divine qualities of the Creator are somehow translated for us into the person of the Son, and there we can see and understand in some measure, just what our God is like. The overwhelming brilliance has been shaded for mortal eyes, so that we might not be blinded but illuminated. Our minds can grasp in their small capacity a little of the greatness of our God, and in realising just how dim our vision is, we also realise how very bright and dazzling the unclouded light must be.

God is good to his children, and in Stephen’s moment of extreme need, he received a special vision of glory, a view as it were over the heads of his persecuters of the place which was open to welcome him home. God’s work in Stephen’s mortal life was complete, he was going home to glory, to the arms of his Lord and Saviour who stood ready to receive him. Stephen had found the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, confessing the divinity of this crucified and risen Son of Man, and pledging allegiance to him. Now Jesus stood to acknowledge his servant; to claim him and honour him in glory.

May I grow in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face – the whole person and work – of Christ, so that I may be faithful through trials, and walk humbly before my great and awesome God.

 

 

 

What is it all for?

‘I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth… And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.’

(John 17.15-17, 19)

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more….God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

(1Thessalonians 4.1&7)

The words of Jesus in his final great prayer for his disciples, and all those who would in turn follow them in calling him Lord, reveal the ultimate purpose behind his death on the cross for us – that we might be made ‘holy’. God was not concerned merely to wipe out the stain of sin, and then to forget all about the human race, putting them behind him as an unfortunate mistake. Rather, he desires to woo to himself eternal companions in whom he can delight, and who will share in the love which has always existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us all along with this in mind; you and I are uniquely designed, known and loved, with a home awaiting us in his presence.

We are told in the creation narrative in Genesis, that mankind was formed ‘in the image of God’, to be the nearest thing in all the marvellous outpouring of making, to the Maker himself. And we are told over and over again through the bible, that our God is a holy God, pure and good and utterly beautiful. We are made, formed and purposed, to be like him; it is our destiny to be glorious in holiness – something I think we find beyond our limited comprehension most of the time!

And if we are honest, somehow our notion of holiness is not always positive, but a sneaking feeling that we will have to give up thoughts and actions which we rather enjoy and cherish…. It is true that before we personally respond to Christ’s offer of salvation, before we are overwhelmed by the price that he paid to set us free, our minds and hearts are so stained and coloured by rebellion against God that we cannot appreciate the beauty of his holiness.

But, as Christ said in his prayer, he died – sacrificed himself for us- in order to make it possible for us to become holy; and as we grow in love for him, and appreciate more and more the depth of his love for us; so our desires and thoughts are changed. We begin, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to want to be more like Christ, to express our love in our obedience and willingness to be made pure. We no longer feel comfortable with the accepted attitudes and actions of our culture, because this is no longer our home and we do not belong. Increasingly, the only opinion that we care about, will be God’s opinion, and knowing his pleasure will help to sustain us as we live counter-cultural lives. Holiness is not necessarily about being isolated – physically or emotionally – from our neighbours and friends; rather it is living as Christ lived among his disciples. He was fully engaged in their everyday lives, sharing their grief, rejoicing with them in good things. This is our challenge…and what a relief it is to know that Christ prayed for us, that we might be made holy – sanctified – by God; because it is not a work which we can carry out on ourselves.

Only the one who made our hearts can remake them anew, can give us the heart of Christ and the mind of Christ, so that our words, deeds, and thoughts, will be suffused with his love, and glorifying to our Heavenly Father.

For this Christ went to Jerusalem; for this he died; that you and I might be transformed by the beauty of holiness, and brought home; to be more fully ourselves, more fully alive, and closer to our precious Lord than we can possibly imagine.  Hallelujah, what a Saviour!!

Inaccessible light

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

O Lord my God, how great you are!

You are robed with honour and majesty. You are dressed in a robe of light.

You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens; you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.

You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind. The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!

May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104 1-4,33&34)

Dressed in a robe of light…What an amazing picture, and one which takes me straight to the opening lines of Walter C Smith’s wonderful hymn with which I grew up –

Immortal, Invisible, God only wise; In light inaccesible, hid from our eyes…. 

We live as created beings with a great hunger in our hearts for something or someone greater than ourselves, something eternal from which we can find meaning in the world and on which we can build with what we have. The bible reflects this hunger in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer speaks of how he pursued every imaginable source of satisfaction in life, in vain. All was ultimately meaningless and unable to quench the hunger in his heart.

Through the great narrative of the bible stories, we see God revealing himself as the only true satisfaction for humankind, and declaring over and over his deep desire to dwell with us, his people. Our creator knows how we are made, knows that only in relationship with him can we be at peace and fully alive. And yet surely it is also true that we can never really know him. By definition, our God is so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. If we could understand everything about God, then we would be the creators, not he. We hunger to know him more, to discover more of his character, and yet find ourselves unable to stretch our minds enough to cope!

So we have to live with this tension and not allow it to undermine our faith in God’s love, goodness, holiness and faithfulness to us.

We cannot see him clearly; he is indeed wrapped in light, as in a garment. We are dazzled and blinded and unable to see past the glory of his holiness and purity, our minds cannot comprehend his greatness – one who by his word called into being billions of stars, and set in motion forces which we are only beginning to guess at, creating the conditions for life to exist and flourish on this single tiny planet of one star.

How wonderful to find that God, in his compassion for our limitations, came in person, came as one of us, so that we might see and hear him, learn to know him as a man, so that our confidence in him as God might be strengthened. Jesus tells his disciples that since they have seen him, they have seen their heavenly Father, they can know what he is like. So much remains a mystery to us, so many questions arising from our sin-sick world and all the suffering which has scarred God’s beautiful handiwork. What do we do with those unanswerable questions? What did Job do with his? He brought them to God, and was answered – not with a detailed list of explanations, but with a fresh vision of God’s greatness, a reminder that he is ultimately beyond our understanding and utterly good and holy.

Then Job replied to the Lord:”I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked,’who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know..” (Job 42.1-3)

The psalmist contemplates the greatness of God in creation, rejoicing in all he sees and in the knowledge that this same creator God is the one who is his God – the one who has promised to be with us and for us! We have the testimony of creation, but also the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, revealing God to us and inviting us into that personal, fulfilling relationship which is our true satisfaction.

May our thoughts about God indeed be pleasing to him, as we worship what we can see and know; and accept that the mysteries which remain are good and right, and our God can be trusted. He is hidden in light, not darkness, and worthy of all our praise and honour!

 

What does it look like?

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.

(Leviticus 11.44)

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. 

Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you.

And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of the one body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.

(Colossians 3.12-15: JB Phillips “The New Testament in Modern English”)

My life is a small one. I have no great public platform on which to command an audience; I have no authority to interfere in the lives of others; not even any paid employment to take me into a workplace regularly where I can witness to my faith in the living Lord Jesus. I am not being persecuted for my faith, nor called on to defend it against opposition.  I live free and disregarded, of little significance in the eye of the world.

So what does it look like for me to live a ‘holy’ life, as I am commanded to do? What does it mean for me to ‘be holy’ as I find my feet in this new community to which I am called, as a wife, mother, neighbour?

I think it can be hard at times to transfer what we know in our heads, and hear about in church, to our daily living. We read of preachers and prophets, of those who laboured for God under difficult circumstances, or who faced great crises with courage, and it is all very impressive and encouraging.. But our lives are so different!

The entire book of Leviticus, from which the first quote comes, is an exhaustive exposition of how the people of God were to order their lives, to reflect their separation from other nations – they were to be distinctive in every way. The purpose of all of this, was driving home to them the unique qualities of the God who called, delivered and sustained them. God was not only interested in the way that they gathered to offer sacrifices or sing praise; but in every thing they did being consciously in His presence and according to his character.

So also for us, as the new testament letter writers make clear, our whole lives ought to reflect the character of God – as Christ is formed within us day by day under the patient labours of his Holy Spirit at work in us. It clearly matters then, how we behave in the small details of our lives, even when the situation is most mundane!

How is Christ being seen in my actions as I go about the village which is now my home – am I open and friendly? Do I make an effort to learn and remember names and personal details? And in the manner of my driving, now that I have single-track roads and tight bends to navigate – often hampered by straying sheep or toiling cyclists? Am I patient and thoughtful, even when there is no one in the car with me to be impressed by my restraint?!

As my family and I make the massive adjustments to our new life here, am I making the effort to be loving, forgiving, patient and tolerant with them – even as I need them to be with me?

The challenge of living in a way which consistently reflects the holiness of God is huge; and we will spend the rest of our lives pursuing it with varying degrees of success. Praise God that he is so understanding of our weakness, and forgives our many failings. Of course we do have to live with the consequences of our failures: the fractured relationships, lost opportunities to witness, all the bitter ‘might-have-been’ thoughts. But I believe that God, in his gracious love for us, can also use our mistakes to bring blessings, and his forgiveness means that we are not to be weighed down by the past.

Praise Him, who is so much greater than we can imagine, for his forgiveness, gracious enabling, daily mercies, and patience with our frailty. May we be blessed to see the fruit of his spirit in our lives, and in the lives of those before whom we seek to be holy, even as he is.