Friday, May 31, 2013

Walkin’ the Holy Tightrope

“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).”

I've always loved how much truth is crammed into a single, short phrase like Hebrews 10:14. It's by far my favorite “summary” verse when talking to people about sanctification (i.e., “growing up spiritually”).

Holiness is a done deal – Jesus has already made us “perfect forever.” It doesnt depend on us and our performance. It’s also an ongoing, lifelong process – we cooperate with the Holy Spirit as we are “being made holy.”

To be fair, it’s something of a balancing act. I can see and appreciate how easy it would be to err on one side or the other (license versus legalism).

For example, if we were to only emphasize the first half of Hebrews 10:14 – that in God’s eyes, we’re already “perfected” – we run the risk of:

  1. Complacency and/or laziness, (as if personal holiness is optional),
  2. Developing a “party hearty” lifestyle that downplays sin and its effects (see #1 above), and/or
  3. Disinterest in any kind of mutual accountability (“Dude, isnt that just, like … judging?).

On the other hand, if we only emphasize the second half of the verse – that we’re still a work-in-progress when it comes to personal holiness – we run a different gauntlet of spiritual potholes:

  1. An anxiety-driven (and at times, neurotic) obsession with “following all the rules,”
  2. Wallowing in defeat/unable to enjoy God as Father, and/or
  3. Overzealous and unnecessarily punitive attempts at accountability (legalistic nit-picking of self and others).

When it comes to personal and community holiness, all of us tend to lean too far in one direction or another. Maintaining that all-important balance – having complete confidence in Christs finished work while humbly allowing the Spirit to refine our character -- isn’t automatic by any means.

But its worth pursuing. In fact, Id go so far as to suggest that a working definition of “spiritual maturity” should include our ability to humbly + confidently walk the Hebrews 10:14 tightrope, without apology, without striving, and without a net.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stones of Remembrance: In the Beginning

Stones of Remembrance play a significant role in the history and story-telling of God’s people. An example: 

The Israelites finally entered the promised land after 40 years in the wilderness, crossing the Jordan River in much the same manner as when Moses had parted the Red Sea. Once again on dry land, Moses successor, Joshua, instructed them to set up stones of remembrance as a memorial (Joshua 4:4–7). 

The recurring theme: “when your children ask what do these stones mean,” they’d have an opportunity to re-tell a part of their story as Gods people. 

In the early 21st century, it’s equally important that we pause and remind ourselves of our own stones of remembrance. 

I’ve often heard it said that what we experience during our first five years will shape who we are for life. I’ve pondered, from time to time, if that might also be true for our spiritual lives. If that’s the case, then my first year as a Christian (age 16) yields the following Stones of Remembrance:

  1. Jesus is actually real.

    I was raised in a Christian family, went to church every Sunday, but the night of my surrender to Jesus came as a shock and surprise. Mainly because I didn’t go to the evangelistic meeting with an open mind; I only went to placate my earnest Christian friends. God had other things in mind, despite my contempt for the band and ignoring the spoken message. “Surrender” is perhaps the best only word that adequately describes my response to God’s wake-up call.

  2. The Holy Spirit is alive. And well. And is known to show up in decidedly unexpected ways.

    I was on staff at our denominational camp that summer. During a prayer time my teenaged cabin mates, the Holy Spirit “showed up” in an experience of God’s love that left everyone blown away. Doubly miraculous was that our camp/denomination was legendary for its rabid ANTI-charismatic bent.

    (2b. God has a sense of humor about camps like that.)

  3. Satan is not just a marketing tool for 1980s hair metal bands. But Jesus is more powerful.

    An unexpected spiritual attack – completely with visions of satanic imagery – came out of nowhere late one night, and scared the liver out of me. But, turns out that its true what they say: in the name of Jesus, we have authority over evil spirits. Good news for those of us under attack.

  4. Controlling, manipulative, and abusive leaders are a royal pain in the patookus.

    I learned this the hard way at the same camp; while not without my own issues, the harsh words of constant judgement and condemnation were total overkill. Fundamentalism on steroids. Almost cult-like, you might say. On the plus side, this was the first of many times when I learned to sift through religious crap trappings to find the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45–46).

*   *   *
And as I look back over the years, I find (perhaps not surprisingly) that all of the above are as true today as they were then. If anything, I’m more aware of the reality – and implications – of each of these early Stones.