Holiness = Happiness
(April, 2003 POL)

Topic: Holiness
Text: selected Scripture

There’s a miracle happening in Rockford, Illinois.

Women and men who love Jesus are crossing color, class, culture, and denominational distinctions for worship at least once a month as Greater Rockford in Prayer and Praise (GRIPP).

Building upon a February 1995 vision entrusted to Dr. Bob Griffm, President of Rockford Renewal Ministries, that the appointed moment (kairos) has arrived for God’s people to shed human fetters of racial, religious, and socioeconomic separations and come together for worship, service, and evangelism, GRIPP is hosted by churches committed to the Biblical call to unity (e.g., 2 Chronicles 7:14; John 17:20-23):

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land…

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Actually, GRIPP has evolved from concerts of prayer which began in 1995 and culminated at the 25th City-Wide Concert of Prayer in Rockford’s Coronado Theatre on 4 October 2002.

That last concert at the Coronado will be remembered as a bold step into the future as Dr. Griffm announced, “People of other faiths might not appreciate this, but we have this idea of crowning Jesus as King over Rockford at the place of coronation — the Coronado.”

Predictably, a few non-Christians who think Christians will abandon their confession at the drop of a politically correct hat were offended by Dr. Griffin’s authentic Christianity. They even wrote letters to local newspapers to declare their outrage. Amid the heat generated by light, I told Bob, “It’s too bad we’ve reached that point in which assisting positive pluralism in the community means masking our individualities. Only when we have the integrity to say what we believe can we establish the kind of trust that will enable the pursuit of common goals.”

Surprisingly, “Christians” joined the assault. One said he was “disappointed, appalled, frustrated, and shocked.” Another chirped about “triumphalist Christian ideology.” Dr. Griffin exposed their lukewarm religion to outright apostasy in a simple assessment: “The Bible itself says that the Bible is offensive to those that don’t believe. I’m happy to take criticism for the truth which I embrace.”

The war of words through local newspapers and clergy conclaves proved my conclusion about unconverted clergy who don’t really believe in Jesus as attested by the New Testament yet are duplicitously hypocritical enough to pick up checks from churches that have traditionally, historically, confessionally, and constitutionally acknowledged the unique saving Lordship (Kingship) of Jesus Christ.

The irony of those criticizing this rapidly growing unity overcoming diversity through common and unmasked faith in Jesus is the critics and cynics represent religions, institutions, and organizations advocating but not demonstrating the joys of indiscriminate community so apparent at every gathering of GRIPP.

The growth of GRIPP in the face of rabid rebukes from very white socioeconomic and ecclesiastical elites testifies to the accelerating decline of mainline religion in America. While the familiar mainline denominations are old homogeneous wineskins cracking at the seams and losing members quicker than Michael Jackson’s Fan Club, GRIPP is Rockford’s expression of a spiritual movement sweeping people up into unity disrespecting previous exclusions.

Rockford’s Christian community gathering with increasing regularity as GRIPP has not paid much attention to the naysayers; regarding them as irrelevant to the advancement of the Jesus Christ’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Or as Edward Sharp wrote in a letter to the editor of the Rockford Register Star on 2 December 2002,

Again, I say this issue that has been voiced by Bob Griffin is a nonissue. Jesus the Christ is already the Lord of Rockford, the United States, and the world! There are those that do not recognize the truth but will some day.

I’ve been saying for almost two decades that the lampstand or efficacious place in the Kingdom is being transferred to those who are seizing the appointed moment (kairos) and moving with God as profiled in Jesus and prescribed in the Bible (see Revelation 2:1-7). While sociologists of religion and membership statistics have substantiated my suspicion for several years, GRIPP has provided the clearest and most conclusive apocalypse of this transfer for me. I see a joy, wholeness, happiness, evangelistic fervor, sacrificial attitude of service, existential unity, and eternal security unknown to contemporary mainline denominations which are breaking down all of the old ecclesiastical, color, class, and culture boundaries.

The good news of Rockford’s miracle is spreading across America; but you won’t hear much about it from local mainliners who aren’t involved or media who are more interested in heralding the irenic potential of Islam.

It doesn’t really matter.

An old camp song comes to mind:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread His love to everyone;
You want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding;
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming.
That’s how it is with God’s love;
Once you’ve experienced it, You want to sing
“It’s fresh like spring”:
You want to pass it on.

I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found.
You can depend on Him,
It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top,
I want the world to know;
The Lord of love has come to me,
I want to pass it on.

The good news is being written all over the faces and actions of the faithful.
GRIPP is a powerful witness to this truth: “Holiness = Happiness (i.e., the holier we are, the happier we are!).”

Holiness is a state of heart, mind, and soul. Holiness or sanctification or consecration is a process beginning at conversion to Christ and continuing until we meet Him face to face after the last breath; praying and laboring to be different from the world as increasingly transformed by the Word in Jesus and the Bible.

Embracing and emulating holiness does not provide an escape from the world, but it does provoke a passionate determination to be in but not of the world:

  • Necessity prevails over materialism.
  • Food provides physical fuel and personal pleasure but does not feed gluttony.
  • Sleep restores the body but is not an excuse for laziness.
  • Sex is celebrated in but not apart from marriage.
  • Money is a tool to serve God not selfishness.
  • Position, prestige, and power are instruments for advancing the Kingdom rather than personal desire.
  • Work and play balance but don’t dominate each other.

Holiness is separating ourselves from the ways of the world by devotion to God’s will as exemplified in Jesus and explained in the Bible.

Particularly, holiness is nurtured through spiritual disciplines: worship, prayer, Bible study, fasting, sacrament, silence, stewardship, and fellowship with believers.

The payoff of holiness is happiness. Or as Jesus promised in detailing some of the character traits of believers (Matthew 5:1-12),

Happy are the poor in spirit, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Happy are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds ofevil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Proverbs 3:5-10 sums up the attitude of holiness (dedication to God) which leads to holy acts (deeds for God):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty . . .

I think of holiness as choosing to be on God’s side. Holiness is leaving the world’s side on issues of faith and morality and allying with Jesus and the Bible in all things at all times with all people. Holiness is saying with Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve, . . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (see Joshua 24).

A story which made the rounds through cyberspace just prior to America’s bold step to exorcise a host of terrorism (viz., Iraq and its diabolical leader Saddam Hussein) comes to mind:

Once upon a time in a nice little forest, there lived an orphaned bunny and an orphaned snake. Coincidentally, both were blind from birth.

As the bunny was hopping through the forest one day and the snake was slithering around, the bunny tripped over the snake and fell down.

“I’m sorry,” said the bunny to the snake, “but I’ve been blind since birth. I can’t see where I’m going. More than that, since I’m an orphan, I don’t even know what I am.”

“It’s O.K.,” replied the snake, “because I’m blind and orphaned too; and I don’t know what I am either.”

The snake paused and then said, “I’ve got an idea. I’ll slither all over you and figure out what you are!”

So the snake slithered over the bunny and then said, “Well, you’re covered with soft fur, you have long ears, your nose twitches, and you have a soft cottony tail. So I’d say you’re a bunny rabbit.”

“Thank you,” said the bunny, “and now let me paw all over you and figure out what you are!”

So the bunny pawed over the snake and then said, “Well, you’re very smooth and slick, you have a forked tongue, no backbone, and no strength. I’d say you must be French.”

It takes spine to be holy!

Holiness is the devoted determination to be God’s without reference to the cost. It’s like the pastor who had just been called to a church. He was asked, “How do you expect to please so many people?” He answered, “I did not come here to please so many people. I came here to please One!”

Martin Niemoller comes to mind. He was a German Lutheran pastor who helped organize the Confessing Church of Germany which opposed Adolf Hitler. He was arrested by the Gestapo on 1 July 1937 and imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and then Dachau. Reflecting on what happens when holiness is compromised by worldliness, he said,

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

How vital it is for us to keep in mind our distinctive love ethic (agape). Just as God loves the world (see John 3:16-17), we are called to love it too; praying and laboring for the existential and eternal best for all of the below by command of all of the above.

In my many visits to Dachau as a student in the early 70s and then later as a tourist and tour guide, I often thought of Pastor Niemoller’s witness.

Regardless of the weather, I have always been chilled at Dachau. It remains one of the most grotesque examples of inhumanity and unholiness. 160,000 slave laborers were confined in that one concentration camp under subhuman conditions before liberation. Aside from the Satanically inspired facilities for mass murder and cremation with meat hooks used to warehouse the bodies of our Lord’s children, Dachau was the site of brutally unspeakable medical experiments — that’s a euphemism for Nazi butchering — on over 3,500 prisoners. God only knows how many of God’s children were slaughtered by those German demons at Dachau.

Despite knowing more than 6 million people (mostly Jews) perished in those houses of hell and not forgetting that millions more were exterminated outside of the camps, the horror is still unimaginable to people in countries like America which have been insulated from such barbarity by relatively civilized borders.

That’s why I scolded a retired pastor who served under Hitler after he came to see me and complained about theologians like me who continue to refer to Germany’s national sins surrounding World War II, “I pray to God that we’ll never stop because God forbid that it should happen again.”

When we don’t learn from history’s pejoratives, it repeats itself. God knows we haven’t learned from history. Having witnessed the reincarnations of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Austria, France, and Germany myself beginning in the early 70s and continuing into the 21st century, I was not surprised by their exposed complicity in the evils of Iraq under Hussein along with their damning silence about Islam’s hate homiletics.

That’s why I carry two stones from Dachau in my pocket. I picked them up during my last visit in 2000. One is white to remind me of the purity of holiness which honors God by helping all of God’s children.

One is red to remind me of the floods of blood that have been spilled because of unholy alliances. I carry them as my burden; praying God’s help.

A few anonymous lines crossed my desk recently:

I had a drug problem when I was a young person.

I was drug to school on Sunday morning. I was drug to church on Sunday night. I was drug to church on Wednesday night. I was drug to Sunday School. I was drug to Vacation Bible School. I was drug to Confirmation Class. I was drug to youth group. I was drug to pray with my family.

I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, or did not speak with respect.

Those drugs are still in my veins; and they affect my behavior in nearly everything I think, say, and do. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, and heroin.

If more children had this drug problem, America would be a better place.

I don’t know anybody who gets into trouble by being holy. I don’t know anybody who gets into trouble in worship, prayer, Bible study, fasting, sacrament, silence, stewardship, and fellowship with authentic Christians.

Holiness is being so increasingly filled with Jesus that there’s less and less and less space for the kind of stuff that breeds bad behavior. It’s like the fellow who approached a mystical hot dog vendor and said, “I’ll take one of everything.” After giving a twenty dollar bill to the vendor, he asked, “Where’s my change?” And the mystic answered, “All change must come from within.”

You may have heard of the man in search of a Christian pet. Finally, he bought a parrot because the pet store owner said the bird had never uttered a foul word. But after forgetting to feed the parrot before going to work one day, it cursed a blue streak when the man returned. So the man put the bird in the freezer for a minute and then said, “If you ever swear like that again, I’m going to put you back in the freezer for five minutes.” “O.K., O.K.,” the shivering parrot said, “but I have one question. What did that turkey in there say?”

I’m reminded of the woman who said she felt like saying “Amen” and “Praise the Lord” during worship every now and then; but she was concerned about what people would think of her. I said, “That’s your problem.”

We can never be holy and we can never be happy as long as we’re more concerned about what people think of us than what honors God.

Again, it’s all about choosing sides. Holiness is all about placing God first in our lives. Happiness is the payoff.

Augustine put it this way: “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised . . . You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (The Confessions, 397-400).

If we’re searching for happiness in this life, we don’t really need to stock up on all of those self-help books. We can save a lot of money by following the simple formula: If you want to be happy, get holy!

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