The Art and Science of God – The Wild Way of Holiness

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The Art and Science of God

The Wild Way of Holiness

Jonah 4

Jonah’s Anger

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah Is Reproved

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” “

Before we close the book on Jonah, there is one important thing we need to acknowledge. The story of Jonah was not written to the people of Ninevah. In fact, it probably was not written to any of Israel’s neighbors either. This is a story that has been passed on to and preserved for God’s own people over the ages.

That is going to change the kind of takeaway we get from this story. In fact, if it were just written to those outside the faith, we could probably end the story (much like the story of the Prodigal Son) early. Jonah, chapter 4, helps us look back and re-view this whole story about how God uses mercy to work His will in our world, and the way that God’s mercy is sometimes harder to swallow than God’s wrath.

Ninevah miraculously repents, and instead of giving God praise or celebrating with them at the thousands of new believers that have entered God’s kingdom, Jonah, like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, Jonah gets annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. You see LORD, this is why I ran away to Tarsus! I knew you would have mercy on them if I came here, and these people don’t deserve it! Jonah had wanted to see the fireworks of Judgment Day fall upon these people he considered enemies. Instead, God redeemed them. And Jonah was not happy.

Peter wrote to the early church, reminding them of the purpose of God’s work in our world and in us.

1 Peter 1:13-16

A Call to Holy Living

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.”1

Holiness. It is the stuff that flows out of those points and moments of grace in our lives. It is the fruit that God raises in the soil of our being. And it trips us up when we try to take the wheel and drive it ourselves.

Here is how it usually breaks down. We preach and teach forgiveness and grace as a holy mystery – nothing scientific or practical about God dealing with our past sin. Then we switch gears completely and say, from here on out, it is our responsibility to do the right thing and sanctification, or the growth in holiness and the dealing with sin in the present and in the future is taught as something sterile, practical, and behavioral.

Want to quit swearing for Jesus? Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself every time you swear. Put money in a swear jar. Write down in a journal the times you have sinned and share that with an accountability group. These are some of the many ways we teach holiness in our life, and while they can be helpful, they all come straight from behavioral psychology. I have nothing against behavioral psychology, but it assumes that either 1.) God does not exist, or 2.) That God does not intervene in our world. It takes us right back to Deism again.

I believe there is both art and science in all of God’s work. That means that while there is mystery in the way God forgives us of our past sins – there is a bit of logic and science to it as well. I would bet that, if studies were done, there would be significant brain changes, blood pressure relief, and some degree of general physical healing when a person accepted God’s forgiveness – especially for the first time. I think there are some kinds of things we can expect every time, from every person when they take some of those important steps to being a Christian. We may not be able to systematize the whole thing, but I suspect there are at least as many similarities as differences.

I also believe that our growth in grace is not any more systematic than our initial acceptance of it. Some parts we can plan. Some aspects are formulaic. Do this and don’t do that. But I think the real power in growing as a disciple of Jesus, walking that wild path of holiness, comes from God Himself as He intervenes into our lives every day, using both the good and bad experiences we have, to show us more of Him and His love, and to transform us from the people we are, into the people He has created us to become. We all need to learn to pray, but we will all have different experiences that will teach us the value of prayer and the methods of doing it. We all need to learn to search in and trust God’s Word, but the way I read my Bible may differ from the way you read yours, and some of those differences are intended by God. We all need to love one another. How that looks may be as varied and unique as the number of people God is calling. We will all struggle with holiness in different ways, and God, through His artistic prowess, will weave our stories of victories and failures, into a work of art that will overflow with His grace, encourage, and even direct those around us and the generations that follow us.

We all, as God’s people, are much like Jonah, and God will use us, with us or in spite of us, to do the amazing work of bringing grace and holiness into our world.

The Art and Science of God – Synthesis

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The Art and Science of God

Synthesis

Jonah 2

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?’

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

I think the heart of the story of Jonah is the world-changing power when repentance meets forgiveness. In the church we call that power grace and we have been singing songs about it for centuries. Grace stands in that middle place where the almighty power of God touches our frailness and brings forth greatness that we cannot contain ourselves. If you think religion and spiritual life is just a checklist, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are missing out on most of it.

It’s a power of synthesis, when two spiritual entities collaborate to share existence, to work together, to act as one. In science, when this typically happens between a greater and lesser being, the greater entity swallows up the lesser into is own being and the individuality is lost, the way we cannot see the raindrops within the clouds. However, even in science we see those hard rules of nature respecting this creative power of God. Those same clouds, as the heat is removed from them, distribute those unidentifiable drops of water as billions of snowflakes, each unique in its own delicate beauty.

God knows those snowflakes and He knows us even more. We are not made without purpose. We all fit into creation in a unique way. God does not separate the value of the holy and profane, the special and the plain, the way we, in our prejudices do. He created it all, and while He often creates an abundance of more than is strictly necessary, He does not let His world go to waste.

Case and point: even Jonah’s deliberate act of disobedience is redeemed and transformed into a story that has inspired the world to follow God for thousands of years.

This is grace, where the science of how things should work together meets the art of working through the disconnections and conflicts – creating something even more beautiful because of the fragility of it all. In our efforts to see how our world was made to work, when we look closely enough, we see that the only way it works at all, is if God continues to hold us all together.

Matthew 12:38-421

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! “

If you closely enough at the struggles you face today, can you see God working to hold everything together even there?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

There, but for the grace of God…

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There, but for the grace of God…

John 6:60–71 (NRSV)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

As we get closer to Holy Week and Easter, in our journey through Lent, it is important for us to not think too highly of ourselves, especially since the main purpose of this journey is learning humility. That may seem ridiculous, but our feelings do not always follow logic. I can remember several occasions when the thought popped into my head, Wow! Look how humble I am today!. That kinda defeats the purpose. If you struggle with those kind of thoughts, humility can seem like an unattainable task. Pride gets you when you are proud and when you are humble.

Do not lose hope though. Getting this far in life has been dependent upon God’s mercy and grace from the beginning and it is only by His mercy and grace that we will make it anywhere in life. When the challenges ahead of us seem to big, sometimes it is because they are too big. We were never meant to get through this life on our own, without God and without the help of our brothers and sisters around us. This business about eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus was one way Jesus taught what Paul spoke of in his letter to the Philippians where he wrote:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)

We only get this strength from Jesus. We only get Jesus because He found us.

(Pause for a brief moment while the theologians pull out their 18th and 19th century theology books to prepare for a fight.)

I’m not making an argument for or against free will here. I’m just saying we are all playing hide and seek and Jesus is ‘it’. We do the hiding, and have done it since Genesis 3 and God has been in the business of finding us ever since then.

Our problem is not figuring out how to make Jesus find us. He is pretty good at finding people, even the ones who will fall away and/or betray Him. He is not incredibly picky about who He chooses. No, our problem is that once we are found, we like to wander. 60% Divorce rate in our country among Christians. We like to wander. Getting lost and found has become a game to many of us. Once saved, always saved, and baptized 13 times just to make sure… Tried out 28 different churches too while I was at it. These are just symptoms of a heart that won’t stay fixed on the one and only love that can fulfill it. Left to our own devices, we would hide from life forever until what little we had was taken from us. We may only need salvation from our sin once, but we need to be saved from ourselves every day.

What temptations is God keeping you from today?

What do you need to seek His help in?

Where do we begin?

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This is a question I cannot answer for everyone. I can however answer the question, “Where can we begin?”

Our culture adamantly, and sometimes almost violently cries out for positive affirmation and, at the same time, a lack of judgment… most of the time very hypocritically. I grew up in a family that was no stranger to the notion that churches were full of hypocrites, but to be honest, I have seen as many hypocrites in law firms, prisons, restaurants, and food pantries – among the rich and poor alike. Regardless of what our t-shirt slogans and bumper stickers say, I think the honest desire of our hearts is that our past mistakes would be “understood” and largely overlooked, while our present personal desires would be affirmed – regardless of what they are or who they benefit. We are, in many ways, the poster child for hedonistic society that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his book Mere Christianity.

Here’s what I love about God’s grace given to us in Jesus Christ:

  1. God judges us. When I’m drowning in my own sin and selfishness, with no direction and have become a hindrance or am hurting those around me… God lets me know. He judges me for the sin of prejudice in how I treat those different from myself and He judges me for the ways I put Him last instead of first – or make up my own way of serving Him instead of obeying what He has told me through Scripture and the trusted counsel of Christians holding me accountable. He has high expectations for my life and does not settle for less than the best person that He created me to be.
  2. God does not just encourage us… He empowers us. When our strength, wisdom, patience, knowledge, etc. ends, His Holy Spirit begins to pick up the slack and provide for us. His Spirit is like one of those portable phone battery chargers except it is unlimited in its power because it is like plugging in to God Himself. This might be how eternal life actually works. Even if we run ourselves down to nothing and our battery is completely dead, if we are plugged into God, we can still live like we are on 100%.

Because God both judges and empowers us, the answer to the question: Where can we start? is with a fresh start for ourselves. The world around us may choose to keep living in the same spirit as last year, but we don’t have to. God’s grace identifies the guilt and shame that hides in our lives, and as Jesus takes that upon Himself, we are set free to begin again from scratch with at least one single choice. Will you follow God this year or not? You may not immediatly have any other choice available to you, but because…God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.

So, wherever you are today, you can take your first step of 2017 toward God or away from Him. Which will you choose?

All Hallows Eve

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I found my last bed

in the place of the first

lesser my heartbeat

greater my thirst

only my pain can realize

        the silent fear

        that lingers here

among a dozen wetted eyes

and hearts doubled over

to see yellow skin

my last fleshly covering

a sad soul within

whose mate in tears resides beside

        my rock and love

        my precious dove

in whom I hope my fate abides

yet she refers me

toward other things

with halos of light

and feathery wings

but I cannot see the light from here

        with eyes gone grey

        fading away

and filled with cold and bitter tears

for fear and regret

all these chains that I’ve earned

in those toiling days

whose dreams I burned

with tunnel vision and selfish pride

        my fate I chose

        the thorny rose

whose beauty at last has bled me dry

leaving naught but a shell

that cannot receive

a blessing that’s blocked

by anger and grief

but I may have one final gift

        my heart to give

        to one who lives

long after this soul passes through the rift

may he love her with care

for better, for worse

and learn from my death

lest he fall to the curse

that still lingers here within the air

        with brutal eyes

        on new love lies

and fixes them with unmerciful stare

so my final act

will not be a cry

for mercy or peace

I simply will die

an example to a foolish world

        to which I belong

        a son of its song

        its promises lies

        when everyone dies

but lives like their lives cannot be unfurled

so breathe like it matters

live without regret

and love while you live

and never forget.