Holiness is a part of our Nazarene DNA—we are Christian, Holy, Missional. I don’t think we explain this process of who we are very well—I know that I certainly did not understand it until I was well into my adulthood. Perhaps I still don’t.
There are many sad reasons young people leave our churches; one of our daughters went searching for a tribe that explained it better when she was in her late teens. Does it matter that my daughter left our denomination? I don’t know. What DOES matter, however, is that we learn how to define and demonstrate holiness to our young people. And to our older people.
One of my favorite hymns is, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and the next line is “tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Do you ever think about the words of a song when you’re singing? What does that line mean, anyway?
Has anyone every told you that you are tone deaf or out of tune?
All our children played musical instruments. What that means, other than lots and lots of expensive lessons and buying expensive saxophones, violins, celli, pianos, flutes, and guitars—and yes, the bassoon—is that we heard a lot of “tuning.” We hear that with our worship band at church, too. Sometimes we will stop for one of the guitars to retune before we can continue.
When I was a little girl, my mother would take us to free concerts and before the music began, there was a lot of noise in the concert hall. Discordant. Unlovely. Meaningless. No definable melodies. She explained to me that the people playing the instruments were tuning.
Lots of noise, lots of activity, palpable excitement. A feeling of anticipation. And then there was silence as someone who must be very important walked onto the stage and turned toward the seated musicians, who, every one of them, listened carefully. This one important person played a single note (a violin) and then each musician copied that one note, and gradually all the noises melded into that one same note. And then the music began.
Tune. Listen. Teach. Grace. Praise.
I want to talk about something difficult to wrap our brains and our hearts around, and TUNING is involved. This issue of holiness.
Levitucus 19:1-2 (NIV)
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’
Holy means “set apart.” That is, reserved for God’s purposes. Certain laws in Leviticus detail specific ways to be holy—set apart for God. They were to be a distinct people who followed the Lord, demonstrating his character. Performing rituals alone, however, did not bring about holiness. God also desired a proper response from the heart.
God is insisting on a connection between himself and the people we are to become. Holiness is not a bland attribute of God. It is wild and undomesticated. Holiness is an interior fire, a passion for living for God, a capacity for exuberance in living out the life of God in the details of our day-to-day lives. Holy is not a word that drains the blood out of life. It is a word that gets our blood pumping, pulsing life through our veins and putting color in our cheeks.
Holiness is who we are. It is our identity, as well as holiness is our connection to God. It is our essence. Without it we are lifeless and pointless. Meaningless.
When our kids were little, they all took piano lessons and occasionally they would ask if they HAD to take piano lessons, and Steve would always say, “You take piano lessons because your name is ‘Burns.’” We did not argue with them or try to build a logical argument for them (it never worked anyway)—we just said “this is the way it is.”
There came a time when they got to be about 15 that they did not stop taking lessons but they stopped practicing. They still went and spent time with their teachers, but it got to be kind of pointless. Now, by the time #5 came around, I could have built a yacht for the amount I had spent on lessons. At times did I feel as if I was beating a dead horse? Oh yeah. Was I resentful of the money I wasted and the time I spent nagging and cajoling people to practice? Yep. Would I do it all again? You bet I would.
Why? Because it is important. It is important to focus on the things that build you up. Important to emphasize the things that make you better. Vital to insist on instilling life skills that will carry you through difficult times. “But Pastor, you’re talking about music.” Yes, I am. But, you see, music and singing is a part of our family dna.
There is a parallel between the efforts I spent on training my children and our dna as believers in God’s family. Because my husband and I made that one thing a priority for our children, they knew a lot about who they were. And because God has told us in so many ways and so eloquently and extravagantly who we are as God’s children, he wants us to know beyond any confusion that we belong to him. And God wants us to know that because we belong to him, he has expectations and standards for us. And our hearts must be in tune with God’s heart in order for us to hear his song and to sing along with him.
Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
Tune our hearts to sing thy grace.
How can we learn to sing in tune?
- In character: we cannot be perfect in this life, but we CAN strive to be as much like Christ as possible
- In holiness: like the Pharisees, we are to separate ourselves from the world’s sinful values, but unlike the Pharisees, we are to be devoted to God’s desires rather than our own and carry his love and mercy into the world
- In maturity: we cannot achieve Christlike character and holy living all at once, but we must grow toward maturity and wholeness. Just as we expect different behavior from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behavior from us, depending on our stage of spiritual development
- In love: we can seek to love others as completely as God loves us
We can be perfect if our behavior is appropriate for our maturity level—perfect, yet with much room to grow. Our tendency to sin must never deter us from striving to be more like Christ. Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature in every area, becoming more like him.
In those early concerts in which our kiddos played, it was painful to watch and to listen to. The students all had to tune their instruments before the music could begin, and they did not know how. The teacher bounced around the room from child to child helping each one to do what they needed to in order to tune their individual instruments. And for those of you who don’t know, music teachers have a degree enabling them to teach students from the ages of Kindergarten through high school, and they must be proficient on ALL musical instruments.
What am I saying?
IN ORDER FOR THE MUSIC TO HAPPEN:
- Tuning is necessary
- It is a messy and difficult process
- It is something that must be learned and practiced
- It is painful to listen to or to experience
- Without tuning you cannot have music
- We need someone to show us and help us
Tune our hearts to sing thy grace.
Holiness is possible because God told us to live into that.
Holiness is NECESSARY because God told us to live into that.
It is our DNA as God’s children.
Psalm 119:33-40 New Living Translation (NLT)
33 Teach me your decrees, O Lord;
I will keep them to the end.
34 Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions;
I will put them into practice with all my heart.
35 Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.
36 Give me an eagerness for your laws
rather than a love for money!
37 Turn my eyes from worthless things,
and give me life through your word.
38 Reassure me of your promise,
made to those who fear you.
39 Help me abandon my shameful ways;
for your regulations are good.
40 I long to obey your commandments!
Renew my life with your goodness.
How do we tune our hearts so we can sing in tune with God’s melody?
We look for the Concert master and we listen to his note of holiness. We listen hard and we learn how to bring the instruments of our life into that one note. We look for helpers to guide us and teach us. And we practice every day. What is difficult will become more familiar and then easier as we continue to listen and to practice. And the music will come.
Tune my heart to sing thy grace.