Tag Archives: holiness

Make It Personal

We’re too impersonal. The advent of computers and smart phones makes it even easier to be impersonal. With social media we operate under the illusion that we’re connected, but we’re really not. When we lose that personal interaction with one another, we lose a lot more than we think.

Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” – Mark 8:25-26, ESV

In Bethsaida people brought a blind man to Jesus. Jesus promptly escorted the man out of the village. When they had gotten away, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and laid his hands on him. This seemed to restore part of the man’s sight. Jesus then put his hands on the man’s eyes again and the man could see. We know Jesus could have said, “You are healed,” and the man would have had his sight restored. So why did Jesus go through all this effort in order to restore a man’s sight?

In many of the miracles we see Jesus laying hands or doing something that creates a personal touch, a one-on-one connection, with the one needing healing. Typically when we’re dealing with something long term, especially a physical disability, we suffer mentally and emotionally, too. Something as simple as a touch by someone who cares can make a huge difference. Whether it’s a hug or simply a hand on a shoulder, that physical act often carries a stronger message of compassion and love than any set of words can.

When it comes to connecting with people, face-to-face communications and interaction is going to be stronger than something over the computer. Even if it’s a brief chat a few minutes each day, we establish a connection. Once we establish a connection we can build upon it. If physical interaction isn’t possible, a phone call is still often better than a text message, email, or social media post.

Our churches today tend to be too disconnected. So do our families and our neighborhoods. It’s because we are allowing ourselves to become more isolated. As you begin this year, seek to reverse this trend. Reach out to the people around you. Look for face-to-face conversations. Seek to spend time with others in person. Even if you are extremely introverted like I am, it’s important. It’s the example Jesus demonstrated often. It’s our model from Him. Seek to make things personal in a positive way. Get out from behind your computer or heads down staring at your smart phone. Interact and build relationships. Your life will be enriched as a result.


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Sola Scriptura

The Protestant Reformation’s theology centered around five solae, or “Alones,” as we state them today. They represented a break from the beliefs of the Western Church of that day, which history tells us had departed a great deal from Scripture. Therefore, it is fitting that we start with Sola Scriptura, or “By Scripture Alone.”

It is important to understand what is meant by the history phrase, “by Scripture alone.” Dr. John MacArthur states it simply like so, “Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.” It’s not about trying to find answers to questions of science in Scripture. It’s not about using Scripture to predict the end of the world. Nor is it about how Scripture will support your team winning the Super Bowl. Rather, it’s simply the view that Scripture (the Old and New Testaments) provides all the answers and guidance we need in order to understand how we might be saved and also how we are to live life in a spiritual way that is pleasing to God.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39-40, ESV

Jesus tells us the Scriptures tell us how to have eternal life: they bear witness to Him. He is the key. The Scriptures point to Him and by coming to Him, we might have salvation. The Bible tells us God does the calling, the truth revealing, and the convicting. Our salvation is solely due to Him. This touches on another sola, about faith alone, but we’ll get to it in turn. The fact is that Christ made it plain that the Scriptures teach us about salvation. All we need to know about how to be saved is contained in the Scriptures.

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. – Romans 3:31, ESV

The Scriptures give us the Law. The Law tells us what we must do to be found righteous in the sight of the Lord. Paul’s point in his letter to the Romans is that the Scriptures convict us. We cannot live up to them. We would have to do so perfectly in order to not need salvation. However, we fail. We fail constantly. This is why we need Christ and His grace every day. With that said, the Scriptures tell us what is righteous. And though one might think, “I’m saved, so I can do anything I want,” once we are His we are compelled in our hearts to try and uphold the Law. We know we won’t be perfect. We know it doesn’t save us. When we fulfill the Law, though, we please our Lord. That’s why we seek to uphold it.

We don’t need other “holy books” to tell us how we might be saved and how we ought to live. We don’t need interpretation by someone who is “privileged” to share in “hidden knowledge.” That isn’t the way God works. He has revealed to us through the Scriptures what we need to know to be saved and to live a life that is pleasing to Him. That is why we say “Sola Scriptura,” by Scripture alone.

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Holiness Is from God

Broken crossThe fact that our holiness derives from God is something we’re all likely taught in church. However, while it is “head” knowledge, it often isn’t heart knowledge. What I mean is while we might be able to give the correct answer if someone were to ask, “Why are we holy?” the truth is we don’t live and act like the answer we’ve been taught. Instead, we’re trying to be holy on our own efforts. We’re trying to be holy based on what we accomplish, what we sacrifice, what extra effort we put in. This is nonsense. None of that makes us holy.

You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.  – Leviticus 20:26, ESV

We are holy because God chose to set us apart. That is the only reason we’re holy. That is the only way we can be holy. I’m not saying to abandon missions projects or service to the needy or giving of your tithe. Those are important. However, the point is that we shouldn’t be doing them because we feel like that’s what makes us “better” or “more good” or “less sinful.” We should do them simply because we’ve been asked to by our Lord. I know we can’t always do them with full gratitude, but that should be the heart we strive to have when we do the things we do.

Without God, none of us are holy. So without God, none of us are any better than the worst of sinners. As a matter of fact, if Paul referred to himself as the worst of sinners, what does that make us? It makes us sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption, the same as we always were. Just because we’re saved doesn’t mean we are suddenly elevated above anyone else. If we start to think that way, we’ve fallen into an insidious trap. We aren’t any better. Our sins aren’t any less than someone else’s. We’re just as wretched, just as wicked, and just as feeble. Feeble? Yes, feeble to save ourselves. Feeble to make an eternal difference. Feeble to change our destination from hell to heaven. Feeble is probably giving ourselves too much credit. A better word would be helpless. We are helpless just like the person we may look down upon – the person we think doesn’t get it because he or she doesn’t come to church or lives a life we personally find unacceptable or distasteful.

Why am I making a big deal out of the obvious? I am because though its obvious, we don’t live it. As a group of believers we don’t live it. Not as individuals, either. Sorrowfully, I must find myself guilty of this charge, too. I then must remember that holiness comes from God and therefore my actions don’t change that. I am completely reliant on God to fulfill His promise through His Son. The times I get this in my heart, when I seriously and soberly consider this simple fact, I find that I respond to people differently. I start to see them the way God likely does. That means I need to more frequently dwell on the fact that my holiness is due to God alone. I need to do this so I can better see the people around me. I need to better see the people around me so I can respond with His love through me. We all do. There are too many hurting around us and our churches aren’t doing what they could and what they should. We need to change that. We can’t make anyone else change. However, we can choose to allow God to change us. One person can make a difference. Even if it’s only to one other person, it makes all the difference to that person. Let us remember that we are holy only because God has chosen to set us apart. And let us then lead the humble, serving life He has called us to.

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Stand with God

soraya nulliah courage 2I was in command of the US fleet in the North Atlantic. My opponent had a massive Soviet armada determined to destroy me. My job was simple: get a small convoy of ships across the dangerous waters with as many still battle worthy as possible. To be blunt, I really wanted to be the Soviets in this scenario. However, I had opened my big mouth and said I thought the scenario was winnable by the US, despite the overwhelming odds. My opponent, a grizzled wargaming veteran, voiced his doubts but I stuck by my words. In secret I actually sided with him. However, I was being obstinate, as high schoolers are apt to do. I couldn’t admit I was wrong and agree. Therefore, the natural consequence resulted: I was the one who was going to try and win with the US fleet. Then I thought of a particular strategy that could work.

My fleet was going to run the gauntlet as fast as possible. If a ship was damaged and couldn’t keep up, it was going to be left behind. We’d play all out defense, try to slip through the Soviet detection zones, and hope the Soviet targeting was faulty. If I could get even a handful of ships through, I’d win a minor victory. It would be close, but I thought I could keep enough alive to eek out a win. With my strategy decided, I went for it. Then a surprise turn of events happened: at a critical point when the Soviets needed to detect the main US fleet to be able to target said fleet with surface-to-surface missiles, subs, and planes, they failed. My opponent groaned loudly. The US fleet steamed through the gauntlet before the Soviets could converge and the bulk of the fleet made their way to safety. According to the scoring rules of the game, The Hunt for Red October, it was classified a major victory for the US. My opponent was stunned. Truth is, so was I. It was absolutely the right strategy even though it looked like it was an impossible scenario.

  And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  – Acts 5:27-32, ESV

There are plenty of things in this world that don’t make sense. Sometimes, God is the one who causes the conflict because He asks us to do something that is in direct conflict with the people around us. Perhaps what he’s asking us to do makes us feel like that overwhelmed US fleet trying to make it through a gauntlet of a much more powerful enemy. The right strategy is to always stand with God, even when everything you know and understand is telling you it’s a bad idea. Standing with God is never a bad idea. Our flesh, our deceitful hearts, and the ruler of the current age are all combined to fool us, to make us think there’s a better way. There isn’t.The best strategy is to do it God’s way.

This is what Peter and the rest of the apostles understood.They were face-to-face with the very people who found a way to put Jesus on the Cross. The implication was clear: “we can do it to you, too, for you followers are no greater than your master.” Peter and the others were not intimidated. They knew the truth of what they believed. Yes, they took a very harsh stance. They said, “whom you killed by hanging on a tree.” This is not the way they talked to the regular crowds. The apostles were talking to the men who plotted and deceived to have Jesus killed. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they refused to go along with these men. They would preach Christ, regardless of the consequences.

We must be just as bold. If we know God would have us do one thing when others tell us to do another, we must stand with God. God does what we perceive as impossible. Therefore, we should stand with Him. However, also note that the apostles’ response wasn’t all harshness. They also reminded these men that Jesus wasn’t just Messiah, but He also gave His life to offer repentance and forgiveness from sin. As we stand apart, we must also remember to give the reason we are standing apart: the hope and love we find in Jesus Christ. We must not forget our instructions: to go and make disciples of all nations. That includes among the people who doubt our stand, who condemn it.

Stand with God. Be not afraid. And share the reason for your stand.

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The Impossible May Be a Test

StruggleYou know you’re right. The facts back you up. You’ve done everything you can. Yet, it didn’t happen. Whether you were arguing your solution to a problem on a test, trying to explain to a brother why that girl he likes is bad news, or interviewing for a new position at work, there are times when we do our best and we don’t get the result we want. We have come face-to-face with the impossible and it truly proved to be impossible for us. But wait a second! Doesn’t God have the power to overcome what to us is impossible. Yes, He does. That doesn’t mean He will.

  But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”  – Numbers 13:30, ESV

Caleb was fighting that losing battle. He and Joshua argued to go into the land of Canaan because they had God on their side. However, the people were listening to the other 10 scouts. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that though Caleb was right, he didn’t succeed in convincing the large mass of people that made up the Israelites. In fact, that group went so far as to openly discuss stoning him! Caleb was facing an impossible situation. In the end, he lost. Or did he?

  But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.  – Numbers 14:24, ESV

Caleb lost when it came to the situation. However, he didn’t lose when it came to God’s eternal view. Just a short while later, after the Israelites rebelled and after Moses interceded for them before God, Moses is told that Caleb “has a different spirit and has followed me fully.” Now that’s praise. That’s praise coming from the One who matters most. Not only did God praise Caleb, but He promised that Caleb would come into the land he had scouted. God would make it happen.

The reminder is for us to do what is right, even in a losing situation. If it’s right, that’s good enough. We may not succeed in that circumstance, but we’re not living life for individual circumstances. We’re living life for the long term view of the Living God. Don’t you want to hear from God about yourself, “He/she has a different spirit and has followed me fully?” I know I do. We are called to be holy. That means we’re called to be set apart. If we have a different spirit, that’s being set apart. But holy means more than just being set apart. It means God has set us apart. Why would God set us apart? He would set us apart because we have followed Him fully. Obedience and faith walk hand-in-hand. Caleb demonstrated his faith by his obedience, even as his nation wanted to kill him. Pause and think about that for a moment.

We need to be bold like Caleb. Bold isn’t arrogant. Bold isn’t abusive. Bold is doing what many others do not have the courage to do. It takes courage to stay the course in an impossible situation. But there’s foolish courage and wise courage. Foolish courage is staying the course when it’s the wrong course. Wise courage is sticking to the path when it’s the right path, just not the successful one. Let us be full of wise courage. Let us be bold. Let us be like Caleb, willing to stick to what’s right, even in the midst of an impossible situation. The reward will be to hear God say something like, “You have a different spirit and you have followed me fully.” Now wouldn’t that be awesome?

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Be Set Apart When No One Can See

We’re all actors. Some of us are just better than others. There are a lot of times when we don’t want people to see the real us. For instance, when we’re hurting inside and we don’t the world to know, we mask our real feelings and act as if everything is okay. Or there are those times when someone has really made you angry, but you know you can’t show that anger. And just as we all can put on an act about how we feel, we can put on an act about our holiness and faithfulness to God. We may even be so good with our act that we fool ourselves. The catch is that we never fool God. God expects us to be inside what we’re supposed to be. And His point in Scripture is if we’re right on the inside it will boil forth to the outside. Also, if we’re wrong on the inside, that will come forth as well. Therefore, it’s on the inside that we’ve got to work on.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”  – Genesis 17:9-14, ESV

One of the interesting things about circumcision is it’s not something that’s seen. It’s a hidden trait. It represents a commitment to God which is not visible to the public. And this is exactly the reason why God asked Abraham to perform this kind of physical sign. Again, we have ceremony. Again we have a physical reminder. But this time it’s not for everyone to see. What God is modeling here is a commitment on the inside to be the man or woman whom loves God and follows God no matter what. And note the timing of it. It comes right after God renames Abram to Abraham. God has been working for years with His servant, and now, when it is almost time for the child God promised, God comes to Abraham with a renewal of the covenant and a visible sign as to His commitment to it. But this physical sign was also a symbol of Abraham’s commitment to God.

Unfortunately, we know from history that while the physical circumcision was performed among the Israelites, the internal change it was supposed to represent wasn’t followed by most. This is why Paul wrote about circumcision in the majority of his epistles. The physical sign is meaningless without the inward heart change. As Paul wrote in Romans:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.  – Romans 2:28-29, ESV

It is a matter of the heart. So why give Abraham this physical sacrament? Think about how often this sign should be visible to the individual man. If he knew this was a difference between those who followed after God and those who didn’t, then that offered a time to reflect on what it meant to serve God. What was in his life that was honorable? What was in his life should he discard? When he was all alone, what did his life look like? Those are the types of questions that physical sign was supposed to generate. And it is those same questions we should ask of ourselves. The answers to those questions determine whether or not we are set apart to God or merely among the rest of the world. In closing I’ll leave you with a quote from my Citadel days, “Discipline is doing what’s right even when no one is looking.”

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The Heart Is Wicked but There Is Hope

One of the myths the Bible dispels is that people are basically good at heart. An assumption I’ll often see made is that if left to their own devices, folks will choose to do the right thing. Fiction has been written disputing such a claim, such as The Lord of the Flies. From practical experience, after years of working with children and youth (as well as adults), I know the myth to not be true. Consider the fact that we have to teach babies not to hit, not to bite, to share, and we spend a lot of time, especially with smaller children, teaching them to be nice. These are all inherently selfish behaviors and we must spend time training the children not to do them. That destroys the premise that we are basically good from the start. People can be basically good, by our definition, but usually it comes after they have been shown what is right and what is wrong (and you could append “from a society’s perspective” here if you’d like) and made to understand the consequences of choosing what’s wrong and not doing what’s right.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  – Genesis 6:5-8, ESV

This is the first occurrence where the Bible says the heart of man is wicked. It’s not the last. We’ve definitely gone from innocence in Adam and Even to complete depravity by the time of Noah. God saw what His creation had become and He was “sorry that he had made man on the earth.” Does this mean God made a mistake? No, not at all. We know that God knew this was coming. The promise of a Savior in Genesis 3 reminds us that God expected this. So what about wiping out all of man? He would, unless He could find someone righteous, someone who was faithful. He knew there would be one. God preserves a faithful remnant. That man was Noah. Noah? Yes, Noah. If you know Noah’s story, you know he was far from perfect. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And for that, the Lord saved Noah and his family when he brought due justice on the rest of mankind for the wickedness they were involved in.
This is a reminder that despite our personal flaws and foibles, God has provided a way to be redeemed. That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. When we look at the life of Noah and others, like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter, we see that it’s not about how good we can be, because we can’t be good enough. Our hearts are evil continually. I know that we don’t like to think of ourselves that way, but a simple test is to reflect back on the previous day and consider how many selfish thoughts and actions you had and did compared to how many selfless thoughts and actions occurred in the same time frame. The reality is we’re all sinners. We may not call our thoughts and actions evil, but if we carried them out to their logical conclusion, we would see that too many fall into that category.

Thank goodness God isn’t looking at our righteousness but His Son’s instead. If we are in His Son, if He is our Lord and Master, then we are reborn in Him and His righteousness covers us. The two key aspects of Noah’s life that resulted in favor from God was faithfulness and obedience. That’s what God is looking for in us. If Christ is our Lord and master, then we are faithful and obedient. If He isn’t our master, then we aren’t, and His righteousness does not cover us. It doesn’t matter what prayers we say, how many baptisms we’ve undergone, or how many years we’ve attended church. What matters is faithfulness and obedience. We must listen to God and obey Him.

How do we hear from God? Noah heard directly from God. We know that’s not typical in this age and we should be really suspicious of anyone who says, “God spoke to me today,” and means in an audible manner. Could it happen? Yes. Does it usually happen? No. So how then do we hear God speak? We hear Him through His Word. We hear Him through prayer validated against His Word. We hear Him through the advice and counsel of godly brothers and sisters validated against His Word. Why do I keep coming back to His Word? I keep coming back to it because it’s the standard. It’s the special revelation He has given to man so we can better understand and know Him. And it reminds us that He has the ability to create in us a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). But it means faithfulness and obedience, as well as repentance and brokenness after sin, to get there. That’s the only way, but such a blessed way it is!

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