The Weight of Holy

I am evangelical all the way down to my toes.
High Church
In many ways I am proud of my faith tradition. I will be the first to admit that we have our troubles, things with which I don’t agree, but there are many things I think we get right.
I am grateful for our emphasis on the Bible, our insistence on a personal relationship with God, our reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice to make us clean.
There are a few pieces of Christianity I think we miss out on, though.
One of those pieces is our loss of depth when we focus on individual relationship with God over communal relationships with God. This is a subject I’ll have to explore in a different post.
For this week?
We also lose a sense of the sacredness and holiness of God when we focus solely on a personal, intimate relationship with God.
In our casual services, in our emphasis on God as friend, we forget sometimes how other God is. He is holy, which means separate.  Apart.
He is not like us. He is so far above us that we cannot begin to comprehend Him. We are not worthy to stand in His presence. We cannot meet His gaze. To see His face is to die.
We attended a Lutheran church service a few Sundays ago.
I was struck by the ceremony, the honor and respect with which they treat all things belonging to God: in particular, the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Every move was accompanied by a genuflect before the table holding the Bible and the Communion. There was a reverence to that portion of the service that was weighty.
Set apart
There was a hush of holiness over the proceedings that I do not see in my own tradition. As each person came up to receive the bread, they were looked in the eye and told “This is His body which was broken for you”. As each person came up to receive the cup, they were looked in the eye and told, “This is His blood which was shed for you”. As each child came past with their parents, a hand was laid on their head and a blessing given on them.
It was holy and it was personal.
As each server of the bread and wine came to their turn to be the receiver, they bowed before the Word and the Communion. Not in worship of those items, but in reverence for the One they represent. In a recognition that God is holy and has declared these things to be sacred.


Our whole lives are to be sacred. I recognize that there is no separation between sacred and secular in our everyday lives. That is the premise behind this very blog. Yet it serves us well to be reminded every now and then of the absolute holiness of the One who makes everything sacred.
Nothing is sacred without God.
Sometimes we forget how much more sacred is the Giver than the gifts.
Sometimes we lose the weightiness of holy and in that shallowness can float upward until we believe that we are closer to God than we truly are.
The weight of holy
…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald…From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell. You can purchase canvas prints of many of his gorgeous photograph artwork on his website:

Piety or Knowledge?

I have written before of the battle between holiness and justice.  Some say we are to focus on our own moral purity, on becoming more like Jesus.  Others say we are to focus on social justice for others, on being Jesus to those around the world.
When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
It seems that one of the Deceiver’s favorite ploys is to take a set of discipleship practices, a pairing that works best when done in concert with each other, and separate them, throwing them into battle with each another.  In doing so, he not only diminishes the efficacy of both practices but he also divides the very body of Christ.
Clearly both holiness and justice are important.  We should not focus on half of God’s commands to the exclusion of the rest.
Another battle I’ve been trying to understand is the battle between piety and knowledge.
Is it better to obey God, to act on His behalf, or is it better to learn about God, to know what it is He commands?
Some would say that knowledge is too dry, that the life of the mind is on par with selfishness.  It brings to mind ivory towers and keeping oneself unsullied by the realities of the real world.
While it is true that focusing solely on knowledge and learning would keep one from ever actually helping this world of hurting people, modern church culture seems to lean too heavily in the direction of anti-intellectualism.  There is a growing spirit of pragmatism in our churches.  A spirit whose first question about an idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?”.
“Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether this action is the best means by which to pursue it.” ~ Rev. John R. W. Stott in an address at the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Conference
It seems this is another set of discipleship practices that when separated leads to reduced success.
On one hand you have people rushing crazily about for the next good idea regardless of the wisdom or truth of it, perhaps even causing more harm than good.  On the other hand you have people sitting stagnant with their books, not allowing any of the knowledge of God to seep into their hearts and affect the world around them.
Both piety and knowledge are desperately needed together.  Only with knowledge can you know what God truly wants, what is the wise action to take.  Only with piety can your own heart be changed, can the hearts and lives of other people be changed.
Paul says in II Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive toward the obedience of Christ.
Piety and knowledge.  Obedience and intellect.  The heart and the mind.
Both are needed.  Both are required to continue to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Only together can these practices nourish “a warm and fruitful devotion set on fire by truth.” (Stott)

I Don’t Want to Be Holy

Be holy” says God.
But we don’t want to be holy.  We want to cling to our busyness and our pride and our little insignificant sins that really are more foundational than we would like for them to be.
Yet every once in awhile we surprise ourselves with a momentary longing to be holy.  Will you join me over at Embracing Grace as I talk about what this means?  I’ll meet you there.
( if the above links didn’t work.)

Tolerance or Love?

 Personal holiness or justice in our world?
If we have decided that “both” is the answer we believe, if we resolve to strive for both ideals, what do we do with those who disagree?

What do we do, for that matter, with anyone with whom we disagree?

We are exhorted by our leaders, our culture, to show tolerance to those around us. Everywhere I turn, I am pleaded with to be tolerant, to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than I.

Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant?

Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do?

Tolerance is easy. It costs me nothing.

Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.

And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Matthew 22.39
Love is much harder.

Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life.

Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them special.
Love wants what is best for that person or culture.

It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance.

It was love that lead Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance.

It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.

It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.

Before November 6th and afterward, as I live my life in contact with people who are different than me, I will pray for strength to choose the harder way.

If I am to be Jesus to those around me, if I am to make a difference for Him in this world, I must choose love, not tolerance.

Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way. ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
art credit: The Three Crosses etching by Rembrandt

Holiness or Justice?

I listen to them argue, watching as each shakes his head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what he thinks is best.

Surface level respect doesn’t seem to go very far. Those who support each one seem to vilify the other, speaking ugly words of disrespect and hate.

Where should we who follow Christ fit in? 

One group is concerned with personal morality, the other is focused on social justice. 

Are we speaking of parties or churches? Is it telling that we sometimes cannot discern a difference? 

When we bring religion into politics, can it turn people away from Christ? If I cannot agree with one set of ideas, yet that same idea set is anchored to Jesus, I may conclude that following Jesus is impossible.

Surely this breaks the heart of God.

Yet surely one passion is more important. Surely either personal morality or social justice should be our highest priority.

If I have a passion for justice, personal holiness may be simply a distraction.

If I desire to cultivate personal holiness, I may yet ignore working for justice in our world.

Perhaps, just perhaps, a balance is needed.

In describing what brings the wrath of God, Amos says

They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. ~ Amos 2.7

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says

…He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land…Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. ~ Isaiah 5.7-8, 11

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Jesus, when teaching the crowds how to live, spoke of refraining from lust, adultery and divorce. He also spoke of giving to the poor, refraining from overwork and resisting the siren call of materialism. All in the same chapter of the Bible. ~ Matthew 6

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Perhaps, just perhaps, we should not choose one to the exclusion of the other. Perhaps we should strive to attain both ideals, following all of what Jesus teaches us rather than excusing away half of His commands.

And what should we do with each other? What do we do with our brother or sister who insists that another course is highest?

Perhaps we should speak of that next week.