Tag Archives: holiness

Should Christians have rules for holy living? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 5)

2 Nov
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What are the rules for holy living?  If you had to list some rules you have heard, what would you write?  Holiness refers to purity, so maybe you would include rules about avoiding putting anything unclean into your body.  Maybe you would include rules about washing, sanitizing, and purifying the water and air.  Toxicity is a popular concept in society, relating not just to the physical elements, but also to relationships.  Holy living might mean we exclude certain toxic people or media. There is much we could potentially include in a list of rules for holy living.  But should we?  As I am writing to Christians, I am especially wondering if God has rules for Christian holy living. 

This post is number 5 of 5 is a series studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and we have seen that God the father desired the people of Israel to live a holy life, because he treasures them and has their best interest in mind.  If they followed his way of living, they would look very different from people in neighboring nations.  Deuteronomy 14 was all about how different Israel would look in regard to the food they ate.  But does this matter to Christians?  In part 4, we studied the New Testament passages in which God overturned Israel’s food laws for Christians.  For Christians, all food is clean.  Does that mean Christians no longer need to practice holy living? 

To answer that, let’s take a look at what the New Testament writers tell us.  In Matthew 5:48 Jesus teaches, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.” Here Jesus is quoting the Old Testament passages on which Deuteronomy 14 is based, but he is not saying that holiness in God’s Kingdom must look identical to what holy living looked like for Israel.  We know this from Mark 7, which we reviewed in part 4 of this series, when Jesus himself declares a new way of looking at holy living.  What does this new Christian way of holy living look like?  Thankfully, Jesus’ first followers explain it for us.

The Apostle Paul, for example, applies Jesus’ teaching for us when he writes in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

Paul, additionally, in Philippians 2:14-15 takes the concept of holiness and combines with our identification as children of God, which we referred to in part 2 of this series:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

What this means is that the principle of holy living does apply to Christians.  Because of who God is, a holy loving father, and because of what he has done, saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are to live the way he wants us to live.

Loved children of God, we are to be holy like our heavenly father is holy so that many others can become children of God.

So what do Christian holy lives look like?  If it is not about eating certain foods, what do we actually do?  I am not going to try to come up with “Joel’s rules for holiness”.  Instead I encourage you to read what Jesus himself taught, and as you do, you’ll see that Christian holy living is based in love for God and love for one another.

Love is the basis of holiness.  Children of God, you are loved so deeply by your father, that you are free to live the holy life he wants you to live.  Follow him.  Follow his ways.

I would encourage you to discover that holy life on your own.  First, read the teaching of Jesus in the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and as you read, even if it takes you months, prayerfully ask God, “Lord, show me how to live a holy life.”  Then keep a notebook along with you, or maybe a note-taking app on your phone, and record every place where Jesus teaches about what a holy life looks like.  Prayerfully ask him to empower you to live that life.  Then think about the followers of Jesus that you know.  Which ones would you say are attempting to live out the way of Jesus and actually doing well at it.  Ask them to help you live that way.  Get their feedback and advice.

Finally if you know now or discover anew that there is something unclean in your life, and God is speaking to you today to change that, surrender it to him, ask him to take it from you, and see what he will do.  He has the power to transform your life.  But perhaps it has been a struggle for you, for months or years, and you need help.  One amazing thing that God does for his children whom he loves is that he places them in church families to help them.  Don’t keep silent about your struggle.  Talk with someone who can help you. And for freedom from some unclean habits, seek out professional help.  Making progress in holy living is possible!

Must Christians eat kosher? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 4)

1 Nov
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

As I mentioned yesterday, God details his kosher law in his covenant with Israel.  This week we are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and yesterday we looked at the fairly extensive list of animals that God declares clean or unclean for Israel.  But what about Christians?  Are we to apply kosher law to our lives?  Let’s look at a few places in the New Testament that refer to kosher law.

First, Jesus mentions the cleanliness laws in Mark 7:1-23.  Go ahead and read that before continuing here.  What did you notice?  In Deuteronomy 14 we see that it was certain animals that God said made the people unclean.  Things, animals, outside the people made the people unclean.  Jesus flips that and says, “No, it’s what is already inside you that is unclean, and it is revealed when you let it out of your heart.”  See that list of evil actions in Mark 7, verses 21-22?  When you notice those actions coming out of you, that should concern you, Jesus says, not pig’s meat. 

Interesting, then, Mark’s little comment there in verse 19, saying that Jesus declared all foods clean!  Yes, we can eat pork and ham!!! 

Now turn to Acts 10, where at this point, the church is still very new, very Jewish, and very much centered in the city Jerusalem.  They’ve made little inroads outside the borders of Israel, but not much.  Because God’s mission was to reach the whole world, to accomplish that mission those original Christians needed a little push. In the Jewish mindset people were clean if they Jewish and unclean if they were anyone else.  So to this point, maybe 3-5 years old, the church hadn’t taken much initiative to follow Jesus’ command that they were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but to the whole world.  Those original Christians were thinking Jewish. Kosher. 

So God needs to step in and remind them of what Jesus already taught back there in Mark 7.  But here’s a shocker: when God steps in, who does he first reach out to?  A guy who isn’t Jewish and who isn’t Christian!  Read Acts 10:1-8 and see for yourself.  God gives a guy named Cornelius a vision telling Cornelius to find and talk to a guy named Peter.  But Cornelius isn’t a Jew.  Instead he is a Roman Centurion, a soldier, the very people that have persecuted Jews, occupying their land!  Here’s the thing though: Cornelius isn’t your average Roman soldier.  We read that he was actually God-fearing and very generous to the Jews in the area he controlled.  God’s choice, then, to reveal himself to Cornelius is perfect, and we’ll see why as the story unfolds.  God isn’t done!  Read Acts 10:9-16, and you discover that God reaches out to Peter too, also in a vision, and in that vision God specifically refers to the kosher lists in Deuteronomy 14.  It’s quite a dramatic scene, and Peter is shaken to his core.

You see what God is doing?  He is saying, “Peter, all those lists of clean and unclean animals were for a day that has come and gone.  That was kosher thinking.  You are under a new covenant.  I define holiness a different way now.”

Peter should have known this, as he would have heard Jesus talked about it a lot, like the time I mentioned above in Mark 7.  But when you are dealing with a deeply entrenched cultural value, it is hard to see things a new way.   Peter tells God that he had never, ever, in his whole life, eaten something unclean.  I don’t believe Peter is exaggerating. So for Peter to have a vision is shocking enough, but for the message of the vision to be an overturning of the practice of holiness, it seems wrong to Peter.

A few years ago at Faith Church, I had a man from the congregation approach me with an outreach idea.  He was a ballroom dance instructor in his professional life, and he felt that if the church offered beginning dance classes for free to the community, it would be a big hit, and a great way for the church to connect with the community.  He would teach a 4-week series of classes as an experiment.  Inwardly, I doubted his opinion, but I loved his creativity and initiative and said, “Let’s propose the idea to the Outreach Team!”  One of the people on the Outreach Team was extremely concerned with the idea, having a super hard time with the image of dancing in a church fellowship hall.  This person said to me that growing up, there was no dancing allowed in the church.  The perspective was very much like Peter’s, except that while Peter’s was based on actual law, the person in my church grew up with a no-dancing perspective based on tradition.  I responded to the person that it is absolutely okay to dance in a church fellowship hall, that the perspective they grew up with was actually wrong, and further, this was going to be tasteful, classy dancing.  The Outreach Team approved the idea, publicized it to the community, and to my surprise and delight, on the first night, so many couples showed up, we had to turn some away!

Over the next few years, I believe God opened the eyes of some people at Faith Church who grew up in a no-dancing tradition.  In Acts 10-11 God  opened Peter’s eyes too.  At the time, Peter was the leader of the church, and motivated by God’s vision, begins a new initiative pursuing the mission of God to love all people.  God has been using the kosher law as a metaphor, encouraging Peter not only to see that now all foods are clean, but also that all people are clean in God’s eye, “clean” in the sense that God wants Peter and his church to reach out to pagan people like Cornelius.  So for Peter it is now not just okay to eat all foods, but also to share the message of the Good News of Jesus to all people.  You can read for yourself how Peter and the church respond to this shocking news.  What I  want us to consider here is the ramification for our lives.  Because Jesus has reversed the kosher law for us, does that mean we are now free to live however we want?

Jesus himself addressed that question in Matthew 5:48 when he quoted a famous passage in the Old Covenant, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.”   Originally, when he preached that, Jesus was talking to Jews who were still living under the terms of the Old Covenant between God and Israel.  At the time, Jesus himself, had not died and rose again, and thus God had not fully enacted the New Covenant with the Church.  So are we Christians to live holy lives?  Check back in tomorrow to part 5, and we’ll see!

What if we’re totally wrong about what it means to follow Jesus – Part 2

4 Nov

My son walked up to our pantry closet in our kitchen, looking for a snack.  He quickly put his hand over his nose, uttering a muffled “Ugh! What is that smell?”

I looked over at him standing there, and said “What do you mean? Is it the trashcan?”  Our kitchen trash bin is right next to the pantry, which is maybe not the best location.  Because it can get stinky, I thought it must be the source of the smell.

But no, he said, “It smells like poop! And it’s coming from in the pantry!”

I got up from the sofa and went over to check it out.  I caught a whiff of something, which smelled a bit like poop, but not quite either.  It wasn’t strong, so I started to dismiss it in my mind.  I reached down and halfheartedly shifted some boxes on the floor of the pantry, and I didn’t see much beyond some dust.  Admittedly, I was pretty sure the smell wasn’t coming from the trashcan.  And I didn’t really want to deal with whatever was causing the smell.  So I said, “I don’t know.  Let’s not worry about it.”

And with that I put it out of mind, and a few days went by.

A couple days later, I saw my son standing in front of the pantry again with his hand over his nose.  In the ensuing days, I had stuck my nose in there a couple times when I, too, was snacking, and there was definitely an odor.  But it still seemed faint, and I didn’t want to deal with it, so I didn’t.

This past Monday morning, though, the odor had become strong.  Michelle pulled out all the boxes and containers on the floor and found a dead mouse caught in a glue trap.  I will confess that I suspected that all along, and did nothing about it.  We had seen mice sneaking around lately, and eventually caught three.  It took hardly any time or effort to vacuum up the remains of a snack bag a mouse had hidden in the back corner to feast on, as well as the accumulated mouse droppings (I guess my son was right about the poop!), and then wash the floor, and put the boxes back.

Why did I wait to deal with the foul smell in my pantry, when it was relatively easy and effortless to resolve?  Have you ever experienced that feeling of not wanting to deal with the junk of life?  Have you ever let it linger?

Last week I introduced Luke 11:14-36 by suggesting that we might be all wrong about how we follow Jesus.  In that section, Jesus casts a demon out of a man, and people in the crowd confront him with two questions: 1. Did he exorcise the demon by Satan’s power?  and 2. Would he show them a sign from heaven?  To give you a little preview of the answers, they are “No” and “No”.  But these answers gave Jesus the opportunity to talk about what it means to follow him.

I find it fascinating what he does not say.  He does not say “Believe in him.”  Clearly, believing in Jesus, trusting in him, is a good thing, but why would he not mention that?  Christians, and especially Evangelicals, have put a lot of emphasis on believing.  Instead, he says that if we are to be his followers, we should have no neutrality about him.  We are either with him, or we are against him.  And when a person in the crowd shouted out “Blessed is your mother!”, Jesus responded with “On the contrary! Blessed are those who hear God’s Word and obey it.”  Jesus is saying that following him will affect our choices, our behavior.  Following him is not just about belief.  Instead his followers will show what they believe by hearing his word and doing what it says.

There are two primary applications of this, the inward and the outward.  Or as Jesus said “Love God and Love your neighbor”.  Inwardly, God wants to enter the smelly closets of our lives and clean them out.  He wants access to our secret thoughts and actions, our perversions, our addictions, to transform them into something far better than we could ever imagine.  As someone has said, we too often hear Jesus knocking at the door, let him in, and just hope we can hang out with him in the living room of our lives.  We know the place is messy, and we’re embarrassed about showing him around.  But he says “I think I smell poop coming from the pantry in your kitchen.”  And we respond “Nah…it’s no big deal.”

That sinful habit, that addiction, that undisciplined mind, that attitude, that complaining spirit…we know they’re in our lives, and we have a halfhearted desire to allow Jesus to clean us up, but we put it off.  Maybe we have become accustomed to the stink, and we don’t smell it anymore.  Maybe we think that it’s not so bad.  Maybe we’re afraid we won’t be able to change, and this is just who we are.  But Jesus says “hear my word and obey.  Either you’re with me, or you’re against me.”

There are also the outward ways we show that we’re with him.  Particularly, he said “Make disciples.”  The primary way we show that we are his disciples is to make more disciples.  But so many of us are not making disciples.  We say that we believe in him, but we do not do the major task he called us to do in his word: “Make disciples”.

So do you need to allow Jesus to clean up that stinky closet in your life?  Do you need to make disciples?  Are you hearing his Word?  Are you obeying what he says? 

Is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

16 Apr

It was easily a Top 5 Most Nerve-Wracking sermon for me.  This past Sunday, as I mentioned in last week’s intro post, I came to 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 in our sermon series through the letter of 1st Corinthians.  In these verses, Paul mentions homosexuality.  That’s what made me nervous.  No matter what I said, I thought, I’m almost guaranteed to tick someone off.  I kinda feel the same way about this post…

But why?  Because this passage is not really about homosexuality!  Because homosexuality is such a live issue in our culture, though, I knew I couldn’t just skip past it.  Paul only briefly mentions homosexuality in his list of vices in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, so I could have given it as much attention as the other vices in the list, about two sentences each.  I knew I couldn’t do that though.  The church needs to talk about homosexuality.  But again, that wasn’t Paul’s chief concern, and I hope I did justice to what was his concern, namely, to remind the Corinthian believers “that is what you were!”  A habitual lifestyle pattern of sin is what they were, but no longer.  Jesus did such an amazing work of renewal in their lives, they are new creations, living a new way. His way, something he called the abundant life.  Paul’s words are an amazing reminder and encouragement to us.

Also, this sermon made me so nervous because, not just in our country (and world), but also in the evangelical subculture, there is a wide range of perspectives on homosexuality.  What I have found is that it seems people have a very hard time holding their positions with grace and love.  Instead I have seen lots of hubris, vitriol and judgment.  Blame and guilt all around.  It is rare that I have seen people navigate this minefield with humility and a heart for unity.  In fact I have seen people claim to be justified in their disunity and arrogance.   I truly I hope I did better than that.

So as I share some further thoughts in this follow-up post, I want to start with a comment about audience.  This blog is surely open to anyone to use as a forum for discussion.  But the audience is primarily the people of Faith Church.  I want to be clear that I am not attempting to make any political or societal proclamation here about homosexuality or marriage.  While I believe that a society should have good governance and there are principles for such good governance found in Scripture, I am not making a pronouncement about that in this blog or in the sermon.  Personally, I wish government would get out of the marriage business and leave that to the church.  I want to distinguish that because I don’t see Paul as making political pronouncements in his teaching either.  His audience was the people of the church in the city of Corinth.  That’s who he is talking to, and by extension, to Christians.  In the same way, my sermon and blog posts are to my church, and by extension to Christians.

I would love to hear your feedback.  Please write your questions in the comments below.  I would especially encourage you to read Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting.  I was deeply convicted reading this book, and I recommend it for any disciple of Jesus. Hill’s conclusion matches that of my own and that of my denomination, that sexual expression is to be contained to marriage, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Hill is a Christian and a homosexual.  He’s also a top-notch scholar.  Though he is not attracted to women, Hill has decided that he will still take God at his word, and God’s call for him is to be celibate for the rest of his life.  That kind of sacrificial commitment is an example to me.

Others look at the biblical material and interpret it differently.  They find a basis for seeing scriptural prohibition of homosexual acts as time or culture bound, or perhaps not applicable to monogamous homosexual relationships or marriages. I have to believe that purveyors of these views are not acting maliciously. I believe a guy like Justin Lee, that when he says he loves the Lord, he means it.  But I humbly disagree with his hermeneutics.  I believe there is probably a lot of theology and biblical interpretation Lee and I would agree on.  I hope that in future conversations and ministry partnerships with those who agree with Lee, I will be able to emphasize those agreements.  I find this article to very helpful in this regard.  Unity is vital. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  We can lovingly disagree about things, a lot of things.

But I will say that Lee’s hermeneutical method concerns me. He may be right. I may be wrong. I respect Lee’s heart and mind, and he does evidence a sharp mind.  Read the book and I think you’ll see that.  But I’m concerned that he has allowed himself too much leeway to veer away from an appropriate interpretation of Scripture.  Again, I don’t think he does so maliciously.  Instead I believe he is wrestling with his deepest impulses, how a loving God could give him impulses that seem so right, and yet declare them as wrong.  Imagine with me that the tables were turned.  What if Scripture declared that heterosexual expression of sexuality was a sin, that sexual expression was reserved for marriage between people of the same gender?  You know all those attractions that the majority of you feel toward the opposite sex?  What if you were told you were never allowed to act on those impulses, even in committed monogamous heterosexual relationship?  Yet you felt these attractions and impulses always raging within you.  But you are told that expressing those impulses, acting on that attraction, is against God’s Kingdom.  That would be exceedingly painful to deal with.  I bring up this argument to help people understand the emotional depth of anguish, even if just a bit better intellectual understanding.  I admit I’ll likely never come close to an emotional understanding of what those with same-sex attraction are dealing with.  In the end I believe it is possible to hold to the traditional biblical standard of reserving sexual expression in marriage, and marriage as only between men and women, and to hold that standard with gracious love.

I would love to hear what Hill has to say about Lee and Lee’s hermeneutics.  Hill clearly disagrees with Lee.  I also wonder what Hill has to say since the publication of his book and how our society has changed over the last few years.

I would also love to hear your thoughts.  I’m not interested in a mean-spirited discussion, so I will not allow those comments to be posted.  I hope you’ve heard my heart.

And let me say a few final words.  Faith Church, we need to be there for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction.  We need to love them and express that love in genuinely loving ways.  For those who choose celibacy, and we do recommend this as the option that best honors the Lord, leading to that abundant life I mentioned above, the church needs to provide great support.  Imagine not have the companionship of your spouse.  We need to provide that to celibate disciples of Jesus.  Remember that this passage was not about homosexuality exclusively.  Paul reminded of a kingdom lifestyle of holiness that we all need to hear about.  This week what sin do you need to surrender to the Lord?

 

On Being Holy – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

7 Jan

Two days ago we started a series teaching through the book of 1st Corinthians.  It’s actually not a book, but a letter.  As I mentioned last week here, Paul is writing to a church that is struggling to maintain it’s discipleship to Jesus in the midst of the wealthy overly-sexualized culture.

In other words, he’s writing to us, American church.

How should he start?  How would you start?  What do you want to say to the American church?  If you could have a voice to the many millions of Christians across our land, what would you say?  I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comment section below!

What does Paul say?  He reminds them that they are holy in union with Christ, called to be holy.  What does it mean to be holy?

Perfect?  Maybe.

Holier than thou?  Not so much.

You can listen to sermon here, if you want a longer treatment.  Basically Paul is reminding the Christians in the city of Corinth, and he is reminding us as well, that we are holy in Christ, consecrated into a special relationship with our Lord.  We are called to become like him.

Our denomination has a history of focusing on holiness as vital to a disciple of Jesus, and based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, Paul is in agreement.  Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:42, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.”  We are to pursue holiness in our lives.

We do this first and foremost through an attitude that believes Jesus lived a holy life, and that he offers to us, as his disciples, a renewal, a change, a new life.  He called it the abundant life, and said he came to give it to us. Do we really believe that his offer of abundant life is better than the options for life that our society and culture has to offer?  Our culture really promotes a version of the good life that seems so wonderful.  And yet Jesus said that he came that we might have abundant life.  Who do we believe?

If we believe Jesus, then we pursue becoming holy as he is holy.  It might be a lifelong journey.  Frankly, for the vast majority of us, it will be a lifelong journey.  There will be struggles, failures, victory and growth.  Praise the Lord for his empowerment and grace offered to us in the journey of holiness.

The pursuit of holiness, then, is not about a program, but about desiring with all your heart to be more like Jesus.

So what is Jesus like?  Check out this classic:

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