One of my favorite things is to read the introduction to each book. I started out this morning reading in Isaiah (which is where I’ve started a lot lately). Eugene Peterson writes: The Characteristic for God in the book of Isaiah is “The Holy”. Now, I have to admit that when I see that word, Holy, flashes of bee-hive hairdos, three-piece suits, lots of yelling, sweat, tambourines and the Hammond B3 do come to mind. I can’t help it…my granddad was a fire-breathing Pentecostal preacher. Some of you may think of stained-glass windows and hymns. Or maybe you think of all the stuff that your Sunday school teacher said you DON’T get to do if you want to be “holy” (drink, cuss, chew, and run with those that do, etc). But, the “Holy” that Isaiah refers to is not the man-made definition you may or may not have heard. He goes on to write: Holiness is the most attractive quality, the most intense experience we ever get out of sheer life – authentic, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance. We find ourselves in on the operations of God Himself, not talking about them or reading about them. Holiness is a furnace that transforms the men and women who enter it.
As I read through Isaiah, holiness is no longer this place or position I strive to attain, but a way of life. I’m not “producing” holiness through my actions but the “furnace” of holiness is transforming me as I enter into it. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 1:13-17. It is a description of how to enter the transforming “furnace” of Holiness. It says:
"Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless."
Ahh! Nothing like a big fat rebuke from God’s Word! I love it! It exposes the things in my heart that need to change. It gives me an opportunity to enter into that life-transforming furnace of Holiness! Feel the burn!
Ok, let’s be honest. Us church folk have got the “worship charade” down pat! Religious games (gossip, jockeying for position, judgementalism, etc), sadly, are a big part of Christian culture and unfortunately what a lot of non-believers think of when they hear the word “Christian”. We have “meetings” non-stop (often, it seems, for the purpose of…having another meeting…yay)! And we know how to perform! I’ve seen prayer-performances and offering-extractions that were worthy of Oscars!
I hope I don’t sound cynical, judgmental or anti-church in any way. I am a part of and deeply love the church. I love it when we come together for special meetings to worship God and hear the Word of God taught. I don’t think the Scripture is saying those things are bad. I think it’s saying they are bad when, on the “outside”, we look great, sound great, perform great and even (some of us) smell great but behind-the-scenes we are “tearing people to pieces”. The outside is squeaky-clean but the inside has allowed evil to occupy the space that God’s love so deeply desires to take up residence.
Something very interesting to me about this passage is the emphasis on justice, the down-and-out, homeless and defenseless. It implies that the meetings, the worship, and the prayer are all meaningless unless we’re doing justice, helping the down-and-out, homeless and defenseless. It all works together. If we don’t put in all the ingredients, we don’t have a cake, we just have a big, doughy mess.
So what’s the life application of this? The instruction begins with, “Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings”. I wouldn’t dare try to boil this down to a list of do’s and don’ts. I don’t think I need to define evil or sin. We all have a direct connection with God. We can all go to Him on a regular basis and say “Ok Father, because I love you, I want to do what pleases you. Shine the light on areas of my life that displease you. I receive your Grace to change”. That approach keeps me from trying to “obey the law” in my own strength. It keeps my motive pure (obedience out of my love for the Father). And it makes room for Grace to empower me to do what is pleasing to God.
The passage ends with, "Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless." I love that the process of “learning” is in this instruction. It puts the emphasis on what we’re BECOMING. We are all becoming, being transformed all the time when it comes to life here on the planet earth. I must interject, of course; we followers of Christ have all been made righteous by faith through Grace. We’re not “becoming” more righteous. God is our Father, we are His Children and there’s nothing that can change that. It is however, our choice to live in obedience out of our love for Him and enter in to what Eugene Peterson describes as: “the most intense experience we ever get out of sheer life – authentic, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance.”
There are many definitions for “Holy”. A few are, “sacred”, “belonging to God”, “set apart” and one of my favorite: “a cut above”. God doesn’t want us living at a distance. He chose us as the dwelling place of His Spirit. He wants us in on what He’s doing, not just reading or talking about it. He wants us out working for justice, helping the poor and standing up for the defenseless. He wants us to live a life that is “a cut above” or as a friend of mine says, “HNL” (Ho-Notha-Level)!
I am excited about where we’re headed as a body of believers. I know through Grace, we are becoming the force of love God desires us to be on the earth. I want to live in the “holiness” furnace and be transformed daily.
I’m not “making” or producing holiness… Holiness is making me!
Thanks for letting me ramble…love to hear your comments!