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Singing Psalm 99 to care to be holy

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” ~ Hebrews 12:14-15

“Highest exaltation

    Unto Him be given

For the LORD our God is holy.” ~ Psalm 99:9

Do you care to be holy?

You are in several fierce battles right now. Does your life testify to it? To the degree that you are aware of and fighting those battles is the degree that you care to be holy.

God calls you to care to be holy. Singing Psalm 99 calls to mind what God has put in place to help you to care to be holy.

Why don’t more people care to be holy? Why don’t God’s people care to be holy more?

Which do you care more about: happiness or holiness? They are related in that the former follows the latter. Factor in lag time, and the way life comes to you is better, albeit, different than you might imagine.

Although companies and governments don’t have quarterly meetings on happiness goals, their efforts to enhance employee retention and make a profit are a means to that end — at least to make shareholders happy. Governments and companies certainly don’t have quarterly meetings on holiness goals. 

Oh, but they should.

If governments and companies would care to be holy, they would look to God’s Word for the precedents they need to judge rightly with justice and equity. How their citizens and employees would cheer!

Whether or not they do, should you care to be holy? Is it a matter of life or death?

The word “holy” and its derivatives have been given a bad rap though — ignored as if holiness doesn’t matter or is sorely misunderstood.

Hmm. Wonder who’s behind that?

May the Lord redeem the word “holy” from vain slang as a descriptor of a female bovine that has calved to express surprise or as a modifier of various slang terms for human waste to express disgust.

May the Lord redeem the word “holy” from one who has the attitude of being self-righteous or arrogant displaying one-upmanship derogatorily called ‘holier than thou.’ You bristle at the thought of being labeled that way because you care to be holy, and rightly so, given the colloquial connotation of that phrase.

Lord, would you please help your people be discerning in speech and quietly endure when they care to be holy and others are offended by that?

God transforms his people from dysphoric Jacob (deceiver) to now euphoric Israel (man wrestles with God). Nothing less than the Lord renewing your mind will get you permanently out from under the circumstances so that you prevail over them. 

If you find that your happiness is bound up in what happens around you or in what decisions those you love and who love you might make, may the Lord redeem your understanding of what it means to care to be holy after him. The Lord knows how you long to be close to family and friends.

You can thank him for giving you relationships that give you an inkling of what it means to yearn for a relationship with the holy trinity of God. You can thank him each moment whether or not you choose to record your journey. He provides language for your emotions through singing the psalms that translates your yearning for relationships into a heart connection with the triune God.

When you find yourself yearning for one or another family member or friend, ask that the Lord would draw that one or another and yourself near to him.

When you are impatient with or tempted to chase after one or another who has closed the door to a relationship, ask that he help you mortify your impatience and draw that one or another and yourself close to him.

He is your all-in-all, whether he opens or closes doors in relation to other loved ones. When he moves you instead to give chase to holiness, you seek him with all your strength, as if in a wrestling match with him where you lose the match but walk away better for having the encounter where God wins with you.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4

Learn from Jesus who is gentle and lowly when you feel alone and are tempted to despair and shrink back from God.

“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”“ ~ John 16:32-33 

The Lord might just open your eyes to see the value in one or another relationship that you may have been blind to for many years. He gives good gifts like that.

Singing Psalm 99 elevates the importance of being holy and makes it simply understandable. Ever been not sure what to order at a restaurant, look over at the table next to you, see how good it looks, and say to the waiter, “I’ll have what he’s having?“ Of course if the neighboring table’s food doesn’t look so good, you can also ask the waiter what that dish is so that you can avoid ordering it.

Well, singing Psalm 99, gives you that same ease. 

It points you to what Moses, Aaron, and Samuel did, that calling on God’s name and obeying his commandments is pleasing in his sight. Singing Psalm 99 you learn that the triune God established law and righteousness which were perfectly executed in the life of Jacob, a most unlikely candidate for both. 

You get to read their stories in the Bible. You can extrapolate from those stories to your life how God would be pleased for you to live as you learn from what went right and what went wrong in their lives and relationships.

Being holy means everything that makes your life and your relationships right.

Not being holy means everything that makes your life and your relationships wrong.

What influences you and those around you not to care to be holy? 

Desires within or the messages of this world outside of you infiltrate your heart whether or not you are conscious of it. 

Songs playing on the radio, shows on TV, movies, favorite bands, or certain influencers in your family, among your peers, on social media, at work, or at school can influence you not to care to be holy since they play on your mind and plant trust in what is being communicated. Before you know it, allegiances are formed that ossify over time.

For motivation, you might jot down a list of words or phrases of everything you hate in this world or characteristics that you have seen others display that leave you hoping for better. Then, search out those words or phrases or synonyms of them in God’s Word.

What you will find is a little word that encompasses everything you hate that is also what God hates: sin.

Being sinful is the antithesis of being holy.

It is little wonder that you, being made in God’s image, would hate the same things as God hates.

Then why don’t we care to be holy all the time?

Being blind to the battle you are in,  purposely ignoring sin, or being convinced you don’t need God’s input (see ossified allegiances above) are all major contributors that can place you in the ‘I don’t care to be holy’ camp.

God’s covenant people were circumcised in their flesh but were oftentimes uncircumcised in their hearts meaning they did not care to keep the commandments of God or his covenant. Perhaps they honored him with their lips but their hearts were far from him. They did not care to be holy. Sadly, we can be the same way. We don’t care to be holy because that’s so, well, normal, but this lack of care is ironically the biggest limiter of your happiness.

What if you reject the current normal and adopt a new normal?

What does life look like when you care to be holy?

Like in baseball, you slow down, be a friend, and take the time to “Recognize. Reflect. Repent. Reorient. Refocus. Repeat.”*

To be happy, you want to be as far away from all that you hate as you possibly can. This is what God’s wrath accomplishes for you. Those who love what God hates will either forsake their sin, hide themselves in Jesus who took the full wrath of God for his people, and enjoy adoption by their tender Father, or they will suffer the wrath of God and his fire of judgment if they stubbornly continue to love what God hates.

You hate the sin around you, and the Holy Spirit will also convince you to hate the sin within you in due time if he hasn’t already. You need the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so that you can see your sin, hate it, flee from it, care to be holy, and go after being holy.

There is no sin in the triune God, yet he made provision for sinners to draw near to him by pouring out his full wrath for all of sin on his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself to bear it for your sake and for mine. Your identity is bound up in Christ who gave himself for you. What could top your worth, your value in God’s sight?

You are of such worth, that Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, clearly calls out evil when he sees it to protect you from it and to draw your eyes from gazing at self to adoring God. He wants to awaken your sleepiness with warnings that alert you to the fact that you are in a battle.

“If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children.” “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” If that doesn’t get your attention and make you rethink your course, what will? The Holy Spirit knows the uphill battle you must fight and can only win with his counsel, teaching, and power. 

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God that he breathed out as your only offensive weapon for a sure victory. Satan’s efforts against it are in vain, and you can laugh with the Lord at his coming calamity and not get your feathers ruffled over his schemes. Even death can’t block your victory as you trade out the lesser reward that sin gives for the everlasting reward that comes from seeking the triune God.

Keep in mind, though, that without the full armor of God, you cannot stand against his attacks, and Satan laughs at each one of your solo efforts and at your turning a blind eye to the fact that you are in a battle.

In order to make room for your Heavenly Father, the wicked father must go. Flee from the grip of Satan’s talons on your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and run to the Lord Jesus to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The Lord helps his people trust him. He rescues you from the dark realm of sin’s deathly reign of enslaving power over you and brings you into the realm of his wonderful light and reign of freedom. 

The triune God leads you to eternal life as you are being made to care to be holy, progressively breaking sinful habits until he comes again to rescue you for all time from sin’s residual presence and its effects.

How does God care to be holy?

God stoops down to make you great, but the real greatness is in his stooping down, caring, and relating to you. Let’s focus there rather than on ourselves. God’s all encompassing attribute is holiness. It’s what makes him different, other.

Because God is holy, God hates sin.

Does God care for you** even while you’re a sinner and not yet perfectly holy?

He hates sin to the same degree that he loves sinners!

Because God loves sinners, he revealed himself in his creation, and more specifically in his Word, in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who took the punishment for all the sins of his people, past, present, and future, by dying on a cross so that sinners could turn, care to be holy, and have a father/child relationship with the holy, triune God.

Where God’s revealed presence goes or where he resides with his people is holy. Gifts offered to God are to be holy. His day, the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, is to be kept holy. 

His Spirit is holy. His Scriptures are holy. Search them and meditate on them. Seek God’s face in them to know what is pleasing to him. Ask the Holy Spirit to make the Holy Bible clear to you. 

Your spirit, soul, and body are to be holy.

Seeking justice? Look to God and wait for him. Because the Lord cares to be holy, he is perfectly just. 

Looking for equity? Look to God and wait for him. Because the Lord cares to be holy, he established perfect equity.

Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled God’s law, is holy. He cares to be holy and has no sin to mar his holiness.

Getting it right is who he is because he cares to be holy and can be nothing other than holy.

Holy is the adjective that precedes every attribute, title, and name of God.

Because he cares to be holy, he metes out justice and equity exactly as they should be given — to just the people it pleases him to give them to and at just the time that it pleases him to apportion them.

“King of might and power,    He whose strength loves justice.Equity You have established.    In the midst of Jacob        You have executedPerfect righteousness and justice.” ~ Psalm 99:4 (A)

“The power of the King    Delights in equity;In Jacob You established law    And righteousness.” ~ Psalm 99:4 (B)

The Holy Spirit influences each one of God’s people to turn from their deceitful desires and live with a full awareness of God‘s presence under his law and righteousness as He did with Jacob whom He renamed Israel.

The discipline that the triune God gives you is for your good that you would share his holiness, that you would care to be holy whether your parents brought you up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord or in spite of their failure to do so.

“For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” ~ Hebrews 12:10

Jesus returned to the Father to make a home for you, and he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart, help you in your battle to fight indwelling sin, and make your life into a comfortable home for the presence of the Father and Son when he comes again.***

God is justice. He is equity and delights in it. He can’t get it wrong.

Emulating God’s holiness, you treat others with equity, without favoritism, without bias when you care to be holy.

You trust God’s justice and are willing to wait for it which frees you to obey his law to love even your enemies in hopes that they will one day become God’s holy friends. Because justice and equity are a part of who he is in his holiness, you don’t have to worry about neglecting justice when you obey him by being merciful and loving to your enemies. He’s got that covered.

God has either accomplished justice and equity in judgment upon his Son, Jesus, for the sins of those who fear him at the cross, or he will execute justice and equity when those who don’t fear him and are unwilling to trust Jesus will give an account of their sins at the final judgment.

“The basic idea behind the fear of the Lord is much broader than our modern understanding of fear. While the holiness of God will leave many knees knocking when Jesus comes again, a mature fear of the Lord is more akin to awe, devotion, and worship. It is a response that says, ‘Your glory is irresistible.’ ‘In your presence, nothing else matters. You are all that I desire.’ Furthermore, it is a response that is active. It does something. It is not simply a passive devotion; it follows Christ in obedience. It searches out his will and can’t wait to do it.” ~ Ed Welch

You bow before your holy King and worship at his feet. At the same time, in Christ you celebrate that you can converse with him approaching his throne of grace with confidence that you will be accepted and welcomed in fellowship with the triune God as Jacob was.

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee [or down payment].” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” ~ Ephesians 1:13-14

“Exalt and celebrate    The LORD who is our God,And at His footstool worship Him,     The Holy One.” ~ Psalm 99:5

How do you care to be holy?

Singing Psalm 99, you learn that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel called on God’s name and obeyed his commandments.

“For Moses was His priest,    And Aaron, too, did serve,And Samuel with them who called    Upon His name.

They called the LORD; He heard.    He spoke from out the cloud.His testimonies they obeyed,    They kept His laws.” ~ Psalm 99:6-7

Because the Lord is holy, it pleases him that you obey him to become holy. You don’t naturally care to be holy because of your sin nature. This is why God asked Moses to remove his sandals when God, who is holy and chooses to love sinners, initiated and bridged the gap to connect with man, who is sinful.

This takes the idea of respecting the personal space of another to a whole new level. 

“…you thought that I was one like yourself.” ~ Psalm 50:21

How much more are humans to respect the personal space of The Other?

At this, all creatures ought to tremble.

“Let the nations tremble,    For the LORD is reigning From His throne above the angels,    Let the earth be shaken!” ~ Psalm 99:1

“All these things my hand has made,    and so all these things came to be,declares the Lord.But this is the one to whom I will look:    he who is humble and contrite in spirit    and trembles at my word.” ~ Isaiah 66:2

“I have stored up your word in my heart,    that I might not sin against you.” ~ Psalm 119:11

Holiness, God’s and yours, is central to your emotional heart connection. You care to be holy because you desire that heart connection. 

Peter went through several gyrations of misunderstanding the holiness of the Lord Jesus. 

When Jesus told him to move the net to the other side of the boat, he didn’t believe it would make a difference but did it just because Jesus said to. Peter caught so many fish that the net began to break and the boat was sinking. He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He saw the disparity between himself and Jesus and thought it right to keep his distance from one as holy as Jesus.

It was probably for the same reason that he told Jesus that he didn’t want him to wash his feet. He knew Jesus was way above him, but when Jesus told him that if he didn’t wash his feet, he would have no share with him, Peter couldn’t bear being apart from Jesus, and so exclaimed that he could wash his hands and his head as well!

Jesus, gentle and patient as a tender father explained that only his feet needed washing since Peter and all the other apostles were clean, except for the one who would betray him. Jesus stooped down and washed his betrayer’s feet as he did for the rest.

Peter thought of making tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Yet it was only Jesus who was transfigured before them, and only Jesus remained after a voice from a bright cloud that overshadowed them was heard to say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” By singling him out, the holy sovereign supremacy of Jesus was revealed.

Though you are sinful and he is most holy, he pursues you. Jesus broke the sin barrier at the cross so that you can draw near to the holy triune God without fear of needing to keep your distance or invading his personal space. When you are in Christ, the triune God is always in you and you are always in him. You care to be holy and strive to be holy when he is your closest friendship.

Peter understood this later and writes,

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” ~ 1 Peter 1:14-16

“O LORD our God, You heard,    Your answer gave to them.You were a God forgiving, yet    Avenging wrongs.

“Exalt the LORD our God;    Bow to His holy hill,Behold, He is the Holy One,    The LORD our God.” ~ Psalm 99:8-9

When you obey God, you demonstrate that you love him and that you care to be holy.

It’s a beautiful thing when together both God and man care to be holy:

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” ~ Philippians 2:13

God cannot be anything but holy and beautiful as you can plainly see when you sing a song like Psalm 99. He always does what pleases him, and what pleases him is always good, right, and holy. 

When people do whatever they please, it might be right or wrong. Ask that you would be pleased with what pleases God which is always right.

Singing Psalm 99, you care to be holy. You tremble at his Word and are careful to obey God’s commands. Satan trembles at his Word but doesn’t obey. The evil one gets you sidetracked if he can divert your attention off of Jesus and onto yourself while deceiving you into thinking that making much of yourself is somehow religious and what it means to care to be holy.

“Look, the gospel is going to be veiled to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3). We shouldn’t be happy about that, but neither should we be surprised. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4). That’s true. But it’s also true that the ruler of this world has already been judged (John 16:11).” ~ Kevin DeYoung

You might encounter “movements” touting peak performance in body and mind. They use words deceitfully as to how you must fulfill “your God-given potential” or talents and then get you entrenched into their programs where you will never again hear God or Jesus mentioned. Singing Psalm 99 you find strength to counter experts exalting self:

“They called on the LORD’s name;He gave them His answer,Speaking from the cloudy pillar.

“They obeyed, giving heed To the word He gave them,And His testimonies.

“LORD, our God, You answered;You, O God, forgave them,Though you chastened them for evil.” ~ Psalm 99:6-8

The way God responds to your prayers may be different from the way he responds to someone else’s prayers. After Daniel prayed, he sent the angel Gabriel to give him insight and understanding:

 “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.” ~ Daniel 9:23

God’s answer to your plea might be like his answer to Paul to keep him from becoming conceited, when he pleaded three times for the Lord to relieve him of a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul didn’t make much of himself and his expectations. He made much of Jesus his grace. Hide God’s Word in your heart and mind so that your expectations don’t get ahead of the Lord. You lose if you win by going your own way without him. You win, whether you win or lose, as long as you are with him and he is with you.

“And the Holy Spirit, also bears witness to us; for, after saying,‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:I will put my laws on their hearts,and write them on their minds,’ 

then he adds, 

‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” ~ Hebrews 10:15-18

It’s striking to be moved by the amazing grace of God to care to be holy and to go from complacent to doing your utmost to grow in holiness. 

Ask the triune God in faith to move you with joy and strength to obey him, to love him with all you are, to care to be holy in your thoughts, in what you say, and in what you do, going after it with all your heart.

He promises to be with you and to reward you in your wholehearted effort.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

“The LORD is King indeed;Let nations shake with fear.He sits above the cherubim;Let earth be moved. 

“The LORD in Zion rulesAnd over all is high.O praise, his great and awesome name,The Holy One.

“Worship at His footstool,For He is most holy.

“Highest exaltation Unto Him be given,For the LORD our God is holy.

“Bowing down to the LORD,    Give our God your worship At his holy mountain.” ~ Psalm 99:1-3, 5, 9

*** “How can I better understand the Holy Spirit” by Sinclair Ferguson

February 24 – March 3, 2023


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