Day 28

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.  Matthew 5:46-48, CEB

What does it really mean to be holy?

Yesterday I challenged us to consider whether or not we’re completely loving by asking us to consider how we handle conflict.  Do we flee?  Or do we stay and seek resolution and reconciliation?

In real life, this isn’t clear cut.  We can’t simply say that “staying” is always the answer and that “running” is always a bad idea.  There are always multiple factors to weigh.  We have to consider the physical safety of ourselves and our children.  We have to consider whether or not the other person is truly seeking a solution or if they’re simply trying to force us into passive submission.  Are we both truly seeking reconciliation?  Or are we playing two different games?

When it comes to faith, above all else, we have to learn how to be discerning.  There are no easy answers in life.  There’s no easy way to describe what it looks like to love completely and thoroughly in every situation.  But we do need to ask ourselves if we’re really trying.  Do we really care about reconciliation?  Are we just going through the motions?

These are important questions because they indicate whether or not we are truly loving the other person.  At times, we can love a spouse well even as we take our children to safety.  Other times, we’re simply “sticking it” to our spouse when we leave and take the kids with us.  Every situation is different.

When you are confronted with a tough choice, though, make sure to ask yourself if you’re really considering the other person, or if you’re really just trying to find the best outcome for you.  


Day 27

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.  Matthew 5:46-48, CEB

What does it really mean to be holy?

Love is not an issue of convenience.  We’re reminded in these verses that it is easy to get along and go along with people who don’t cause ripples in our lives.  I often laugh when people describe acquaintances as ‘nice’.  You know, when people say, “He’s a nice guy,” or, “She’s a nice woman.”  If you’ve only seen a person in one context, it’s easy for that person to appear nice.  It’s not difficult to be nice to people that you have limited interaction with.  Everyone seems nice…until they don’t.

We don’t really see the whole of a person until we’ve had a conflict.  Until then, we don’t really know what to expect.  Until then, it’s easy to love that person.  I’ve had countless friendships and other relationships go perfectly well until we had our first conflict.  I’ve lost plenty of relationships at the first sign of conflict.  That’s when we really have the opportunity to figure out what it means to “love”.

Over time, friendships are hard, any relationship is hard.  Marriage is hard.  This is because we have plenty of conflict.  It’s hard to stay at a job or at a church for a long period of time because, again, we encounter conflict.  It’s hard to have the same philosophies or politics or beliefs over time because we experience new and different forms of conflict.

Loving completely has something to do with figuring out what it looks like to face this conflict.  It means pushing through the difficulty.  Staying when it would be easier to go.  Continuing to engage in productive dialogue that seeks a solution to the conflict.

If we can’t do the hard work of seeking a solution, then we have to ask ourselves if we’re really loving enemies or, instead, just being “nice”.  


Day 26

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.  Matthew 5:46-48, CEB

What does it really mean to be holy?

One of the things that’s really helped breathe life into these verses is the reminder that they were written for a community, not just an individual.  Often, so much influence is placed on our ability to be holy as individuals that we lose sight of the fact that no one carries that burden alone.  We are called, as a group, to live lives that are characterized by “holiness”.  Or, to use the definition we’ve been working on, we’re collectively called to live in thorough, completely loving ways.

In some ways, this should take the pressure off.  It’s far easier for a community to hold itself accountable.  When someone misses the mark, we do the difficult work of speaking up and holding that person accountable.  If that person responds in a humble way, then the community has lived out its aspiration to love completely.  This does require us to have the strength to hold our community accountable when it needs it.  It also means we have to find the humility and courage to accept correction graciously.  But, in the midst of that, there’s clearly plenty of room for human error.

It’s not easy to be the guy or girl holding people accountable just as it’s not easy to be the person being held accountable.  However, those are some of the key skills that go into a community being able to live a holy life.  The pressure is no longer on each individual to live perfect little holy lives.  Instead, it’s on the community to consistently and regularly live out God’s call in all of our individual high’s and low’s.  It isn’t easy, but it is a different way of looking at things.  I hope that thinking about this a little bit larger decreases some of that anxiety and tension we feel as it comes to thinking about trying to live a holy life.

When was the last time someone tried to hold you accountable?  How did you respond?


Day 25

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.  Matthew 5:46-48, CEB

What does it really mean to be holy?

Yesterday we talked about holiness as thorough, or complete, loving.  Obviously this is still a little bit abstract.  It’s not always clear what it means to be loving in a given scenario, and this requires discernment.  But, maybe it’s a little more concrete than thinking of holiness as living a life of absolute perfection.

Perfection doesn’t have to be mistake-free living.  We learn that from the passage above.  In that context, perfection is more about indiscriminate love, as opposed to mistake-free lives, as we talked about yesterday.  So let’s just say we agree that holiness is about being complete in showing love to everyone.  Do we have to be perfect at that?  What does perfect love look like?

Again, even when defining holiness as love, we’re not talking about perfectly mistake free love.  The times in my life that I have felt the most love were the times when I was able to tell someone that they hurt me, and that person responded calmly while offering an amends.  The person may have made a mistake when they did whatever it was that hurt me, but they were able to love completely by making an amends when it was brought to their attention.

Love has more to do with how we handle our mistakes than it does with our attempts not to make them.  We’re going to get things wrong at times, and that’s okay.  How do you respond to the times when you get things wrong?  Do you take ownership and make amends?  Do you dig your heels in and get stubborn?  Do you lash out?

These responses teach us a lot about how we’re loving.


Day 24

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.  Matthew 5:46-48, CEB

What does it really mean to be holy?

In our services, and in these devotionals, we’ve offered a few ideas.  We’ve talked about holiness as living with nothing hidden.  We’ve talked about holiness as distinctiveness, or the act of being “set apart”.  In other words, we live differently from the world around us because we try to live out God’s way of seeing, and this makes us different.  When God asked Israel to be holy, he asked them to be different from the rest of the world so that people could see God in how they lived.  We’ve also talked about holiness as living in completely loving ways, in response to this passage.

In some translations, these verses say something like “…be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”  Many think that these verses refer to some verses from the Old Testament that say, “Be holy, as I am holy.”  So, in theory, the concept of “perfection” is similar to that of “holiness”.  But the word perfect doesn’t capture the whole meaning of the passage.  The passage is about the way in which we love.  We love without discrimination.  And we love thoroughly, completely, and without the ability to pick and choose.  So, if that’s what it means to be “perfect”, and perfect is similar to holy…then what does this mean?  Could it mean, perhaps, that being holy is about living in complete, thoroughly loving ways?  That’s still really difficult, undoubtedly, but is that a tiny bit more attainable than some abstract concept of living a life free of mistakes?

Yesterday I promised to offer a different way to approach difficult concepts when the concepts themselves are so emotionally charged.  For example, if the word “holy” in and of itself is a trigger, then we’re going to have a hard time thinking about and talking about it.  What do we do instead?

Just forget that word for a while.  The word itself is immaterial.  Think about loving thoroughly, completely, and without discrimination.  We won’t do that perfectly, of course, but it’s something we can strive for.

God’s grace always covers us.  It’s like an invisible cloak.  It’s not going anywhere.  So, give up the shame.  Embrace the loving path forward knowing you’ve already been accepted and adopted and that God’s love is not as fickle as ours.  


Day 23

13 Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, 15 you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. 16 It is written, You will be holy, because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:13-16

What does it really mean to be holy?

We’ve been trying to answer that question over the past few days.  I’ve also used this as my theme for my messages at NSC the past few weekends.  Someone made the comment this past Saturday night that no matter how we talk about holiness, or ourselves, or God, or sin, he could just not see himself as being “holy”.  That was just too big of a leap.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that, sometimes, a particular word starts to have more “meaning” than just its dictionary definition.  I start to have an emotional response to the word, even though the word is really just a word.  It sounds to me like that is what this person was struggling with.  He has some strong emotions attached to the word “holy”.  And so do I.  I feel like it isn’t possible, like I am so unworthy of that word.  Even though, at the end of the day, it’s just a word.

I have a similar experience with the word “sin”.  It triggers all kinds of stuff inside me and I start to feel myself shut down.  It’s hard for me to have an off-the-cuff spontaneous conversation about something like “sin” because I start to feel like I just want to escape my body.

This response to certain words can make certain parts of faith difficult, but I do have a recommendation about how to cope with some of these responses that I’ll give tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Do you have this same response to words like “holy” or “sin”?  What other words trip you up?


Day 22

13 Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, 15 you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. 16 It is written, You will be holy, because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:13-16

What does it really mean to be holy?

I have a friend who thinks he’s always wrong.  In fact, he thinks he is wrong, inherently.  I’ve heard guilt and shame differentiated like this:  guilt is the feeling that you’ve done wrong, and shame is the feeling that you are wrong.  My friend has both.  All the time.

It holds him back in some ways.  It makes relationships difficult.  He has a hard time trusting but also has a hard time engaging people because he’s afraid he’s just going to make their lives worse.  At times, this also makes it difficult to be his friend.  He’s had a very hard life.  He reminds me of those dogs at rescue shelters that are so skittish- but really come to life when they’re loved.  That’s how he is.  He knows that too.  I’ve told him.

Despite some of the difficulties that he has being a friend and the difficulties others have being friends back, he’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.  Maybe the best.  He never stops pursuing relationship.  He never stops pursuing wholeness when things are broken.  When times have been hard between us, we’ve gone to work on the friendship.  I’ve seen him love people and commit to his church and loving the people in his church even as they’ve not always been so loving in return.  I’ve seen him consistently befriend the friendless and give to those who have nothing.

When you meet him, there’s nothing about him that screams “holy” at you.  He’s just a simple, humble kind of guy who has problems.  And yet I’ve never seen someone embody love to everyone around him the way I’ve seen him do it.  He doesn’t talk a big game or monopolize every conversation with spiritual language and lingo, but he’s thoughtful.  He’s distinct.  He lives a life that’s different from most in the world.  He’s “set apart”.

I suspect holiness looks something like that.

 


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