05: Holy God – Thought Starters

“Hey, Ben. Here’s one for you. How is being an Alaskan salmon like being a Christian?” Mark looked at his friend for two seconds.1

“They both get wet.”

“C’Mon, Ben, that was too easy. Where does the Alaskan salmon begin its life?”

“Hatched from a fish egg laid in a mountain stream.”

“So, Ben. Would you say it spends its whole life there in the beautiful forest and streams?”

“No. But for up to three years, it’s paradise for those fish. They swim in dozens of streams, gradually working their way closer to the seashore and changing their systems so they can tolerate salt water. But, Mark, that doesn’t have anything to do with being a Christian.”

“What happens next?”

“They join a group of other salmon and head for sea and spend up to eight years in the ocean waters of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Then they get homesick and head back to their birthplace.”

“How can they do that?”

“We don’t know for sure, but somehow through the waves and the seaweed they make it back to the exact stream where they were hatched.”

“That’s where they lay their eggs for the next generation. And then they die.”

“Exactly. Now, Ben. How is an Alaskan salmon like a Christian living a holy life?”

“They both get wet.”

“And what else?”

Ben thought for a while. Then he said, “I’ve got it!” What conclusion do you think he reached?

[Thought Questions for The Holiness of God February 1, 2012]

1. God is holy. Do you ever spend time reflecting on the holiness of God? How important is it to us that God indeed is holy? Could we worship Him as effectively if He weren’t? Pagan gods are known for their power, but seldom for their holiness. Why do you think that is so? Is the God of the Old Testament as holy as the one depicted in the New Testament? Are there degrees of holiness? How holy is God?

2. Holiness in the Old Testament. Can you and I understand the holiness of God? Was it His holiness that was made manifest during the Creation process? What about the flood that covered the earth? The rescue of Daniel from the hungry lions? The wars and other forms of destruction of peoples who had rejected God and His plan of salvation? Would you tremble now before a Holy God you could see and hear? What do you think the holiness of God will have to do with the final destruction of sin and those who cling to it?

3. Set apart. Are you capable of being holy? If you ask God to lead you through the coming Sabbath day and keep it holy, will you be able to do that? How? Does it help to think of “holy” as meaning “set apart” or “sanctified”? In your life with Christ, can you be satisfied with “holy” as the idea of being different from and separated from the influences of the corrupt world around you? If you were baptized, wasn’t that act a symbol of your desire to yield totally to God? Since then, have you been holy? Would you like to be holy 24/7? Can you be? Should you stay on goal?

4. Repenting. What does repenting of our mistakes and sins have to do with our being accepted for salvation by a holy God? Is there something wrong with our Christian experience if we fail to sense a deep respect bordering on fear in our walk with Christ? As modern-day Christians, why do we like to put aside all thoughts supporting a stern and holy God? Have you ever talked to someone about being a Christian and sensed a strong resistance to making any changes? What about having someone confide his or her mistakes and failings to you? How can you help that person repent?

5. A Holy God in the New Testament. Have you ever considered that one big reason for the differences between the Old and New Testaments is the time periods involved? The Old Testament covers at least four thousand years, compared to about 100 or so in the New Testament. Should we be surprised that the New Testament focuses mostly on Jesus and his ministry? Is there any difference in God’s holiness between the Old and New Testaments? Was he more demanding in the  Old Testament? More accepting in the New? Why is such an interpretation harmful?

6. What will we sing in heaven? The lesson authors are sure we won’t be singing choruses about God’s love or goodness in heaven. Do you agree? What topic do the authors think will be the theme of our singing when we are translated? What do you think of these strict words from the lesson authors (Thursday): “…[W]hen people truly encounter the God of heaven, we find no hand clapping, backslapping, and lighthearted singing. Rather, there is abject personal repentance.” Would you like to suggest to your pastor and music director to give a more “abject” presentation on Sabbath morning? Why or why not?  What is more important, God’s love or His holiness? Why?

7.  Cleansing the temple. How do Jesus’ actions in cleansing the temple support the holiness of God? How is that related to the importance of reverence in His sanctuary? Why were the “stock” exchangers so frightened by the presence of Jesus in their midst that they fled in terror? Some people are eager for us to institute a similar “cleansing of the temple” in our church today. What do you think of that idea? What about the temple that is you and your body? Do you ever ask for a total cleansing of your heart and your thoughts? Do you want God’s holiness? Will He grant your request?

  1. Swimming Fish Image © Providence Collection from GoodSalt.com


05: Holy God – Thought Starters — 9 Comments

  1. I don't agree with the way the writer phrased this: " ... when people truly encounter the God of heaven, we find no hand clapping, backslapping, and lighthearted singing."

    I don't know about you, but I have never in my life encountered "backslapping" in worship singing -- not even in contemporary settings with a full band. The inclusion of that term seems to be intended to denigrate hand clapping and "lighthearted singing," which others may simply see as "joyful singing."

    I disagree that people who truly encounter God will not be joyful and not clap their hands. In Psalm 47, worshipers are positively encouraged to clap their hands:

    To the chief Musician,
    A Psalm for the sons of Korah.
    O clap your hands, all ye people;
    shout unto God with the
    voice of triumph.

    For the LORD most high is terrible;
    he is a great King over all the earth.
    Ps 47:1,2

    Note that this exhortation is in the light of God's greatness and power, which is an aspect of His holiness.

    Other passages call on the trees and the floods to clap their hands in praise to the Lord and King of all the earth. (See Isa 55:12; Ps 98:8)

    While there are many texts that refer to joy in the Lord, perhaps a most telling one is Ps 16:11:

    You will show me the path of life;
    In Your presence is fullness of joy;
    At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

    Note that joy is to be found in the presence of God.

    There is a time for repentance in dust and ashes, but in the natural order of spiritual things, repentance is followed by joy in the Lord.

    1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
    2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
    Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
    3 For the LORD is the great God,
    And the great King above all gods.
    Ps 95:1-3

    • I certainly agree with your interpretation. The Israelites sang joyfully. The Psalms are full of those exhortations. The quotation is inflammatory. It's very badly expressed and seems to represent a dislike for certain types of worship including choruses and joyful singing. I don't know if the recent lessons on worship has made any difference to our understanding of what it means to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
      Pray for tolerance and removal of self-righteousness.

    • And if modern-day Orthodox Jews are any indication of what used to happen in ancient Israelite worship services; then even the most animated of us are actually quite subdued!
      You should search for videos online of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish worship; it's interesting--and their worship enthusiasm doesn't seem to slow with age either.

      • That is probably because they view the Sabbath differently than we do. To them it is a celebration and the best day of the week while we view it as a day of prohibitions.

  2. Sometimes there's personal exigence to repent in the dust. I can easily understand that the nearer we get to our Souvereign Saviour and King of Kings the more prostrate we could get in our soul. How should we express this?
    Shouts of halleluiahs rise even in the face adversity: Paul sang in prison, Israel sang before their army of enemies. What was king Jehoshaphat's example?
    First there's humility and reverence, then praise.

    2 Ch.20:18,21.
    18 And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. 19 Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high... he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:
    “Praise the Lord,
    For His mercy endures forever.”

    Isaiah says:
    ...Lift up your voice mightily,
    O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
    Lift it up, do not fear.
    Say to the cities of Judah,
    "Here is your God!"
    Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
    With His arm ruling for Him.
    Behold, His reward is with Him
    And His recompense before Him.
    Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
    In His arm He will gather the lambs
    And carry them in His bosom;
    He will gently lead the nursing ewes."
    (Isaiah 40:9-11)

    2 Sam 6:5,14, 15,16
    5 And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD with all manner of instruments made of cypress-wood, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with sistra, and with cymbals.

    14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

    15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn.
    16 And it was so, as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD;

    Would we expecta more conventional behaviour should David be GC president today?

    Most important, God wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
    God takes into consideration where you were born.

    Psalm 87:6
    Lord Jehovah will recount in the book for the peoples: “This One was born there”!
    is it right then to say people are judged by where they wre born? Psalm 119:105 speaks of the paths of the just as a shining light that grows brighter and brighter. So no matter where we were born God wink at our moments of ignorance but commands us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. I think this should show in the way we worship not forgetting of course our daily interactions since life is not only when we kneel to pray nor our choice of songs.

  3. All these dancing and clapping did they happen in the sanctuary? According to my understanding all that did not happen in the temple, for an example David used to dance after the victory in the war and it was not during the time of worship, That is why Solomon is saying there is time for everything and I add 'a place also for everthing'

    • Thembalami, the style of worship services will always be a contentious matter. I am glad that the church doesn’t lay down a set of rules telling everyone what they should or should not do as a matter of worship. Every group of people, culture, and ethnic group has their own way of worshipping the Lord and expressing their gratitude to Him.

      Perhaps the problem lies in what we consider worship. Is prayer worship? Is giving thanks to God and praising Him worship? Furthermore, should we define where worship has to take place? When Paul and those with him were in Philippi there apparently was no synagogue in the town so, “on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Act 16:13 NKJV). Then there are the house churches that were very common in those days rather than a synagogue or church. The point is that worship takes different forms and in different places depending on the circumstances.

      “And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (2Sa 6:13-15 NKJV). Is this worship? I think it was! Worship is an expression of the heart directed to God and that is what David was doing. To quote Ellen White on the incident:

      "So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. And it was so, that when they that bare the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings."
      David laid off his kingly attire, and clothed himself with garments similar to the priests, which had never been worn before, that not the least impurity might be upon his clothing. Every six paces they erected an altar and solemnly sacrificed to God. The special blessing of the Lord rested upon king David, who thus manifested before his people his exalted reverence for the ark of God. "And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet." {4aSG 111.3 - 112.1}

      God accepted that manifestation of praise and reverence. While I certainly will not be part of a worship service that is a confused mess with praise going to people instead of God I will in no way condemn joy and praise even if it involves dancing and clapping.

      I believe Ellen White had things put together about right when she said, “Those who make singing a part of divine worship should select hymns with music appropriate to the occasion, not funeral notes, but cheerful, yet solemn melodies. The voice can and should be modulated, softened, and subdued” (Signs of the Times, June 22, 1882. {Ev 508.1}). Which in the modern age means not screaming into a microphone. It should be uplifting in some way that gives glory to God – not to man and his passions.

      You mentioned doing such things in church or the temple do you mean things like, “Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read,`Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise '?" (Mat 21:14-16 NKJV) Personally I prefer not to be like the priests and scribes who didn’t know what joy and praising God was for they were the ones that went around with long faces as though it was painful to be in the kingdom of God.

  4. l have to go and read more about that, l hope God will reveal his will to me so that l can share it with my church. Please if you have any other sources from Ellen White that support the clapping and dancing at church servives send it to me.

    • It is easy for us to go to extremes as a Christian. What I have said should not be construed as giving a green light for us to do anything we please in church. There is a proper middle ground where we should be rather than at one of the extreme ends. As Jesus would say, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24 NKJV).

      For me the extremes are turning the worship service into a wild party of sorts or emulating a Broadway show or a night club atmosphere. At the opposite end is the worship service that is spiritually dead where people are so stiff that one would think that if they moved they would break. As Ellen White would probably point out our services should not be like a funeral home with no life in it. Things like the music should be cheerful and uplifting. It should be a time for building up the church to recharge it for mission – a time to give reason to have faith and hope in our Lord and savior, to lift up weak hands and rekindle flickering flames.

      If the church service puts everyone to sleep it probably needs to be changed but that is up to the individual church. In the United States there is a wide variety of worship styles including the extremes. The black churches tend to be more animated than the white congregations with churches on both sides somewhere in between. I have been in churches that have simultaneous services going on that incorporate different languages and cultures, each with a different approach to worship.

      “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31 NKJV). “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col 3:23 NKJV)


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