Friday, July 8

Rethinking Holiness

"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
I Peter 1:15-16

I've been working on some talks for a couple of weeks of high school camps that I have coming up. That preparation brought me back to this passage - one that I taught from last semester - and some thoughts that were generated by it.

Most often we tend to think of "holiness" and "purity" as exercises of denial - achieved by moving away from all the things that can "defile" us. The list of what those things are can vary from family to family, community to community, and religious group to religious group. Some of the things that have been included over the years are smoking, drinking, cussing, movies, dancing, kissing, petting, sex, playing cards, co-ed swimming, etc. (As we used to say in Kansas, "I don't smoke, drink, or chew - or go out with girls who do!" Now if you said that in parts of Arkansas, your social life would be seriously stunted!) By this measure, the person that is the "purist" or "most holy" is the one who refrains from the most items of defilement!

But as some students and I were discussing this passage a few months ago, it dawned on us that becoming holy is really less about what we quit doing and more about becoming like God! It is less about moving away from "defiling acts" and more about moving toward God. God is holy! He is the definition of holiness! He calls us to be holy, not so much that we quit doing things that make us dirty but that we might become more like him - because he is holy. So being holy and pure isn't really about not doing all the things that you kind of think you might really like to try as it is about becoming like the one whom you really want to imitate.

Therefore, the person who is most "pure" and "holy" isn't just the one who stays away from the most defiling things. The Pharisees of Jesus' time were masters of this, yet he blistered them for their lack of holiness. They missed the entire point that holiness was more about being like God. That includes saying "no" to sin, but it also means becoming compassionate, gentle, self-sacrificing, forgiving, generous, and more.

In truth, we need both of these aspects to be holy - to be like God. We need to strive for sinlessness, because our God is sinless. And we need to grow in our love and compassion and mercy, because our God is compassionate and loving and merciful and gracious. It is only when we combined these aspects will the idea of holiness have any attraction to the watching world around us. One of these without the other fails to give the whole picture of who God is and won't work in drawing a hurting (needing compassion) and sinful (needing mercy) world to him.

Donald Miller, in his book, Searching For God Knows What, puts it this way:

"Morality, then, if you think about it, is the way we imitate God. It is the way we imitate the ways of heaven here on earth."

I recently finished Miller's book. I thought the first half of the book was really good and thought provoking, especially as he talked about the things that motivate people in a world separated from God. I didn't think the second half of the book was as good as the first half.

I also finished The Teammates by David Halberstam. It is a short book about the careers, but mostly about the life-long friendship, of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio - four men who played for the Boston Red Sox back in the 1940's. If you're a baseball fan, you'll enjoy it.

Currently I'm reading Red Moon Rising by Pete Grieg and Dave Roberts. It's the story behind the 24-7 prayer movement that is going on around the world. It is definitely stretching and we're talking about implementing some things from it this fall. Right now we're praying about 240 hours of prayer during September as a starting point. We'll keep you posted - but pray with us about that!

I'm also reading God's Politics by Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners Magazine. The sub-title says, "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." This is preparation for a workshop I'm teaching in Indiana in August.

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