“No, this city will not be an iron pot for you, and you will not be like meat safe inside it. I will judge you even to the borders of Israel, and you will know that I am the Lord. For you have refused to obey my decrees and regulations; instead, you have copied the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezekiel 11:11-12)

Between my freshman & sophomore years of college, I worked at a grocery store called Farmer Jack.  I was initially hired as a stocker, and my primary responsibilities were to unload the trailers and keep the shelves full and organized. When I finished unloading my pallets, I also learned to operate the cash registers and how to do the nightly reports and cash drops. I was a young guy with a strong back and enjoyed the work, so I worked hard at it.

One day, the union rep pulled me aside to let me know that I was causing problems for my co-workers.  Apparently, I was not taking enough smoke breaks (I didn’t smoke!) and I was stocking the shelves too quickly. He explained that when I worked too quickly it raised the managers’ expectations for everyone and it made the others look bad in comparison. He warned me that if I didn’t slow down or take my full smoke break allotment that he would try to get me fired. This floored me, as it went against everything I had been taught about how you are supposed to conduct yourself on a job. I refused to lower my standards, which cost me some friendships at that job, but I could punch out at the end of the shift knowing that I had given my best.

Ultimately, we are all held to some kind of standard in life, from grading scales in school, to performance evaluations at work, and social comparisons (e.g. keeping up with the Joneses). The question is what standard will you hold yourself to and what is important to you?  Is a C good enough, when you know you are capable of earning the A? Does it matter that your neighbor has a nicer yard/house/car than you?  These are questions that we all must answer for ourselves. 

However, when it comes to righteousness, we don’t have to spend time questioning what is expected of us. God has the highest expectations for you! In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used several examples to explain that God’s standards go beyond our outward actions to inner attitudes and motivations.  It’s not enough to not murder someone; you must not harbor malice or an unforgiving attitude against them. It’s not enough to not cheat on your spouse; you must not lust after others.  It’s not enough to give to the needy; you must not do it for the approval of others.  In every way, God kicks it up a notch.  It’s a high standard, and we will not always hit the bullseye, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

John Wayne

We all have a code that we live by, even if we can’t always articulate it.  There are things we will and won’t accept, lines we won’t cross.  Where will you get your standards? Have you “copied the standards of the nations around you?” Are you making it up as you go?  Or will you commit to living according to God’s standards?

PRAYER: Father, thank you for clearly revealing the standards of holiness by which we will be judged.  Help us to not be content with “good enough” and to constantly push ourselves to live according to your standards. Transform our hearts so we are not living in obedience because of religious obligation, but because we desire to please you.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Set Apart

“You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” (Leviticus 20:26)

When I attended Lee University, one of the requirements for my degree was a class called “Introduction to Preaching.” The professor that taught my section was known to be particularly strict in his expectations and grading, and he did not disappoint! On the first day of class he let us know that a 10 point grading scale was too lenient in his view so we would be using a 6-point scale, meaning that anything below a 76% was a failing grade. No pressure.

Over the course of the semester, we were expected to deliver two sermons in different styles and he gave us the expectations on which we would be graded. It included everything from the quality of our sermon notes/manuscript, tone of voice, posture, eye contact, dress and even personal grooming. (One of my friends missed getting an A on his sermon because his hair was “disheveled.”) I knew that I really needed to step up my game if I was going to get the grade that I wanted.

When challenged with high standards most of us have one of two responses. Some of us determine to put on our big boy/girl britches and get to work. We determine to do our best, even if the possibility of failure is very real. Others of us look at the standards and become overwhelmed by them. We can become so discouraged that we just give a half effort since we’re doomed to failure anyway. Other times, we just give up entirely. How we view difficult tasks can even change from day-to-day!

When it comes to high standards, there is nothing that comes close to the standard of holiness that God requires of his people. God says “This is what I am like. Be like me.” But no matter how hard we try and strive, we can’t! He’s omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect. We are not. Because of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual limitations, it is quite literally impossible for us to be like a limitless God.

So is God mocking us? Is he setting us up to fail? No, of course not! Well, then what does he mean?

Holiness can be a difficult concept to understand, but one of the primary meanings of the word is the idea of being “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose.” When God is calling his people to holiness what he is saying is “this is how I am moving and working in the world and I want you to be a part of it.” To do this, we have to re-orient our lives to move in the same direction. We have to be set apart for a religious purpose, his purpose. Yes, there will be outward manifestations, but they are the result of this inner transformation, not the cause.

In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” There’s just one problem with being living sacrifices…we tend to fall off the altar!

Yes, you will mess up. I will mess up. Everyone does. But that doesn’t mean we should get discouraged and give up. We just need to put on our big boy/girl britches, decide to do the best we can, and rely on the grace and mercy of God to make up the difference.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for calling us to holiness and setting us apart. It’s a hard task and we often get worn out in the effort, but we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to comfort us in our weariness and guide us in our confusion. Most of all thank you for your patience and mercy for those times when we do fall short. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“My Bad Reputation”

(Proverbs 22:1, NLT) Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

“An’ I don’t really care

If ya think I’m strange

I ain’t gonna change

An’ I’m never gonna care

‘Bout my bad reputation!”

(Bad Reputation by Joan Jett)

This probably should’ve been my theme song when I was a teenager.  I was painfully apathetic about what others thought of me, and my reputation from that time in my life still lingers a little.  I have learned, the hard way of course, that it is a harsh reality of life that your reputation will most likely follow you for many years.  Even when you grow out of old habits, make amends, and rebuild those long-ago burned bridges, the stories and memories can remain a tarnish on your image. 

We live in a world where anything goes, and it’s so easy to get caught up in alternative ways of thinking and feeling like you just don’t care what anyone thinks about you.  I remember thinking the same thing many times.  It can be exhausting and frustrating having to stop and actually think before you say or do something.  When I was a teenager, the last thing on my mind was what someone would think about my choices.  But…then I grew up!  I started to realize that, especially (and most importantly) because I am a Christian, I am under a microscope.  I had to accept the fact that my reputation matters.  My choices matter.  I had to accept this, and then I had to make concentrated efforts to choose to build for myself a better reputation. 

The Bible tells us (in Philippians 1:27), “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Our actions not only affect our own lives and futures, but they also reflect upon God Himself, and they indirectly affect those with whom we are associated.  We are called to be shepherds and to testify of the goodness of God, but how can we ever expect to be taken seriously if we have only negative reputations as our foundations? 

The truth is, we all have a circle of influence.  For some of us, it’s so big we could never even begin to imagine all of the people within our reaches; then for others it consists of just family and/or a few friends.  Yet however big or small your circle is, you do have influence in the lives of others…whether you realize it or not.  You may not like it, and you may not want that kind of responsibility on your shoulders, but it’s yours all the same.  When you carry the name of Christ, that is part of the deal. 

Please understand, the expectation is not perfection.  That’s just unrealistic, and I fully believe that God, in His infinite grace and love, is a realistic and merciful Father.  He sees our limitations and failures for what they are before we ever even experience them.  So no, we aren’t expected to go without error.  However, the expectation is that we strive toward holiness. 

In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul urges us, “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” 

So let us rise to the occasion, so to speak, and let us rise above the past.  We know that the best we can do is do the next best thing.  So let us focus on what is in front of us, and on those who are around us.  We can build holy and righteous testimonies for ourselves, creating reputations that outshine the shadows of our pasts, when we choose to care what others think of us. 

Prayers:  Heavenly Father, let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight.  I know there is nothing I can do about the past, but I choose holiness, and I choose to move forward as a light in the darkness and a beacon of Your love to those within my circle of influence.  Amen. 

Be Holy…For I Am Holy

(Leviticus 19:1-2 ESV) 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

The Book of Leviticus details the revelation of God’s holiness and the desire for his people to be holy as well. Even a cursory reading of Chapter 19 is enough to enlighten us to the detailed restrictions placed upon those who would dare enter the holy place.

At first reading, it would seem that God is being trite and uncaring. In our modern culture, He would be accused of being politically insensitive. Although they were allowed to participate in some of the activities outside the holy place, anyone who possessed a special need or handicap was not allowed to enter.

I would not dare attempt to defend God’s reasons for disincluding the individuals who were victims of birth defects or injuries. With that said, in light of God’s ultimate desire for His people to see Him in His perfection, He could not be represented by anyone who would have been considered defective by the culture of the day.

Having read these extremely detailed restrictions, I began to think about the externals that define us as Holy people. In my short life, I have observed the shift in the culture of the contemporary church that, in my opinion, has seen a move away from an evidence of godly holiness.

I’m not an old fuddy-duddy. Nor, am I a prude. However, I do think that our attitudes and actions should always reflect the divine nature of God that is resident in us. There should be something about us that sets us apart. God expected His people to be different; to be holy. We must ask ourselves if that is still true? Does God expect us to be holy? If so, what does holiness look like? What is the evidence of holiness? Is it external, internal, or both.

We can make the argument that holiness is an internal attribute. I would agree wholeheartedly. But, it is obvious from various passages of Scripture that God does expect our internal holiness to be externally visible.

In closing, I will make two observations. (1) I’m thankful that we live in a dispensation of grace which includes everyone regardless of race, gender, age, or physical limitations. (2) I’m thankful that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit consistantly points us toward a personal holiness that allows us to represent Christ effectively to our circle of influence.

Holiness is not a dirty word. Nor, is it a friendly suggestion. It is commanded by God for our good and for His glory. So, let’s rediscover holiness.

PRAYER: Father, it is my desire to represent you with a lifestyle of holiness. Allow your divine presence to guide me and guard me as I walk daily in personal relationship with You. Amen.

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