Holiness? I choose the Jesus kind.

sanThere are two kinds of “holiness.” One looks like the scribes and Pharisees; the other looks like Jesus. I choose the Jesus kind.

If the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time lived today, they’d buy stock in hand sanitizer. Their holiness was a fragile one, a righteousness maintained only through vigilant separation. It was on the defensive. Sinners? Keep ’em at arm’s length. Otherwise, they feared being contaminated.

That which was unholy was always in danger of spoiling that which was holy.

Jesus would have nothing of it. He turned the equation around. The Jesus kind of holiness was no frail religion. Far from being defensive, it went on the offensive. Rather than fearing infection from “sinners,” it brought cleansing to sinners. Jesus insisted: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). On another occasion, he responded: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17). Lepers – those with the disfiguring skin disease – had to call out to one-and-all : “Unclean!” Yet Jesus reached out with a healing touch.

He who was holy sought out and cleansed those whom others called unholy.

Far from being himself “contaminated,” Jesus “infected” them with God’s cleanness! *

Pope Francis prays for a man with a disfiguring neurological condition.

Pope Francis touches  a man with a non-infectious but disfiguring neurological condition.

For followers of Christ, the implications are huge. God’s call to us is to “Be holy, as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). But what does this mean? Christ’s actions clarify his Father’s intentions: Don’t worry about sin being catching. It’s holiness that is loving, winsome, contagious. Go spread it!

When talking about how holiness should impact our world, Jesus loved metaphors. He spoke of salt, light, and yeast (Matthew 5:13-14, 13:33). Salt preserves, light disperses darkness, and yeast makes a loaf of bread rise. What is striking about all three is that they must come into contact with what they would act upon in order to be effective. Salt must touch the meat, light must shine in darkness, and the baker must fold the yeast into the batch of dough. If the salt stays in the shaker, the light stays covered by a shade, or the yeast remains in the packet, then the meat will rot, the darkness will reign, and the dough won’t rise. What does that tell us about how we as followers of Christ are to interact with the world?

It’s inspiring reading on Facebook about people being salt, light, and yeast. Jacob Wright and his three siblings make up the band The Wright Brothers. From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jacob lists himself as a “revivalist.” He’s a deep thinker, and often talks theology on his FaceBook page but also shares his faith wherever he goes. He wrote about he and some friends sharing their faith with Steve, who works at the porn shop. Now Steve has accepted their invitation to church. Jacob concluded: “No place is off limits for the kingdom to invade.”

Prudence is essential. A recovering alcoholic is not the person to evangelize in bars (see Galatians 6:1), but someone who isn’t tempted in that way may be the right one to sip only ginger ale, offer a listening ear and a ride home to someone who has had too much to drink. Others who need us may be as close as the neighborhood store. Katie Jones commented on Jacob’s page:

One night He just had us go to Walmart and encourage the employees. We prayed for two people but that was after they asked why in the world we would stop and tell a stranger they’re doing a great job at work. One was an elderly man who ended up getting his kidney healed and the other was a witch, who practically begged us to come back on her next scheduled day off.

That’s the kind of holiness I want, the Jesus kind, the kind that – with love as its only weapon – goes on the offensive. It’s not frail and defensive. Rather, it’s infectious. That kind of holiness will change the world.

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* I am indebted to Old Testament scholar Dwight Swanson for this insight into the difference between holiness in the Old Testament vs. in the Gospels.

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Image credits:

Sanitizer – UPMC My Health Matters

Pope with disfigured man – Imgur

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A classic: Shoemaker’s “I Stand By the Door”

Sam Shoemaker (1893-1963) served as a pastor in New York City and Pittsburgh. He was instrumental in establishing the spiritual foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous, particularly the need to turn to God as a way of coming out of alcoholism.

Rev. Shoemaker, toward the end of his life, wrote “I Stand by the Door” (aka “I Stay Near the Door”) as an apology for his ministry. I first heard the poem in 1983 during a devotional time at the beginning of Church History class at Eastern Nazarene College, taught by Joseph Seaborn. The poem struck me that day and ever since by its simplicity and vision; what’s more, I’ve found it crosses cultures.

The version of the poem below is from an online tract. The only change that I have made is to update the language, making it gender inclusive.

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I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like those who are blind.
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it . . .
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for people to find that door—the door to God.
The most important thing any one can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch—the latch that only clicks
And opens to one’s own touch.
People die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter—
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it—live because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him . . .
So I stand by the door.

Go in, great saints, go all the way in—
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics—
In a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening . . .
So I stand by the door.

The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them, too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from people as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.
Where? Outside the door—
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But—more important for me—
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch,
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
‘I had rather be a door-keeper . . .’
So I stand by the door.

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Photo credit: All Addicts Anonymous

Deep and wide: Marrying discipleship and evangelism

As a child, I used to sing a course in children’s church. It had some fun motions that went along with it:

Deep and wide,

Deep and wide

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

Don’t get hung up on the meaning of the words. I’m not sure what the “fountain” was, perhaps a reference to William Cowper’s creepy lyric: “There is fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.”

Yet as ironically shallow as “Deep and Wide” seems in retrospect, it’s a good description of what the church ought to be. If we’re only “wide” (and not deep), people will go elsewhere. On the other hand, if we’re only “deep” (and not wide), we may end up as the church of “us four and no more,” as if being small in number somehow makes us holier. The challenge is to be good at both, inviting people in and taking them to the next level in their walk with Christ.

Continue reading “Deep and wide: Marrying discipleship and evangelism”

Five questions about the Second Coming, answered

Note to the reader

This is a sermon I’ve preached recently in Kenya, Rwanda, and the DRC. It has been well-received, and I hope it will be  helpful to you as well.

All Scripture citations are from the New International Version.

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Text: Acts 1:1-11

INTRODUCTION

It’s a famous line that’s been used in countless book titles. Just fill in the blank:

“Everything you always wanted to know about ______ but were afraid to ask.”

What would you put in that blank? Today, here’s how I’d like to fill it:

“Everything you always wanted to know about the Second Coming, but were afraid to ask.”

In some ways, this is a hard topic to preach since there’s no single “classic passage” that we can turn to. Rather, what we can determine about Christ’s return is scattered in various passages of the New Testament. So even though we’ve chosen one passage (Acts 1:1-11) as our official sermon text, today is really more of a topical sermon. I hope you have your Bible open, since we’ll be looking at a variety of Scripture portions. Together, let’s consider five questions about the Second Coming.

Continue reading “Five questions about the Second Coming, answered”