Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:12-14 (NTE)]

When writing to the Colossians, Paul told them to clothe themselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. A more literal translation would be to sink your heart (or the inner parts of your body) into a garment and wrap yourselves with God’s virtues. The Message translation simply says, “dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” When we dress ourselves in His clothing, we’ll begin to look like Christ—not because we’re wearing an inner linen tunic, robe, cincture (belt), sandals, and a cloak—but because we’re acting as Jesus would act!

When my high school presented Jean Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot, I played one of the madwoman’s elderly and equally mad compatriots. But, at 16, I struggled with getting into the role and feeling like an old woman. It was not until dress rehearsal, when I actually looked like my character, that I truly began to act and feel like her.

The change from teen to old woman began with a make-up base giving me a pallor and continued when shadows were applied around my eyes, under my cheekbones, and along my jawline. Fine lines were drawn on my forehead and around my mouth and a little white grease-paint was sponged onto my eyebrows and hair. The transition continued when I put on my costume—a dark silk dress with petticoats and a bustle along with an elaborate hat and net veil. I wrapped myself with a fringed shawl and picked up the old black umbrella I’d be using as a cane. When I saw myself in the mirror, I gasped at the transformation. It wasn’t just my appearance that changed; once I looked like an old woman, I began to walk, talk, and even feel like one. I felt the aches, pains, and weariness of an octogenarian in a way I hadn’t during previous rehearsals. For a few hours the next several nights, instead of being a junior in high school, I became an eccentric old woman because, once I looked like her, I acted my way into being her!

We are called to live by faith rather than by emotion and it is Scripture, rather than a script, that tells us how to live out our lives. We may not feel like being patient with the co-worker who can’t get the hang of the new system, but we can clothe ourselves with patience and act patient while answering his questions. We don’t have to feel kind, loving, or forgiving to dress in kindness, love, and forgiveness. When we clothe ourselves with the wardrobe of Jesus, we’ll start looking and acting like Him and, the more we act like Him, the more we’ll become like Him! We can act our way into a feeling far easier than feel our way into an action!

Decades ago, I had to look like an old woman before I could act like her and be authentic in my portrayal. Today, in the same way, we must put on Jesus’ wardrobe and act like Him before we can become like Him. When you look in your closet this morning, be sure to put on the garments of God along with your shirt and pants!

Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. [C.S. Lewis]

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:26-27 (NLT)]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)]

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Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” [John 9:13-15 (NLT)]

great blue heronIt’s easy to assume the Pharisees were irate just because Jesus had worked on the Sabbath but, for these sticklers for the law, it was as much about how He healed the man! Spitting on the ground on the Sabbath was forbidden because plowing was one of the 39 types of work prohibited on the Sabbath! Using their convoluted logic, that meant that digging any hole was prohibited and, when spittle landed on soil, it might cause a small dent in the ground (which would be digging a hole) and dislocate a small amount of dirt (which would be plowing)! Compounding Jesus’ violation of the law by both healing and plowing, He made mud. Kneading, defined as joining small particles into a mass using any liquid, was another of the 39 kinds work prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus broke this law the moment his spittle wet the dust; the mixing of his spittle and the dirt together to make mud was an additional offense! To them, the restoration of sight meant nothing when compared to His many transgressions of the law!

When Jesus healed a man who’d been lame for thirty-eight years, it also was on the Sabbath. [John 5] Once healed, Jesus specifically told the man to pick up his mat and walk. Carrying anything more than six feet in a public place, however, was prohibited on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders accosted the man for carrying a burden, he explained that Jesus told him to do so after healing him! Again, the Pharisees were more concerned about work being done on the Sabbath than the miraculous healing that occurred!

In all, seven Sabbath healings are mentioned in the gospels. Although Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in private, the rest of His Sabbath healings were done right in front of His critics. When He healed the man with the withered hand, the crippled woman, and the man possessed by evil spirits, Jesus was in the synagogue and He was having dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee (possibly a member of the Sanhedrin) when he healed a man suffering from dropsy (edema).

Like His other Sabbath healings, this didn’t appear to be a life-or-death situation and, for all we know, the man was there as a way of entrapping Jesus into another violation of the law. Nevertheless, after asking the Pharisees if it was right to heal on the Sabbath and not receiving an answer, Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. He then exposed His critics’ hypocrisy by asking which of them wouldn’t rescue his son or cow if they were to fall in a pit? His question exposed their convoluted thinking since rescuing an animal from a pit on the Sabbath was acceptable even to the Pharisees! In fact, a primary principle in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures, and the Talmud specifically permitted rescuing an animal in pain or at risk of death and even permitted moving prohibited objects to relieve their pain. Yet, the Pharisees seemed unwilling to have compassion on their fellow man!

Once again, when it comes to the law, Jesus made it abundantly clear that every other law is subordinate to the greatest one of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The next time we see someone in need, along with asking, “What would Jesus do?” we might also ask, “What would I want done for me in a similar situation?”

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. [Matthew 5:17 (NLT)]

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Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

mimosaYesterday, when writing about the adulterous woman, I wondered what became of the stones that had been gathered in anticipation of stoning her. We know the Pharisees were quick to condemn people for the smallest infraction of the Law. Did they drop those stones in the road or did they put them in the pockets of their robes for another time when they could catch someone else sinning?

My husband was at the Fed Ex store when the woman in front of him dropped several packages and papers. He stooped down and helped the flustered woman gather up her scattered papers and boxes. As she departed, the man behind my husband loudly asked, “Did she even thank you?” and then, without waiting for an answer, angrily continued, “I don’t think she did and she should have. People just don’t say thank you anymore!” I agree with him that good manners seem to be in short supply nowadays; nevertheless, I wondered why he got so angry and felt the need to point out the woman’s faux pas to all around him.

How ready we are to criticize the failures of others while overlooking ours! We all set standards for others and, like that man, get peeved when they’re not met. Yet, when our hearts are filled with criticism and judgment rather than mercy, we’ll go through life picking up stones and looking for opportunities to throw them. Although the critical man cast only a pebble at the woman, it wasn’t necessary. I’m not much different than he and I suspect neither are you. In fact, I might have tossed a small stone at the man in the Fed Ex store! After all, we easily see the failings of others while being blind to ours.

Granted, common courtesy isn’t common anymore and we frequently encounter people who clearly haven’t heard of Emily Post or Miss Manners. But, if Jesus could show mercy to the woman caught in adultery, wash the feet of the men who would betray, deny, or abandon Him, and manage to ask forgiveness for the people who crucified Him, we should be able to cut a little slack for those who commit the petty offenses of everyday life! We certainly don’t need to keep stones in our pockets in case someone offends our sensibilities or look for opportunities to throw them! Maybe people would be nicer if we simply smiled more and grumbled less!

I don’t know why the woman was so frazzled that day or what really was upsetting that man. There’s wise advice in the old proverb: “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Another old proverb reminds people who live in glass houses not to throw stones—and all of us live in glass houses of some kind or another. If we want God’s mercy, grace, and understanding, we must offer those same things to others.

Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart instead of a piece of our mind. [Anonymous bit of Internet wisdom]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, “Let me wash your face for you,” when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. [Matthew 7:1-5 (MSG)]

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But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23a (NLT)]

pomegranateThe culture of the 1st century was agrarian in nature so the analogies used by Jesus and the evangelists often were those of agriculture – seeds, soil, fruit, and vines. For example, when writing about the characteristics in the lives of those who follow Jesus, Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit. But, if Paul were writing to modern industrial society, he might have used a different metaphor. Instead of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we might have the Spirit’s toolbox. Rather than fruit, we’d have God’s tools to help us to build His Kingdom. The saw in the box would be God’s peace that cuts worry and fear out of our lives. The sandpaper would be kindness as it smooths out life’s rough edges. Protective gear like safety goggles and steel-toed shoes would be the self-discipline that protects us from sin. Duct tape and WD-40 would be as essential as love, a flashlight would shine our joy, and we’d have clamps to hold us tight to the faith. God’s word would be our blueprint and, instead of being connected to a vine, the power tools would be plugged into the Holy Spirit’s power. Regardless of the metaphor, the Holy Spirit provides us with what we need to be more like Christ.

My son has a variety of fruit trees on his property but, when he moved to his new home, he wasn’t sure what they all were. It wasn’t until the large tree with the pretty red-orange blossoms and shiny green leaves bore fruit that he knew it was a pomegranate and, until the bushes with the oval leaves and small white flowers bore their fruit, he didn’t know he had lemons. Just as a tree is identified by its fruit, a good builder can be identified by his house. Someone could claim to be a master builder but, if the shutters on his house are hanging from the hinges, the windows shattered, the roof tiles missing, the wooden steps broken, the paint peeling, and the walls collapsing, we’d know his claim was false. Just as trees are identifiable by their fruit and builders by their work, it is our behavior that should identify us as Jesus’ followers. The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in everything we do and say and in the attitude we have when we say or do it.

If you were a fruit tree, would anyone recognize the fruit you bear as coming from the Spirit? If you were a builder, would your work resemble that done by a Jewish carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Whether we think of the characteristics of a Christ follower as fruit or tools, the important thing is to let His Spirit make those characteristics a part of our lives so that we end up looking more and more like Jesus! That’s the way we can build His Kingdom!

You will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. … Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:16,18,20 (NLT)]

 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

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OPEN DOORS (Hospitality – Part 4)

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. [Luke 5:32 (NLT)]

Let’s go back to the sixties—a time of “turn on, tune in, drop out”—a counter-culture of “flower power,” anti-war sentiment, and discontented disillusioned youth. When Chuck Smith saw these “hippies” on the California beaches, he said they needed a bath but, when his wife Kay saw them, she said they needed the Lord! Moving their message onto the streets and beach, they opened the doors of their church to those kids and anyone else who wanted to come in. Regardless of faith, background, attire, length of hair, addictions, political views, cleanliness, or finances, the church unconditionally welcomed everyone. While still preaching the uncompromising truth of the Gospel, what began as a congregation of 25, within eight years had to conduct three Sunday services in a 2,200-seat auditorium!

Although we’re not looking for growth like that, my church recently embarked on an outreach campaign to better establish our presence in the community. One of the phrases used in our mailings, flyers, and Facebook ads is, “You don’t have to believe to belong.” Some local pastors berated our pastor for the campaign and even accused him of heresy. Perhaps their complaints stemmed from fear that we were trying to poach their congregations but the message implied just the opposite—we were looking for people who didn’t belong! After all, there are more than enough unbelievers to fill every churches’ pews.

Apparently, the “heresy” part of the accusation was because our ads said belief was not a requirement for belonging. Just to clarify—we clearly identified ourselves as a non-denominational Christian church and never said that people didn’t have to believe to be baptized or didn’t need faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. Nothing implied a universality of beliefs, the lack of a Christian creed, or that what one believes doesn’t matter to God. In fact, a quick view of our website clearly outlines our fundamental Christian beliefs! Adding that we love God, love others, and follow Jesus, the advertisements simply said that people didn’t need to believe to belong. Nevertheless, some pastors disagreed and said that belief should be a prerequisite for belonging! While Scripture does warn of unbelievers in the church, it also calls us to share the gospel and to let our lights shine before men.

Saying you have to be saved before you can belong to a church family seems like saying you have to be physically fit before you can join a gym. When most out-of-shape people join a gym, they’re not too sure about the whole exercise thing. Granted, after trying out the elliptical, free weights, leg press, or spinning classes, some will quit because they don’t like it there. On the other hand, some people may realize how much better their health is because of the gym and enthusiastically embrace fitness, invite others to join, or become trainers themselves! But, if they couldn’t come to the gym because they weren’t fit enough to join, that can’t happen!

How can unbelievers or seekers become believers if we don’t welcome them into our churches? How can people be transformed by God’s word if they don’t hear it? How can they call on His name without knowing who Jesus is? How can they know Him if they haven’t met His followers? How can we preach God’s love if we don’t practice it? Granted, not everyone who comes will stay or choose to believe—but unless we welcome them into our church family, they may never become part of the body of Christ! What we must never do, however, is preach a modified, revised, or tweaked version of the Gospel to accommodate unbelievers. They must understand that, eventually, a decision has to be made—there is only one way into the Kingdom!

Our churches shouldn’t be private clubs where only believers know the secret handshake or password to get in the door! Jesus didn’t divide people into the washed and unwashed when He taught, prayed, healed, or ate—neither should we. When our Lord said He came for sinners, not those who thought themselves righteous, Jesus defined the mission of the church.

A local gym here claims to have a “non-judgmental” philosophy when it comes to joining—perhaps some churches around here need to adopt it, as well!

The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together. [James H. Aughey]

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

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THE SACRED KISS (Hospitality – Part 3)

All the brothers and sisters here send greetings to you. Greet each other with a sacred kiss. [1 Corinthians 16:20 (NLT)]

Greet each other with a kiss of love. Peace be with all of you who are in Christ. [1 Peter 5:14 (NLT)]

mallard - american black duckIn four of Paul’s epistles, he instructs his readers to greet one another with a sacred kiss. The word he used was philéma which meant a kiss of respect or affection between friends rather than one of romance. It seems odd to us today but, when greeting or saying farewell in the ancient world, people frequently kissed one another on the cheek, forehead, beard or hands. In the Old Testament, for example, both Laban and Esau kissed Jacob, Joseph kissed his brothers, Moses kissed Aaron and Jethro, Samuel kissed Saul, David kissed Barzillai and Jonathon, and Absalom curried favor by kissing just about everyone who approached him!

Apparently, the Jewish converts in the early church carried on the practice of greeting one another with a kiss and it grew to have a special significance for them. Peter made mention of it in one of his letters and the elders from the church at Ephesus all embraced and kissed Paul before he left for Jerusalem. This “sacred” kiss expressed union and fellowship and signified a spiritual kinship with other followers of Christ. A kiss from a Jewish Christian to a Gentile convert would have indicated the convert’s full acceptance into the church family. This kiss would have been especially meaningful to new Christians who frequently became outcasts from their own families when they converted. The kiss also may have been a sign of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation that was shared before celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Neither Peter nor Paul were making this kiss mandatory, which is good since greeting one another with a kiss nowadays could lead to a slap, rumors, or a charge of sexual harassment. What they were commanding was that we greet one another warmly and enthusiastically. The word often translated as hospitality in the New Testament was philoxenias which literally meant the love of stranger. Hospitality simply is the generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests. Sad to say, most flight attendants seem to be better at greeting and saying farewell to strangers than many of today’s churches.

When a friend was visiting a local church, she found an empty pew in which to sit. A few minutes later, she was told to move by a group of women who said she was in “their” pew! We’ve attended church events where none of the empty chairs were available because they were saved for other people’s “friends.” I think of a troubled teen who, after being introduced to Jesus in the church youth group, ventured into the church sanctuary for the first time one Sunday morning. He was immediately greeted by a woman who angrily told him to walk right out and only return once he’d taken off his baseball cap and pulled up his saggy pants! Sadly, these are not isolated events. What happened to the “spiritual kinship” of the early church?

In any church, we all begin as strangers, but we shouldn’t remain that way. As members of God’s large and diverse family, we should become a community of former strangers. Our community, however, must be open to new people and that, sadly, often is where we fail. Christian hospitality begins with acknowledging everyone—not just the people in our own circle—both when they arrive and as they depart. Although most churches have designated greeters, welcoming is everyone’s responsibility. Whether or not we know our fellow worshippers, we should greet them as warmly as we would a guest in our own home. Sometimes, hospitality is as simple as a smile, an introduction, or an extended hand.

I’m the first to admit that, at least for me, speaking to strangers doesn’t come naturally and it isn’t easy. Nevertheless, it is where we must begin. After all, a stranger simply is a friend we haven’t yet met! If Jesus walked into your church, would He be welcomed with Christian hospitality or told to take off his baseball cap and pull up His pants or find another place to sit?

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” [Matthew 25:34-35 (NLT)]

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