Tag Archives: holiness

Today’s Scripture – December 11, 2017

Luke 11:37-41 (NIV) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

The Pharisees placed great pride in their external holiness, their conspicuous obedience to the smallest detail of every commandment. This got them great praise from the common people, but, as Jesus was about to demonstrate, it did not earn them any praise from God.

Devout Jews performed a ceremonial washing of their hands before they ate and any time that they came in from the world, in case they had contacted anything unclean. Their fear was that the uncleanness would adhere to their hands, and then contaminate their food, and thus make them unclean when they ate. But this Pharisee noticed and was dismayed by the fact that Jesus did not perform this traditional ceremonial washing before He sat down to eat. His question was, how can someone who is supposed to be such a great holy man not do this small ritual to maintain His holiness against the spiritual uncleanness of the world.

But Jesus knew that physical contact with the world was not what made a person unclean. Instead, it was what came out of a person’s heart that caused them to be seen as unclean by God (Mark 7:14-16). We can scrub our hands for hours and still have a corrupt heart filled with hatred and violence, and thus still be completely unclean in God’s sight, even if our hands are squeaky clean.

And this was the point that Jesus was making with this man. Even though Jesus’ hands were unwashed, His heart was free of pollution from the world. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit so filled Jesus, so forcefully flowed through His life and out of His life, that no spiritual uncleanness could ever swim against the current to penetrate His heart.

If the Pharisee really wanted to stay spiritually clean in the midst of a sinful world, he needed to have a generous and giving spirit that would open a path for the Holy Spirit to penetrate his heart and flow through his life. Then he would not be able to be defiled by the world.

Father, we can still fall into the trap of doing good things on the outside, and believe that that makes us good on the inside. We can surround ourselves with ceremonies, believing that those ceremonies will somehow purify our hearts. But what is really needed is a heart that is open to Your cleansing power, and the sanctifying and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. Help me to keep my focus on the positive holiness of actively living in Your kingdom economy, instead of simply trying to keep bad stuff out or cleaned off. Then I can be truly holy in Your power. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – June 13, 2017

Luke 1:67-75 (NIV)

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah’s being filled with the Holy Spirit did not enable him to do signs and wonders (these had already been accomplished in Elizabeth and Mary), but it enabled him to give the Lord appropriate praise, and even to get a glimpse of His larger plan.

First of all, he realized that God was beginning to act right then to begin the process of redeeming His people. In the past He had redeemed Adam and Eve from death, Noah from the flood, and the whole nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and captivity in Babylon. But two huge oppressors still held God’s people, indeed all people, captive: sin and death. Zechariah could clearly see that the child Mary was carrying would be the long promised horn of the house of David, a powerful ruler who would not only rule over all of those who would become God’s people, but who would actually save them from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Zechariah could see clearly that the sending of the Messiah was way more than merely a promise kept. It was an act of unbridled mercy. God’s people had a long, long history (about 1500 years at that point) of rebelling against Him and His commands, from the days of the Exodus, all that way to the day in which Zechariah was living. Many times God had allowed them to be oppressed, conquered, and even exiled to punish them and to help them to repent of their rebellion. But He had always stopped short of allowing them to be destroyed because of the love that He had for them, and because of His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

But now God was poised to do a new thing among His people, and Zechariah was among the very first to see it clearly. Now He was not only going to save them from their most powerful enemies, sin and death. He was going to purify His people with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enable them to serve Him in genuine holiness and righteousness in His presence for all of their days.

Father, this is a great and wonderful promise, foretold from the days of the prophets, and still available to all of Your people today. But so few of us are willing to believe that it is true. Instead, we see ourselves as vile sinners, for whom true righteousness and holiness is only a pipe dream, or a promise for the age to come. But, Father, You make it clear even in the words of good Zechariah that this promise is for us, it is for now, and You are powerful enough to pull it off in our lives. Help us, help me, to believe this promise, and to receive its fulfillment from Your hands. Make it real in my own life today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 31, 2017

Matthew 23:27-28 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus is continuing on His theme of those who take pains to make themselves look good on the outside, while being corrupt and foul on the inside.  In this case, He used the image of whitewashed tombs.

According to Numbers 19:16, anyone who touched a dead body, or a human bone, or a grave would be ceremonially unclean for seven days.  This had far-reaching ramifications for the Jewish people, because an unclean person would not be able to eat the Passover feast, or enter the temple courts.  Even if they were unaware that they had touched such things, they believed that God would strike them dead if they tried to enter the temple area while unclean.

Because of the large number of tombs in and around Jerusalem, many of them non-descript, looking more like flat ground or a cliff face than a tomb, and the potential for a pilgrim to inadvertently touch one of them without realizing what it was, thus bringing judgment on themselves, many tombs were painted with a coat of whitewash that was renewed before the major feasts and holidays.  This made the tombs much more visible, much easier to see and avoid, and much prettier than bare ground or a rock wall.  But the beautifying of the exterior of the tombs didn’t change the fact that what was contained in the tomb was rotting corpses, putrid smells, and all manner of insect life assisting in the work of decomposition.

Jesus likened the lives of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to these whitewashed tombs.  Their outsides looked beautiful, but the rot and decay of sin was working insidiously in their hearts.

Just as with the cup illustration, the only solution was to clean out the inside, and the outside would follow suit.  If the bodies and bones were removed from the tomb, and the inside of the tomb scoured, then there would be nothing on the inside that would cause contamination to those who touched the outside.  If sin were removed from the hearts of those men, there would be nothing in them to contaminate their outer actions and attitudes, and nothing in them that would cause corruption in the hearts of those who followed them.

Father, again, the solution is so straightforward, and much simpler than the self-improvement programs that are pursued by so many Christians.  If we allow You to simply take care of the sin problem in our hearts, cleansing us with the fire of the Holy Spirit, there will be nothing in us to corrupt our actions and attitudes; nothing to prevent us from living a genuinely holy life.  Thank You!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 30, 2017

Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were indeed very good at keeping the outside of the cup, their outer life, clean and polished, and looking wonderful.  But the inside of the cup was another matter entirely.

Jesus knew what was inside a person, and in the case of these leaders, He knew that their hearts, the insides of their cups, was filled with greed and self-indulgence, and even more evil things.  And God, who looks not at the outside of a person but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), did not even see or take into account their scrupulous attention to all of the fine points of the law. He only saw the evils within.

Jesus’ solution to this problem was simple, elegant, and perfectly effective.  He was urging these men to repent, so that their hearts, the inside of their cups, could be made spotlessly clean, something that no amount of good works or renewed efforts could ever accomplish.  It is something that only God Himself can do.  And then, with hearts that are perfectly clean and pure, their actions, the outside of the cup, would be clean, pure, and holy as well.

The biggest problem that these leaders and teachers faced was that, in their worldview, they believed that if they got their outer lives clean enough, their hearts would follow along.  But Jesus knew that only God can cleanse a heart, and He does that work from the inside for those who repent and believe.  No amount of outer “scrubbing” can ever make a heart clean.

Father, I wonder how many of us today have fallen prey to that same inaccurate worldview.  How many of us try to be holy by trying to do more holy things and less bad things, instead of merely asking You and allowing You to cleanse our hearts?  If we let You make our hearts clean, our actions will follow suit.  Help us to be humble enough to ask You for the inner purification we need to be genuinely holy at heart, and not try to approach true righteousness as a self-improvement program.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 26, 2016

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

In Jesus’ day, salt wasn’t used primarily as a flavoring.  It was used as a preservative, especially for meat, and was literally worth its weight in gold.  Without refrigeration, meat would quickly spoil.  So people would soak the meat in brine and dry it, a bit like jerky.  Then it would keep for a while without rotting.  But if the salt used to preserve the meat was impure, having too many non-salt contaminants in it, it wouldn’t preserve the meat as well.  Or, if too little salt was used, the meat would spoil.

When Jesus described His disicples as the salt of the earth, He was referring to their ability to preserve society, and keep it from falling into ruin and decay.  As representatives of God’s kingdom, and people in whom the Holy Spirit would dwell, God’s power would be able to flow freely through them, and not only preserve the societies where they lived, but to positively transform them as well.

But if this salt of the earth loses its saltiness, its ability to preserve society from decay, it becomes worthless, good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled by the people of the world.  This loss of preservative ability in the people of the kingdom happens the same way that it does with salt: either the salt has too many impurities so that the effectiveness is diluted, or it doesn’t have enough of a presence in the society that is to be preserved.

The lack of purity comes by allowing our hearts and minds to become worldly, focused on things other than the advancement of God’s kingdom, and on allowing compromise and sin to break the vital connection we should have with God.  Soon our lives and lifestyles become virtually indistinguishable from those of the world, and we have no ability to change or preserve anything.  Instead, we get swept up and carried along in the world system ourselves.

The lack of preservative power also comes from a lack of focus on the expansion of God’s kingdom.  Other things begin to take a higher priority:  jobs, family, entertainment, politics, or even church activities.  Very few Christians in America today can point to anything that they have done in the last week that has been powerful and effective in actively growing God’s kingdom.  Many can point to church activities, but most of those are focused on worship and fellowship – good things, but things that do not actively grow God’s kingdom or transform society.

The test that must be made is to look at the society around us, and ask ourselves if it is at least as good as it was last year, or 5 years ago, or 10 years ago.  If not, then the salt has lost its saltiness, its ability to preserve, and it should not be surprising if it experiences being trampled by the people and structures of the world.

The solution is not to blame the powerful (and often better organized) forces of evil.  You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 NIV)  for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4 NIV)  Instead, what is needed is wholehearted repentance, and a return to our first love, and the things that we did at the beginning (cf. Revelation 2:4-5).  Then, we need to make sure that we are, and continue to be, holy and pure, and actively connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, so that our preservative power and our witness are not diluted by sin.  Finally, we need to get involved in our society.  We need to make sure that we don’t hole up in our church services, and don’t allow the other things in our lives to keep us from actively and purposefully engaging the dark and hopeless places in our world.  We don’t have to go far.  There is darkness, hopelessness, and decay right next door, across the street, and downtown.  We must take the hope that we have within us, our relationship with God through Jesus, into those places and make a difference, starting today.

Father, I can’t say that our society is any better today than it was last year, 5 years ago, or 10 years ago.  Pretty much everyone agrees that it is MUCH worse.  And it’s humbling to read these words and to realize that we have not been the salt that should have preserved it.  It is tempting to blame other things, spiritual forces, politicians, activist groups.  But this one verse won’t let us do that.  Forgive us, Lord, for growing lax in our roles as preservers and transformers of society, for retreating within our churches, and homes, and places of business, instead of actively engaging with our society.  Help us, help me, to truly repent, to make a 180 degree turn, and to be what You have called me to be:  the salt of the earth.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 29, 2016

Matthew 4:1 (NIV)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Some are amazed that God orchestrated Jesus’ testing in the wilderness.  They believe that it is God’s duty to protect His people from temptation, so that we won’t fall into sin.

But Jesus’ temptation, like the temptation of Adam and Eve, and like the temptations and times of testing that He allows into the life of every one of His people, has a purpose.

There were two levels of significance to this time of testing in Jesus’ life.  The first was primal:  the first Adam was tested and fell into sin, making the whole human race liable to sin and subject to death.  The second Adam, who was sent to save mankind from sin and death also had to pass through a similar time of testing and be victorious if His mission was going to be successful.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by that Spirit into the desert.  And in this lay the second level of significance.  The Israelites, the first people that God had called to be His own people, had been tested in the desert for 40 days while Moses was on the mountain with God, and they had failed the test.  They had fallen into the gross sin of idolatry with the golden calf.  That fall had planted the seed of idolatry deep into the hearts of the people, which then sprang up over and over again, even in the Promised Land, breaking their relationship with God repeatedly, and ultimately causing God to drive them out of the land.  By going through the wilderness test successfully, Jesus, unlike the Israelites, would be able to come out of the desert in power and victory, and would bear the seeds of a new, transformed people, whose hearts would be entirely devoted to God, without the generational taint of idolatry.

There were two factors that helped Jesus to stand firm in this time of testing.  The first was His assurance that the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him made Him more powerful than the tempter that would be assailing Him.  The second was the understanding of what was at stake in this time of testing.  Jesus knew who He was; He knew what His job was; and He understood that failure at this point would doom the whole enterprise.  And there was no way that He was going to let that happen!

Father, like Jesus, we have been given a mission to accomplish – not to give our lives for the salvation of mankind, but to take the message of that accomplished salvation into the world and lead people into Your kingdom.  In order to be successful in our mission like Jesus was in His, we too need to pass every testing time without falling, which would taint our lives and invalidate our message.  Like Jesus, You have given us the assurance that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is more powerful that the tempter that assails us.  (1 John 4:4 (NIV):  You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.)  Like Him, we must always keep in mind what is at stake every time we are tested.  We must know who we are in You:  a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)  We must know what our job is:  to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (Jesus has) commanded (us). (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)  And we must understand that failing when we are tested will damage our witness, and doom the whole enterprise.  I praise You, Lord, that You have already given us all the power we need to gain the victory whenever the tempter comes.  Now help us to use that power to make the victory real.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 5, 2015

John 1:14 (NIV): The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus, the eternal, divine Word of God, became God in the flesh, the man Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.”  This is the great mystery of the incarnation, one that is nearly impossible for us to fully comprehend.  How can the limitless God limit Himself to a finite human body?  How can the immortal God become a mortal human being, and even die?  But it all happened just as God foretold.  Jesus set aside for a time the glory that He had with the Father since before the world began (cf. John 17:5).  He humbled Himself, and took on the very nature of a slave of God, even to the point of humbly submitting Himself to death on a cross (cf. Philippians 2:5-8).

John chose his words carefully in this verse.  Jesus “made His dwelling among us” literally says that He “pitched His tent” among us, the people whom He came to save.  Like a tent, Jesus’ physical body was a temporary dwelling place for His glory.  But, like the tabernacle in the wilderness, that temporary, movable dwelling place was crammed with all of the glory of God – it was the place where God made His glory manifest.  Some believed that they could destroy Jesus by killing Him.  But in doing so, all they did was to tear down the tent.  Jesus rebuilt the tent when He rose from the dead, this time remaking it into a glorious temple made of eternal stuff that can never be torn down again.

Even though Jesus did live in a literal physical body, with real physical needs and limitations, His glory was still visible to any who made the time to see it.  This glory showed through in His absolute holiness – He lived every day of His life untouched by sin, so that He would be a sinless, spotless sacrifice that would pay for the sins of the whole world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 4:15).  His divine glory showed through in the miracles that He did, restoring what was broken, creating what was missing, expelling evil and darkness by His holiness and light, and even restoring life to what had died.  It showed through on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the corner of the tent was lifted, and Peter, James, and John got a brief glimpse of the glory that dwelt within.  And, of course, the full majesty and power of Jesus was on display when He rose from the dead, and when He ascended into heaven in the sight of His disciples.

All of these experiences caused Jesus’ disciples to realize who He really was – the One and Only Son of God, who came from the Father, pitched His tent among us for a season, and demonstrated the truth and grace that only comes from the presence of the Father.  This is the Jesus we worship.

Father, in reading the gospels, we get a look at Your glory shining in the life of Jesus.  But when we receive Him as our Lord and Savior, when He comes to live in our hearts and transforms our lives, we get to experience that power and glory first-hand!  Thank You for making that a reality in my own life.  Amen.

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