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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Whole Holiness

I was listening to this song on the radio the other day. Part of the lyrics (probably the chorus) repeated the words, "Your mercy makes me whole." I contemplated those words quite a bit that morning. To be honest, it was with a tearful voice that I said aloud, "Yes Lord. It is your mercy that makes me whole!"

Who can contemplate the depth of the mercy or the depth of that wholeness that God provides. I don't know about you, but I'm convinced it is best contemplated by the people who were the most broken to start with. Being made whole, after all, is a much bigger deal the more broken one was.

Maybe you're not like me. Maybe you've been good all your life. Maybe you've never been to that place where you thought there was no hope for you. But I've been there. I had great pain that I just couldn't explain.
I'd read Psalm 23 talking about "the valley of the shadow of death," and I'd think it was describing my life. It felt like I walked through the valley day in an day out! In my own pity and despair, I've been awash in my sin and my own selfishness, swimming in a sea of lies. During those times despair would seize in waves. And anger would boil just underneath the surface of me.

Why would anger have a role at the biggest pity party one could throw? You see, I thought I was a pretty good person. But I knew I was really an awful person. I was arrogant and proud, but suffered from poor self-esteem. The dichotomy was quite painful indeed. I had excuses and rationale for everything that I had done wrong. The truth of the matter - in my humble opinion - was that I had just been a victim. "You'd act like this too if you'd had the life I've had!" That was my mantra.
But deep down inside of me I knew it wasn't true. Or maybe it was the voice of the Holy Spirit telling that it wasn't the truth. Whatever the case, my guilt and shame seemed to just fuel more guilt and shame. I felt guilty for feeling guilty. Exactly how messed up is that! Certainly this was an era for me. It was a period of time in my life. I hadn't always lived in this state, and I don't live there now (thankfully). But as I recall, I spent quite a bit of time there.

I didn't feel at all close to God during this so-called era. I didn't attend church, I didn't tithe, I didn't worship. I didn't read my Bible or even listen to Christian radio. In short, there was no seeking on my part. I was doing nothing to get close to God or to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. And yet I considered myself a Christian. Looking back, I guess I was angry at God for giving me this life. I felt, at the time, that He'd cheated me --- and that His expectations for me were completely unreasonable.

1 Peter 1:13-16 is a sobering piece of Scripture for me. It says, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep a clear head, and set your hope completely on the grace to be given you when Jesus, the Messiah, is revealed. As obedient children, do not be shaped by the desires that used to influence you when you were ignorant. Instead, be holy in every aspect of your life, just as the one who called you is holy. For it is written, 'You must be holy, because I am holy.'" (New International Standard version)

Prepare your minds for action. Keep a clear head (clean conscience). Set your hope on God's grace. Be obedient. Don't be shaped by the desires you had when you were ignorant. Be holy in every aspect of your life. You must be holy, for He is holy. Really? God expects me to do all this? Does He not realize the troubled childhood I had? Is God forgetting the challenges I've had to face in life? Shouldn't His expectations for me be lower than they are for everyone else? How on earth could a wretch like me be expected to be holy?

As with most Scripture, I wrestled with this passage quite a bit. I've come to learn that many passages of Scripture can have more than one meaning. That isn't to say that the meaning can be elusive or deceptive, or that the meaning is subjective. But when God speaks, it is usually profound. He is a man of few words, so to speak, but His words are powerful and accomplish a lot. Naturally, I wanted to understand what all these specific words were accomplishing.

God drew my attention to the words that tell me not to allow myself to be shaped (i.e., motivated) by the desires I had when I was ignorant. When I was ignorant? When was that? And was I really ignorant - or just naive? Isn't ignorant a little strong? If I was ignorant, what was I ignorant about? Yes, it seemed God wanted to speak to me about my ignorance. I had many questions and was more than a little offended at the implication that God thought I had been ignorant. This was so hard to swallow because all my life I'd thought of myself as someone who was quite brilliant, and even smarter than everyone else.

The thing is, this era that I walked in was quite different than the one before it. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, etc. But when I became a man, my innocence and naivete turned into ignorance. That's right. My innocence and naivete as a child turned into my ignorance as a man.
And as it turned out, God was right about me. I had been really quite ignorant. I didn't know how much I didn't know! Today, having sold out to Jesus, I've never been so aware of my own ignorance. In fact, the older I get, the larger my ignorance seems to be. It was probably always there, but now it unfolds before me like a vast sea.

So what was I ignorant of? My ignorance was about God's love and mercy. It was about God's ways. It was ignorance of the difference between truth and circumstances or feelings. I was ignorant regarding what God expected of me. I was ignorant about His word.
Despite calling myself a Christian my whole life, I'd never really actually read the whole Bible, must less study it or wrestle with any of it. And now God expects me to be holy in all aspects of my life. I've got to tell you, there's never been a time, even when I thought I was "basically a good person," that I could have thought of myself as holy. And yet, that is exactly how God wants to think of me.

Don't be shaped by the mantra of my ignorance. "You must be holy, because I (God) am holy." That's the game plan God has for my life. Don't be ignorant. Don't be led by your ignorance. Instead be holy, for He is holy.

So here's the thing. That song I was listening to on the radio this week? It was celebrating the fact that God's mercy makes me whole. And God's grace makes me holy. Could there be anything better than these two truths?

Today, I'm not allowing myself to be persuaded by the thinking and desires of my ignorance. But I've gotta tell you, that's not what makes me holy. It is God's mercy that accepts and embraces me. It is His grace that forgives me. And it is His love that leads me.
Truly, I am holy - not because of anything I do - but rather because He is holy. In fact, God's holiness now washes over me like the waves in the sea. His holiness washes over my sin and my sinful desires. And God's mercy? It washes over that vast sea of ignorance that I have. Truly, His mercy makes me whole. And His grace makes me holy.

So, have you heard any good songs on the radio lately?

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