Calling – Licking the Bowl of God’s Holiness
I’m a tea freak and students know it; coming back from mission tours overseas they’ll bring me something that looks like it was packaged out of a dustpan in Ukraine. Many of these teas make me glad that we have the FDA in between us and the things we eat and drink. But nothing surpasses the tea in last year’s Christmas stocking, Hot Cinnamon Spice. Including strong black tea and orange peels, this baby came loaded with three kinds of cinnamon. One grown in Southeast Asia is the sweetest cinnamon in the world. When three kinds of cinnamon and orange peel detonate on one’s tongue, it’s like Riverdance performing in our mouth, listening to John Coltrane play ten or so choruses on a soprano sax in my living room while watching a winter sunset. Taste may be the most intimate of our senses and we miss something important in pursuing the calling of God on our lives if we miss how He nudges us toward taste in getting to know Him and in what He calls us to in the process. Like holiness.
First, this thing called holiness is important; we can’t enter God’s presence without it and we’re supposed to bust out tails going after it (Hebrews 12:14). And some do exactly that, becoming spiritual Olympians who wind up as cranky, judgemental, legalistic, self-righteous and far removed from what holiness is supposed to be. What is this? Trying to describe holiness in words is like trying to mail an elephant with a first class stamp. Holiness stands as sinlessness as it can only exist in the heart of God. Angels and humans can’t pull it off. But sinlessness only describes what not there so there’s more. Holiness radiates a moral purity often expressed as light (Exodus 34:29,30; I Kings 8:10-11; Matthew 17:1,2). It’s strong stuff (Isaiah 6:1-7). It intimidates and repels people more inclined toward rebellion than worship. However, this moral purity breathes a cleanness that powerfully allures, draws and hypnotizes us; God flirts with us through the fragrance of His holiness. This cleanness we almost taste, a beauty that transfixes and transforms. If we could cram a dozen large York peppermint patties into our soul at the same time, we’d have a picture of it. This holiness is just as deep a part of who God is as His love. And He want our lives to bubble up and over with it.
John tells us in I John 3:2 that “…we will be like Him for we shall see him as he is.” He means a process with the impressive theological name of sanctification will have run its course and the beautiful, sweet, invigorating holiness of Jesus will emanate from all we are as if it had been ours all along. C.S. Lewis famously said, “…the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” But that will be then and now’s the nasty now. And that brings us back to taste. In our microwave world, baking has become an endangered species. One of the best parts comes when the batter’s been poured, the frosting spread or the dough rolled out – licking the bowl. Licking the bowl you just know that what’s coming will not just be as good but better than what’s on the spoon and tongue now. God gives foretastes (Romans 8:23, Ephesians 1:14). What God gives now, even in our best moments as we can stand it, is sweet and good. What comes later will knock the snot out of any idea we had of sweetness.
Enter the Holy Spirit. Talk about holiness often melts down to what I have to give up. Will I have to leave behind pork rinds and Yahtzee to follow Jesus? Can you still be a Christian and wrestle albino unicorns? What more can I do? Memorize fifty Bible verses a day? Cold early morning baths? The Holy Spirit distributes the foretastes as He is free to do so. Our sin and deadlines restricts what He can do and (as one said) “…He is regretfully compelled to withdraw His influence.” But our yielding and obedience to His influence, no matter what that means, brings those intimacies with God that we crave and remember. The Holy Spirit releases in our spirit the senses of joy, of God’s love for and pleasure in us and the sweet cleanness of His holiness.
We will not always know this is happening. As I mentioned above Moses’ face glowing (Exodus 34:29,30), Moses himself was unaware of it but others saw it plainly. A lot of Christian growth is like this; others see more of it in us than we do. It’s like a scenic backdrop of a high school play. People in the audience see mountains or a beautiful forest. All that people behind the scenes see would be the seams of the canvas, old rips and tears sewed up, old gum from other productions and the graffiti style autographs of old stage crews. We will spend a lot of our Christian lives feeling under construction – because we will be. But others may see something more that resembles Jesus – His holiness. God does us a favor by not letting us see our faces shine; He protects us from the quenching sin of our own pride. On our side, the sweetness of God’s holiness seems paradoxically strongest when our hungering for more of it waxes the hottest. The more we yearn for this, the more we can be sure that something glows within us even if we don’t see it.
One thing that feeds this involves finding models of it and holding our own souls up against them. This is why, if we only read one thing in addition to Scripture, we should read biographies. I suggest one below along with some other things helpful. All of these can be had from Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books. Order online and say you saw it here and he will knock off 20%. You just know nothing says Christmas love to Grannie like a Hebrew lexicon or the latest thing Byron recommends. You also know that Grannie will probably end up giving it back to you with homemade cookies thrown in. So run to Byron.
George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore – Get the two volume one. If you care anything about holiness or revival, or would like to, you won’t be bored.
Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Tozer studied on his knees almost every day and this is what that produces.
The Beauty of God’s Holiness by Tom Trevethan – A meaty treatment by an IVCF guy currently working with faculty ministry.
The Fight by John White – His chapter on holiness is great stuff. His title “The Cost of Commitment” should be in any student’s stocking.
The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung – A hot-off-the-press book that provides a nice antidote to the “sweat-yourself-into-a-breakdown” attempts at holiness.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer – Every Christian should read this once in their life. Why not now?
Some other good stuff –
It’s an Urbana year and InterVarsity Press is coming out with an Urbana Onward series that looks like good stuff. When is IVP ever not good stuff?
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Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.