TBT: Holiness Misunderstood

Today’s Throw-Back-Thursday’s post comes from November 16, 2012.

So when we think of a “holy” person, several images come to mind.  We may think of a man wearing a robe, looking dreamingly into space and saying wise and wonderful things that we don’t understand.  Or we may think of the exceptionally morally perfect person who never does anything wrong (or has any fun) with a shiny halo atop their head.   We may even bring to mind those really irritating “holier-than-thou” folks and wish they would just go away.  In all these cases, I think the concept of holiness is misunderstood.  It relies on an idea of holiness that is nothing more than doing everything right and never screwing up.  It seems to me that if we leave it there, we will be forever frustrated and discouraged.  But God would never tell us to “Be holy, because I am holy” as Peter relates in his letter (1 Peter 1:16) if it wasn’t possible.

I had a significant shift in my understanding of holiness when I read this definition in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: “God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.”

So if holiness means being separated from sin and being devoted to God’s honor or glory, then this is something I can grasp.  I can understand separation and what that means practically in my life.  I can even grasp devotion and how I could pursue that.  But I still have the problem of willpower.  I can desire to be separated from sin, but sin still seems to attach itself to me.  It’s hard to shake and I am left defeated and decidedly “un-holy.”

Here is where the real breakthrough came:

And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time… For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy  (Hebrews 10:10,14, ESV)

Wait! Holiness comes through the sacrifice of Christ?  He is making us holy?  I don’t have to earn it or summon all the strength myself?  True.  I began to see the relational aspect of holiness.  It starts with understanding the extent and life transforming power of Christ’s sacrifice.  It means that I can actually pray to be made holy, because I know I am praying in God’s will.  It means I can have a conversation with Him about being separated from sin.  I can learn from Him what devotion to His glory means in my life.  It means I have a real advocate – a mentor – who wants to teach me and form in me holiness.  It means that because Christ is alive, holiness is possible.

In the words of a great old hymn, holiness is possible as I “turn my eyes upon Jesus” and “look full in his marvelous face,” because as I do “the things of this world grow strangely dim.”

I cannot tell you how encouraging that is.  It lifts the burden of self-effort and instead pulls me toward Him.  And the stumbles along the way do not become crushing defeats but opportunities to hear from Him more about separation and devotion.  So, yes, I am holy and am becoming holy.  I recognize that it is a journey but it can be a joyful journey because I know the destination and am sure to get there.  It’s a promise we can count on.


TBT: When God is Too Late

Today’s Throw-Back-Thursday post comes from March 9, 2012.  It is still something I need to hear…often.

Does it ever seem to you that sometimes God shows up too late?  You pray and pray and pray but in the end the answer you were expecting – or needing – didn’t come in time to solve the problem.  God was too late and now everything seems hopeless.  “Why bother now, Lord?  You go on with whatever You were doing before.  Don’t worry about me.”   You’re probably not the only one who has felt this way and perhaps were left feeling empty, disappointed and bitter.  You may be justified in feeling this way, I can’t really say, but maybe…maybe you didn’t let things play out long enough to see what God was really up to.  You’ve probably already guessed, but there is a great story in the Bible about a man for whom Jesus was too late… or at least it seemed that way.

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years…

 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-25, 35-43, ESV)

As you may know, this incident happened at the same time that the woman came up to touch His garment and was healed.  I wrote about that incident in The God at the End of Our Rope, but in this story, we see Jairus desperate for Jesus to come heal his daughter.  She was mere minutes from dying – literally – and there wasn’t a moment to lose.  Not a moment! and this woman jumps in, distracts and delays Jesus.  I’m sure that Jairus was beside himself.  “Really?!  She’s been sick for twelve years; couldn’t she wait another 20 minutes for Jesus to heal my daughter?”

Then the heartbreaking news.  “Your daughter is dead.”  I cannot imagine the things going through Jairus’ head.  “What a cruel joke God is playing with me.  It’s not fair, how come this woman gets healed but MY daughter dies.  Jesus is TOO late!”  The heart-rending pain must have been unbearable.  What happens next though is unthinkable.  Jesus says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”  “ONLY BELIEVE? In what?  My daughter is dead.  What is there to believe?  Are you nuts?”  You see it was fine for Jairus to believe that Jesus could heal his daughter while she was still alive – or barely so, but now?  Sure, we can believe that Jesus will act in our lives, will answer our prayer, while we still have some resources, some hope, something to hold on to, but not when the situation is hopeless, not when it’s too late.

In spite of the devastating news and Jesus’ improbable statement, Jairus went on with Jesus.  He continued to follow Him to his home to see this thing through.  We, in the 21st century, have the luxury of looking back at this story and seeing the end result.  Jairus, in the midst of the situation, was not so fortunate.  He did not have the resurrection as a point of reference.   He could not conceive of someone rising from the dead.  For him, there were no options and we think to ourselves, “Oh you silly Jairus, don’t you realize who Jesus is?”

Yet are we not like Jairus?  Even with the benefit of 2000 years hind-sight, we still can’t conceive of Jesus working His miraculous, life-restoring power into our lives.  Can he really bring life out of the chaos that is my life, my relationship, my whatever?  Instead of following through with Jesus, we hang our head and say, “He’s too late,” and we go our way angry and disappointed.  Jesus still says to us, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.”  He can intervene in our lives in ways we cannot possibly envision, in ways that are totally outside our box.  Only believe! because we know who Jesus is.  Don’t underestimate Him or His ability and willingness to radically change your life.  Only believe and you will be “overcome with amazement.”

Knowing What You Need

I woke up late on a Saturday morning, my wife had already been up and made herself breakfast.  As I came down the aroma of her fried eggs hung in the air.  I usually prepare my own breakfast but this morning I asked her if could make me some eggs.  “Yes, of course,” she replied.  She went about preparing the eggs just as I liked, with toast buttered just like I like, poured and warmed my coffee just as I like and even brought the salt to the table.  All that from a simple request, “Could you make me some eggs?”  It’s as if she could read my mind or perhaps it was the 33 years of marriage.  As she whirled around the kitchen Jesus’ words to His followers came to mind:  “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8).

I realized that He knows me better than my wife knows me.  And He knows you better than anyone else may know you.  He knows exactly what we need, how we need it and when we need it.  He bustles around our life preparing an unimaginable feast for us to delight in.  All we need to do is ask Him.  We need to make that initial request for His help, His presence, His provision and He takes that request and turns it into just what we need.

So today won’t you simply say to your Father, “Could you make me some eggs?” and see just what kind of blessing He lays before you.  He’s already prepared it.

TBT: Not

Today’s Throw-Back-Thursday’s post comes from July 8, 2011.  In these seven years perhaps I am still not all that I want to be, but I am less “Not.”  Hope you find this encouraging.

I think a lot about what I am not.  I’m not debt- free.  I’m not the right weight.  I’m not controlling my eating.  I’m not taking care of my cars or house well.  These are all fairly common to all of us and I don’t really spend much time stressing about it.  But there are other things I’m not, especially when it comes to my Christian life.  I know I’m not good enough to earn God’s love.  I don’t have a problem with that one  because that statement is so clearly biblical.  Early in my Christian life that idea was so firmly built into what I believe that I can accept it and truly appreciate God’s love in spite of me.  But what about all those things that we should be as Christians.  I’m not very compassionate sometimes or not compassionate enough.  I’m not prayerful enough.  I’m not spiritual (what ever that means) enough.  I don’t read or know my Bible enough.  I’m not loving enough. I’m not passionate enough.  I’m not holy enough.  I’m not pure enough.  The list goes on and on and on.  I am very good at being Not.

So I have spent a lot of my prayer time over the years talking to God about what I am Not, wondering why I am Not and asking Him to change me.  The problem is that it stops there.  It seems that nothing ever  really changes.  I have placed the ball firmly in His court and I wait for Him to work some divine magic so that I become what I should be.  Until He does His thing I am still Not.  It’s not really my fault.   I am simply “waiting on God.”  Sounds spiritual doesn’t it.

What I’ve realized lately is that focusing on all the things I’m Not keeps me from being all the things I am.  While I sit paralyzed by all the Nots, I miss the opportunities to express all that I am.  And that is a disservice to myself, those around me and an affront to God, who created all that I am.  I understand that there is a place for healthy self-evaluation, but not a morbid introspection that rejects all the positives and maximizes the negatives.  And some folks, fearing that they could fall into pride and boasting by looking at the good in their lives, disdain the very good that God has built into them.  While people remain spiritually lost, these folks spend their lives guarding against pride.  What a great and tragic loss to the Kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, said, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:2-4)

He also said, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of person who focused on what he was Not.  Instead he focused on what was ahead.  He didn’t judge himself but let the Lord be his judge.  He focused on the kingdom work at hand.  When I read that I was terribly heartened and cheered.  I was hopeful that I too could live that way.

Being what I am means acknowledging that I do have certain gifts and talents.  Not of my own making but of God’s.  It means acknowledging that there are certain “assignments” that God has prepared for me in this life.  It means looking at my life with a view to be more of what I already am and less of what I am not.  It means asking how I can engage more with my wife, kids, co-workers, church, looking for those opportunities that God is creating for me.  It means stepping into my life,  being  bold and simply letting myself BE.

A.W. Tozer,  a great preacher and writer from the 1950’s, expressed it this way, “My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work.”

I’m sure there are a lot things that I will never be, but so what, I’ve got enough of what I am to last me a lifetime.

The God Who is Solid

It sounds strange, doesn’t it to think of God as “solid.” Usually we think of God as ethereal, insubstantial almost ghost-like, but not “solid.”   And yes, I’m referring to the great Creator God revealed in the Bible, not wooden, carved statues or porcelain figurines.  Some of you readers may think I’m speaking heresy and are ready to come after me with pitch forks and torches, so let me explain.

Over the last few years I have been dealing with a medical issue for which the medical community has no treatment or cure.  Through this experience I have had a choice.  I could either get angry at God, shake my fist at Him and shout, “Why?” or I could press into Him more closely.  I chose the latter.  I have prayed for healing (and will continue to do so) and I have asked others to pray for me for healing.  But more importantly I have asked Him to show me more of Himself.  I have asked Him to teach me how to rejoice.  I have asked Him that His will be done.  I have asked Him to bring His kingdom from heaven to my little part of Earth.  I have asked Him to show me what is important…really important.  I have asked Him to show me how to live so that He will be pleased and so that He would praised by those who see my life.  In all these things He has not failed.  He has shown Himself to be a good, good Father.  He has become more “substantial” in my life and the things the world thinks are important have tended to fade from view.  He has become more “solid.”

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (Lam 3:21-25)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

It doesn’t get more solid than that.  What is truly insubstantial are all the things the world tries to tell us are important.  There is no amount of success, fame, wealth or status that is solid enough to build a life on.  They all crumble under the weight of God’s glory.

We tend to think of our adversities as something we should pray “against” or something we should endure or mope about, but the reality is that God uses the trials we experience to actually grow and perfect our faith.  In the midst of adversity the irrelevant and immature aspects of faith fall off.  Our faith is much more focused.  In the context of all God has done for us these trials are minor and temporary and also purposeful.  We can rejoice because God has favored us with his great mercy.  We can rejoice because He seen fit to bring us to a place of greater and more perfect faith.  We can rejoice because we know the end result will be eternity joy and reward. These are truths that we can stand on and are solid.   If we would see all our adversities and trials as under God’s supervision and control we would complain less and draw into Him more.  We would look forward to a more steadfast, genuine, mature faith.  I’m not suggesting that we deliberately seek difficulties and suffering, but simply that when they do inevitably come we see them through the lens of God’s goodness, grace and mercy.  And as we do, God will become much more solid and we can hold on to Him much more tightly.

TBT: Torrential Love

Today’s Throw-Back-Thursday post comes from October 26, 2012.  Enjoy.

I’m sure you’ve seen videos of rivers flooded over their banks after a storm, rushing through streets and towns.  The torrent of water is overwhelming.  Everything that stands in the way of the might rush of water is simply swept away – cars, trees or houses.  It is unstoppable and relentless.  And while the human and physical destruction is tragic, this imagery reminded me of something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

“In all these things.”  I think Paul was making a very simple point.  There is a flow of love from the Father towards us – a flow of love based on the sacrifice of Christ.  It is a flow of love that is constant and persistent.  However, it appears there are situations or conditions that would attempt to block that flow of love.  Some of these roadblocks may be thrown up by other people trying to do us physical damage – “tribulation, persecution, sword.”  Some of these potential obstacles may be life conditions – “famine or nakedness.  Some of these potential barriers may even be spiritual entities – “angels, rulers.”  The point is that life happens.  Sometimes it’s a hard and dangerous life.  And when we are in the midst of these events is certainly seems that God has abandoned us.  It seems that the promises of Scriptures or the comforting words of Christians are hollow.  The devil seems more present and powerful that God Himself

But the significance of this passage is that no matter what life throws at us, the reality is that it has not and cannot stop the torrential love of God towards us.  No barrier can withstand the driving love. The Father will move, overpower or crush any attempts at preventing His love from reaching us.  There is no power or argument that can be made to stop it.  That is terribly encouraging to me.  It fills me with hope.  It inspires perseverance.  It causes me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and instead look for the tidal wave of affection moving my way.  It enables me not only to conquer my fears but to be more; it enables me to “over-conquer.”  I become a love-receiving and love-giving superhero.

I have heard some people say that this passage of Scripture does not apply to our own ability to separate ourselves from the love of God.  To me this is the most vile and demonic lie ever.  Remember that this is the love of God flowing from Him toward us.  We will never stop that!  If Christ already died for all the ugliness and sin in our lives, could there be anything else that would make us more unlovable?  No! I believe that because He loves us, He will move our hearts and break down our walls until we get it.  Don’t think that you are more powerful that God’s love.  We are but tiny umbrellas in the face of a deluge of love.  So put the umbrella away and let your self be swept away in that torrent.

TBT: My Ugly Brown Chair

Today’s Throw-Back-Thursday post comes from January 3, 2014.  And yes, I still have the chair.

I have an ugly brown chair in my home office.  It was given to us years ago.  The fabric was frayed and the arm cushions were eaten by our dog.  We almost threw it out; instead we put some new foam around the arms and bought a brown slip cover for it.  Now it sits in the corner of my office and I love my chair.  It’s where I sit and read, or sit and listen to music, or sit and nap, or sit and think, or just sit.  But mostly, I sit and pray in my ugly brown chair.  You see my ugly brown chair is an open invitation to hang out with Christ.  It’s where we can converse and where I can listen.  I try to do more listening than talking; I learned long ago that I do better when I just listen.

One day as Jesus was talking to the crowds He said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 ESV).  He should have added “sit in you ugly brown chair.”  You see, my secret place is my chair, away from the distractions of the day, away from the gaze of the crowds, and out of earshot from the members of my church.  It’s just me and Him talking openly, genuinely, freely, passionately and often times, desperately.  But I know that I can always count on Him meeting me there at my ugly brown chair.  That is reward enough.

So where’s your ugly brown chair?  It can be anywhere.  It doesn’t even have to be a literal chair.  Where is that “place” where you can connect to the One-who-loves-you-most?  He’s calling you to a secret place where you can open yourself up to Him and listen to Him.  Find your ugly brown chair.  He’s waiting for you.