Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sermon for January 27, 2008

The Life of Holiness
1 Peter 1:13-16

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It was the late 1920’s when a woman and her new husband moved into the man’s old family home. It wasn’t much of a home, but it was all they had. Over the next ten years, however, the couple managed to save just enough money to tear down the old house and build another next to it. It was to be their home for the rest of their lives. To cut back on the expense of the new place the husband, without informing his wife, decided to reuse many of the materials from the old house in the construction. He used old facings and doors, and many other pieces of the finishing lumber. When it was completed, the woman was finally permitted to inspect her new home. As her husband walked her through it, tears streamed down her cheeks. They were not tears of joy, however, but sadness. As she looked around she saw the same old doors that wouldn’t shut properly, the same crown molding that was split and riddled with nail holes, the same unfinished window trimming. In fact not much of the new house was very new at all. So on what should have been one of the better days of her life, she eventually sat down and had herself a good cry. Her husband was confused at her response. “I’ve built you a new home,” he objected. “No, you didn’t,” his wife responded. “You just rearranged the old one.”

It seems to me like a lot of people in our churches today approach the Christian life in much the same way as this man approached the construction of his “new” home. Rather than opening ourselves to becoming completely new in Christ, we ask only that God remodel us so that we are just a little better version of what we were before. God is not interested in reconstructing our knotty ways and worn patterns of living. God is in the business of making us into new creations that are the visible representation of Jesus Christ in this world (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 & Romans 6:4). This process by which Christians are constructed into the image of Christ is called sanctification. The word means, “to make something holy.”

Now let’s face it--the idea of holiness may be a bit old-fashioned. To some, the word “holiness” conjures up images of bunned-hair, long skirts and black stockings. For others, the idea of holiness is associated with an offensive “holier than thou” attitude. Others associate the word with specific prohibitions–don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance. I think these ideas miss the true concept. To be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin, and therefore set apart for God. Let me say it another way; God expects every Christian to be on a constant campaign for excellence.

I think everyone who claims to be a Christian should ask him or herself this question: Is there evidence of practical holiness in my life? That is, if you were to look at your life through God’s eyes, would you be happy with what you see? The problem is this–we are called to be on a constant campaign for excellence, but at the same time, we don’t take sin seriously. We label sins according to those that are really bad, and those that are tolerable. For instance:
· Adultery is bad a sin, walking through the mall and checking another person out while your spouse isn’t looking is not so bad a sin. (By the way, your spouse probably saw you doing it).
· Lying is bad sin, shading the truth a little is not so bad a sin
· Swearing is bad sin, gossip is not so bad a sin.
· Murder is bad sin, hating your neighbor is not so bad, because after all your neighbor really is a miserable person.

There is a difference between Scripture’s attitude about sin and ours. Scripture says, “Make it your aim not to sin” (1 John 2:1). Our goal is more like, “Make it your aim not to sin very much.” In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.

On an April night in 1912, more than 1,500 people died when the luxurious 900-ft. long cruise ship Titanic hit an iceberg that sank the ship. At least that’s what schoolteachers and screenwriters taught us. An international team of divers and scientists now challenge that theory. Using sound waves to probe through the wreckage, they discovered that the damage was surprisingly small. Instead of a huge gash, they found six relatively narrow slits across six watertight holds. The salvage team also recovered several of the rivets that secured the damaged hull. Analysis revealed the rivets were made of low-grade steel. Some scientists now propose that the Titanic sank not because of a collision with an iceberg, but because of a few small rivets of inferior quality. Had these rivets held, the ship might have survived the impact of the collision.

The failure of a tiny rivet can sink a colossal ship. We, too, can be sunk by small sins, tiny omissions, compromises that seem inconsequential. And while these failures may seem invisible to others, they have a way of doing visible damage and leading to bigger downfalls.

Peter presents a different standard. He writes, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” Holiness is something God wishes for us simply because it is the best way to live. Sin disrupts and fragments our lives -- a poison that destroys us. God’s plan, on the other hand, completes our lives and makes them full. God is holy. God is pure. God is without moral blemish. Holiness is part of God’s nature. And because God is holy, God pays attention to sin. I think we need to cultivate the same attitude toward sin that God has. We can’t accept any sin as a regular feature in our lives. If we want to have lives of integrity and holiness, we begin by realizing that sin is sin. Once we realize this, God can help us to resist its alluring yet destructive trap.

Peter gives a great piece of advice for those of us who desire to pursue holiness. He says, “Prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves . . . do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance” There are three different images used here.

First Peter says, “Prepare your minds The Greek literally reads, “Gird up the loins of your minds.” Picture a Middle Easterner with long flowing robes. The robes got in the way of physical activity unless they were tucked up under the belt. This left his limbs free for action. Peter is saying that if you seek holiness, free yourself up for some tough mental and spiritual work.

Next Peter says, “discipline yourselves .” Peter’s talking about having clarity of mind. He suggests having alertness and steadiness in the face of oncoming temptations.

We are also counseled to nonconformity. Peter uses the Greek verb suschêmatídzo. It is related to our English word “scheme”. Peter’s saying, “Don’t let tired and worn patterns schematize your life. Don’t let the desires of the world force you into their pattern. Don’t fit yourself into that old structure”

Here’s the deal: God wants you to be holy. God doesn’t want you to sin. We’ve established that. But here is why: God wants you to be holy because you are a person of worth and dignity in his eyes. You are a person of purpose. You are created in the image of God and God doesn’t make junk. You are the only one like you. Once you are gone, the earth will never see another person like you. God doesn’t want you to take the beautiful, worthwhile person that you are and waste it away by trying to look like someone else’s design. We are created in God’s image, and we spend our time trying to conform to the world’s pattern. Peter says don’t be a conformist. Be a transformist. We become transformists by learning how to deny temptation. It’s a slow and painful process, filled with failure. Old desires and sinful habits are not easily dislodged. Breaking them requires persistence, often in the face of little success. But this is the path to holiness that we tread, painful though it may be.

At this point, let me make something clear. If you are trying to be a morally upright person just because I’m giving you a guilt trip, forget it. It won’t work. Our holiness before God depends entirely upon the work of Jesus Christ for us by God’s will. If the hand of God in Christ has ever touched you, then holiness is your calling.

If you, as a devoted follower of Jesus, want to be transformed, let me offer some tips on how to carry out your side of the deal.

Holy habits are developed with repetition. Most people don’t play the piano like Adam Podd after their first lesson. You parents of teens know that your kids aren’t expert drivers after their time behind the wheel. Habits, both good and bad, only develop through frequent repetition. We need to acquire the habit of saying “no” to sin while also developing the habit of saying “yes” to things that are good, pure, and true.

Avoid the “just this once” syndrome. I read about an experiment in which some scientists made cocaine available to monkeys. The monkeys were allowed to pull a feeding lever that released cocaine into their feeding trays. Soon the monkeys became addicted. They found that if allowed to, the monkeys would keep pulling the lever and taking the drug until they died of overdose. Then the scientists began to withhold the fix when the monkey’s pulled the lever. Over and over the monkeys pulled, trying to get the cocaine, but none came out. They continued to pull, not 10, not 100, not even 1000, but 12,800 times! We say that we will only indulge a behavior just this once, and tomorrow will be different. Deep inside we know that tomorrow it will be even more difficult to say no. So, be strong and don’t make an exception for any sinful behavior.

Don’t be discouraged by failure. Gen. Patton once said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” We will make mistakes. We will have to face our failures at holiness. But then what do you do? Thomas Edison’s manufacturing facilities in West Orange, N. J., were heavily damaged by fire one night in December, 1914. Edison lost almost $1 million worth of equipment and the record of much of his work. The next morning, walking about the charred embers of his hopes and dreams, the 67-year-old inventor said: “There is value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew.” We become failures when we give up or stop trying. Don’t give up. God is rooting for you, and God is working, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, to transform you. The good news is there is forgiveness, second chances, and a God who gives us the power to get up and try again.

God loves you. God has the best planned for you. That includes living holy lives. Later in his letter, Peter says these words; they are also my words of blessing and encouragement to you as you continue your campaign of excellence unto the Lord: You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 13-14, 18-19.
James Bryan Smith, A Spiritual Formation Workbook (New York; Harper, 1991), 39.

Exercises in The Holiness Tradition

Today’s sermon begins our exploration of practical methods for growing in our faith. The result of these exercises is a greater ability to obey the commandments of God. With practice, you will find that God begins to mold and shape your life. As we explore different traditions, you are asked to choose an exercise and practice it for a week. Don’t forget to keep your emphasis on God, not on the method. Feel free to modify the exercises to fit your needs. These ideas come from A Spiritual Formation Workbook by James Bryan Smith.

1. Pray that the Holy Spirit purify your heart and mind and then listen. God works from the inside out. Set apart a substantial amount of time (say one hour) for a deep heartfelt prayer. Ask God to clean and purify you. The key to the effectiveness of your prayer will be your willingness to surrender control of your life to God.
2. Try a 24-hour fast. When we fast, we say “no” to uncontrolled appetites of the body and seek mastery over them. The practice of fasting reveals hidden things about us – short tempers, selfishness, the inability to delay gratification, etc. A simple way to begin fasting is to fast from lunch to lunch, skipping dinner and breakfast in between. Be sure to drink plenty of water.
3. Go a day without saying anything negative. In the morning, pray that the Spirit will guard the door of your mouth (Psalm 143:3), preventing you from saying anything negative. It’s OK to be honest, but not critical. Search for ways to be positive about everything around you and be bold in offering compliments when you can.
4. Go a day without saying anything dishonest. Do not be manipulative with your words. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

If you have any other ideas, questions, or concerns, feel free to contact Pastor Matt.

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