Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Un-Borable Holiness of God

th-52Boredom. We pay $100 a month for 180 satellite channels so we can avoid it. We pack 1,000 items for a two-hour road trip for our kids so they can avoid it. And we have 500 apps on our smart phones so that at no time in our lives will we (or the kids!) have to succumb to it. Except on Sundays. Or maybe not. Not if we can jam pack our services with enough stuff! Then we won't ever have to be bored! Church websites are full of messages like 'we have relevant worship here!' or 'relevant sermons!'
I want us to consider two passages of Scripture:

And one [of the Seraphim] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” - Isaiah 6:3-5

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” - Revelation 4:8-11
Two responses we see in these passages to the holiness of God:
1. Woe is me (Isaiah 6:5)
2. Worthy are You (Revelation 4:11)
You know what you don't see? Meh.

Apathy is actually a big problem in churches today and one in which many people have sought to address. I think there have even been a lot of well-intentioned folks seeking to 'fix' this issue. The problem, though, is that we've replaced boring church with more borable things. Lattes, cowboy hats, guitar riffs, and fog machines simply cannot demand our eternal gaze. Bang the drums louder, play the violins sweeter, set the ambiance to 'spiritual', dress more relevant, speak more hipster...But, what's flashy to the culture today, winds up in the landfill tomorrow. (Even worse, churches that try to be flashy always seems to be two steps behind cultural flashiness anyway). Churches so long to be relevant but many have forgotten (or never known?) the Triune infinitely Holy One is the epitome of relevancy. 

If only we could do this thing or have that thing we could really attract people! Well, of course. Any person who can juggle flaming chainsaws in the midst of a pool of man-eating sharks all the while being blindfolded and singing his ABCs backward can draw a crowd. But even that won't fix boring (and that's something pretty impressive compared to some of the stunts churches are pulling).

Inside every human heart is a longing for what I'll call 'ultimate contentment'. To be satisfied. We've reasoned that our bible belt culture is no longer satisfied with the way we *do church* and so we've sought to give them something to fill that void. Yet, we only have one thing to offer them to fill that void: Christ. "Yeah, yeah, we know that. But you've still got to have this other stuff, you've still got to be up on the cutting edge, you've still got to [fill in the blank] or you'll never reach/keep people..."


Calvin wrote in his commentary on Isaiah: “The holiness of God supplies us with inexhaustible reasons for singing the praises of God.”


What is happening in our churches today? The resplendent holiness of God that shines out to us throughout the pages of Scripture is not enough to satisfy churches. We've created an atmosphere of entertainment in the church today because we have found God boring. But, it's not God who is boring. It's us.

I'm certainly not 'anti-technology' but we piddle around with special effects as though that is going to set hearts ablaze. If we can just play the right movie clip or chord people will be captivated! Actually, no. Well, ok, actually, sure they may be momentarily captivated, but not really captivated. Not like 'ultimate contentment' captivated. Not really and fully and eternally satisfied. It's like substituting Skittles and M&Ms for meat and vegetables. Of course, I'm not saying the answer is 'back to the Heavenly Highway Hymns' either. I've seen more than a few of those hymns bring a tear to a senior saint's eye, but an emotional connection to a song or music style can only take us so far, and frankly if it's not rooted in adoration of God it's taking us in the wrong direction anyway (without going into a whole new blog post let me just say that it is a big problem if a 'traditional' church is captivated by the mantra of 'the way we've always done things around here' instead of the transcendent holiness of God!).

Either side of the road so to speak has missed the issue. We are bored. And we are not bored because God is boring. We are bored because we've either suppressed the truth of the knowledge of God's Holy splendor, or we've never encountered it.

Woe is me! Or Worthy are You! But no meh.

Boring is not an option. No one gazes upon God's transcendent holiness and leaves with 'meh.' Whoever does, hasn't truly seen it. God is who our hearts were made for. As Augustine has oft been quoted: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in You."

We have created an environment in which people feel they cannot worship unless the outward circumstances are customized. "I just can't sing those old songs, they are boring and outdated." "I just can't sing this new stuff, it doesn't feel like worship." We live as though emotive stimulation is more important than truth. More flanger pedal and less A Might Fortress is Our God if you please. The family van pulls up to the drive-through window: "Hi, yes, I'd like to order a 25-minute practical sermon, also something great for the kids, uplifting music (in which we get to define what is uplifting of course), and also we'd like to have multiple services so we can find a time most convenient for us to not attend when we want. Thanks!" And the church's response, by and large, has been scrambling over the top of ourselves so we can accommodate these demands. Rather than saying we have an 'apathy' problem in our churches today, it might actually be better to say we have an 'awe' problem. We are enamored with the shiny fools gold all the while the creatures around God's Holy throne day and night never cease to say:

Holy, Holy, Holy

The need of every human being is to be reconciled to their Holy and good Creator whom they have sinned against, turned away from, and despised. This reconciliation is only possible through the finished work of Jesus as it is applied to the sinner by the Holy Spirit through means of the proclamation of the gospel. But this gospel isn't just 'believe these facts and then you're saved and we'll feed you stuff that's really entertaining!' This gospel is everything.

As we proclaim the bigness and glories of the holiness of God the response of people should always be either 'woe is me' or 'worthy are You.' Woe is me in the sense of seeing the full ramifications of our sin against God and our need to be cleansed by the sacrificial work of Christ. Coming to Christ in faith and resting in His work alone for salvation. Worthy are You in the sense of seeing the full ramifications of what Christ's finished work has done for us! We who were guilty, vile, and helpless have by grace through faith been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He bore the wrath of God so that justice could be satisfied. And by faith, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Ok, so if our people are bored what's the answer?

Preach the Bible.

I'm not trying to oversimplify the issue, but I do really mean what I say: preach the Bible. The resplendent holiness of God that shines out to us throughout the pages of Scripture is enough to satisfy churches. No, it might not satisfy people who refuse to behold their God, but keep after it. What business do we have entertaining people straight to Hell because at first taste of the holiness of God they balk? Keep after it, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the Truth (2 Tim. 2:25). Behold your God! Behold Him in the face of Jesus Christ and His merit, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. Hold forth the Holy God of the Bible before the people and you can be sure you won't just siphon people off from other churches because they want to see the latest and greatest firework you have to offer.

I wonder, for my own life, and those in the Bible Belt, what God would do with pastors and churches who had a heart that truly hungered for Him?

Who saw their own unclean lives but rested in the finished work of Jesus. Who cast down their golden crowns, all that they thought was shiny, meaningful, and valuable, and saw the Lord as high and lifted up in their hearts. As the supremely holy One. Who didn't just give lip service to the Bible but actually sought to believe all of it. To have it not just as a pretty addendum to all the other things the church had to offer, but the authoritatively sufficient source of all that church did and had to offer. Who dug deep into Scripture because that's where they saw God, they tasted Him and they want more.

The transcendent holiness of God is many things.  We will spend an eternity reveling in it. But one thing it is not and never can be by its very nature: boring. You were made to be captivated. This is why certain songs, movies, stories, shows, talents, etc. amaze us. They are little arrows pointing to what we were really made for: God. And only the Triune Holy God of the Bible can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So much more could be said. But let me close with one final exhortation: Open your Bible today and feast your eyes upon the Un-Borable Holiness of God.

UPDATE: A follow-up post on God's Untameable Holiness

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