Tag Archives: worship

God Wants You To Be Holy

Every once in a while you hear about a book that someone reads every year. Screwtape Letters, Elements of Style, My Utmost for His Highest, or The Complete Calvin and Hobbs.  The Hole In Our Holiness will certainly make the annual reading list for thousands who take following Jesus seriously.

Kevin DeYoung makes the case for a holiness deficit in the N. American church with three penetrating questions:

1) In Romans 16.9 Paul writes, “Your obedience is known to all.” DeYoung asks, “Is this even what you want to be known for? (p. 12)

2) Based on Rev 21-22 heaven is a holy place. DeYoung asks, “If you dislike a holy God now, why would you want to be with him forever?…..You would not be happy there if your are not holy here.” (p. 15)

3) Are we Great Commission Christians? “The Great Commission is about holiness. God wants the world to know Jesus, believe in Jesus, and obey Jesus.” (p. 16)

What follows is a thoughtful book on our responsibility and the necessity of our cooperation in the pursuit of holiness and the inherent perils in that pursuit. He addresses the importance of understanding the gradation of sin: “When we can no longer see the different gradations among sins and sinners and sinful nations, we have not succeeded in respecting our own badness; we have  cheapened God’s goodness.” (p. 72). When we get complacent in the pursuit of holiness DeYoung warns “…some Christians are stalled out in their sanctification for simple lack of effort. …. And they need to fight, strive, and make every effort to work out all that God is working in them.” (p. 90)

Chapter 7 is an important and profound treatment of the doctrine of our union with Christ. This chapter alone is worth the modest price of this fine book! Here’s just one example of DeYoung’s pointed and powerful writing: “In effect God says to us, ‘Because you believe in Christ, by the Holy Spirit I have joined you to Christ. When he died, you died. When he rose, you rose. He’s in heaven, so you’re in heaven. He’s holy, so you’re holy. Your position right now, objectively and factually, is as a holy, beloved child of God, dead to sin, alive to righteousness, and seated in my holy heaven – now live like it.” (p. 105). That will preach! And it will provide great encouragement to those who struggle to live up to their calling every day.

Toward the end of the book DeYoung clearly identifies the importance of personal holiness: “We think that relevance and relate-ability are the secrets to spiritual  success. And yet, in truth, a dying world needs you to be with God more than it needs you to be “with it.” That’s true for me as a pastor and true for you as a mother, father, brother, sister, child, grandparent, friend, Bible study leader, computer programmer, bank teller, barista, or CEO. Your friends and family, your colleagues and kids – they don’t need you to do miracles or transform civilization. They need you to be holy.” (p. 145).

It’s a short trip from holiness to legalism and we are often either very eager to make that trip or take just 1 or 2 wrong turns and end up at a destination that is not where we intended to go. What DeYoung writes in The Hole In Our Holiness can be very prescriptive and preventative in keeping us on the road to holiness. Don’t miss the last paragraph. It might be the most powerful paragraph in the entire book!

As a coach and second chair leader I recommend this book to all who want their lives to reflect the reality of their union with Jesus Christ. Personally, I found this short book to be filled with balanced and accurate interpretations of what the Bible teaches on the topic of personal holiness. The thoughtful reader will find plenty of encouragement and challenging motivation from it. And if you don’t have a book that you read annually, I would encourage you to make The Hole In Our Holiness that book.

Why Holiness Matters

First-time author, (and current seminarian) Tyler Braun takes an impassioned stand for a new approach to biblical holiness in “Why Holiness Matters – We’ve Lost Our Way But We Can Get it Back” (Moody, 2012). His main thought is: “Holiness is not new behaviors. It is new affections.” (p. 12)

Written by a millennial creative for millennials, Tyler shares his compelling personal story of his holiness journey. It is a story that most readers – millennials or not – will be able to relate to on many levels. How many of us have chased some degree of personal holiness by pursuing new habits (disciplines) that are supposed to (we hope) give birth to holiness? It only takes a few days to discover that we lack the holiness to maintain those disciplines. After a few false starts we usually just give up trying. Little did we know that giving up was just the place we need to be! What we really need is not more studies, more small groups, more classes, or more sermons – we need hearts that are turned toward Jesus. He is the source of our holiness.

“A relationship with Jesus that begins with anything other than the penetrating love he has for us becomes a duty-filled, contractual relationship. We begin to think of all the blessings we’ll receive when we do what we believe he desires. But a relationship with Jesus that begins with his love and fills our hearts and lives, becomes a relationship of affection. We do what we believe he desires because we love him, not for any prosperity or blessing that might come our way.” (p. 69)

I believe that Tyler has hit a home run (an analogy that he will appreciate) on his first at bat! “Why Holiness Matters” is a book that has all of the potential of becoming a classic – a clearly stated fundamental shift in status quo thinking; numerous quotes – from sentences to full paragraphs – that will be quoted and referred to in other blogs, books, articles, sermons, etc.; a compelling story that connects the reader with the author; and a desire by the reader to re-read the book.

Here is a sampling of the quotes that I think will be used heavily in other works:

“Holiness is not an outcome of perfect living, sin management, rule following, or right doctrine.” (p. 135)

“The holiest of lives would no longer make sense if God did not exist.” (p. 135)

“Holiness begins in us by following Jesus and allowing him to apprehend us through his love, not for the sake of wealth, strength, or power, but for the sake of becoming a reflection (the imago Dei) of who he is.” (p. 158)

I highly recommend reading and re-reading “Why Holiness Matters.”

You can read more about Tyler Braun and Why Holiness Matters on his blog:  manofdepravity.com


Functionally Amish

I think we will all eventually become functionally Amish.

You know who the Amish are. They are a Christian sect found mostly in Pennsylvannia. They may be best known for rejecting modern conveniences and living a simple lifestyle that seems to be frozen in the 1850’s. Those modern conveniences include homes with utilities like running water and electricity, and gas-powered engines that run things like cars, tractors, and Harleys! Apparently, banks require them to keep the electricity hooked up to the house until the mortgage is paid off. At that time the homeowner removes the service to the house. I have to agree with the Amish here – mortgages are not a modern convenience!

So I wonder if we don’t all become Amish at some point – rejecting modern conveniences for the lifestyle of a bygone era? We see it in people who resist or flat-out reject technology. No cell phone. No email. No computer. Landline with an answering machine. Sometimes it pops up in fashion. Double-pleated cuffed pants. “Mom” jeans (especially on men!). Leather fringe jackets.Christians are really good at becoming functionally Amish. Locking into the hymns from the 40’s and 50’s (that’s 1840’s and 50’s!) or the Gaither music of the 60’s and 70’s. We insist that the bible translation that we grew up with is the best. And we are experts at resisting change of any kind.

But Christians aren’t the only people that become functionally Amish. We’re all good at it. We love the familiar and routine. It gives us a certain sense of comfort and security. Eventually we will all watch the History Channel, Turner Classic Movies, and re-runs of Gunsmoke. (Note: since the Amish don’t use electricity they certainly don’t watch old movies.)

The point is eventually most of us will pick a seemingly random point in history and freeze-frame our life in that era. Ten years from now I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be that balding 65 yr old wearing Tom’s, a David Crowder t-shirt, and black skinny jeans with an iPhone in the front pocket! Which era will you choose to spend the rest of your life in?

Plan C

It was the opportunity all second chair pastors dream of: to step into the pulpit on the biggest Sunday of the year and preach to the largest crowd of the year! Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe you have bigger crowds on Super Bowl Sunday.

This time last week all of our staff was doing well. No one complained of illness. Everyone was looking forward to our Good Friday and Easter services. Plan A was a go.

Then there was Wednesday.

That was the day that the sr pastor called in sick. Later he texted that he had “walking pneumonia!’ At this point we were still sticking with Plan A. I started popping Vitamin C.

On Thursday the sr pastor waved off his participation in the Good Friday service. I met with our Worship Pastor to find out the direction for both Good Friday and Easter (just to be safe). Then the Youth Pastor and I hatched Plan B: I would speak at the Good Friday service and he would be prepared to speak Easter Sunday if needed. Almost as an afterthought he added that he was not feeling real well, either. Our children’s director was also sick! More Vitamin C. Lot’s more.

On Friday we were told that our sr pastor would not be able to preach on Easter Sunday! When I contacted the youth pastor to give him the news it became clear that his health was declining and he was in no condition to begin preparing for Sunday. Plan C (me speaking at both Good Friday and Easter) became the working plan!

As it turned out, neither the sr pastor nor the youth pastor was able to attend either Good Friday or Easter. Our musicians, technicians, performers, greeters, ushers, and other volunteers rose to the challenge and all of the  services came off without a hitch! Easter was our biggest Sunday in the past year.

For me, it was the first Easter Sunday I had preached in nine years. I don’t expect to ever get another opportunity to do so. I enjoy preaching but I don’t enjoy the preparation. Preaching weekly is not something that I want to do again right now. I like my role as a second chair leader. I have much more freedom and flexibility to develop ministries with men, discipleship coaching, and community outreach. This role fits my strengths and personality quite well and is the role I have filled for 14 of my 29 years in ministry.

My one word of advice to all second chair leaders is to keep a Plan B and a Plan C filed away. Don’t wait until the day before the most important day in your organization’s year to hatch a back-up plan. Do it today! And keep it fresh so that you can implement that new plan with out much effort. I didn’t do that. So in the middle of two event-filled days I had to prepare to pinch hit twice. Oh, and be sure to take lots of Vitamin C!

(My thanks to Ryan Johnsen for the photo!)

When have you been called on to step in as a second chair leader?

When have you been unable to go on and had to call on a second chair leader?

Are You Living the Cross Centered Life?

In his book, Living the Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney reminds us the words of Paul that the cross is the only essential tenet of our faith (1 Corinthians 15.1,3). And he suggests that we face constant temptation to move away from that essential in three common areas: subjectivism, legalism, and condemnation. (p. 16). Mahaney writes:

“The message Paul had for Timothy is the same message God has for you. You need to rediscover the truth. They key to joy, to growth, to passion isn’t hiding from you. It’s right before your eyes.

It’s the gospel.” (p. 30)

Through the rest of this little book Mahaney does his best to help us come face-to-face with the purity of the Gospel and to fall in love with the reality of the grace of the Gospel.

“For when you’re deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront it is to God’s holiness, and of how impossible it is for him to respond to this sin with anything other that furious wrath – you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.

Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.” (p. 88).

In those two sentences Mahaney seems to identify the great challenge of our age: the absence of sin. As a concept, sin has been identified as a leftover from the dark ages that no longer applies to contemporary life. Perhaps a few quaint religious types still believe in sin but not the more intelligent masses. Mahaney is correct then that one will not love the gospel (or “cherish grace”) apart from an awareness of their sin.

The intellectually honest seeker of God will consider the entire gospel narrative that begins with creation, then the fall, followed by God’s relentless pursuit of mankind to reconcile and restore them to himself in that relationship that existed in creation!  In that context the harsh reality of the cross where “Jesus does’t just feel forsaken; he is forsaken” (p. 94) challenges the assertion that sin is just a quaint, outdated concept.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross because of a concept.

I appreciate Mahaney’s challenge on p. 109: “Let the cross always be the treasure of your heart, your best and highest thought…and your passionate preoccupation.”

Living the Cross Centered Life is a volume that should be part of your library and should be re-read annually.

Black Nativity Inspires!

Sunday night Julie and I attended one of the most inspirational and deeply spiritual events in recent memory. The Black Nativity was presented at the historic Moore Theater in downtown Seattle. As we found our front-row seats we wondered if perhaps we were seated too close. Those concerns were quickly erased as the program began and the auditorium was filled with music!

Langston Hughes wrote this “Gospel Song Story” fifty years ago and it has been produced on American stages every year since. This is the 14th year in Seattle and will hopefully be produced for many, many years to come. Through dance, song, brilliant colors, dramatic narration, and pageantry the story of Jesus birth unfolded before us with a beauty and intensity that I’ve never seen or heard before. Such talent! Such joy! Such energy! I worshiped Jesus that night!!

The second half of the program was a review of the immense talent of this cast as we were transported to a Gospel Church worship service. The host/narration here by both Pastor Pat Wright and Pastor Alphonso Meadows was outstanding. This portion of the program was filled with singing, dancing, and laughter – lots of laughter! A stand-out among a series of wonderful performances was the duet of ‘Ava Maria’ by Camella Recchi and Leonard Piggee. It was simply amazing.

I’m so glad that we had front row seats for this experience! I can’t wait to see it again and again year after year. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing again THIS year!

The Black Nativity appears at Seattle’s Moore Theater nighty through December 24.

It’s A Start

I’ve waited a while to write this post and am even a little tentative about writing it today.

I’ve lost 20 lbs.

I’ve been overweight for a while but I just kept eating. And eating. And eating. I’ve heard that people tend to gain about 10lbs per decade. That’s just one pound per year. I like to tell people that one pound amounts to four quarter-pound meals at McDonalds in  year. Just four more than usual! Or just a few second or third baskets of chips at Azteca. One pound pound per year! You wouldn’t even notice your clothes fitting tighter until year 7 or 8!

So in the past two months I have rolled back the clock two decades worth! It feels great. My blood pressure is lower, my wife says I don’t snore as much, and I’m fitting into clothing sizes that were a distant memory.

But I’m still a bit leery of celebrating too much because I think I’m only half way. According to my medical provider I’m at a BMI of 27.53 (down from 30.41) when I should be 24. So I still have some work to do. I’ve lost 10% of my weight and I have another 10% to go to be where I should. That would put me close to my weight in college and when I got married. It’s hard to imagine being that weight again but I’m going to give it a try during the most difficult dietary season in America: The Holidays!

These days “The Holiday’s” run from Halloween to Super Bowl. That’s more than 3 months of super-sized meals, desserts, candy dishes, and snacks. But with two months of practice I think I’m ready to face this challenge. I’ve been using the Smarter for Life diet plan where you eat six 100-calorie cookies throughout the day (about 1 every 2 hours) and then eat a lighter supper with some protein. I know that if I’d followed the diet to the letter I would have lost more but I’m pleased with my progress. I’ve also been walking about 7 times per week along a 2.5 mile route in our neighborhood with some steep hills. I’m pretty sure that in order to continue making progress the number and distance of the walks will need to increase.

So I won’t post every week about this journey – perhaps monthly over the next three months just to record my progress. I’d appreciate hearing your suggestions for pushing through the plateaus.