Defining God’s Holiness

Holy Holy HolyDid you ever sing that hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty…? It’s based on a couple of passages of Scripture, one of which was written by the prophet Isaiah…

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

– Isaiah 6:3 (ESV)

I think we often get confused about what holiness means, both in our own lives as well as in describing God with this word. But when we understand what God’s holiness is, it elevates our worship and deepens our relationship with Him.

Holiness is the characteristic of God that sets Him apart from His creation. One key word that helps us to understand God’s holiness is the word transcendence. You see, God’s holiness cannot be defined in terms of human goodness at all. He’s not just the sum of our good qualities. Instead, His holiness means that He is completely separate from mankind altogether. He is “set apart” in His own category and He is completely removed from the idea of sin.

James Montgomery Boice gives us four elements of God’s holiness to help define it…

  1. The element of majesty. God’s holiness is a part of His sovereignty.
  2. The element of will. He has spoken and continues to do what He does because He is holy.
  3. The element of wrath. His wrath is different from our wrath… the wrath of God is “the necessary and proper stance of God to all that opposes Him.”
  4. The element of righteousness. He is the ultimate ethical standard. He is absolute righteousness.

Knowing God’s holiness is knowing that in spite of His complete separateness from all that is sinful, He was willing to make a way, in love, for us to come to know Him through a relationship with His Son, Jesus.

photo credit: GlasgowAmateur

The Nightline Debate: Proving the Existence of God

Last night, millions watched the debate between Kelly and Brian Sabient (representing atheism) and Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (attempting to prove God’s existence without using faith or the Bible). I have reviewed as much of the video as I can stand and have come to some interesting conclusions.

At first, I was disappointed in Ray’s use of Scripture in his opening comments. He had made a commitment to prove God’s existence without the Bible and then proceeded to use the Bible, handing ammunition to his enemies who took full advantage of the moment and exploited his mistake. After much thought and prayer about the matter, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ray had not choice but to use Scripture.

This was his chance to speak to millions of “on the fence” people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Further, Ray believes that the Word of God has the supernatural ability to pierce through the hardness of the human heart. And finally, Christianity has made the mistake before of attempting to prove God’s existence without the Bible and our attempts at doing so have failed to convert people or change our surroundings. A convincing argument for a Creator might be fabricated from the witness of nature, but a converting faith is only borne on the wings of God’s inspired revelation of Himself to mankind. What was Ray’s mistake? It was in agreeing not to refer to faith or the Bible to begin with.

The reason I could not stand to watch the entire debate online, stopping the stream early instead, was because of the knot that formed in my stomach as I listened to Kelly blaspheme God in such an extreme way. My heart breaks for her. It is apparent to all who watched that atheism leads to intellectual arrogance and belligerence toward Christians. This rebellious attitude is not only proof of the fall of mankind into sin, left unchecked it always leads to the ultimate end of a soul unable to repent because of the hardening of the heart through the deceitfulness of sin. Should Kelly continue choosing to blaspheme God, she will inevitably push her will beyond the point of ever humbling herself before her Creator. She expressed that she’d rather go to hell than to live in eternity with a God she perceives as unfairly violent toward sinners. I hope this isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy for her.

The thought that terrifies me the most is that they have become preachers of a false gospel. It isn’t that they question a Creator, it’s that they persuade others to purposely break the command not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit (a misinterpretation of Jesus’ intent, by the way). I’ve encountered the writings of Richard Dawkins and other such rationalists who purport that Christians are guilty of indoctrinating generations of people into believing in a warmonger-god. Yet the skeptics themselves are actively and intentionally recruiting followers to join them in their hate-filled, angry tirade against the very God who bought them with the price of His own dear Son.

At the end of the day, there will be millions who simply will not believe the gospel record. This is nothing new and we cannot naively assume that we’ll ever rid the world of atheism or agnosticism by simply arguing science or Scripture alone. What does seem to be new is the intensity with which atheism belittles people of faith. It is as though the battle lines are being drawn more clearly. The forces of light and darkness are engaged in a more intense form of warfare than at any other time in the recent past. Perhaps we’re moving toward a climax.

Perhaps it is that the day is soon coming when men will make their final choices concerning God and His Son. Should you accept the record of the Bible as inspired and inerrant, as I do, then you’ll discover that the Bible itself predicts the rising intensity of this debate toward the ultimate battle between Jesus and the forces of darkness. Thankfully, we who believe, already have the rest of the story laid out before us, and… Jesus wins!

Just Walk Across the Room

I just finished reading Bill Hybels‘ newest book Just Walk Across the Room. I was so impacted by its content that I changed my sermon for this past Sunday. Instead of preaching on “The Power of Proper Life Stewardship” I preached on “The Power of a Walk Across the Room.”

Continue reading Just Walk Across the Room

The Creative Juices Are Flowing

God is the great Creator of the entire universe and all that is in it. He created time and He creates every life that enters into the world. In short, God is extremely creative, so He loves creativity.

I agree with many modern church leaders that creativity, in and of itself, is glorifying to God, so long as what we create does not represent any form of idolatry or contradiction to the revealed truth and standards of God’s Word. I have two tables in my home made by my late grandfather. He made them to the glory of God, with excellence. That’s a kind of worship. I have three quilts my grandmother made. They too, represent a form of worship. Creativity is good, so long as its God-honoring (no huge astrological towers allowed – e.g. Babel in Genesis 11).

In recent days, I’ve felt my own creative energy stirred by the Holy Spirit, partly due to observing the methodology of such guys as Andy Stanley and Ed Young. Last Sunday, I took a Dremel into the pulpit to illustrate that faith is not a magic formula that does anything, rather it’s a tool that we must put into action. This Wednesday, I’m taking a fish net with me to illustrate how God caught Jonah in the net of chastisement and Jonah caught God in the net of prayer. To some, I’m sure these symbols may seem trite, but to me, they merely present a way of communicating a truth in a meaningful, visible, and memorable way.

I’m afraid that we often have a tendency to squelch creativity in Christianity. We frown on new methods, new technologies, and that which may distract us from a plain-spoken message. I’m all for the plain-spoken message for that is God’s chosen method of communicating the gospel to all the world – preaching. I’m a believer in the primacy of preaching, but I’m also a believer in getting life-changing truth into people’s lives in whatever way we find beneficial.

I’ve been challenged to think beyond the borders of what is “normal” for me, and I hope that you are challenged to do the same. No matter who you are, no matter where you work, no matter what you do, ask yourself, “what can I create for God today?”

Fresh Power

I just finished reading Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Power and it has again revived my thirst for God. One of the most impactful insights from the book is the revelation that if we can explain the success of our churches in terms of programs, personalities, or well-oiled machinery without the power of the Holy Spirit, then we’ve missed the point. Cymbala appeals to A. W. Tozer who proclaimed that if the Holy Spirit were removed from our midst today, most of our largest and most rapidly growing churches would continue as they are because their growth is attributable not to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, but to a marketing structure, business plan, and organizational genius that is very humanly originated.

We do need to operate in the “fresh power” freely available from the Holy Spirit, God’s operative agent in the world today. We do need to continue the writing of the Acts of the Holy Spirit in our modern world. For the Brooklyn Tabernacle, which Cymala pastors, the secret of this abiding power and presence of God is not merely to be found in a great choir, great preaching, or great buildings. It is found in their Tuesday night prayer meeting which serves as the fuel source for all else that happens.

I believe my favorite chapter is the second, entitled Of Cemeteries and Insane Asylums. Pastor Cymbala writes about the two extremes of today’s Christianity. The insane asylums represent the excesses of the charismatic movement. It describes the counterfeit revivals, the get-rich-quick Christianity, the mass-miracle-crusades without discernment or validation. This is Christianity that has zeal but little truth. The cemeteries are those circles of modern Christianity much like my own denomination, which have so reacted against the charismatic movement that we’ve become boxes of bones with no life. We have our truth, and like Charlton Heston and his rifle, the world can peel it from our cold, dead hands. Shame on us!

What an atrocity that we are so closed to the potential activity of the Spirit of God that we completely deny the possibility that God would want to invade our space, enliven our worship, and move us to a new level of power-filled witness. How we desperately need a fresh infilling of His presence. As we seek a proper biblical balance in all things, let us seek the fullness of power of the Holy Spirit, and let us seek to defend the truth in a pluralistic age. God, may You enliven today’s church by Your mighty Holy Spirit, and may this work begin in me!

Hate Sin or Hate Self

Moments ago, I was spending some time in prayer and I was confessing known sin in my life. As I prayed, I said, “God, I’m sorry for this sin, I ought to hate this sin.” Almost instantly God spoke to my heart and I blurted out what I heard Him say, “Brandon, you’ll either learn to hate your sin, or you’ll wind up hating yourself.”

As we confess sin and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome it, we ought to remember that we have a new identity in Christ. We are not to be subject to a very popular but perhaps erroneous “miserable sinnerism” (coined by J. Sidlow Baxter) but rather we are to see ourselves as forgiven and freed. Sin no longer defines us, Christ does, if we’ve been washed once for all in His blood.

In order to preserve a close intimacy with God and forward spiritual progress, I desperately need to see myself as “in Christ,” to see sin as something to be loathed, and to see cleansing as a continuous need. If we loathe ourselves, we’ll give up. If we exalt ourselves, we’ll blow it because of pride. But if we hate sin and exalt the indwelling Christ in us, we’ll see the victory!

Glory Filled My Soul

This past Sunday was perhaps the most awesome day of ministry I’ve ever experienced. Like the old gospel song says, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.” It wasn’t great planning, great music, or great preaching that made the day great, it was our great God visiting us in a powerful way in response to a whole lot of concerted, passionate praying.

Last Wednesday, our prayer service, which normally consists of calling out some requests, a short pastoral prayer, and a long Bible study, turned into an extended session of a concert of praise. Multiple people were praying out loud for their lost friends and family and giving praise to God for His working in their lives. At the conclusion of our payer, I almost felt that teaching would be an interruption in what God was really doing, and perhaps it was.

Sunday began with an intense prayer circle, seven men gathered together a half hour before Sunday School. We prayed over our time and it was well worth it. Together we asked great things of God. Sunday School itself was right on target as we learned about “serving God with holiness.”

Then the worship hour came and we sang songs to honor the King with a particular emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives. The message was all about the power of the Holy Spirit. I left out two illustrations that I later realized would have been detrimental to the point of the message. I felt an anointing more powerful than ever in my ministry. I had boldness to say things without regard to the approval of people.

The invitation came and God did an awesome work. The altar filled with people praying and weeping for the fullness of the Spirit, praying for lost loved ones and other needs. A young man and a young lady received Christ as Savior. The invitation went through three movements as things kept happening. Joy Ewalt, for whom we have been praying for healing from cancer came and testified that God had completely healed her from brain cancer. Tests show that her head is now clear and she gave all the glory to God and the credit to prayer.

We left later than ever before and people continued to attest to God’s working in their lives in a very powerful way. I left church feeling so small, so undeserving, and so grateful that God would allow me to experience such an event.

Sunday afternoon our Deacons gathered for a time of training and we exchanged testimonies of the godly men who have inspired us in the past. I recalled my grandfather’s strong convictions as a Deacon for over a half century of time and the other stalwart men who influenced me throughout my childhood. In the evening service I preached about “The Sanctity of the Womb” where God has performed some great miracles in the lives of John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Paul, and others.

We had prayer for young girls facing this difficult decision to choose life, for women who have had abortions to find the freeing forgiveness of God, and for America to turn a corner on the abortion issue and repent before God. We also had prayer for some couples currently struggling with infertility and for Loving Choices, a local pregnancy support center. We’re also currently praying for healing in the life of one of our Deacons, Nick Gann.

One thing I am continually remembering is that we cannot dwell on these now past events in the “remember that day…” sense. Instead we must look forward to the awesome things God can do every time we meet. There is no reason why each worship experience cannot grow in intensity so long as our hunger for God, our commitment to holiness, and the passion of our prayer grows as well.

May God continue to visit us in special ways in our individual lives and every time we meet together, and may He continue to raise up Spirit-filled, Bible-drilled, prayer-skilled warriors for Christ’s Kingdom!