Tag Archives: God

Worship Meditation on Holiness … (the Manna Question: What Is It?!)

1 Peter 2:22 ~ ‘He [Jesus Christ] committed no sin.’  Christ’s life is meant to be an example of holiness for us, and Christ committed no sin.  The sinless, holy life of Jesus Christ is our example.  So consider this statement:  ‘I always do what pleases Him …’ (said by Jesus concerning His Father).  Is that to be your personal goal in life?!  A 19th Century Scottish theologian, John Brown, said:  ‘Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations or enthusiastic fervors or uncommanded austerities … but in thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills.’  Nor does it mean adhering to a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ (mostly don’ts).  Jesus Christ said:  ‘I have come to do Your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7).  This example we must follow.  In all our thoughts and actions and in every part of our character, the ruling principle to motivate & guide us must be the desire to follow Jesus in doing the Father’s will.”  (abbreviated from Jerry Bridges:  The Pursuit of Holiness)

Holy, holy, holy …”  This famous chant about God reminds us of the power of repetition in the Bible.  Triple holy … and actually doubled again, as the same sequence appears in both testaments (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  “Be holy, for I am holy.”  “… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Joshua 24:19 ~ “The Lord is a holy God!

Holiness is the primary attribute of God, flavoring and balancing all the others.  Holiness, then, is to be a very high priority for all humans, and there are drastic consequences if it is missing in and for you.  I am sorry to observe, though, that holiness is what humans particularly lack:  We are not holy.  We are positively full of sin (from the inside out).  We are totally depraved.  We suffer under the condition called original sin.  In this world and age, people by nature are not holy … not even close.

But wait, we are going too fast!  Manna:  “What Is It?”  Holiness is a complex concept in the Bible.  It means:  set apart for special use (like Levitic pottery);  pure (cleansed; no sin or stain);  fully & wholly & strangely “other” (as different as is God from man);  devoted or dedicated (think of “holy” matrimony, pointing to exclusive relationship);  chosen and called (with the focus on the Chooser and the Caller).  So holiness can carry all five of these indications at once.  Moreover, due to God’s unmerited favor toward His people, He counts us as already holy in Jesus Christ … even as He charges us to continually strive to be like Christ, in the power of Christ, for the glory of Christ!

So keep in mind that five-fold description, and also keep clear in your thinking that God is all this and has all this, while man by nature does not.  But one way to describe the gospel of our salvation is through the Trinity:  God the Father is holy; He sets the holy standard & He demands perfect holiness if anyone wants to enjoy fellowship with Him.  God the Son offered up Himself, became a real man, and then lived the perfectly holy human life, yet still at the end paid the penalty for the unholy lives of all God’s people. God the Spirit moves into those saved people, to work in and to work out, over time, His holiness on the inside which God already credits via Christ on the judicial record.

So let us put away, and warn against, all aberrations about holiness in the worldly philosophies which are so tempting: * The temptation to define holiness down such that, amazingly, I find myself meeting the standards which I set for myself, all by myself, to the high praise of myself! * The temptation to invent “good works” or new law codes which I must add to the not-quite-good-enough holiness of Jesus Christ offered up on my behalf. * The temptation to emphasize what some call the Pure Grace, love, & mercy of God, such that we forget or ignore His eternal holiness and His justified anger against all sin, and thus we tolerate in ourselves the sins which so offend God, poison ourselves, corrupt our witness, and ultimately deny the holy purpose of the gracious cross.  Let us cooperate, co-labor, and work with (and not against) God in what He has promised to complete in His own:  “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Let us praise God (our holy Triune God) for this eternal, holy plan which He is working out in His perfect time.

COMMUNION MEDITATION: Because our children are asking …

The New Testament sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are simple, by Christ’s design, so that even children can understand the basic truths which these signs, actions, and rituals are illustrating.  To quote Albert Einstein (in a limited sense), “If you cannot explain it simply, then you do not understand it well enough.”  Thus I have been impressed, over the years, with the ability of some to give excellent children’s talks which are very simple, yet meaty and profound for all who will listen.  Surely Jesus was encapsulating a world of truth as He proclaimed:  “The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children” … but one simple application should be:  If only the professional scholars and theologians can grasp a doctrinal point, it may be that the truth claim has more of man than of God in it.  With just a few minutes, then, I ask you to consider two questions which children have asked, both of them deserving clear answers.

Last week, a child asked me:  “Pastor John, if God has always known everything, then why did He create Satan?”  I will interpret and extend his question to ponder:  Why did God create the angel Lucifer, knowing that Lucifer would lead an angel rebellion, become the devil, tempt our first parents, and produce the fall of all mankind and of the universe itself?  I did not claim that simple answers are easy ones!  A word for parents, teachers, and others:  Praise the Lord for such questions.  They could be evidence that the Holy Spirit is stirring.  Do not say:  “Shut up!  Stop asking silly or hard questions.  Just believe and behave.  Don’t think.  And above all, don’t go poking around behind the curtain, or you may discover that there is nothing there after all!”  So much better to respond with something, even an “I don’t know … but let’s dig into that issue together.”

This question (about God’s role in the origin of Satan) is a version of the classical query:  “How could there be a good and strong God in a universe with evil and suffering?”  Okay, this is an enormous subject, but here is a starting point:  Because the universe as it really is (with a Lucifer who would become Satan, with evil and suffering, with pain and sorrow and tears, and with sin under all of it) is the universe which God has allowed and even designed to bring the maximum glory to Himself, to display before Himself, His angels, human beings, and the universe the awesome collection of His own glorious attributes, and in this particular case, to show how He will defeat and destroy His and our archenemy, the devil and all his works.

Here is a second question asked by a child, much earlier than last week, and across many years:  “Father, why is this night different from all others?”  This, of course, is the classic and scripted prompting by children at the Seder (or the Passover), that annual memorial meal to remind Israel of “Exodus Night,” how the Lord delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land.

Please recognize the connection of our first question with this second one, for if God really is good and strong, especially attentive to His chosen nation, then why did He allow them to be enslaved in the first place?  There are, of course, human reasons for why and how Jacob’s family ended up in Egypt, and it is clear that God held many Egyptians to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.  But God allowed, even designed, Israel’s captivity to glorify and exalt Himself in their eyes, and in the eyes of Egypt, Canaan, and the whole world up until this very day.

Recognize, as well, the connection of the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus instituted this Christian sacramental love feast at a Seder.  The Bible strongly connects the minor redemption (of Israel from Egypt) with the major redemption (of all God’s children from their captivating sin).

Recognize, finally, the connection of the Seder, the Supper, the cross, and the first question.  God’s design of a universe where Satan, sin, and sorrow could (would) happen surely had in mind this ultimate and glorious solution, the death of God’s dear Son, as the answer to the very big questions, the solution for all of our needs, and the ultimate display of the glory and grace of God.

Mull over this sentence.  If it is true, enjoy its truth, and turn it into personal worship:  “God in His grace provided what God in His holiness demanded.”  God allowed and designed a fallen universe, filled with fallen people, millions of whom would come to know their Lord as a God of grace, mercy, and faithfulness.  There is a popular book with this subtitle:  “What if marriage is designed by God, not to make you happy, but holy?!”  Well, what if time, space, the universe, and all history are designed to glorify God in His fullness, as He really is?  Would not an eternity of informed worship justify 6,000 or more years of drama, if that is the kind of thing it takes for us to get to know God as He really is?  Yes, and the cross, with the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ, is at the center.

Lawrence Congregations Move Forward with Social Justice Ministry

… by Giles Bruce … posted Monday, May 5, 2014


What could happen if Lawrence were a city for justice?  That’s what Justin Jenkins, pastor at Velocity Church, asked at a recent meeting of local religious leaders who have come together to make Lawrence what they describe as a more socially just community.  The group, which had its orientation in March, includes leaders from 22 local congregations who have been gathering monthly to discuss what the tentatively titled Lawrence Justice Ministry might look like.  This month, several of the clergy members will be giving “City on a Hill” sermons in which they will outline to their congregations what the scriptures say about social justice.  The religious leaders hope the ministry can help show the difference between mercy and justice.  Mercy is what many of the congregations already do ~ feed the hungry, house the homeless.  Justice, they say, means transforming the system so those needs no longer exist.  “I can imagine a day that we don’t need LINK (the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen) anymore, that we don’t need the shelter anymore, that we don’t need Family Promise anymore,” said Matt Sturtevant, pastor at First Baptist Church.  Added Jenkins:  “There’s a difference between first aid, which is to save someone’s life, and actually treating the disease, which is a long-term solution.”  “It’s about looking at the causes instead of just the effects,” said John McDermott, pastor at Morning Star Christian Church.  The group started last year after the faith leaders began talking about whether they might be able to make a difference in solving injustices.  Congregations have been coming together in Lawrence and elsewhere across the U.S. for years ~ during the civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century, for instance ~ but this is the first time locally there has been this large of a unified effort focused on transformative justice, the group says.  The ministry plans to start a listening process in the fall to identify the major social injustices in Lawrence, with community meetings open to the public.  In early 2015, they will decide on the issue or issues most important to Lawrencians and begin working on solutions.  “We believe that having justice is a religious obligation,” said Moussa Elbayoumy, director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence.

JMM Response, for CC-RPC’s website (05/2014, based on Dec./2013 intx. with DART leader)

Dear ____ (regional leader of D.A.R.T. = Direct Action & Resource Training Center, which seeks to organize local coalitions like the one coming together here as the “Lawrence Justice Ministry”]:  Thank you for the time you invested to seek understanding of/with us [late last year, 2013].  Because getting forty men together to hear from the four of us [evangelical pastors] is highly unlikely and because of your own request for it, we provide this bare summary of our long talk, hoping it will shed light on ONE evangelical position (… not the only faithful one).   We trust that you will represent this/us well in communicating with the growing DART-Lawrence contingent.

Some evangelical pastors in Lawrence are taking a “Gamaliel Approach” to DART-Lawrence at this time, certain we cannot stand against the work of God, convinced that we would never want to do so, and actually praying that Jesus Christ will be honored through YOUR efforts toward increasing justice (Let it roll down like mighty watersAmos 5:24).  That said, we are choosing to stay out of THIS justice-related union at the present time, for these reasons, among others:

(1) As much as we love justice and are working for its spread in our community, we doubt that much positive progress can be made without very careful definitions of critical words like justice, peace, shalom, God, sin, and reconciliation.  Who is God?  How can we know Him?  Through what one name may we know Him?  What does this God say about justice … and injustice?  If injustice is a form of sin, how can sinners be forgiven-reconciled, by/with God and others they offended?  So an effective justice ministry which deserves full passion and support of Christian pastors and congregations should aim for initial foundational agreement concerning Who brings about lasting justice and how He does so through His redeemed, reconciled people.  All this demands clear allegiance to the Bible (the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testaments) and the Triune God it reveals.  To support justice initiatives from our hearts and our wallets, we must know that we are working with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, building on a foundation of inerrant Scriptures, pursuing compatible visions of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.

(2) But as impressed as we are concerning the diversity of religious and spiritual leadership gathered around this need and opportunity, we wonder how two (or three, or four) who are so divided on spiritual foundations can walk together.  See, pursuit of true justice through long processes of reconciliation is a fundamental demand of the Christian gospel, but disciples of Jesus are not to be unequally yoked together with those who are not worshiping Christ as the exclusive Lord, way, truth, and life (John 14:6).  Paul equates “unbelievers” with lawlessness and darkness in his famous charge about unequal yokes (2 Cor. 6:14); who are we to say we know better today?  While it is in our nature to be just as polite, congenial, and neighborly as the rest of the gents in the room, several decades of history in Douglas County tell us that not all of the early D.A.R.T. participants have proven themselves to be friends of truth, life, and Jesus Christ.  This should be manifestly clear to everyone, as non-Christian religions are represented, along with cultic versions of Christianity and groups which long ago gave up on the idea that people are saved by grace alone through faith in the God-man alone according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone [and all of those terms must be defined Biblically/creedally as well].

(3) This leads us to sincere doubts about the nuts and bolts plan for justice pursuits through such an ecumenical endeavor:  Will this be yet another repeat of the “social gospel” agenda which forgets the gospel?  Might we expect a high priority for leftist-style wealth redistribution under the guise of love for the poor?  Will it be assumed that civil governments should play the primary role in bringing about this justice and equity (that is, members of religious communities will basically appeal to elected officials to “do justice”), instead of each person, family, and faith community acting justly within their sphere?  And will we see yet another wave of “gender-identity justice” become the dominant concern in our liberal community, just as previous pushes have enjoyed strong support from our most liberal congregations (“Christian” and otherwise)?  And will it ever occur to DART-Lawrence to consider that the deepest injustice of OUR lifetimes, in the United States has been the legalized killing of 55 million babies in the womb since 1973, leaving those dead plus millions of wounded would-be parents and siblings?  Yes, we know that a passion for eliminating legalized abortion in our community would be too controversial, not a topic to bring together Lawrence faith communities; it would be a non-starter.  But sometimes litmus tests are useful, and a number of us wonder how true justice can be pursued by those who cannot see this crime of the centuries for what it is.  God forgive us.

(4) We urge LJM members to recognize that many ministries already at work in our community, supported well by many of you, already have strong justice components (for the hungry and homeless, underemployed, “strangers in our midst” from other lands, “pregnant & scared,” etc.).  We are resolved to continue supporting these initiatives well, giving out cups of cold water and much more, always in the name of Christ, such that Jesus is front-and-center in the witness and in the gift … not a copilot, a side-thought, or a footnote in a bylaw or brochure.  Christian pastors & churches are to present to a lost world the message of Jesus with absolute clarity, in all its forms.  True words are ALWAYS necessary to explain our motivation for these acts of charity and justice.

(5) Finally, we urge great caution through mentioning the title of a culture-changing book, representatives of which will be coming to Lawrence in September, 2014:  When Helping Hurts.  The history of charity, help, & justice ministry is littered with kind deeds worked out unbiblically, such that helpers & victims are NOT seeing one another as we are (beggars before a generous God who makes known HIS paths of relational reconciliation).

It is not a little thing for us to claim the mantle or the spirit of Gamaliel, as his Acts 5 counsel was honest only if he ceased speaking ill of the followers of Jesus Christ in venues other than the Sanhedrin Council, and possibly joined hands with those Christian disciples after he could see the godliness of their lives and message.  We look forward to seeing positive developments through DART and LJM, and we will eagerly encourage our friends to join in on the public gatherings you propose which are in keeping with the priorities summarized above.  To use one of your own picturesque analogies, we understand that “the DART Bus” will be coming around the block more than once, such that there will be other opportunities for us to get on board!  Friends of justice that you want to be, we trust that those who hesitated to jump on during the first round will receive a hearty welcome and not be kept out in the cold nor pushed to the back.

And [Jesus Christ] is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created … all things have been created by and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the Head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. …” (Colossians 1:15-20).

Sincerely for Jesus, on behalf of a few evangelical pastors who are still learning & growing ~ JMM