Between a Rock and a Grace Place by Carol Kent

September 30, 2010 at 6:18 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment

In her new book “Between a Rock and a Grace Place” bestselling author Carol Kent pens a riveting journey of facing the impassible obstacles of life and discovering the last thing ever expected—the sweet spot of grace.

Carol Kent and her husband, Gene, are now living what some would call a heartbreaking life—their son, Jason, a young man who initially had so much promise, is now living out a life sentence for murder in a maximum security prison. All their appeals have been exhausted at both the state and federal levels—humanly speaking, they have run out of options. But despite their hopeless situation, Carol and her husband live a life full of grace. Kent reveals how life’s problems become fruitful affliction where we discover the very best divine surprises, including peace, compassion, freedom, and adventure. Through the Kent’s remarkable ongoing journey, Jason’s riveting letters from behind bars, and true “grace place” stories from the lives of others, Between a Rock and a

Grace Place reveals that when seemingly insurmountable challenges crash into our lives, we can be transformed as we discover God at work in ways we never imagined. With vulnerable openness, irrepressible hope, restored joy, and a sense of humor, Carol Kent helps readers to find God’s “grace places” in the middle of their worst moments.

About the Author

Carol Kent is the bestselling author of When I Lay My Isaac Down and A New Kind of Normal. Carol is an expert on public speaking, writing, and on encouraging people to hold on to hope when life’s circumstances turn out differently from their dreams. She lives in Florida with her husband Gene.

Carol Kent is a popular international public speaker best known for being dynamic, humorous, encouraging, and biblical. She is a former radio show co-host and has often been a guest on Focus on the Family and a featured speaker at Time Out for Women and Heritage Keepers arena events. She has spoken at The Praise Gathering for Believers and at Vision New England’s Congress. She is also a frequent speaker at Women of Virtue events across the country.

Questions/Answers from Carol Kent

Tell us about the Christmas gift you received. How did it help you to find grace in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation?

Two weeks before Christmas our doorbell rang at 9:15 p.m. It was dark outside and by the time my husband, Gene, joined me at the front door, we were surprised to find no one there. It was already dark, but my eyes fell on a large, exquisitely wrapped gift. The card on top said, “Mom.” Initially, it felt like a bad joke. Nine years earlier our son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy had been arrested for murdering his wife’s first husband and he was in prison serving a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence.

However, I am a “Mom” and the package was left on my doorstep, so I opened it. The note appeared to be in my son’s unique handwriting. The note expressed his deep love for me and his gratefulness for what I had done to help him since his arrest. He said a “friend” had helped him deliver the surprise. Opening the box, I discovered a gorgeous russet-colored silk jacket—and it fit me perfectly.

That night I discovered something new about God and something I had forgotten about myself. He loves to interject divine surprises into our lives. His timing is always perfect, but it had been a while since I had been surprised by joy, wonder, and grace in the middle of one of the tight spots of life.

What are “grace places,” and how can hurting people in need find them?

All of us experience tight spots when life turns out differently from our dream. When we face the overwhelming obstacles of life, we can experience the last thing we ever expect—the sweet spot of grace. Grace places have a variety of forms, but some include:

  • Receiving love when we don’t deserve it
  • Finding safety in the middle of a fearful and uncertain experience
  • Being comforted by friends and family (people who are extensions of God’s love)
  • Experiencing the embrace of God when we have run out of strength and courage

“Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it.” (R.P.C. Hanson)

How important are contentment and gratitude in finding grace and peace?

My son, Jason, is teaching me that I need to choose contentment and thanksgiving in all things. As an inmate in a maximum-security prison, all of his personal items must fit in one small one-foot-high and one-and a half-feet-deep and two-and-a half feet long steel lockbox. He has learned to live comfortably with very little, which brings him a surprising sense of peace.

When I was visiting him one weekend I asked how he holds on to hope in the middle of a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence. He said, “Mom, I have a gratitude list. Whenever the clouds of depression try to discouragement, I get out a piece of paper and write down everything I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful I have two parents who will be my advocates for as long as they live. The average number of years a lifer gets visits is five years and then no one comes anymore. I’m also thankful I can be a missionary on a compound that houses up to 1,700 men.” I’m learning from Jason that I find contentment when I choose to be thankful and when I invest my time in helping other people.

What are some unexpected gestures of kindness you’ve received in the past, and how did they help you through difficult times?

A couple of years ago Jason’s appendix ruptured and he was rushed from the prison to a civilian hospital. Gene and I were not allowed to know where he was and I prayed for someone to care for him as a mother would. He had two armed guards in his room at all times. Nurse Betty was assigned to Jason’s care. She treated him with respect and extraordinary care—and I knew she was a direct answer to my prayers.

A group of people who called themselves our “Stretcher Bearers” received an e-mailed monthly update on how to help with our needs. We were blessed with meals, cards, and financial gifts, often just before we needed extra funds for the next legal payment. These amazing people waited with us for two and a half years through seven postponements of the trial.

How has your definition of adventure changed over the years, and why is it important to retain adventure in your life, despite your situation?

True adventure is seeing the potential of living for things that matter in the middle of your current circumstances. We had the adventure of launching a nonprofit organization that helps to empower our son to facilitate classes by having books and DVD teaching series sent to the prison. We also have the adventure of reaching out to other people who are in crisis, which brings purpose and deep meaning to our lives.

There is a theme of surprise throughout the book. What is one of the greatest surprises you’ve had?

The powerful story of Tammy Wilson and Matthew Ben Rodriguez is in this book. Tammy contacted me after I spoke at an event she attended because my son is incarcerated in the same prison where Matt, the man who killed her mother thirteen years ago is incarcerated. She had been praying for someone to lead Matt to Christ and asked if Jason would try to meet him. It turned out that Jason and Matt were already friends and this amazing story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration that can only be explained in the supernatural dimension.

Between a Rock and a Grace Place releases 10 years after your son, Jason, was sentenced to life in a maximum security prison and includes excerpts from Jason’s letters. Can you tell us how he’s doing now?

He has just taken his 8th group of men through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Course and he will be facilitating a biblical counseling class on marriage and family this fall. He has a prayer group of twelve inmates who fast and pray for the needs of each other and their families. Prison is a depressing, dark, and sad place, but Jason is living for things that will outlast him.

When you received news about Jason’s clemency hearing being denied, how did you respond?

I wailed like a baby, sobbed, felt angry, hurt, and disappointed in God. Then we saw Jason a day after this devastating news. He was calm and very much at peace. He hugged me as I wept and said, “Mom, this case isn’t about having the best attorney or about having the favor of Florida’s top executive political leaders. If I am ever allowed to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it will be because God miraculously opened a door that was closed.” My son helps me to develop an eternal perspective and that day he comforted me.

What advice do you have for those who are stuck between a rock and a grace place?

In the middle of your own hurt reach out to someone else who needs help worse than you do. When you involve yourself in meeting the needs of others, you discover an unexpected freedom on the inside. Corrie ten Boom once said, “What did you do today that only a Christian would have done?”

As a result of your journey, you and your husband have founded the nonprofit organization Speak Up for Hope. What are the goals of the organization, and how can people get involved?

Our vision: To help inmates and their families adjust to their new normal.

Our mission: We exist to provide hope to inmates and their families through encouragement and resources.

Please go to http://www.speakupforhope.org for a list of practical ways individuals, churches, and organizations can help with specific projects. Our goal is to live out the truth of Prov. 31:8-9: “Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice. Stand up for the poor and destitute!”

Where may we connect with you further or to purchase a copy of Between a Rock and a Grace Place?

I would love for you to visit my web site at www.CarolKent.org, browse through the various events and other resources available. You may also join me on my Facebook page, please click here.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me as a blog tour host by Zondervan in exchange for posting this interview on my blog. Please visit Christian Speaker Services at www.ChristianSpeakerServices.com for more information about blog tour management services.

If you would like to have an opportunities for a FREE copy, please refer to the following links below to enter random drawings conducted by Christian Speaker Services. Christian Speaker Services  will be giving away books at:

CSS Blog (please see blog posts for details)

CSS Virtual Blog Tour on Facebook (please see EVENTS pages for details)

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The Pursuit of the Holy: A Divine Invitation by Simon Ponsonby

September 29, 2010 at 6:05 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Simon Ponsonby

and the book:

The Pursuit of the Holy: A Divine Invitation

David C. Cook (September 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Simon Ponsonby is Pastor of Theology at St. Aldates Church in Oxford. He received his BA in Theology and M Litt from Trinity College Bristol and was ordained in the Church of England. He previously served as Evangelical Pastorate Chaplain at Oxford University and has recently become the Dean of Studies for a new initiative, “European Church Planting Centre,” being established in Oxford. The author of four books and an active evangelist and preacher, Ponsonby is married to Tiffany and they have two sons.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403669
ISBN-13: 978-0781403665

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The Longing to Be Holy

May the God of peace make you holy all the wayf through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23)1

We are about to take a journey. This will be no abstract theological study, nor a simple push for personal pietism, for that would be to set our sights too low. No, my longing is to see the church transformed, so that we might transform society. I have written this book to offer pointers to the way and the what of that transformation.

In the late nineteenth century, there was a groundswell of longing for a deeper and more effective Christian life in the churches. In 1874, the Oxford Conference was organized by Canon Christopher, the famous rector of St Aldates, around the theme of “The Promotion of Scriptural Holiness,” with an emphasis on the Spirit-filled life. One thousand five hundred Christian leaders and theologians attended. The following year, another conference, the Keswick Convention, was held to teach further on the themes of the Spirit-filled life and sanctification. This became the great boiler house for evangelicalism in the twentieth century—influencing the Welsh Revival and Pentecostal beginnings in America as well as revivals in East Africa. Sparks that were fanned into a blaze began with a commitment to holiness. J. C. Ryle was caught up in this movement and produced his famous book Holiness in 1877.

Now, as we look to the future, we will also need to look into the past. Just as Isaac re-dug the wells of Abraham, which the Philistines had blocked up (Gen. 26:18), so we must explore wells of holiness that have been dug and then filled throughout the church’s history. Here in the twenty-first century, it is time to open up those deep, old wells of holiness.

THE DARKNESS IS DEEPENING

“The darkness is deepening.” So said Gandalf in Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. And so it is for us. Faced with an unconvincing church, society is looking to alternatives.

Secularism has sold us a society without God, where material things are worshipped. We are also seeing the advance of fundamentalist atheism bent on the exorcism of theism. How can this be? Because the church has often lived as if God were dead. Yet concurrent with this, we are witnessing the rapid rise of a radical Islam that appeals to many who long for religious certainties and conviction, especially after finding in the church little more than a divided house or pious platitudes.

After years of greed on greed, the money markets have destabilized and banks themselves are bankrupt, while fat-cat bankers have retired early and buried their heads in their fat pay pensions. We have experienced an acute loss of confidence in the democratic political office, where spin has replaced conviction and pragmatism has eviscerated idealism. And we are seeing a moral meltdown, with prisons at breaking point, crime uncontrollable, families fatherless, morality a myth, and many of our streets filled with terror at feral gangs ready to knife to death innocents who do no more than look at them the wrong way.

And yet, while sinners are certainly responsible for their own sin, I don’t entirely blame the world. They merely do what is in line with their natures: They sin. You cannot be surprised when sinners act sinfully—they have no power to purify themselves. Can a godless society be expected to be godly without seeing what godliness is? While the church may speak prophetically to the world about justice and righteousness, I don’t think we can entirely blame the world for its unrighteousness. The church has all too often blended in with the world rather than revealed Christ and his ways to the world. We have failed to be that shining light, that salting influence. And so, as we fail to conform to Christ and the gospel we profess, the church has at times hindered, rather than helped, the world come to Christ. In fact, in some areas, the world appears to be ahead of the church, provoking her to action, especially in issues relating to social justice and the poor.

A HOLY PEOPLE CAN BE EXPECTED TO BE HOLY

So if the world is in a mess, the church must shoulder some blame. Darkness cannot dispel itself. The demonic won’t exorcise itself—Jesus said Satan cannot cast out Satan (Matt. 12:26). The darkness flees when a light is lit. But the church has often hidden the light by failing to preach the gospel, or through pietistically pursuing holiness by withdrawing from society. Sometimes it has even failed to have a light to lift, by not truly believing the gospel. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten our vocation—to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said it is part of the church’s role, through conforming to him and conveying him to the world, to be a sanctifying, salting influence in society (Matt. 5:13–16).

No one will listen to our gospel if we aren’t living it. We cannot influence or infect society with something that has not yet infected us. A saltless salt cannot savor and flavor. The church cannot light a fire if she is not on fire. And so, faced with a society in crisis, in wickedness, it is time for judgment, repentance, holiness to begin in the family of God (1 Peter 4:17). We need a reformation, a revival—and holiness will be at the heart of it. The church must again find and follow Jesus—not as a doctrine to be believed but as a Lord to be served and a life to be lived. Only then can we speak with integrity and expect to be heard.

A holy church can influence an unholy world. Where Christ is seen, he is attractive, wooing and winning people to himself. I am not saying that everyone would turn to Christ if the church attained a great level of holiness, for the demonic and self-willed will always resist God. In fact, a holy church is more likely to be a persecuted church. But as the church lives for God, she will undoubtedly attract others to him. That is why C. S. Lewis can say,

How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible.2

And as Paul says, “Through us [God] spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Cor. 2:14).

HATING THE PSEUDO

Many years ago, when I arrived in the city of Oxford as a chaplain, I asked a graduate how I should best conduct myself. He replied, “Oxford hates the pseudo,” implying that the university can spot a fake quickly. Well, my experience has since challenged that graduate’s belief … but one thing is for sure: The church cannot afford to be pseudo. There must be no pretense at piety, because people can quite quickly distinguish the authentic from the imitation. They know a holy Christian when they see one, and they know a hollow one too. Old Testament theologian John Oswalt offers this stinging observation:

The world looks on hateful, self-serving, undisciplined, greedy, impure people who nevertheless claim to be the people of God and says, “You lie.”3

It is not as if we are addressing a marginal issue here—it is central. In the latest celebrated “revival” in the West, a feted evangelist suddenly walked off the stage and walked out on his wife. Claims of numerous extraordinary miracles could not be substantiated—not even one. I attended churches and watched ministers manipulate money out of church members for the promise of miracles. Pretense, fabrication, and nonsense were rife. Nothing new here, of course, but I groaned along with many others in the church: Where was the bride of Christ, making herself ready for Christ (Rev. 21:2)?

IS THAT SOMETHING IN YOUR EYE?

Recently I had my porch rebuilt and repainted. It was about a decade overdue, so I apologized to the painters and carpenters for the state it was in—including the mature cobwebs large enough to function as a windbreak. One of the builders replied, “No worries—I clean other people’s gutters, but you should see the mess in my own house.”

He is not the only one to neglect his own house, of course. The prophet Isaiah found himself in a similar position, metaphorically. Isaiah spoke more about holiness than any other prophet. It was part of his ministry to call the nations to holiness. Assuming the chapters of his book are in chronological order, it would appear that, although he was already established in his ministry of exposing wickedness and preaching warning and rebuke to God’s people (chapters 1—5), he subsequently had a vision of God in the temple (chapter 6) that left him completely undone. In his vision, he saw angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” As he stood before God, he knew it was not the nation of Judah that he must first target—but himself, Isaiah the prophet: “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” (Isa. 6:5 ESV). The prophet had preached the nations’ guilt only to see his own.

When we see God, we see the superlative of holy. When we see the Holy One, we see ourselves as we are—sinful. We ought not preach against the sinfulness of society if we aren’t also preaching against the sinfulness of the church. And lest we be hypocrites, we ought not to do that before we have applied the message to the sinfulness of our own hearts (Matt. 7:1–5).

And so in this book, I want to broadcast an encouragement to gain a vision of God in his holiness and to see ourselves truly as we are. But of course we won’t stop there. We must go on to know, as Isaiah knew, a deep cleansing from God’s fire and a commissioning for his service. I do not believe that Isaiah had been a hypocrite— he had said what he saw in the world and what he heard from God; but lest he fall, thinking he stood tall, God also showed him himself. Now his message could be tempered by self-awareness, a much-needed humility in the face of burning-coal grace for the sinner.

I have often found that the most difficult aspect of being a minister is feeling a hypocrite. Many of us are ordained and given the title Reverend—we are to be “revered” as those set apart by God to minister on his behalf, to teach and lead people to him, and in prayer to represent him to the people and the people before him. What a privilege! What a burden! The fact is that we fail consistently to live up to the standard that we preach, teach, and exhort in others. Like Paul, sometimes “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15 ESV). This made Paul feel wretched, and I know that feeling—although sometimes, I confess, I resign myself to the presence of sin and weakness rather than feeling wretched or wrestling against it.

COMING TO TERMS WITH HOLINESS

It is instructive to think for a moment about the various terms in the English language surrounding holiness. Our word holy derives from

the Old English halig, which itself came from the German heilig, referring to “health, happiness, wholeness.”4 The English language also employs words from the Latin sanctus (holy) in words like saint, saintly, and sanctification.

In the Old Testament, words based on qds, the Hebrew word for holy, appear over 850 times.5 Holiness, then, is one of the most central concepts in biblical theology. The semantic origins of holiness relate to the word cut and have to do with distinction—standing out or being apart. It is preeminently the nature of God’s own being and is then a derived characteristic of people and things as they exist in right relation to God. In the Old Testament, the word is applied to priests and their clothing, Israelites, Nazirites, Levites, firstborn human beings, prophets, offerings, the sanctuary and its furniture, inherited land and property, dedicated money and precious objects, the avoidance of certain mixtures (there were to be no garments made of both linen and wool, no crossbreeding of animals, no plowing with both an ox and an ass), the law, oil for anointing, incense in the sanctuary, water flowing from the temple or in a laver, places where God revealed himself, the land of Israel, Jerusalem, heaven, the Sabbath and feasts, Jubilee, covenant, and even, on occasion, war.

In the New Testament, hagios, which is Greek for “holy” or “saint,” occurs over 150 times together with its associated words. Hagios means to be separate, dedicated, or consecrated to God. Originally, it was a religious concept of “the quality possessed by things and persons that could approach a divinity,” that which was reserved for God and his service. It contained the sense of “perfect, pure and worthy of God.”6 The New Testament follows the Old in applying the word first to God and secondly to things and people. The first sense is located in terms of God, his Spirit and his Son, Jesus, the Holy One of God; the second describes the people of God, the “saints” who are “holy ones.”

God is holy. Holiness is his nature and character. It is not an attribute; it is who he is. He is the one who exists in holiness—perfection, beauty, purity, otherness. People and things are said to be holy by their relation to God, as they are offered by him or to him or before him. Days of rest, days of feasting, prophets and priests, gifts to God or from him, covenants and scriptures, angels and servants, temples and land, covenants and commandments, hands lifted in worship, lips offered in kisses to the brethren, the marriage bed, and mountains of revelation—all these can be holy by association with him. Holiness is infused into things or people that come close to God or exist for him.

One useful way to approach the meaning of holiness is to see how other words are placed in relation to it, often interpreting or applying it. In Scripture, the idea of holiness is found alongside cleanliness (Isa. 35:8); purity (1 Thess. 4:7); blamelessness (1 Thess. 3:13); glory (Ezek. 28:22); righteousness (Eph. 4:24); godliness (2 Peter 3:11); honor (1 Thess. 4:4); goodness (Ps. 65:4); truthfulness (Ps. 89:35); trustworthiness (Ps. 93:5); and awe (Ps. 111:9).7 All of these help us understand what holy is and looks like. Holiness is a way of behaving that is determined by the being of God. David Peterson calls it a life “possessed by God”—a life that becomes like the God who possesses holiness.8

WHAT DO OTHERS MAKE OF THE HOLY?

The famous anthropologist Émile Durkheim made the startling claim that you didn’t need to have a notion of “god” to have a notion of holiness. He suggested holiness was more about social cohesion than religious devotion. From his observations of pagan tribes, he maintained that religion was not about a deity but the distinction between the “profane” and the “sacred”—a distinction expressed in a system of beliefs and practices that make certain objects and acts sacred, while others become mundane or profane. In a similar vein, Nobel Prize-winning Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom asserted that “holiness is the great word in religion—it is even more essential than the notion of God,” and like Durkheim, he believed religion was all about this distinction between the sacred and the profane.9

What might this non-divine notion of holiness look like? Think about a game of soccer. There is no mention of a God, but it clearly exhibits all the signs of liturgy and sacrament for those who attend a holy event. The people gather together at their cathedral (the stadium) and, wearing their Sunday best (team colors, scarves and shirts), already feel involved in something bigger than the sum of its parts. They sit together and sing their worship (soccer chants). Then comes the moment of awe as the religious drama begins: The priests (players) gather on the Holy of Holies (field), and the liturgy of sacrifice begins at the referee’s whistle. The offering (ball) is maneuvered to the altar (net) with the anticipation of a sacrifice (goal), at which the religious ecstasy of the crowd explodes in cheers. And the opposing team and their fans would presumably be the “profane.” Clearly, for many who attend, the match follows a very religious structure between sacred and profane, and for those involved, it has the sense of being “a holy time” without any sense of the divine!

What are believers to make of this? Rather than agree that a soccer game is a sense of the holy without a need for the divine, I would suggest we are looking here at a search for the divine and the holy that has gone astray and been misplaced in the secular. While a view of a soccer game as a spiritual event may be a helpful insight into how societies structure themselves in what may be seen as religious acts, this view really doesn’t get to the heart of biblical holiness. Holiness is more likely to generate unease or even fear in people, as Rudolf Otto famously explored in his 1923 book, The Idea of the Holy.

HOLIER THAN THOU

It isn’t only the notion of the holy that makes people uneasy. Holy people do too. Holy living is countercultural. When we go beyond private piety, we adopt an alternative lifestyle that becomes a public, political, and prophetic challenge. Nevertheless, some will always rise to the challenge and be attracted to authentic holiness.

So why do we not see more people attracted to the holy? Surely many reject the notion of holiness because they can’t see any evidence of it in those who talk most about it—the church! In his major study on holiness, Stephen Barton says that

the language and practices of holiness have atrophied under the impact of modernity and secularisation.10

Certainly we live in an age when many have rejected God and have no interest in imitating his holy character or obeying his commands to be holy. Barton also suggests that some who might be interested in holiness are put off by fear of receiving the snub “holier than thou.”

As if hypocrisy or a holier-than-thou attitude in the church aren’t bad enough, I think we do even more harm when we lay down the law but fail to offer any clues about how to actually be holy—when we point the finger but don’t lift a finger to help people to be holy. Gene Edwards writes about the burdens placed on people in the name of holiness:

Dear reader, virtually all of this counsel, all of those books, and every one of those sermons, is setting you up for failure, for guilt, and for a lifetime of frustration.11

He believes church has failed to show and offer the world the way to be conformed to holiness. That way is made possible only by Christ living in me and I in him (John 15:4), as I follow him not in a bubble of personal piety but as a member of the church, where we support and encourage each other towards that goal.

HOLINESS IS HAPPINESS AND WHOLENESS

We have already noted that the word holiness is related to the idea of wholeness. Holiness is not a negative word, but supremely positive. It is a concept that points to perfection. To be holy is to be like God, with whom there is no imperfection, no blemish, not the slightest attribute or action that is anything less than the best.

If holiness is a primary reflection of the being of God, then our call and invitation to be holy is a call to be with God and like God. Sinfulness, though universal, is not natural to humankind—it

entered with the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. Ever since then, we have acted just like them: We have sinned and rejected God’s way and been expelled from God’s presence. But God’s longing for us to be holy, his longing to make us holy, is driven by his longing to restore us into his likeness, to bring us into his presence. Stephen Barton rightly says,

to attend to holiness … is to attend to a matter that lies at the very heart of what it means to be and become fully human.12

So holiness is about becoming more human, as we are restored into the image of God. Holiness is becoming like God—Peter speaks of being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV).

God the Holy One is the source of life; sinfulness separates us from holiness and so separates us from life. Holiness is a return to Eden’s ideal and a taste of paradise. The holy life is a foretaste of heaven on earth. It is not God’s burden for us, but God’s best for us.

H. L. Mencken scorned the pious attitude of the Puritan who feared that “someone somewhere may be enjoying themselves.”13 But those who fit that so-called Puritan depiction know nothing of true holiness. Here’s an indicator to shatter one’s theological categories: The Bible tells us that the marriage bed needs to be kept holy (Heb. 13:4). Though not his main point, the writer of Hebrews shows that the marriage bed (sexual union between husband and wife) is itself holy and pure. Sex between husband and wife is holy! Somehow sex points beyond itself to the eternal, self-giving, reciprocal relations within the Godhead, where the desire of the other is served rather than the self gratified. So all that joy, pleasure, excitement, fun, release, wholeness, and fulfillment in sex between marriage partners is a holy thing. Once we acknowledge that even something so joyful and releasing as sex, within God’s ordained parameters, is holy, then we rightly challenge those assumptions that holiness is a stern and sour concept. Medieval spirituality spoke of the “three ways” in the spiritual journey: purgation, illumination, and union. Purifying and pursuing holiness through the Christian disciplines bring illumination, a revelation of God and ourselves that leads to more disciplines and a further response. But always the goal of the path to holiness is deeper union—intimate, personal, passionate languishing in love with God. The psalmist said that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, or as Anne Lamott puts it, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”14

Any form of holiness that leads to someone looking like they just drank a liter of vinegar is not biblical holiness; it is more likely Pharisaism. The church has lost something of this notion of holiness as happiness. We need to look at the Jews celebrating Sabbath, their holiest of times. Men gather in the streets, linking arms and dancing. Home is turned into a place of wonder, mystery, and glory as families welcome the Sabbath. How much more should the church now celebrate holiness joyfully, knowing that the Messiah Jesus has come and, in one day, by his death for us at Golgotha, taken away all our sin?

Sadly, delighting in holiness is not often the hallmark of modern Christianity. Jesus himself said that he wanted our joy to be complete and that this completion would come through “abiding in love.” Abiding in love would come through obedience to his commandments (John 15:9–11 ESV). Clearly, then, we are presented with a divine set of equations that connects holiness with joy:

obedience = abiding in love = joy

disobedience = dislocation = dissatisfaction

All this we shall explore in the pages that follow.

LONGING TO BE CLEAN

There is hope. Despite all the church’s failure to model holiness … despite her all too often pointing judgmental fingers or laying heavy guilt trips on the world … despite her own tendency to a holier-than-thou attitude—there is in society a wide awareness of sinfulness and a desire for holiness. Many long to be other than they are. The religious impulse can itself be a longing that is responding to the promptings of a holy God.

We all know what it is to feel dirty on the inside, and anyone can be made to feel dirty. The most unholy of places, the most God-forsaken, defiled, and profane, was that hell on earth at Auschwitz. There the demonized Nazis made every attempt to “desanitize” and dehumanize the Jews. The women had one tap for fourteen thousand worker inmates, and they were forbidden to wash. Their faces, caked in mud, baked by the sun, became covered in sores and scabs, crawling with lice and fleas. This treatment made it easier to regard the Jews as vermin and kill them as such. The Nazis worked hard to completely obliterate every trace of dignity and purity—turning the religious men’s prayer shawls into women’s underpants so that what once symbolized purity and devotion to God would be defiled by bodily discharges.

The traditional places for the Jewish woman to articulate holiness were in her home and in her diet, making a distinction between the sacred and the profane, offering her life and work as worship to God. But how could she be holy? How could she resist the literal and moral filth of Auschwitz? How could she still offer something to God? The women held on to the Jewish notion that the face is a powerful illustration of God turning to his people and the people turning to God. The face was a symbol of that sacramental communion. And so, though it was strictly forbidden, they would find precious water, even soap, and wash one another’s faces. They would wash the faces of those going to the gas chambers, or even of those who had already been murdered.15

This was an act of protest against immorality and evil, it was a no to the profane and impure. It was a small but massive act of saying to God in this apparent hellhole that we are for you, we want you, we want to be holy, the darkness will not cover us. Even here, we are for you, and we make space for you. Even in this filth, we choose to be holy, we need to be holy, we will be holy. Here, in this insane, inhuman, dehumanizing cesspit, we bear the image of God. Let our faces shine for you; and yours, O God, on us.

YOU CLOTHE ME

I was struck recently by a little incident told to me by a retired prison chaplain. She explained that when entering the prison, everyone had to take off their coats and bags, be searched, and pass through airport style scanners so that they could be checked for any drugs and other illicit things that might be smuggled to the prisoners. One day, after passing through, she got to her room and realized she had left her coat back at the check-in. She walked back only to find the guards all trying on her coat. When they saw her, they took it off and handed it back to her, looking very embarrassed. One of them apologized, explaining, “We were just seeing what it would be like to be holy.”

He wasn’t joking. They had recognized and accepted that this dear priest was a holy person. They knew she was very different—not just from the prisoners, but from themselves. And somehow, her clothing connected in their minds to the holiness they saw in her. They really did wanted to see what that holiness might feel like, and so they put on the holy chaplain’s holy jacket just in case something holy might be transmitted to them!

When a British bishop is invited to stay with the Queen, he receives a formal letter stating what clothes he must bring and wear on what occasion. First, a sports jacket and corduroys for an informal country stroll; second, a clerical outfit for more formal meetings; and third, a dinner jacket for evening supper. You have to dress right for the Queen of England!

Holiness is about having the right clothing to be with the King of Kings (Matt. 22:11–12).

Of course, whatever our best efforts, we probably won’t get it right! But we need not fear: The prophet Zechariah tells us about the time God invited Joshua the high priest, the most revered religious person in the nation of Israel, to stay (Zech. 3). The high priest was recognized by the fact that he wore the holiest of garments, designed just for his solo holy office (Ex. 28). He was regarded as the holiest of men in Israel, the one who offered sacrifices for the sins of the whole nation to God—the only one in Israel who could enter the Holy of Holies and

look upon God’s glory, on just one day of the year. The high priest was the icon of holiness to this holy people, yet Zechariah tells us that the Devil stood at his side accusing him of his sin and guilt.

Well, whatever the Devil’s accusations were, they were immediately silenced by God’s rebuke. Even so, the angel, seeing the stained clothes of the high priest, commanded them to be removed. Now, no Israelite could possibly conceive that this holy man, who wore the finest vestments symbolizing his holy office, could dress unworthily. But God sees right through us. The good news, however, is in what happened next. At God’s command, the angel removed the filthy clothes from the high priest and declared, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zech. 3:4). And they placed new, clean clothes on him and a new turban on his head.

If the holy high priest’s garments were filthy in God’s sight, what hope is there for us? Every hope! The Devil can find some sin and stain to accuse the best of us—but the good news is that God does not wish to accuse, condemn, or embarrass us. He wants to rebuke the accuser, he wants to remove our uncleanness, he wants to dress us in divine clothes so that we are fit to stand in his presence.

In the chapters that follow, we shall explore holiness in its many facets—its foundation, its absence, its beckoning, its counterfeit, its provision, its perfection, its practicalities, and its potential for the future of our world. Let the journey begin.

Prayers that Release Heaven on Earth by Apostle John Eckhardt

September 28, 2010 at 6:03 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Apostle John Eckhardt

and the book:

Prayers that Release Heaven on Earth

Charisma House; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)

***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Apostle John Eckhardt is overseer of Crusaders Ministries, located in Chicago, Illinois. Gifted with a strong apostolic call, he has ministered throughout the United States and overseas in more than eighty nations. He is a sought-after international conference speaker, produces a weekly television program, Perfecting the Saints, and has authored more than twenty books, including Prayers That Rout Demons, Prayers That Break Curses, and God Still Speaks. Eckhardt resides in the Chicago area with his wife, Wanda, and their five children.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Charisma House; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616380039
ISBN-13: 978-1616380038

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

God’s Plan for a Kingdom

The establishment of the kingdom of God included the restoration of the tabernacle of David (Acts 15) with the coming of the Gentiles into the church. The righteous will flourish, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. God plans to accomplish all of this through the Messiah-King, His Son, Jesus Christ.

During Bible times, the prophets saw the coming kingdom as a time of great joy and rejoicing. They prophesied that everlasting joy would be upon the head of the righteous, and they would obtain gladness and joy (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). Zion would be the joy of many generations (Isa. 60:15). Those who believe the gospel would receive the oil of joy (Isa. 61:1–3), and they would receive everlasting joy (v. 7).

The Lord would cause rejoicing to fill Jerusalem and to fill her people with joy (Isa. 65:19). This indicates new-covenant Jerusalem, the church (Heb. 12:22). The nations would be glad and sing for joy because of the rule of Messiah (Ps. 67:4). Mount Zion (the church) rejoices (Ps. 48:11).

Israel had never experienced earthly peace for any extended period of time. The peace they desire would come only through Messiah, and it would be spiritual. The peace they needed was hidden from their eyes, and it was prophesied that they would experience a Roman invasion (Luke 19:41–44). They were looking for an earthly peace and missed the spiritual peace that comes through Christ. Peace is the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “prosperity, health, wholeness.”

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). The increase of His government and peace will have no end (v.7). The gospel is called the gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15). Fulfillment of the kingdom of God began to come to the nations because of the preaching of the gospel. Today the preaching of the gospel is still taking place, and as believers we can usher in God’s kingdom plan through our prayers. Those who preach the gospel publish peace, which is part of the plan of God for His kingdom (Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15). The new covenant is the covenant of peace (Isa. 54:10; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26), and the prayers of believers fulfill the plan of God and expand the peace of God.

The prophets spoke of the coming kingdom in terms of peace. The King would bring peace to the people (Ps. 72:3), and the righteous would have an abundance of peace (v. 7). The Lord would ordain peace for His people (Isa. 26:12). The work of righteousness would be peace (Isa. 32:17). The kingdom of peace would come through the suffering of the Messiah. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him (Isa. 53:5). We are led forth with peace (Isa. 55:12). God would extend peace like a river (Isa. 66:12). He would speak peace to the heathen (Zech. 9:10).

It is God’s plan that righteousness would reign in His kingdom. The Old Testament is filled with references to the righteousness of the kingdom. In the New Testament, we learn that we are made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Israel could not attain righteousness through the Law. Righteousness comes through faith and the new covenant. Today, as believers in Christ and His righteousness, we are living in the kingdom. The Christian—the new man—is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). Yet we have not yet experienced a world filled with peace and righteousness. As we pray these prayers, we can expect righteousness, peace, and joy to increase from generation to generation.

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