Saturday, March 6, 2010


I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40.1)

The Patience Component

We’re nearing the midpoint of our wilderness adventure, and odds are many of us are grappling with impatience. We sense the work underway in our spirits, yet it’s still too early to predict its final shape. We feel ourselves drawing closer to God, yet perhaps not as close as we hoped to be by now. We’re growing fatigued with our fast and longing to return to “normal” life. While our joy and commitment haven’t waned, our stamina may be wearing thin. This is by design. The patience component is a perennial fixture of Lent. Our focus and needs change from year to year, and hence the tone and texture of our odyssey also changes. Patience, however, always figures into the process.

One assumes Lent’s fixed duration has always been problematic. Yet this annual test has never been more necessary, because patience is now a rare quality. Modernity has drained our appreciation of it. In the half-century I’ve been alive, we’ve gone from waiting for the mail to faxes to FedEx to email to instant messaging. What once took the better part of a week now happens in split seconds. These “conveniences” have made patience ridiculously inconvenient. The moment we hear something will take time, our first response is to see if there’s a way to do the job more quickly. We’re forever asking, “When?” And the answer is always the same: “Not soon enough.”

Pre- and Postmodern

In our haste, we forget God is pre- and postmodern. He embodies time, which makes Him immune and impervious to its pressures and progress. Speed and efficiency don’t concern Him because He is all the time in the world. Thus, He doesn’t equate “when” with “how soon.” In God’s lexicon, “when” means “the perfect time.” Since He’s eternal, clocks and calendars have no influence on Him. As we’re told in 2 Peter 3.8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” Thus, setting deadlines and contingencies on anything we ask of God sets us up for frustration. Worse still, growing impatient with Him exceeds our station. He’s the Master. We’re His servants. He doesn’t wait on us. We wait on Him.

David is blessed to live in a world where patience is as much a necessity as it is a virtue. Even so, God’s timing doesn't synch up with humanity’s sense of urgency. David still has to deal with holding on until God chooses the perfect time to respond. “I waited patiently for the LORD,” he writes in Psalm 40. “He turned to me and heard my cry.” (v1) This sounds a lot less stressful than it is, considering David’s trapped in a situation that closely resembles Dante’s third ring of Hell—a “slimy pit” filled with “mud and mire.” (v2) Seeing him there removes any inclination to mistake “patiently” for “politely.” David is up to his neck in a cesspool whose filth weighs him down and threatens to pull him under. God is his only hope, which means his salvation will only appear in God’s own time.

David has no choice but to wait for God. But he can choose how he waits. He can wait impatiently and in doing so only compound his misery. Or he can wait patiently, trusting God will turn his way and hear his call when the perfect moment arrives. In the end, his patience is rewarded. He’s lifted out of the pit, given a firm place to stand, and sings a new song: “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods [or “falsehoods”].” (v4)

Taking Time

The desert journey is intended for taking time, not telling it. It tries our patience simply to demonstrate calendars and watches are useless when we wait on God. His answers may come at any moment, depending on when the perfect moment comes. More often than not, they arrive later than we’d prefer. But their delay serves a greater purpose than exasperating us. It reinforces the nature of our relationship with our Creator and reminds us nothing is ever lost to time. Everything we ask or need already exists in Him, just as the whole of eternity resides in Him too. If we misinterpret “when” to mean “how soon,” we risk losing patience and giving up before God’s “when”—the perfect time—appears. Telling time wastes time. Taking time saves us.

Living in a world obsessed with speed and efficiency, we can gain much from Lent’s patience component.

Postscript: You Can’t Hurry God

This is a real treat—an early recording of the classic “You Can’t Hurry God” by one of gospel music’s first titans, Dorothy Love Coates. As someone who was raised on this song, I can personally attest to the benefits of locking it away in your heart. Many have been the times it carried me through inexplicably long waiting periods.


You can't hurry God. You just have to wait.

You have to trust Him and give Him time

No matter how long it takes.

He's a God You can't hurry.

He'll be there--don't worry.

He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

Job was sick so long 'til the flesh fell from his bones

His wife, cattle, and children--everything he had was gone

He said, "You put these afflictions upon me

"You ought to come see about me."

Job said, "He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time."

You know He's Alpha and Omega

He's the Man John called Jesus

He's God and He's God alone

He's a High Tower mighty and strong

He said, "I'm God all by Myself

"And I don't need nobody else."

You know, He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

Some say He's coming in the morning

Gonna make His journey by train

Some say He'll be riding in a chariot

Shaking like the angels wings

Well, I don't know how or when He'll come

But don't let Him catch you with your work undone

You know, He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

You can't hurry God...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Deceit in the Desert

They gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32.1)

Something to See

It’s close to impossible for those of us “of a certain age” to read about the golden calf without flashing back on Cecil B. DeMille’s over-the-top orgy in The Ten Commandments. By the time Moses descends Mt. Sinai with the engraved tablets in hand, the Israelites have cast a stunning Art Nouveau idol and lost their minds in pagan abandon. Moses, whose hair and beard have grown markedly longer and turned white—apparently he’s been gone quite awhile—can’t believe his eyes. The frenzy looks closer to Mardi Gras than an ancient worship ritual. In the movie version, the calf is almost irrelevant; it’s little more than an excuse for a bunch of frustrated people to let loose.

According to Scripture, the Israelites are frustrated and Moses has been gone too long. But they’re not taking advantage of his absence to throw a wild party, as kids do when their parents leave town. They’re afraid harm has come to Moses and he’s never coming back. As Israel’s sole prophet and protector, they’re lost without him. Once it seems unlikely he’ll return, they approach Moses’s brother, Aaron, and say, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” The Israelites desperately need something to see, a figure to follow. Since it’s inconceivable anyone else can assume Moses’s role, they resort to Egyptian methods and invent a god. They don’t know God is issuing a law that forbids idolatry even as they embrace it. Thus, when Moses reappears, his inside information causes him to rush to judgment. In his fury, he breaks the tablets to bits. He sees rebellion and sin, when he’s most likely looking at fear and panic.

Less Than Best

This is one of those times when a more balanced, factual reading skews the truth, however. Despite the Israelites’ ignorance of God’s new anti-idolatry edict, they’ve still broken the pact between God and their forefather, Abraham. Up to this point, He’s primarily known as “the Most High God” and “the Creator,” which suggests Israel retains a modicum of belief in lesser deities. Yet God’s vow to raise a mighty nation from Abraham’s offspring lifts Him to supreme importance. It’s assumed His relationship with Israel is exclusive. This is what entitles the Israelites to unique standing as God’s people. It’s why He freed them to claim the land He promised their fathers. And though they’re unaware of God’s latest laws, there’s still no excuse for replacing Him. It angers Moses how readily they let fear to incite them to settle for less than best. He smashes God’s commandments because he doesn’t think Israel is worthy of them.

Weakness is everywhere in this story. Israel’s ties to its heritage are frayed by decades of slavery. Its identity has been diluted by Egyptian customs and beliefs. Its loyalty to God can’t bear pressures created by total trust in His promises. Aaron—who stood with Moses before Pharaoh and witnessed God’s miraculous power—hasn’t the fortitude to deny the request for an idol. Indeed, not a soul in the camp has enough backbone to protest this or urge Israel to be patient and trust God. Then there’s Moses, who loses control and literally destroys what he’s called to the mountain to receive. A pattern appears. Once weakness deceives us to settle for less than best, we’re no longer at our best. We’re not whom God wants us to be. We’re not confident who we are. We’re not driven by faith, even though we’ve experienced its power. We’re not in control of our feelings. And we’re not able to accomplish what God asks us to do.


We know there’s deceit in the desert based on Christ’s experiences there. He wanders for weeks without food, water, or shelter, and when He’s at His most fragile, the Tempter tries to trick Him into false worship. Jesus refuses to be deceived. And while this serves as the epitome of resisting temptation, the narrative suffers, I think, by having Christ as its central character. Of course, Jesus defeats the Tempter—He’s Jesus. The Exodus story offers a better picture of how easily fear and panic can deceive us into yielding to temptation. Any time we become disoriented, even disenchanted, probability we’ll give in to weakness increases. Instead of waiting on God’s guidance, we’re apt to settle for less than best. We probably realize it opposes everything we know by faith and have seen in the past. Yet weakness convinces us less than best is our best alternative.

During a discussion of Israel’s numerous desert deceptions, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10.11-12: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us... So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” We defeat our weaknesses—and their deceits—by knowing what they are and recognizing they’re in the desert because we’re there. They’ll stir fears of failure and loss, and if we’re not careful, our insecurities will persuade us falling to them is the only way to stand firm. But we know this isn’t so. Fear never ends in strength. All it does is reduce us. Having been at our best and seen God at His best, we can dismiss temptation out-of-hand, since everything about it is less than best.

It looks like a party, but it’s really the picture of fearful people settling for less than best.

Postscript: You Are God Alone

“That’s just the way it is,” the song says. Everything else pales by comparison. “You Are God Alone,” by Phillips, Craig, and Dean.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The People Next Door

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20.17)

Dancing Around

A couple weeks back I walked into the living room, where Walt intently watched a History Channel program about the Ten Commandments. Since I’d seen it a couple times, all I said was, “A lot of good stuff there, some of it questionable, but mostly good,” and turned back for the study. He stopped me. “Don’t you think the whole do-not-covet thing is out of place? The rest of it—God first, respect your parents, don’t steal and kill and all that—makes sense. But ‘don’t covet?’ It seems minor compared to the rest, like it’s taking up space where something more serious should be. 'Do not rape.’ Or, ‘Protect your family.’ Or, ‘Love everybody.’” Jesus took care of the last one, I reminded him. But it struck Walt as wrong somehow that here was a perfectly good chance to write that law in stone instead of waiting thousands of years for Christ to move loving our neighbors to the top of the list, just after loving God. “What is the big deal with coveting?” he asked.

“Well…” I said, fumbling for an answer, “here’s the thing.” I started by explaining at the time the commandments arrived, Israel was basically a Bedouin society. Nothing was nailed down. One imagines a lot got lost or came up missing along the way, including wives and servants and livestock—all of which were considered personal assets. A ban on coveting kept losses and conflicts to a minimum. “That’s my point,” Walt said. “It’s on par with ‘Don’t eat pork or shellfish’ and other rules for keeping Israel healthy and safe. There must be a better reason.” I tried a new angle. After Adam and Eve sinned, I said, God cursed Adam: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat food.” (Genesis 3.19) Covetous thoughts and behaviors ignored that edict. It fueled the urge to take whatever we want without working for it. Isn’t that covered under ‘Do not steal’? Walt asked. “You’re just dancing around,” he said with a sly grin. I granted his point and asked for extra time to think this through. Halfway to the den, it hit me. “Wait a minute,” I said and turned around. “This has nothing to do with safeguarding someone else's property rights. It’s meant to protect us.

Four Things

Four things occur when we become fixated on the possessions and success of others. First, wanting what someone else has undervalues what we’ve been given. It exposes our lack of gratitude and appreciation for God's goodness to us. In Ephesians 5.19, Paul instructs, “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” Covetousness ignores this counsel entirely by expressing disdain for what we have—or, for that matter, questioning God’s wisdom in giving others what we don’t have. Second, it gives prominence to an acquisitive nature that exaggerates the importance of material things. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus says in Luke 12.34. Covetousness puts our hearts in the wrong place.

Thirdly, coveting the blessings of others supplants God’s authority in our lives. We take it upon ourselves decide what we want rather than let Him to choose what’s best for us to have. And we devote undue thought and effort to getting what we want instead of trusting His provision. A coveting mindset is basically an unbelieving one. It baldly questions Psalm 84.11: “The LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” And finally, coveting is a “gateway sin.” Once we yield to its temptations, other sins that inevitably harm others and us are sure to follow. Jealousy, envy, hate, stealing, adultery, and murder quickly come to mind. But it also produces lies, suspicions, wastefulness, rash decisions, subterfuge, and innumerable other wrongs that turn our attitudes and actions away from Christ’s commandments to love God and our neighbors. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Jesus asks in Mark 8.36. (“Now I get it,” Walt said. “It’s the commandment that holds everything together.”)


“Jonesing”—street parlance for illicit cravings—and “keeping up with the Joneses” are directly linked. Judging our status by the people next door opens the door to chasing ephemeral pleasures that soon fade and set off a fresh set of desires. “Keeping up” leads to “passing up,” which only frustrates us further by increasing our awareness of how much more there is to get. Thus, covetousness turns into a parasitical sin that feeds itself by feeding on its host. It eats away at our contentment, happiness, and sense of self-worth. The worst of it, however, comes by forfeiting our attention to what God wants from us so we can pursue what we want for ourselves. 

But we can turn covetousness on its head for the benefit of others and us. The moment we’re tempted to jones for things we don’t have is when we remember there are millions upon millions who have far less than we. In that instant, we can transform covetousness into compassion. We can stop envying the people next door and become the neighbors next door, reaching out to those in need and sharing what we’ve been given. When we do that, we succeed where covetousness fails. In Matthew 6.33, Jesus assures us everything we need to live prosperous, secure lives will be supplied: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If we genuinely believe this, covetousness makes no sense. What more can we want when we've been promised everything we need?

Judging our status by the people next door creates covetousness. Becoming the neighbors next door creates compassion.

(Tomorrow: Deceit in the Desert)

Postscript: Everything We Need

Grant recommended this outstanding collaboration between Steve Bell and the rapper, Fresh I.E. The powerful imagery and lyrics drive home how much the world needs neighbors next door, not people next door.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's Not Over Until It's Over

When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23.9-10)

Excitement Overload

My brother both goes out of his way not to say, “I’m worried” or “This worries me.” Steve “works on” situations he can manage and refuses to “get excited” by those he can’t. On a recent call to see how he’s faring after minor surgery, he said, “Nothing exciting to report—just a little soreness.” That set my thoughts spinning about how quickly we let anxieties drive us into excitement overload. Things we should calmly work on turn into frantic attempts, and those we can’t work out escalate into full-on panic. We lose touch with Jesus’s teaching about worry. In Luke 12.25-26, He asks two questions: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Absolutely nothing about worry prolongs or improves life. Indeed, it has the opposite effect. Anxious excitement is a thief that steals everything fine and good in us: our confidence, joy, imagination, courage, and companionability. Worst of all, it convinces us there’s honor in becoming excitement junkies. We start believing our constant frets and moans prove we’re deeply invested in our predicaments, when we’re actually milking them for excitement. On some level, we perceive our agitated state as a sign of importance. No matter what “we” do, “they” just won’t get it together. What would become of the excitement bingers among us if their problems all worked out. What would they do?

Doubts on Hold

On our worst days, we have nothing on Job. He’s completely wiped out. His possessions, family, health, and reputation are destroyed, and—right on time—here come three excitement junkies to check things out. Ostensibly, they’re there to solve his problems. But they run into something they didn’t anticipate, because two things Job hasn’t lost are his mind and his faith. Yes, Job’s difficulties concern and disturb him. Before he allows himself to get overly excited, though, he wants to understand the purpose behind these apparently random disasters. Differences between Job’s mindset and the mentality of his three friends give us the Bible’s most distinctive picture of what separates people of faith from worry addicts. While his friends immediately launch into, “Here’s what you’re problem is,” Job essentially says, “I don’t know why I’m besieged by so many problems, but I’ll find out once they’re over.” It’s less important for him to theorize possible answers while he’s in trouble than come out knowing its real reasons when it ends. So Job puts his doubts on hold.

His friends have plenty of explanations, all of which basically come down to “you’ve done something wrong, Job.” Yet Job knows he’s lived a righteous life. Their overexcitement brings no clarity to his condition. And when he insists he’s done nothing wrong, his friends insist he prove he hasn’t displeased God. Job can’t, because God’s not talking. “When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him,” he says. (Job 23.9) The excitement junkies leap on this as a sure sign God has singled out Job for punishment. They’ve not listened closely to what Job says. He doesn’t believe God has left the scene; he’s merely confessing God can’t be seen. Rather than operate on crazed assumptions, Job’s willing to wait on the right answer. In verse 10, he confesses his faith: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Knowing God Sees

When we’re beset by trouble, we remember it’s not over until it’s over. God’s reasons may not be within reach, but we must trust they’re right. And a core feature of that trust comes in willingness to put doubts on hold until we’re able to see what actually happened. On a perverse level, there’s satisfaction to be gained by jumping to conclusions about our trials. Applying premature logic leads us to think we’re still in control. The danger in relying on what we see at any moment becomes an even greater problem when God can’t be seen. Since we depend solely on our faculties, His invisibility translates into absence, which is never the case. Revisit what Job actually says. “Although I can’t see God, He sees me—He knows the way that I take.” Knowing God sees is all it takes to pull us out of excitement overload so He can accomplish His work in us. When He’s tested us, we’ll come forth as gold.

Philippians 1.6 tells us to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” That’s our part in the refining process—remaining confident. The extent to which God tests us is His concern. In midst of our trials, we must come to grips with the fact that transparency and full disclosure aren’t typical in God’s process. Much of the time He can’t be seen because He’s working behind the scenes. He’s carrying out His plan. Like Job, we realize that what we experience will change us. We can’t understand what’s happening now because we’re not ready to understand it. Rather than get wound up in needless worry and excitement, it’s best to remind ourselves it’s not over until it’s over.

In the midst of our trials—when we’re lost in the desert without answers—we get everything turned around. Not until it’s over can we accurately see what took place.

Postscript: Refiner’s Fire

Job teaches us the value in putting our doubts on hold and submitting to God’s refining process. That’s where understanding happens. Lent gives us a prime opportunity to practice this principle. Today’s musical selection: “Refiner’s Fire.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Never Helpless

We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 44.25-26) 


In her Ash Wednesday post at A Feather Adrift, Sherry set the perfect tone for Lent:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. The root of the word “human” comes from the word humus or soil. Humus is also the root for the word “humility.” To be humble is not to be self-deprecating, but to be grounded in our relationship with God and the earth.

This powerfully simple concept has lingered through the days, reminding me our 40-day journey is really a back-to-basics crash course. While human intellect drives us to romance complicated theories and ideas, Lent re-centers our thoughts toward a romance, if you will, with God. (If you’re not sure what this means, I highly recommend Claire’s daily posts at A Seat at the Table.)

Falling in love with God—whether for the first time or rekindling our relationship with Him—gives rise to a vivid understanding of all that He is and all we are not. It puts us back in touch with the raw clay of our making, our humus. The humility that results becomes an exhilarating experience by plunging us into incredulous marvel that He loves and cares about us at all. We are dust—common, everyday dirt with no ability or value of our own until God scoops us up, shapes our lives, and breathes our beings into existence. We have no promise of permanence. We’re unprotected, vulnerable to every wind that blows and every sweep of the cosmic broom. But when we yield our clay to His touch, He endows us with priceless power and potential. We become grounded. To borrow a phrase from Psalm 118, “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” How can we not fall head-over-heels in love such a giving and compassionate God?

Always Attentive and Responsive

My year began with a really nasty, painful ear infection. At first, I dismissed it as a minor inconvenience that would clear up in a day or so. But it worsened as the days wore on until I spent hours pacing the floor in pain. The first round of antibiotics seemed to fix things and I resumed my travels for work. Then the thing struck back with a vengeance. I curled up in agony in a Houston hotel room, talking to no one but Walt. Despite 1200 miles between us, he was ineffably there, always attentive and responsive. While I shook with fever, he orchestrated my care from afar. A doctor arrived, prescriptions were delivered, fees were paid, and once I returned home, everything to ease my recovery was ready and waiting. In our nearly 20 years together, I’ve been spared any prolonged, painful illness. So this was a new experience for me. I’ve never felt so humbled, because I’ve never felt so utterly helpless and tenderly loved in my adult life.

Head-on collisions with sudden illness, pervasive emotional pain, or mounting hardships infuse Psalm 44.25 with an extra ring of truth. “We are brought down to the dust,” the poet exclaims. “Our bodies cling to the ground.” Times will come when we’re laid low through none of our doing. They reacquaint us with our fragile vulnerabilities, which in turn make us feel totally inconsequential. As I lay shivering in my hotel room, I couldn’t escape the fact that my clients and team were carrying on perfectly well without me. And while that brought me much solace, it also heightened my sense of expendability. There’s nothing like being brought down to the dust to remind us we are dust. Then again, there’s nothing like being humbled to a place that forces us to rely on no one but our always attentive and responsive God. While we’re enduring our pain and fear, we may be too preoccupied to appreciate His ineffable presence and way of orchestrating our care from afar. But the closer we get to the end of our wilderness, the more amazed we become at the length and breadth of His tender love for us.


Feelings of helplessness are necessary to teach us we’re never helpless. Vulnerabilities to pain and hardship are given so we can learn we’re never unprotected. Psalm 46.1 declares, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” He builds Himself into a shelter for our dust. He remains our constant help to anchor us against tumultuous winds and sweeping troubles. Every particle of our being concerns Him and He treasures each one too highly for any to be lost. Being knocked to the ground by sickness, cruelty, and crisis gives us only one direction to look for help—up.

There are no further steps we can take. There is no one on Earth we can reach. We pray Psalm 44.26: “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” Once again, God reaches down into the dust and scoops us up. His mighty hand brushes across time and space to recapture our lost pieces and particles. Like a sculptor mending a wounded masterpiece, He attentively restores our clay into the shape He originally gave us. He breathes new life and strength into us by His Spirit. Everything we need for total recovery is provided. Not until we’re completely whole do we fully understand: feeling helpless doesn’t make us humble. Discovering we’re never helpless does.

God reaches into the dust to reclaim our dust and restore us.

(Tomorrow: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over)

Postscript: My Help

A spectacularly moving musical version of Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help…” (KJV). “My Help” performed by the Central Church of God Choir in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking Hold of Hope

By two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6.18) 

In Reverse

So many of us have been disappointed so often that the instant we see any hope for our circumstances, we seize it and throw it in reverse. We get it backwards. Broken promises have conditioned us to place conditions on our hopes. If what we’re told to expect doesn’t materialize in a certain manner or timeframe, we give up. But hope’s sole purpose is sustaining us so we won’t give up. “I hope” and “We’ll see” are no longer statements of faith. They convey shaky belief. And they usually come far too soon after a promise is rendered, planting poisonous speculations it won’t be realized early on. As a consequence, rather than abiding in hope, we teeter in disbelief. Our backwards understanding of what hope is and how it works actually assists doubt in draining our confidence. When confidence goes, patience to wait on the promise goes, too. We fall into doubt’s clutches with a resigned sigh. “I should have known not to get my hopes up,” we say.

Nowhere is hope more essential than areas where we rely on God’s promises. And since we depend on His Word and Spirit to guide our lives, hope plays a critical role in everything we do. It’s so integral to our faith Paul assigns it equal status to faith, ranking both just below love. When all is said and done, he says, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.13) In Romans 5, he asserts the main reason for our trials is generating hope: “We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand,” he writes in verse 2, saying we should rejoice not just in this, but also in our struggles. “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (v3-5) There they are again; faith, hope, and love, each following the other. When we entertain doubt—even with seemingly benign comments—we reverse the process. We question God’s love, which steals our hope, which causes us to lose faith. We give up before we’ve started to grasp His plan to honor His promises.

Built on Hope

In typically dense and meticulous fashion, the Hebrews writer insists everything we believe is built on hope. In order to confirm hope’s fundamental significance, the author turns to Abraham, who God vowed to bless with many descendents. “Since there was no one greater for him to swear by,” Hebrews 6.13 reads, “he swore by himself.” God took an oath, verse 17 says, “to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised.” According to verse 18, He did this “so that, by two unchangeable things”—His word and His supremacy—“we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered us may be greatly encouraged.”

In plain English, here’s what Hebrews is saying. God’s promise to Abraham set a precedent for every promise that followed. His word is absolute and final without any possible ifs, ands, or maybes. He swore by Himself to be very clear that future generations had no reason to doubt the pledge He made to their patriarch. With no power in Heaven or Earth higher than He, none could challenge His authority to make good on His promise. And the same principle applies to all of God’s promises. He established this precedent for us, encouraging us to take hold of the hope we find in His Word. Scripture repeatedly tells us we live by faith. Here, Hebrews teaches the faith we live by is founded on hope. Thus, when hope gives way, faith fails. And when faith fails, we fail to live.


“Tell me, how did you feel when you came out of the wilderness. Were you leaning on the Lord?” the spiritual asks. Leaning on the Lord—that’s the chief reason we enter the desert voluntarily at Lent. It’s also why we’re led into uncharted stretches of desolation throughout the year. We’re tested to renew our acquaintance with God, to trust Him to help us endure our trials, to be reminded that perseverance shapes and builds character, and finally to strengthen our hope. When we’re cross life’s deserts, hope is our only sustenance. We have no choice but leaning on the Lord, because when everything else fails, His promises remain true. We can’t afford to be shaken by doubt, and the only way to maintain unshakable faith is by embracing unshakable hope. In the desert, “I hope” translates into “I’m confident,” and “We’ll see” means “It is so.”

Wherever life takes us, we keep hope in hand, knowing God’s promises are uncontestable and unfailing.

Postscript: You Are My Hope

The song says it all. “You Are My Hope” by Skillet.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Beauty of Holiness

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29.2; KJV)

What Does It Mean?

Merely mentioning holiness causes some to flinch. They associate it with specific actions and attitudes that, to be candid, don’t always serve up a lot of appeal. “Holy” people may earn our admiration (if their pursuit comes from a pure heart), but they’re seldom much fun. While that sounds shallow, it’s nonetheless true. Believers who devote their lives to holiness tend to be extremely serious, focused types. The joy they find in living apart from mainstream conventions is a unique strain of fulfillment predicated by the absence of common pleasures. When we envision holy people, our minds flash on monks, nuns, ascetics and adherents to sects with rigid behavioral codes. But holiness is neither a measure of spirituality nor a human virtue. It’s a divine trait. If we keep that in mind, it turns out to be much less intimidating and off-putting.

So what does “holiness” mean? Basically, it’s what God is: pure, loving, just, and forgiving. Yes, but what does that mean in “people” terms? When we remember we’ve been created in His image, our holiness is determined by how well we mirror His holiness. Put simply, holiness is achieved by revealing His presence in us, not by calling attention to ourselves. And the crux of the matter rests in whom we’re being holy for. In Leviticus 20.26, God settles this question once and for all. “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy,” He says, adding He draws away “to be my own.” We purpose to lead pure, loving, just, and forgiving lives in honor of Him. Holiness aimed at any other objective—impressing people, religious compliance, eternal bliss, or escaping wrath—isn’t holy. It’s conformity to a manmade image and standard. Paul reinforces the idea that holiness is our reflection of God, specifically defining it as an act of worship: “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7.1)

Degrees of Brightness

God alone is perfectly holy. And there’s a good reason why He has exclusive claim on this, while the best we can do is strive to perfect holiness. God has always been holy. We, on the other hand, have not. By the time we answer His call to holiness, we’ve already adopted impure habits and attitudes we continue to battle after we decide to lead holy lives. This is what Paul is getting at with his confession in Romans 7.15: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Holiness is inherent to God’s nature. In contrast, it’s learned behavior for us. It’s tough, because much of the time we just don’t have it in us to be holy.

Before we throw in the towel, though, let’s think this through. Since only God is truly holy, He is the sole source of holiness. Therefore, holiness we find in others—or others see in us—is something of an optical illusion, a reflection of Him and nothing more. Knowing this takes a great deal of pressure off our pursuit of holiness by removing it from the realm of do’s and don’ts and redefining it as a state of being. There’s no such thing as holier-than-thou, as none of us is holy to begin with. What we perceive as inequities in holiness are really degrees of brightness. One person has worked harder than another at removing passions and proclivities that dim or distort the godly image he/she projects. What did Jesus teach? “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The purer we are, the brighter God’s holy light shines, and the brighter it shines, the more praise He receives. We let our lights shine. When that happens, everything we do is an act of worship, and our worship evolves into a truly beautiful thing.

An Unholy Mess

Our world is in an unholy mess. Attempts to solve problems only create more problems. Virtually every difference of opinion constitutes a holy war, with both sides clamoring to claim moral and spiritual superiority. The idea of a Christian “right” and “left” is preposterous, because it comes about when one group presumes its position is holier and more pleasing to God than the other’s views. But God is most assuredly not pleased, and we can safely assume there’s no holiness in these disputes since there’s no light to be found. God gets no glory when we resign our responsibility to reflect Him in order to malign each other. There’s no beauty in our actions. And worship has gone out the window.

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness,” we’re instructed in Psalm 29.2. The beauty of holiness emerges when we forego our personal agendas and ambitions to let our lights shine. That’s when people see what we do and give God the glory He’s due. In this season of fasting, prayer, and contemplation, we should search our hearts for flaws and hang-ups that hinder us from mirroring God’s holiness. Our thoughts should turn toward perfecting holiness—not to prove how righteous and just we are, but to radiate His purity, love, justice, and forgiveness.

The beauty of holiness happens when we strive to reflect God’s light as purely as possible.

(Tomorrow: Taking Hold of Hope)

Postscript: Shine

Grant’s suggestion of Steve Bell’s “You Are To Be Holy” as a Lent music selection was a major influence on this post. Unfortunately, no video of the song—which I strongly recommend—is available. I plan to include another Bell video in a future post. But I believe I’ve found a suitable, if quite different, substitute, Collective Soul’s “Shine.” The lyrics could not be more apropos.


Give me a word, give me a sign

Show me where to go. Tell me what will I find?

Lay me on the ground and fly me in the sky

Show me where to go. Tell me what will I find?

Oh, Heaven let your light shine down

Love is in the water, love is in the air

Show me where to go. Tell me will love be there?

Teach me how to speak, teach me how to share

Teach me where to go. Tell me will love be there?

Oh, Heaven let your light shine down

I'm gonna let it shine, I'm gonna let it shine

Heaven, let your light shine on me

Oh yeah

Heaven, let your light shine on me