What Even Is Holiness?

Point blank, holiness is for weirdos.

The first time I heard “in the holiness tradition” I was pretty sure I just needed to pretend it hadn’t been said. If I were to repeat that phrase to most of my friends, they’d check my pockets for snakes and tell me to go find my big white tent.

It didn’t get any better either. “Entire sanctification,” they said. I mean, come on, guys. That is neither hip nor cool. Holy Spirit talk should be reserved for Pentecost. But Pentecost came and went, and these people were STILL talking about “the power of the Spirit that lives in us.”

In my youth, after Pentecost, we put away the banners with the felted tongues of fire and began to talk about what Youth Sunday would look like this year. Growing up in a church where we prayed corporately reading lines from the bulletin, I was happy to sticker the little flames over the disciples heads and talk about how they all spoke in different languages. I could list off the fruit of the Spirit but as far as this theology was concerned that was sort of it for me.

I listened through a few years of sermons which preached from this theology and just didn’t get it. Mostly I could make everything mesh with what I already believed and rewrite the messages I’d heard to suit my viewpoint. I could hang when they referred to it as “second blessing” which was comfortable in like a folksy, NPR phraseology sort of way, but every now and then someone would say “perfection” and I’d have to sigh quite deeply to drown that nonsense out.

I sat through conversation after conversation and explained how holiness is simply spiritual maturity. It is just learning to act like a decent human being. Sometimes I could badger people into agreeing with me and feel like a conversation winner, and sometimes they just looked at me like I had two heads. Life kept moving on, I behaved like a decent human being (for the most part) and I felt fine enough going to a church in the holiness tradition, because yo, check me out, I’m super spiritually mature.

There came a day where I finally had to have a conversation with myself. “Something has changed in me. I am waiting for it to go back to what it was, but it’s not going back. I know what these people would call this from the pulpit, but I am NOT using those theological terms and I am NOT ready to address the difference publicly. I might need to take a minute and think about, what even is holiness?”

I studied. I prayed. I engaged in conversations. I listened more carefully to the sermons being preached in my presences and I got online and dug into sermon archives to see what I’d missed the first time listening through. I beat my brains against the rock of this theology trying to see just how it could be so, how what I was experiencing could be what these words were describing.

And one day it came to me….

And for the friends I have who don’t really get what I’m talking about when I start talking about holiness, this is what I’m trying to say.

I pushed out to sea in a boat built for me by God sent to carry me across the ocean which separates here from eternity. The horizon stretched out beyond me, unimaginable that I’d ever reach it. I sat in that little boat, and watched as I drifted away from shore. I peeked over the edge and could see the bottom with shells and rocks and I dipped my arm in and tried to reach over the edge to grab a particularly pretty one, but my arm was not long enough.

“Strange,” thought I,”but this ocean seems deeper than I imagined.” And that thought began to needle at me. Because I understood what the water was. The water, that which held my little craft aloft, was grace. It was cool and it was shiny and it was constantly in motion.

It started out as a shallow curiosity, just how far below one might find the sea floor. Wasn’t it Paul who’d said, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Paul wants me to figure out how deep the ocean is! Well, if anyone could figure it out, I am super smart AND super insightful, lots of people have said so.

I reached in my gear and pulled out a ruler. I’m even equipped to measure this! I reached my arm over the edge of the boat again and find that the boat has continued to pull towards the horizon. Deeper and deeper still the ocean grows and my silly little ruler is to short. The further out I traveled, the more this bothered me. This ocean…this bottomless well of His pardon….I should be able to grasp it’s depth, certainly! If thousands of years ago Paul could grasp it, surely I can with all my modern book learning.

I look up and see my Savior approaching, walking on the water towards me, and I know this may be my only opportunity. I call to Him, even when He is a long way off, “How deep is it?!?!” No reply. I draw breath in all the way to fill up my belly, “How deep is it?!!?” I bellow. He just continues to draw near.

Now all I want to do is figure it out before He reaches me. I scramble about the boat, looking for a yard stick, a fish finder, something, anything that I can use to measure better, but all I can come up with is this one limited little 12 inch ruler. It is obviously not enough, but it’s all I have. I drop my arm back in the water, stretching that ruler down as far as I can. I have to have an answer. I have to be able to properly thank Him for the depths of this ocean.

He reaches the boat and I sit up, dripping wet from all my leaning. He reaches a hand towards me, but we have a conversation to settle first and my hands are gripping that ruler tightly. It is my only means of measurement and if I let it go, I will have no way to solve this.

“It’s really deep,” I say, unable to look at Him, embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out the answer, ashamed of how stupid I must seem.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies, seeming almost uninterested in my intense theological quandary.

“I was pretty sure I could figure out how deep and how wide and how vast this ocean is, but this ruler is like, super short. I don’t want to complain about the gear in my boat, but I sort of fill unequipped to measure this.” I shifted uncomfortably on the boat bench.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies again.

“There is still time though. The horizon is still a long way off. Do you have anything with you that can help me? Sonar? One of those tiny submarines that I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel?” He looked at me quizzically and smiled. “I thought not,” I sighed.

He walks alongside of my boat while I consider my situation. After some time, minutes, hours, days, years, I don’t know which, I turn my face to Him again.

“It’s really deep, isn’t it?” I ask again.

He nods and smiles at me, “Mm-hmm.”

I look at my ruler and then at the ocean. I look at the face of my Savior and see His hand still out-stretched.

I reach once more over the edge of my boat…and release my little stick.

I don’t even notice it floating away as I place my hand in His hands, rise up, and step out of my boat. I have seen that the depths of the ocean of grace are not found by my limited understanding of measurement.

The depths of the ocean are found in walking on water in the company of my Savior towards a beautiful horizon.

There are no felted tongues of fire, no snakes, no tents. There is no hard to explain theological language to comprehend. Just me and Him, not worried about how strange it appears to see the two of us, wrapped up in conversation now, strolling further out to sea, foot to wave, together, hand in hand.

That, my friend…that is what even holiness is.

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Roosevelt and Ohio

When I first meet Pastor Vic he asked where I was from. “Washington Court House, Ohio,” I’d replied, prepared to explain the usual answers. No, the whole town is not a courthouse. No, we didn’t live in a courthouse. Yes, that was it’s whole name or you can just say “Court House” and we’d know what you meant.

Instead, he said “Really? I sang at a small church there once.” He couldn’t remember the name of the church and after suggesting a few without him finding anything that stuck out, I closed up the conversation and moved on with my kids off to the rest of my Sunday.

We had that same conversation a few more times after that. The last time he shared it, he said the name of the pastor that he’d been invited by, a name I knew from the church history of our church back in Ohio. This pastor in this new church I was attending, had come and sang in my church in the middle of nowhere Ohio. My church.

This has remained as the first moment where I really began to see just how sweetly the story that God has written over this move and this chapter in our lives. One could call it a coincidence. And maybe that’s all it is. Maybe I search too much for meaning in meaningless things. Regardless, this was one of those moments where I feel the breath of God on my ear as He leans in and softly says, “I see you there, Sarah. I have had plans for you for a long time. I know what I’m doing. You can trust me.”

There have been many of those moments over the past few years, where I have seen the words on my pages and recognize the handwriting.

This morning I climbed in the car with two friend to go call on a third who is laid up with a bum ankle. I questioned the direction we were taking and tried to convince them of a right turn when they went left. Set comfortably in the backseat, it didn’t take but a moment to figure out I didn’t have the wheel in my hands, so to just relax and see how we’d get where we were going.

We rolled past JMU and bounced over train tracks as their chatter turned towards the old days in the history of our church. They indicated that the church was really close to us, we could drive past it if I liked. Oh, I liked.

“Rose…” I began to say and felt like I was about to mispronounce the street name, and then flying past my mind’s eye was Rose Ave, part of my Ohio church, a dear ministry which I just nod “right on” when I think of it. “Roosevelt Street,” I said. There was this moment of connection between the two places, as if one had passed the other and waved at a familiar face across the street.

To the right we turned. “Where is it?” I asked, anxious to see just exactly what sort of building housed this family before I joined it. “Right there, behind that tree.” As we pulled past this heavy laden apple tree, there the old church stood. They allowed me to step out and snap a picture. Back in the van I climbed and we continued on our way.

As we rounded the block, I showed them where I lived my senior year of college. “You lived right by the church!” Oh…I did. I lived right by the church, not more than two blocks away. I had no idea.

We continued our morning through stories brought about by familiar locations, our planned visit, through biscuits and coffee, pugs and cats and a lot of laughter. I looked at these three other women with me and was simply satisfied that I had found these people. I knew I had to look at that picture when I left their company, to consider the different direction we’d traveled that morning, to revisit that moment where Rose Ave recognized Roosevelt Street in my brain, to put my eyes back on that corner.

I opened Instagram and posted the picture. This building that I looked at saw the growth that demanded a much larger space, saw the hand of God and saw the brokenness of man meet. This building realistically looks like it could be housed on Rose Ave in Ohio and fit naturally there, less polished, evidencing additions built within limitations of space, worn by time, in the heart of a neighborhood that is reminiscent of Rose Ave’s neighborhood.

When I came to this church it was a long time before I could understand why this church, why these people. They didn’t look like what I imagined myself serving. They didn’t match my image of where I should be called. This morning looking at the roots of the family tree my church is built out of….the history of my church….the foundation of my church…I recognized that this place, these people, they have some Rose Ave in them.

Then there was a whisper, a breath on my ear, “Zoom in.” And I did.

There on the street sign on that corner…Roosevelt St. meets Ohio Ave.

The air slipped out of my mouth. I heard Pastor Vic telling me about his coming here from Ohio where he’d lived and about how he’d been to my tiny town in Ohio decades ago to sing one Sunday. Ohio to Roosevelt.

I thought about how just around the corner from where I lived in college was a story being written for me, about how I had no Ohio in my life yet, and that it would take nearly 10 years in Ohio to even begin to make me into who He could use at this church and how He brought us here. Ohio to Port Road.

Then I recognized the handwriting and heard the whisper as it was read to me, “”I see you there, Sarah. I have had plans for you for a long time. I know what I’m doing. You can trust me.”

Grieving With Hope

I’m awake again in the middle of the night for the 12th time this week. 23rd time this week. 47th…how many days are in a week again? There tapping it’s finger on the front of my face, is a sensation with just enough pressure to make me wonder if it is a major headache brewing or if it is something more sinister which has crawled out of a bad dream and won’t let me be. I can’t sleep.

So I’ve prayed through my nights this week. For family, for friends, for miracles, for release, for lost already and looming loss, for storms which left devastation and storms on the way, for spoken and unspoken things.

A wise man spoke about putting arrows in your quiver to draw out when you are in battle. Those arrows are truth. Those arrows are scripture.

I reach over my shoulder and pull one out. Etched on the long thin line it reads “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” I place the weapon in ready position, take aim at the darkness and let it fly.

I reach back again and my fingers find the next. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Steady the bow, loose the arrow and it is out beyond me.

The last I draw out is rougher. I roll it back and forth between my fingers while I consider it, consider if it is safe to use. Consider it’s impact and implications. “We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.” I set it up to shoot and take it out and reread it.

“We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.”

It has been years since I first read this verse and feared the message communicated was “Don’t grieve, because grief is some sort of evidence that you are without hope. Swallow the sorrow. Smile.” Oh no. It has been many years since God said to me, “Sarah, grieve. You are allowed to grieve. Just, do it with hope.” I understand that it is not hope versus grief. It is hope pack inside grief, or the other way around, I’m not certain which.

How to manage this feat? How to shoot this arrow at my clock which tells me another hour has gone by and the sun has not yet risen. How do we grieve with hope? What is the difference?

Once more I reach over my shoulder and find the first two arrows, returned to the quiver. Easier in my hand they find their way to the bowstring again.

“Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Sorrow happens. A nod to that final arrow. A confirmation that grief is allowed. Beyond that is the first clue. Joy comes in the morning.

I glance out my window and see no sun on the horizon, but I am assured it will make its way, journeying the same path. Certainly if all the light of noonday were to appear in the heavens at this moment my eyes would darken themselves. No, nighttime has stars and a moon, just enough to feel my way through, just enough. The first difference is that we know even when the moon is new and the stars are obscured by clouds, we have an assurance, a basic, take it for granted, fundamental belief that the sun will rise. So too will joy. So too.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

There was a time when the only arrow I could find read “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” I reached again and again and it was the same, over and over. Until someone handed me this arrow and I saw, I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but the shadow which is over me is the covering of the Almighty. Under His wing I find protection and defense, but also the light of the world. The shadow of the Most High is no lost impenetrable black valley we find ourselves in at times. It is a place to stay, to find refuge, to rest and remain.

We all will look up and see shadow, the question is what is bigger, our grief or our God? Not what do we make bigger or an instruction to cram the responsibility of somehow growing God in our own estimation on top of our hurt, but simply, which is bigger? If the answer is honestly God then He will have no trouble defending you from your own grief.

Again I touch the third.

“We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.”

We.

I think maybe I understand. We. I am awake tonight praying for, seeking the word for encouragement to give away. We.

We are not alone. Job’s friends sat in silence and mourned with him, sackcloth and dirt. The disciples clung to one another in the boat as the waves thrashed about. David’s men worried over how to deliver the hard news of child loss for fear of his devastation. Three went in the fiery furnace together. We.

Tonight I am awake for friends. Another night they may lay awake for me. We.

*************

Lay down in your night, I will send you a light.
Cover your face with your hands.
Lay down in your night,
The sun will soon rise,
Morning will begin again.

Lay down in your night, the seconds tick by,
A metronome steady and true.
Lay down in your night,
I’ll keep watch by your side,
I will wait here with you.

************
I moved my computer off of me and fell asleep last night. I return this morning to finish this post. The sun came up this morning. It rose, and I look again to the promise that joy comes with the morning, and yet I know, for some of my friends it is still midnight.

So I go again to prayer, to looking towards my fortress, to addressing the One who casts a shadow of refuge in the valley of the shadow of death.

For the assurance of His promises, I pray to the Lord.
For the overflow of His Spirit, I pray to the Lord.
For midnight to give way to dawn, I pray to the Lord.

Lord, hear my prayer.

 

Is Unity Even Possible?

It would be wrong to describe my time of late as “reflecting on unity.” That phrase makes it sound like I have a tree and some tea and I’m watching the sunrise and thinking peaceful deep thoughts. No, I am learning through growth, sometimes with a stretching that must be akin to being put on a torturous rack and wrenched beyond what I can tolerate.

This is not just some singular thought that is staying nicely within the lines of one lesson, but rather it is bleeding into many parts of my life. It is political. It is professional. It is ecumenical.

You can hardly get online anywhere without worrying over the division around us. As I type my left hand wishes to type one way and my right another. Should I point at the hypocrisy? Should I announce my positions? Should I offer advice to the church? Should I take the opportunity to speak to the nation at large (or lets be realistic, because the nation at large doesn’t read my blog, so perhaps it’d be better to say “the nation at small.”)

I would not be true to where my heart is, where my words pour from if I left my faith out of this, however this is something I feel is not a specific word for the church, and so this is my starting point.

1 Corinthians 12:20 “As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

I was turning the chapter this lies in over in my head on my drive to work this morning. It occurred to me that nowhere in this passage does it says “Work towards unity.” There is no reference to striving or to effort spent drawing the thumb towards the hand and saying “Be more secured to the body, thumb.” There is no indication that one body is responsible for the other part becoming attached, becoming useful, becoming used. No, the body is all created, and there is an underlying message, a starting point, which says, “This is the body you’re stuck with.”

There is flexibility in life. We can move from one people group to another. We can change churches, change jobs, change political allegiances, change zip codes and move to Canada, but the same experience will arise over and over until this concept sinks in. This is the body you’re stuck with. The body you’re in is created and formed already, you are just a piece in it.

You will no more be able to force unification with your body that you could jam toe into your ear and expect something to work. Your toe would be connected to your ear, certainly, and your toe and your ear would be discovering new things about one another, but both would be rendered useless in function.

In the same way, the foot will never truly be able to comprehend the purpose, the function, the design, and the application of skills required for the ear to move waves in the air from floating in the world into the brain. And furthermore, it’s not necessary for the toe to understand it all.

Would it be nice and helpful? Sure. Does it teach the foot to value the ear as uniquely wired and wonderfully made perfect to the purpose in its existence? This heel surely thinks so! But at the end of the day, whether each part can grasp the purpose or function of the other is secondary to the individual part performing and perfecting its purpose!!!

If each of use would spend our days working to be exemplary in our own created nature, to serve our purpose naturally, then our body will function with the radiant beauty of a professional ballerina moving in a way which will cause everyone watching to hold their breath in awe.

We need to know enough about each other to work together. A hand must know that in order to feed the body, the mouth must open, however it is not the responsibility of the hand to open the mouth! When the hand holds the mouth open, it can’t do it’s job! We get so busy trying to explain to others how they should be functioning, when and where and why and how they should be doing their job in the way we think it should be done, that we miss completing the task in front of us, and while the hand and the mouth try to figure out how to open and shut, the rest of the body starves.

Hands, stop using your fingers to point out flaws!
Eyes, stop casting sideways glances!
Mouth, stop bossing about the rest of the pieces!

Rather…

Hands, feed the stomach.
Eyes, travel ahead to protect the feet from stumbling.
Mouth, pray for the body.

Friends….if unity possible?

I think the point is that we are already unified. We don’t seem to have much choice about it. We just need to learn to operate in harmony by doing what we were created to do to the best of our abilities and trust that the rest of the pieces are doing this as well. This is accomplished with the practice of some very basic directions that we are able to do if we actually want to do this.

I need to hear this as much as anyone else.

Do your part. Do it well.