One four-letter word is OK -- in fact, it's holy


I’m going to do something dangerous. I want to talk about a four letter word.

If this word is used too much in the presence of tough Harley Davidson types, they will run for the door, and mothers may cover their small children’s ears. This four letter word starts with an H and ends with O-L-Y. Holy ... there now I’ve said it.

If you’re among the brave few still reading, I commend you. At risk of losing even you. let’s consider. Why does this word send chills up our spines? When I think of something holy, it’s often tied to memories of stale air, uncomfortable clothes and even more uncomfortable conversations. We’ve all heard we should be “holy,” and we’ve most likely been told this involves not doing what we like to do, and doing many things we’d rather avoid, such as “burning the midnight oil.” Prayer meetings with long, uncomfortable silences or extreme acts of penance may come to mind with “holiness,” like the self-mutilation and cross-carrying of pilgrims og Easter I witnessed in the Philippines.

If you’re still reading, it may be only out of morbid curiosity to find out how bad “holiness” really gets. My intention isn’t to abandon this word, but to redeem it for you. So here is the idea of holiness I believe God teaches.

Something that is holy is, no more and no less, set apart for a special purpose. I think of it this way: Even cookies can be holy. My wife makes the best cookies, but from time to time, she makes cookies that drive me crazy. These are “holy” cookies. I discover a cookie is “holy” when I go into the kitchen and reach for one, and much to my chagrin, I’m told the cookies are “special” and are “holiness-unto-after-dinner-at-our-friends’-house.”

I get into lots of trouble like this. My difficulty is in telling the difference between “holy” cookies and ordinary “I-can-eat-these-instead-of-dinner” cookies.

The trouble is they look the same, but the difference becomes instantly clear when I reach for one. These aren’t normal cookies. They have been set aside for a glorious destiny, to be placed on a fine plate of glass and be shared with good friends.

Now we must bridge the gap from cookies into our own lives.

Holiness has more to do with being purposed and practical than polished or pious. Being holy doesn’t mean wearing funny hats or being different. “Holy” is what we are because we’ve been loved by Jesus in such a way that it changed our destiny. We moved from the plasticware to the china, and from being destined for death and destruction to being given eternal life, and a relationship with a God who loves us.

This change in destination and designation doesn’t make us weird; it makes us practical. The Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.” So holiness isn’t about stuffy lives, rooms or clothes, it’s about practically applying the simple facts of the gospel to life.

Jesus died for me because my life was spiraling toward destruction. Now I look to him to learn how to live life better.

Jesus loves me, just the way I am, so while I learn to do things his way, I can relax.

Jesus is alive and he has plans for me, so I don’t allow myself to get caught up in my own plans or be dominated by things that try to control me such as drugs, alcohol, Facebook, movies, gossip, or many other things Jesus tells us will be less than “helpful.” Not that I never do any of these things, but when they begin to control me, I am learning to let them go.

Real holiness looks a lot more like a guy running a marathon than a guy in flowing robes and a funny hat. The author of Hebrews says it like this, “... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Anything we do that makes us different from people who surround us should be driven by this: “the joy that is set before us.” When joy is what motivates me and defines holiness in my life, the word “holy” isn’t scary or distressing.

Holiness becomes a way of describing my commitment to the way of life I follow. It’s like the sweat-and-mud-stained race numbers that my friend has pasted on his office wall. They wouldn’t be art to anyone else, but he knows the training and work that went into making them so wrinkled and muddy, and to them they are “holy.” Yes, even muddy marathon tags can be “holy.”

Now to the brave few who’ve made it to the end, I hope you’ll pardon my French and look at the word “holy” in a different way.

The Rev. James T. Rush is pastor of Calvary Fellowship Walla Walla. You may contact him at 509-876-1088 or by email at The church’s website is Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at

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