The Scandal of Holiness

Too often we assume that holiness is dignified and well-mannered, even stuffy. It is nothing of the sort. Jesus is holiness itself, yet He overthrew tables in the temple courts and plunged into hell for three days to rescue the lost.

There is nothing remotely dignified about bleeding, naked, on a cross.

Believe it or not, the primary meaning of the word holiness is not related to morality. What it does mean is “set apart.” To be holy is to belong to God and be reserved for His purposes and pleasure. The holy individual isn’t disconnected from the world around her, yet her heart, mind, body, and spirit belong solely to God even as she dwells in a world full of sin. She is just as holy while diapering the baby, leading a staff meeting, enjoying a romp with the husband, or struggling with temptation as she is while flat on her face in intercession for a sick neighbor.

False ideas and images relating to holiness are so ingrained in our minds that, if presented with the photos below, many of us would immediately assume that the man is holy and the woman is a skank. Surely folding one’s hands is holy and red heels are scandalous.

Do you see how absurd this way of thinking is? Yet we fall for it again and again.

Priest with rosary Woman wearing black leather pants and red high heel shoesTruth be told, the term holy can describe even the person who was saved five minutes ago. This is because we become holy not by swearing off dancing or taking offense when someone curses but by relinquishing all rights to our own life and surrendering ourselves into God’s hands. The end result of such surrender is the grace to behave in ways that please Him; and thus as a person is set apart, she may very well become more patient or clean up her language or stop abusing prescription meds. Her devotion to God and her standing in His eyes brings about changes in behavior. But understand this: An atheist can abstain from sex before marriage or spend her life in service to the poor, but that does not make her holy. Only the finished work of Jesus as she, by grace, surrenders to His sovereignty will render her holy.

Society (and, sadly, the Church as well) has so twisted the idea of holiness that referring to someone as holy has become an insult. “Mandy won’t wear short shorts, she’s too hooooly.” In fact, most of us would cringe at the mere idea of referring to ourselves as holy, lest we imply that we think we’re better than everyone else. But holiness has nothing to do with feeling superior; in fact, the closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize just how messy, broken, and depraved we are apart from His grace. So I’m going to go out on a limb here. As one who belongs to God and is reserved for His purposes and pleasure, I am holy.

There—I said it. I dare you to make the same declaration.

 

Lev. 20:26: “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.”

To Those Who Are Brave Enough to Dream

 Is there someone in your life who has an approach to faith that borders on reckless, impulsive, even foolish? Do you wish you had that same kind of faith? Then learn to dream.

My husband, who will say yes to just about any dream that God puts in his heart, has taught me more about faith in the past seven years than I learned in the four decades before we were married. I was the type who anxiously clings to security and tries to control the universe, while he’s the type who changes the world through the power of faith in God. As a dreamer, he isn’t ignorant of the obstacles that stand between himself and the vision God has planted in his heart; he just knows God is bigger and badder than those obstacles.

Ultimate Bible picture collection

Ultimate Bible picture collection

Once you commit to be crazy enough to follow God wherever He leads, get ready to watch your God-dreams unfold. The experience will render you breathless with gratitude and awe and lift you to new levels of faith. But know this: You must be willing to persevere when opposition comes… because it will come. Some will criticize or ridicule you for daring to dream. Some will laugh, and others will try to rein you in. They’ll try to domesticate you and break your spirit. You might even have to fend off “friendly fire.” After all, it was Joseph’s own brothers who said to one another, “Oh, here comes the great dreamer. Let’s kill him…. We’ll see then what becomes of his stupid dreams” (Genesis 37:19–20, Voice). Jealous of the dreamer, they plotted the murder of their own brother, then threw him into a pit, then sold him to slave traders.

But Joseph’s dreams were God’s dreams, and God’s dreams aren’t so easily extinguished. If you don’t know how this story ends, here’s the short version: Many years and many battles later, Joseph became second in command over the Egyptian empire and was instrumental in saving the nation of Israel from extinction.

Lynn Bogle, former CDO of the Nashville Rescue Mission (which houses hundreds of homeless men), made this statement: “God says to us, ‘You know what? I’ll take care of it. You just dream, and I’ll take care of it.’” The “it” to which he was referring is a 12 million dollar budget. What’s your “it”? Are you willing to dream and let God take care of the impossibilities?

Christians and Depression: Another Look

I keep hearing about believers who are suffering from depression, and we all know it gets worse this time of year. So I’m going to repost an article that ran in a LifeWay publication awhile back, and about which I received emails from numerous Christians thanking me for speaking about the taboo subject of depression. One email from the pastor of a successful mega-church not too far from here, read, “You’re one of the first Christian writers I’ve found who includes a common-sense endorsement of medication, which I resisted until my own breaking point…. Like you, I had friends who further injured me by suspicion of sin on my part. It feels good to read how someone else walked through what I’m in.” We (i.e. Christians in general but especially ministers/pastors) are not talking about this, but we should be! It’s real, and there’s hope for those who suffer, but if we clam up about it, we’re exacerbating the problem. So here’s the article exactly as it ran:

What depression feels like. Except worse.

What depression feels like. Except worse.

In the winter of 2006–7, during an especially sorrowful and stressful period, I plummeted into a mental state unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. This was not simply a case of the blues. I lost all interest in the activities that constituted life: people, writing, recreation, my career, and daily rituals like grocery shopping. The moment I woke, I longed for bedtime—for escape—and yet I couldn’t sleep. Nausea, confusion, and exhaustion plagued me. Smiling was impossible in the face of intolerable sadness. Pulling myself out of bed each morning was torment. The thought of continuing in such blackness for one more hour, let alone one more week, was unbearable as I struggled to “keep it together.” I dreaded social situations. The sound of conversation and laughter between my coworkers became foreign to me, until I couldn’t recall what either one felt like. I knew I’d laughed and conversed thousands of times, but now it seemed ludicrous and utterly impossible.

Worst of all, although God hadn’t left me, the awareness of His presence that I’d always enjoyed had vanished. 

One evening, I mentioned my struggle to someone who was spiritually sound and whose opinion I valued. “I can’t feel God,” I said. “This sadness is devouring me, and I can’t find Him no matter what I do.” My friend answered, “There’s got to be some kind of sin in your life if you feel separated from God. Examine your life and try to figure out where you’ve gone wrong.”

 My friend meant well, but he had inadvertently kicked me when I was at my lowest. His words didn’t make sense: even though I couldn’t feel God, I knew I hadn’t turned my back on Him. And somehow I knew that He hadn’t deserted me. My friend simply didn’t realize that believers aren’t immune to the horrors of clinical depression. Like many Christians, he mistakenly assumed that being a Christ-follower insulates a person against depression. This notion is so prevalent that many Christians feel too guilty and embarrassed to discuss their struggles. They forget that not even the “spiritual giants” of Scripture were immune to this type of suffering. Think of Elijah, who swung from great victory into deep depression, or David, who expressed his pain in Psalm 6, among others: “I am weary from my groaning;
 with my tears I dampen my pillow
 and drench my bed every night” (v. 6).

One Friday afternoon, my despair became so suffocating that I asked a girlfriend (whose husband had suffered mental illness) what was required to check oneself into a hospital—just in case. All hope, joy, pleasure, and light had ceased to exist for me. I begged God to give me a moment’s assurance, some sign, but the nothingness continued. It was sheer grace that allowed me to hang on until Monday, when I finally called my doctor and dragged myself to his office. I remember feeling bewildered as I watched the woman across from me in the waiting area peruse a magazine and smile pleasantly at a nurse. How could she be so carefree? How was she untouched by the desolation that had swallowed me?

Brain impulses. Thinking prosessThe next hour changed my life. After I described my symptoms to my doctor, he asked about my circumstances and then ran some tests. His conclusion: my depression was the result of years’ worth of nearly continual stress, compounded by recent occurrences. Quite simply, I had drained my body of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. He prescribed a medication that would give me a bit of relief and allow me the time to “refill my tank.” Within four months, I was off the medication. Finally, I was laughing and living again.

Can depression be a sign of disobedience? Yes, it certainly can. But it can also be caused by medical or chemical issues, mental or physical exhaustion, and so on. Can God heal us in an instant? Yes, He can and often does. But if you’re in the “waiting stage,” don’t assume that God is displeased with you. Feeling separated from His presence does not equal being separated from His presence. Feelings can be very unreliable. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself while trusting that you completely belong to the Father. Recognize that seeking professional help and trusting God can go hand in hand.

Above all, remember that if you are a believer, your standing with God has not changed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For “not even death or life,
 angels or rulers, 
things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing
 will have the power to separate us 
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 8:38–39).

To those who helped me find my way out of the pit: Mom, Debbie, Carla, Tim... I can't name you all, but I remember, and I'll be forever grateful.

To those who helped me find my way out of the pit: Mom, Debbie, Carla, Tim… I can’t name you all, but I remember, and I’ll be forever grateful.