MAKE US HOLY – 1 Peter 1:3-2:3

holiness-2Recently I’ve been reflecting about the need for clarity on what the bible means by holiness.  In preparation for writing on the topic, I took another look at Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book entitled The Call To Holiness* and rediscovered the lovely hymn Make Us Holy written by his musically poetic wife, Julie Tennent. Every line is worth pondering:

You are holy – make us holy! Let our lives reflect Your name; By Your Spirit’s pow’r within us, be a sanctifying flame.  Not the work of human striving, but a change from deep within:  Redirect our core affections; free us from the bonds of sin.

You are holy – so our holy lives a shining light must be,  Purged from empty selfish living, filled with love that comes from thee.  Purged again of seed eternal, through the living Word of God;  Growing up in our salvation, tasting that the Lord is good.

You are holy, and You call us to be pure in all we do,  As your character is holy, so we would be holy, too.  Purified by true obedience, loving others from the heart;  Serving in the world with power which you Spirit does impart.  You are holy – may your church embody perfect holiness;  

May the love of Christ compel us to bring forth true righteousness. Let the strains of New Creation echo through your church today;  Sounding for the consummation of that glorious holy day.

–  Julie Tennent

The words to this beautiful song may be sung to the tune of Beecher (“Love Divine, All love excelling) or Ode To Joy (“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”).

*Published in The Call to Holiness: Pursuing the Heart of God for the Love of the World, by Timothy Tennent, (Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed Publishing, 2014), pp. 73-74.

THE CALL TO BECOME SMALL

Immigrants USATo follow God at all is to follow him in being small. God not only entered this world, but came diminished and in lowliness. This is the message of When God Becomes Small by Phil Needham (Abingdon Press, 2014). This is a book worthy of a much more developed review, one yet to come. For the purpose of this note, hear Phil Needham’s voice in two paragraphs near the end of his book:

The Old Testament, prophets, gospel of Jesus, and the New Testament writers all teach us to side with those who are treated as small. As they are the ones who are vulnerable and powerless, so we become vulnerable and powerless. We come out from behind the security of our office, the power of our position, the protectiveness of the institutions with which we are identified. We risk alienating associates, neighbors, and even family. We stand with those with whom Jesus stood. We become small.

 This is not a call to large-scale social revolution, which often results in repression of a different sort. It is a call to personal courage, where we each refuse to keep our distance, refuse to overlook the overlooked, and refuse to justify our smug comfort. It is a call to claim the better part of who we are be getting beyond the fear that confines and weakens us. It is a call to shed the thick exterior of who we pretend to be and risk the compassionate center of who Jesus says, with him, we truly are.

 At this time in our culture, we have exhausted ourselves with overload and overreach. No time in our history has America been more powerful, more self-entertained, and more pampered by technology, and immersed in self-indulgent leisure. The paradox is never have we felt more lonely, lost, and longing for something that’s missing.  Rather than investing in large pursuits, and in bigger and better, greater and grander aspirations, it is time to become “big enough to become small.” It is time to come down to earth and pursue a deeper, closer, more intimate relationship with God and disenfranshied, marginalized and neglected others. It is time to become small by discovering the small in the countless small ways we value and connect with others.   It is time to especially bridge the gap between the world and those who are ignored, marginalized, poor and mistreated. When we do so, we find the blessing of their presence where God is present. There we find ourselves in the presence of God with whom there is no better company.

 

 

THE PRESIDENT & CHARACTER

 

us-presidential-sealAre you happy with the choice we have  to elect the next president on Tuesday, November 8, 2016?  Do the candidates reflect what you had hoped for in the candidates?

In the nation’s attempt to elect a new president, it is clear that the overarching characteristics we hope for in president are twofold: competence and character. Regarding competence, it is natural to look for evidence in a candidate’s history of past performance. Experience counts especially the kind of experience that matches the demands of the President’s job description. On the other hand, character weighs in calculating the acceptability of a candidate. Rarely do candidates run for office with a history void of flaws and mistakes (sin). Often the voting public exercises a level of common grace in response to the shortfalls in character for both candidates, mistakes that the media inevitably uncovers and makes public.

For many authentic Christians, competence matters, but character matters equally if not more. By authentic I mean Christians who are repentant about their sin, regenerated (born again), reconciled, and in continual state of obedient faith and restoration by the Holy Spirit to the likeness of Christ. This is in contrast to nominal Christians who John Wesley called “practical atheists,” who get to church from time to time, but live the same life as most others living with indifference to sin. For authentic Christians, character ultimately means progress in living in ways that are pleasing to God and living in holiness of heart and life. Authentic Christians look for evidence that a candidate’s life reflects a history of character, and hopefully of growth in grace and the likeness of Christ. Many would say that this sets the bar too high, but does it really? In putting forth a candidate in the primaries, and in knowing how power corrupts, should not both parties set the bar high for the highest elected position of power in the land and possibly in the world?

Could we hope that political parties would embrace such a standard of character in the future? Does that sound impossible? While it is not impossible, it is highly improbable in a nation that is realistically described now as in a “Post-Christian” era. But is it an essential standard for authentic Christians. The answer must be yes. Can authentic Christians be the leven in the bread that lifts the bar and sets a higher standard, one that acknowledges that candidates will not be perfect in skill and abilities, understanding, knowledge, or health, but that they will be candidates with observable love for God and for all others, mature in faith, hope, and charity; that they will be grounded in humility and understand that as a nation we are not sufficient in ourselves to solve our problems or to achieve our hopes and desires; to understand that without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing.  Such humility is a right judgment of self by a president, an awareness of one’s sinfulness and helplessness, and of human nature, that such judgment extends beyond self to the appreciation of the sad state of the culture.  Such a leader functioning at the level of the nation’s president implies humility and lack of hubris and disregards honor of self because he or she knows him/herself. Such an individual neither desires nor values the applause he or she knows they don’t deserve.  It implies a profound love for God and all others and that all honor and glory goes to God who is able to raise up servants to do his good pleasure for the nation and the world.

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It is not too soon to begin praying for the primary process of both parties that begins three years from now when the nation is back in the primary process of choosing candidates for the 2020 presidential election. But pray too, that in the next four years, the God of forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and holy character will shape the clay of the next President’s life who is soon be elected on the second Tuesday of November, 2016.

A Big Small Moment: Surprised by Prayer

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Thanks and praise to God are forms of pray that usher us into the mindfulness of God’s presence, and there are no small moments when prayer is not possible! There are small moments that  loom large in my memory and return often to me with joy and inspiration.  Not long ago, a super memorable small moment came in a prayer that caught me off guard.  I was delightfully surprised at the time.

I was out to dinner in Long Beach, California with graciously hospitable friends.  They picked me up at my hotel and took me to an Asian restaurant” nearby.  At the table, the waiter of Mexican heritage began the usual drill: he told us his name, asked what would we like to drink, recited the specials on the menu.  He took our orders and just as he was walking away, one of my hosts said to him “In a few minutes, when the food arrives, we are going to pray before we eat.  Is there anything you would like us to pray about for you?”  I was surprised by the question as much as our waiter was. This was likely a first for him. It was for me.  But it was quite wonderful.  After he had placed the order and brought the food, he answered the question explaining the health situation of his mother and asking that we pray for her.  One of the hosts said a beautiful prayer.  The waiter was clearly moved.  So was I.  It only took a small moment, but had a big impact.

It was a very big “small moment” for me.  Just then a powerful insight became so apparent. We can acknowledge the presence of God at any time and minister to others anywhere.   I was struck by how naturally the moment unfolded. I attribute that to the maturity and passion of my hosts for things of the Kingdom, and for their obedience to the Great Commandment to love a neighbor.

A few days later I was sitting in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina having lunch with another lovely couple, two Argentine Salvation Army officers.  The waitress came to the table and started the drill (water, menu, specials).  I asked her if there was something we could pray about for her when we said our prayer over the meal.  We surprised her and seized a moment of glory and grace. Try it sometime and somewhere.  Take a small moment and make it bigger.  Then give thanks to God.

God made blueberries for me?

The tremendous joy of being a grandparent is in part the stories that our children share regarding our grand0312161923a_HDR-2 (1)children’s growing faith and understanding of God.  God uses these stories to move and bless our hearts and strengthen our ongoing journey with God. Here’s a good one that just happened the other day with our grandson, Jacob, who is just about to turn three years old.

Our daughter had just given Jacob a handful of fresh blueberries in a small bowl. He loves blueberries and has a lovely inquisitive mind. This is the text our daughter sent to us after this brief exchange. She wrote – “Jacob asked where his blueberries came from. I told him ‘God made them and they grow on a bush.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, God made blueberries for me?’ I said, ‘Yes!” He said, ‘I thank you.  Gamsahamnida, God’. Then he bowed his head and prayed, ‘Thank you God for my blueberries.’ (Gamsahamnida is Korean for thankyou)

When I read the text, joy and laughter burst from my heart. Thank you, God, for the simple faith and inquisitive heart of this dear, little child. Thank you too for the faithfulness of his mother and father who discuss the common things of life together with him and in the most natural ways and include you, God, in the discussion. Thank you for putting on their hearts the importance of teaching our grandchildren the simple practice of thanks and praise. Thanks be to you, O God!  Gamsahamnida!

REFLECTIONS ON HOLINESS

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Sometimes, when we take quiet time to listen and reflect, God then whispers something new. I’ve been listening and reflecting on holiness.  God’s whisper speaks to my Wesleyan heart and affirms my faith as a Salvationist (The Salvation Army is my church home).  I’ve been putting my thoughts into writing another book.  Recently I wrote that not many years ago there lived a revered retired professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, George Allen Turner.  I  knew Dr. Turner in the last years of his life.  In his book, The More Excellent Way, he wrote “While the terms associated with “holiness” stress the contrast between Jehova and humanity, bridged by an act of cleansing, those associated with ‘perfection” point to humanity’s kinship with God and the possibility of fellowship.”  That one sentence was pregnant with the idea of the social-relational nature of holiness.  The ideas of cleansing and perfection speak to a loving, restorative work of God in a person’s life beginning at the cross and going on beyond the resurrection.  Cleansing suggests purity of heart and life making possible holy love and intimacy with God. Kinship with God suggests the hallowed setting of a family.  It affirms our adoption and inclusion into an ongoing, close-knit, intimate relationship with the three persons of the Godhead.  Finally, the possibility of fellowship with God implies an ongoing, interactive relationship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.  Holiness is social, relational, personal and intimate with God.

Diane Leclerc* puts it this way.  “Only God is holy.  Yet God commands, ‘Be holy as I am holy.’”  Leclerc makes the case for “derived holiness” in which humanity derives holiness from its relationship with God and the quality of that relationship. It involves imparted righteousness dependent on a social, relational connection with God.  Such a relationship makes possible God’s multiple acts of grace including forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, initial sanctification, continuing (synergistic) sanctification, the progressive restoration to the likeness of Christ, and ultimately entire sanctification, all to the glory of God.

Sanctification ultimately is God’s cleansing that leaves a pure heart, makes possible inward holiness and outward righteousness, and continuing growth in grace.  Holiness is reflected in profound holy love of God and a profound love for others (Mark 12:30-31). It reflects an inner moral transformation that is expressed in holy love made possible not only to some, but to all.  Most simply defined, holiness is Christlikeness, the unfolding of Christ’s own character in the life of the believer who devotes time and attention to remaining in a sanctified context.  That context is God’s presence and the presence of holy others making possible spiritual growth, formation, and Christlikeness, and ultimately an infilling of the Spirit and a cleansing of the heart, soul, and mind.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me . . . Psalm 51:10

*Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness: The heart of Wesleyan holiness theology, (Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press), 2010.

THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN A CHRISTIAN’S LIFE

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.          Psalm 139:7&8

PRESENCE OF CHRISTI grew up being taught that God is “omnipresent.” It meant that He was everywhere all the time. Throughout much of my younger years, I lived unaware that He was present and at times it seemed like he was nowhere to be found.  It’s not that God was hiding.  I just did not take the teaching about his presence seriously.  I was not interested enough to be aware.  My antenna was down.  My reception was turned off.  I wasn’t tuned in to God.  Most of the time I was ignoring God.  By this default position I remained in the dark regarding who he truly was and how accessible He could be.  I was not alone.  Many Christians remain unaware of the presence of God in their life.  Unaware, they miss noticing God’s grace and live life struggling from one challenge and problem to the next.  It’s difficult to maintain a strong faith when we ignore God or live like He is absent.

When we don’t sense God’s presence prayer becomes an exercise of calling for a lifeguard while treading water hoping somehow to stay afloat until He throws a life line.  Doubt prevails that God hears, cares, and is near enough to respond.  The truth remains.  God is near.  He is not an absent landlord.  He is Lord, ever and always present in every Christian’s life.  If you are unaware of God’s presence in your life, here are four ways you may grow in an awareness of God’s omni-presence:

  1. Thanks and Praise– Read Psalm 100:4.  It speaks of gates and courts referring to the Temple in Jerusalem and its many gates and courts.  The temple gates are associated with thanks to God and the temple courts with praise.  The Temple itself is a metaphor for progressive intimacy with God and holiness.  Thanks spills over into praise to God for the gift of his presence and grace. Thanks and praise are an appropriate responses to the Giver of all good gifts.  Together they occasion a profound awareness of God’s steadfast faithfulness and presence in our lives.
  1. Means of Grace– John Wesley was fond of teaching and preaching about the presence of God experienced through what he called the means of grace.  In a more modern expression we might call means of grace our “habits of the heart.” They are habits of piety – love of God (ie., worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship) and habits of mercy – love of others (ie., feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, helping widows and orphans).  Wesley taught that through the means of grace we mature in our understanding of God’s identity and in our awareness of his presence.
  1. Christ at the Door– We read in Revelations 3:30, “Here I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens tPRESENCE 3 YOU WILL SEEK MEhe door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Once you responded to his initial knock on your heart’s door.  Now you may consciously consider Christ at the door each day, inviting you out into his day, his agenda, and his plan.  As you walk each day in His presence, he engages you in fellowship.
  2. Practicing God’s Presence– Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who practiced the loving presence of God.He spent years disciplining his heart and mind to yield to God’s presence. He wrote, “As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him.” Lawrence did the mundane chores of the monastery continually mindful of God’s presence so that even the lowest, most humble work was completed in a spirit of worship.

God is always present.  We aren’t always conscious of his presence and proximity.  Yet he is so close.  He desires even greater proximity. He desires to be more than near.  He desires intimacy, the ultimate in proximity, the infilling of his Holy Spirit in us.  You can’t be closer to God than being filled to the measure of fullness of his very Self. (Ephesians 3:19).

 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.   –   James 4:8

               Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full of assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10:19&22

 

 

TIME WELL SPENT?

AIRPLANE

An interesting brochure caught my attention on a recent Delta airlines flight. It’s message was “Time On Board, Time Well Spent: make the most of your flight today with WI-FI and, inspiring and free streaming entertainment.”  It proclaimed seventy-five movies, one hundred and fifty TV shows, HBO, TED Talks and more, accessible by laptop, tablet, smart phone, and seatback screen all with no charge.  Amazing!

If people are not busy taking advantage of “inspiring and free streaming entertainment,” their time is devoted to video games. Then there are the few who are actually conversing, working, or sleeping.  I assume those persons with their eyes closed are sleeping and not praying. I could be wrong. In the diversity of activity, most people seem to be glued to a screen for one reason or another.  I have to ask if it is really “time well spent” and truly “inspiring.”  I am yet to observe anyone getting off a flight looking wonderfully inspired.   Overall, the American (and Canadian) culture seems busy airplane-passengers-seats-tv-screens 2-flying-coach-commercial-flight-built-49800624 (1)passing time, but not engaging in time well spent. Should I be surprised?  We live in a post-Christian era of distractions and attractions that suck the life out of us in relatively valueless activity that mostly serve as a diversion from those things that really matter.

Then I have to ask from what is all the entertainment diverting us? What’s the attraction. What are the alternatives to not waste?  What are the things that really matter? In answering I assume I am writing to a readership of authentic, altogether Christians, not nominal, half-hearted Christians that John Wesley might call “almost Christians” or “low road Christians.” I assume that the American culture has not pilfered your awareness of God’s presence, grace, and work in your life.  I assume your habits-of-the-heart incline you to keep company with Christ more than with the latest digital invention of the entertainment industry.  I assume time well spent in flight with God (in Scripture, prayer, conversation, wholesome reading, rest, etc.) is not a lost priority.  I assume God is just waiting to share something new, fresh, and inspiring with you by the time the flight ends.  If I am wrong, then you answer the question. Is your time well spent?  Every time I end a flight, I have to ask that question.  Was my time well spent? Sometimes I need to repent over my answer and pray for forgiveness for ignoring my best friend who was present with me the whole time.  It’s likely he had something to say! If only I had been listening. . .

THE GOSPEL ON ITS WAY . . .

“The Gospel comes to us on its way to someone else.”  Erwin Mc Manus, Missiologist

GOSPEL COMPANY WE KEEPOn a Seedbed.com podcast recently, Dr. Jeremy Steele used this quote from Erwin Mc Manus in discussing the purpose of the gospel.   It rings true and consistent with another reflection: “We become the company we keep.” When we put these two ideas together, juxtaposing them with each other, we begin to see how God works in a believer’s life.

The Gospel is God’s story running from Genesis completely through the Bible, through the Book of Revelation. It is the narrative of God’s redemptive, reconciling, work of salvation and restoration from inevitable death to the certainty of everlasting life. It is the Good News of salvation that comes to us as “the continuing work of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, through the church, to the world.”[1] The point worth underscoring is that the gospel came to us through the church, through others, through someone(s), and depending on our faithfulness as God’s agent, it goes forward to someone else. It’s been that way since Jesus began preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4: 17). The Kingdom is still at hand. The message of salvation is to be passed on to others by all who receive it as gospel truth. By the grace of God, the gospel came to us.   It was passed on to us through the company we’ve kept with other Christians, and it is to be passed on to others. Our faithfulness to share the full story, including holiness, is our way of responding to God’s holy love for us. God lavishes his grace on us and waits for our response.  Pass the peace!

GOSPEL COMPANYWe become the company we keep with other Christians, and with Christ in our daily journey. He calls us to also be a presence in the lives of others who need to know the gospel message.  As it came to us, the gospel makes its way to someone else through us. The amazing thing is that God entrusts us with the message and calls us to pass it on. What a remarkable trust!

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World: The Message of Acts, 1990

TAKING ON POST-CHRISTENDOM

CHURCH 2What’s happening to Christendom, at least in the Global North (including Australasia)? We now find ourselves in the “Post Christendom Era.” Recently Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote “The two most important developments in the church of our time is the movement of western civilization into post-Christendom and the equally dramatic emergence of global Christianity.” Tennent goes on to say that Christendom today “produces vast numbers of nominal Christians.” He says its what Christendom does best. People call themselves Christians because that’s the culturally comfortable or normative thing to do. They do not light up the world with new Christians including their own children because they assume the culture promotes values that are inherently Christian and can just be caught naturally. Their legacy by default is godless secularism.

This is the scenario behind the decline of mainline churches and many evangelical faith communities as well. Tennent suggests that what’s missing is robust Christian identity, transformed Christian lives, a Kingdom vision for society, and a “deep commitment to catechesis.” Without these pillars, all Christian communities and movements in the West will continue to struggle with the inevitability of post-Christendom.

SEEDBED PHOTO GARDENINGI agree with Dr. Tennent. But I also agree with J. D. Watt, the lead servant of the Seedbed* initiative. He quotes the Barna Group study on “Ten Transformational Stops” to say that we’re in trouble if we keep producing nominal Christians because we don’t ask the right questions. Rather than how do we grow the church, meaning in size, we are better to ask how do we grow people (starting with ourselves), meaning in holiness after the likeness of Christ. Just growing the church in size is to produce more nominal minimalist, so-called Christians, what John Wesley called “almost Christians,” “having the form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3;5), and “low road Christians” not pursuing the high road of holiness.

We find ourselves in the West today in a post-Christendom world lacking the fire of an earlier day. It was William Booth who said, “The tendency of fire is to go out.” The church is meant to be a light on a hill, a blazing fire, not an ember surrounded by ashes.  The church is in a low gear of mediocrity reproducing tepid, weak, nominal Christians and lacking covenant and commitment, power and potential to light up the world with holiness to the glory of God. We have met the “enemy.”  It is that enormous part of the church that remains stuck short of fulfilling the Great Commission, “make disciples?”

The Church universal is not the enemy, but perhaps it is the church in the West that produces babes in Christ and abandons them to arrested development or infant mortality. We are not unlike the general who when surrounded by the enemy on three sides only responded with a command “charge.” We take on the church and post-Christendom and in the words of a friend, Andy Miller III, we shout “Forward to the fight!”  What that means I’ll explore in a future blog.

*Check out Timothy Tennent and J.T. Walt on Seedbed at Seedbed.com