FAKING IT

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra-long tassels. [Matthew 23:2-5 (NLT)]

cliffroseThere is a funny scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally when, in the middle of a delicatessen, Sally proves to Harry that women can successfully fake being in the throes of passion. After a rather loud and vivid demonstration, Sally calmly returns to her meal. After watching Sally’s display of ecstasy, an older woman tells her waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having!” While it may be possible to fool people about a number of things, we can’t fool God. He looks beyond appearances right into our hearts.

Around the 4th century BC, the Jewish rabbis starting taking the commands in Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18, and Exodus 13:9 literally. They wrote God’s command to love Him and keep His commandments, placed the words in small leather containers called tefillin or phylacteries, and strapped them to their left hand and forehead during prayers. There were various rules regarding the length and width of the straps, the color of the boxes, the knots used, the parchment and ink, and even the number of lines for each verse. These were the “extra wide prayer boxes” to which Jesus referred.

The “extra-long” tassels Jesus mentioned were called tzitzit and were worn on the four corners of an outer garment’s hem. In response to the command in Numbers 15:38-40, the original intent was to remind the people to keep the Lord’s commandments and be holy before Him. As happened with the prayer boxes, by Jesus’ time, additional rules had been added regarding the quantity of threads used in each tassel, the amount of white and blue tassels, and the knots used.

Jesus wasn’t criticizing the wearing of tefillin or tzitzit. After all, as Jews, He and the disciples may have worn them. Jesus was criticizing the religious leaders for the burden they placed on the people with so many demanding man-made regulations. Moreover, He was taking to task those men who sought to draw attention to themselves rather than God by enlarging their tefillin and lengthening their tzitzit in a conspicuous show of their piety and religious zeal when they didn’t truly obey God’s commands. Their garish example of faith was as false as Sally’s intense example of ecstasy. While their display may have fooled and impressed the people, it didn’t fool Jesus.

Some Christians wear crosses or t-shirts announcing their faith while others might display bumper stickers or hang crosses in their homes. More important than how we decorate ourselves or our possessions is the way in which we conduct our lives. Without the love of Jesus and the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit, we’re no different than the self-righteous Pharisees; we’re just faking it.

I remember a song from my Sunday school days in which I proclaimed having the “joy, joy, joy,” the “love of Jesus,” and the “peace that passes understanding down in my heart…down in my heart to stay!” It’s that joy, that love of Jesus, and that peace that passes understanding that truly identify us as Christians. When we know, love and worship God, His love instills a joy into our hearts and lives that only He can produce and, unlike passion and piousness, they can’t be faked. It is, however, only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can live the kind of lives and exhibit the sort of behavior that truly will make people say, “I’ll have what they’re having!”

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)]

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THE UNDERCOVER BOSS

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)]

swamp lilyEvery employee wants to have a good boss. Unfortunately, the CEOs of some large firms can be out-of-touch with many of their employees; the executive suite is a world away from the mail room or warehouse. While they may understand the bottom line, many CEOs have no idea how their businesses function on a day-to-day basis. In its 10th season, Undercover Boss is a television show in which high-ranking executives disguise themselves, assume an alias and cover story, and then work undercover in their own companies. Taking such jobs as cashier, line cook, delivery person, or maintenance man, the bosses learn what it is like for the rank and file in their large corporations. Later, they reveal their identities to the workers with whom they interacted during the week. Their experience usually results in better training and improved working conditions for the employees and a change of attitude for the executives. Reality TV, however, is a carefully planned and edited version of events and I wonder if that one week really makes a lasting impact on the bosses.

As the first undercover boss, Jesus didn’t give up the executive suite for the stock room; He gave up His heavenly home to live as a man on earth. He didn’t relinquish the privileges of divinity for just a week but for thirty-three years. He willingly lived with all of humanity’s limitations and the aches, pains, indignities and death that come with flesh and blood. Fully experiencing human emotions, He loved and toiled, taught and learned, laughed and cried, rejoiced and grieved. He was tempted, challenged, demeaned, dishonored, doubted, denied, accused, betrayed, tortured, and executed.

Glassdoor, a site that allows employees to anonymously rank companies, also rates top CEOs based on their employees’ evaluations. The qualities in a CEO most valued by employees appear to be accessibility, dedication, a well-defined and clearly communicated vision for the business, and guidance as to how employees can achieve those goals. Because of the unique challenges posed by the pandemic, employees responding to 2020’s survey added the importance of having bosses who prioritize their employees’ welfare and listen to their needs.

Although Mark Aslett of Mercury Systems (an aerospace and defense company) won top CEO honors with a 95% approval rating in 2020, I think we all agree that God gets a 100% every year! Readily accessible, we can call on Him anytime and His door is open to even the lowliest of sinners. Scripture testifies to His dedication—for thousands of years, He’s been working toward filling the earth with the glory of the Lord. He never gave up on the Israelites and He hasn’t given up on us. He clearly stated what He expects of us—to glorify Him by living our lives in relationship with and faithful service to Him. Moreover, the Bible is better than any employee handbook in telling us how to achieve His goal. Evidence that God puts our welfare above His own in found in Jesus willingly going to the cross to save us! Moreover, when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He didn’t leave us floundering around on our own—instead of better training or nicer working conditions, He gave us the Holy Spirit who teaches, guides, empowers, strengthens, comforts, corrects and even intercedes for us!

I doubt that we’ll ever see JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon take on the role of bank teller or Jeff Bezos packing boxes at an Amazon warehouse, but that was God Himself who became a poor working man from a little Galilean village just for us! He was, indeed, the first (and best) undercover boss!

God knows what each one of us is dealing with. He knows our pressures. He knows our conflicts. And He has made a provision for each and every one of them. That provision is Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, indwelling us and empowering us to respond rightly. [Kay Arthur]

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. [John 14:26 (NLT)]

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WHAT PRONOUN?

God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.  Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” [Exodus 3:14 (NLT)]

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” [Revelation 1:8 (NLT)]

As Christianity Today aptly points out, “Changing gender norms, new social media platforms, and deepening class divisions have led to a renewed conflict over language.” As a writer, I have more than enough opportunities to intentionally or unintentionally offend with my words and, as a reader, you have plenty of opportunities to criticize my choice of words. As a Christian, I want to speak with love and in such a way that doesn’t isolate any race, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnic background so I try to use inclusive language and avoid words that might be thought of as exclusionary of any group. Nevertheless, I’m not always successful. While I understand using “police officer” instead of “policeman,” other words are more problematic and not so easily changed.

Moreover, eventually we need a pronoun and most pronouns are gender specific. In 2012, the Swedes started using hen, a gender neutral pronoun that can replace the gender specific hon (she) and han (he). We don’t have that option in English. Our pronouns take the gender of the noun they replace and substituting every “his” and “her” with “his or her” or “his/her” is cumbersome at best. Using “they,” “them” or “their” for a singular person when gender is unknown can be misleading and goes against rules of grammar I learned as a girl!

When referring to Jesus, it’s easy to know the correct pronoun because Scripture makes it clear—the Savior presented Himself on earth as a man. With God and the Holy Spirit, it’s not so clear cut. Regardless of who is referring to God or if it’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, male pronouns are used for God in Scripture. Since God chose to reveal Himself to us as a man when He clothed Himself in flesh and Jesus made about 160 references to God as father (not parent), does that make God male? What about the Holy Spirit? Although the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) was gender neutral, the Holy Spirit is referred to as masculine throughout the New Testament. Is the Spirit male, as well?

God is God: the great I AM—the Alpha and Omega—the beginning and the end! Although God is a person—with intellect, emotion, motivation, insight and a will—a person who can communicate, create, and have relationships—God is spirit. Without flesh, bones, and the limitations of a physical body, God has no gender—neither male nor female. Like God, the Holy Spirit is both a person and a spirit and, as such, is genderless, as well. Without a gender, there are no perfect pronouns for either God or the Holy Spirit. The Lord is not an “it” nor is the Holy Spirit a “they.”

Although some women writers refer to God as “she,” lacking a better solution and, in deference to Scripture’s original writers, I will continue to refer to God and the Holy Spirit as “He.” I understand that being referred to by the right pronoun can be pivotal to a person’s identity, but I doubt it is crucial for God. Something tells me that God is far more interested in having us talk about Him (or Her) and pray to Him (or Her) than what pronouns we use when doing it.

For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24 (NLT)]

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REBOOTING

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. [1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)]

After a security update, I was prompted to restart my computer. Although I didn’t want to stop writing for a reboot, malicious software—whether a virus, spyware, rootkit, ransom ware, Trojan horse, or whatever the latest threat is—can range from being merely troublesome to incredibly destructive, so I willingly stopped my work.

While waiting for the installation process to finish and my computer to restart, it occurred to me how much I’d like a similar program installed in my life. The damage done by cybercriminals and malware is nothing when compared to the devastation Satan can wreak on our lives. Instead of protecting us from attacks on our devices, an anti-sin program would have a firewall to protect us from external threats to our spiritual well-being. Once installed, it would warn us about potential trouble spots and regularly scan our thoughts to keep any sinful ones from sneaking in.

Mercifully, God has already provided an excellent anti-sin program and firewall in the armor of God. Like any computer program, however, it requires a reboot—the life changing one of accepting Jesus. And, like our computers, without regular updating, it becomes vulnerable to the latest threats. Our anti-sin program requires an on-going relationship with God and, if we’re not connected to His Holy Spirit, there’s no chance of defeating the enemy.

But, just as a computer’s anti-virus program can’t defend against the bad judgment of its user, neither can our anti-sin program. It’s not God’s fault when we sin—we have only ourselves to blame for our poor choices. Both computers and people are fallible and there will be times we get bugs in our software or, worse, simply crash. Since I’m technically challenged, when I run into computer problems, I call my tech savvy son-in-law (whose first advice usually is to reboot)! When it’s a spiritual problem, if we ask the Holy Spirit to show us what isn’t working properly and how to fix it, we can be sure He will. He’ll offer excellent tech support involving things like confession, repentance, prayer, Scripture, study, fellowship, and service.

To make it perform more efficiently, my computer regularly cleans out unnecessary files and then asks me to complete the process with a restart. Just as those useless files on my computer need to be eliminated to make room for new data, there’s a fair amount of rubbish in our minds—things like guilt, shame, anxiety, anger, and resentment—that should be discarded to make room for the good news of the gospel. Don’t be surprised if a reboot is required!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

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YOKE OR EASY BUTTON?

yoke - easy button

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  [Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)]

Several years ago, an office supply company featured an “easy” button in its advertisements and you still can purchase one for less than $9. “Don’t stress it; press it,” their web site suggests. Apparently, when placed on your desk, you can show others how easy it is to find solutions to their problems. Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to do was push a button to make things easy (or at least easier)?

Rather than a button, however, Jesus offers us a yoke: a wooden frame used as a sort of harness to join two draft animals so they can work together. Among assorted farm implements that once decorated our mountain home, we had the yoke pictured above. It hung upside down but that heavy wooden beam actually rested on the animals’ necks. Without any padding, it doesn’t look that easy to bear! If it is all the same to God, I’d much rather push an easy button than take on anything like a yoke! Fortunately, Jesus was speaking figuratively.

The heavy burden to which Jesus was referring was that of the Pharisees and their legalistic law-keeping that went far beyond God’s demands. For example, there were 39 major categories with hundreds of subcategories defining what constituted work on the Sabbath. While the Jewish way offered the yoke of the law without the power to be obedient, Jesus offered a yoke of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit!

Nevertheless, this passage also can be interpreted as Jesus being our burden sharer. While many things are too heavy for us to bear alone, nothing is too great for Him. By taking His yoke, we give up trying to do life on our own; instead of finding rest in a method, we find rest in a person: Jesus! His yoke is better than an easy button because it actually works! When yoked to Him our burdens are no longer our own!

Can you think of any kinder words than Jesus asking us to come to Him to find rest? Life isn’t easy but God never promised that it would be. Rather than an easy button, we have Jesus and His promise that life is doable with Him. Unlike the yoke that hung on our wall, His yoke is easy to bear and the burden is light. We never have to carry the heavy load of life on our own because He will share it with us. Better yet, since He is so much stronger, most of the weight will be on His heavenly shoulders.

Today, as I take on Jesus’ yoke and share life’s weight with Him, I recall the old Swedish proverb that says, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”  Wearing His yoke will make my life much brighter and my burdens much lighter.

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. [Psalm 55:22 (NLT)]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

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RESTORATIONS

Bryce - UtahSince you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

Having worked in a garage as a teen, my husband enjoys those shows in which cars or motorcycles are renovated, restored or customized. Either the mechanics seek a wreck in the hope of restoring it to turn a tidy profit or a car’s owner brings in a vehicle for a rebuild. Derelict vintage cars and cycles are restored to their original glory in some of the shows while, in other programs, vehicles are upgraded and modified in truly remarkable ways

Turning rust-buckets into pristine collector cars of beauty or ordinary cars into extraordinary muscle machines is a little like what God does with us. Rather than just a little body work like buffing out a scratch, pin-striping, or filling a ding with Bondo, God does complete restorations like the ones done on shows like Fast N’ Loud or Counting Cars (only without the tattoos). Whether we know it or not, we’re as damaged as the rare E-type 1964 Jaguar left to rust in a barn for over forty years. Purchased for fifty thousand pounds, once restored, it was sold for four times that price. God, however, doesn’t have to buy us because Jesus already paid the price for us. Moreover, God isn’t concerned with turning a profit. Out of love for us, He does a complete overhaul, not to make us appear new, but to actually make us new!

As the original manufacturer, you can be sure God uses only OEM parts rather than aftermarket or recycled ones. No soul is too damaged, no job too hard and God won’t stop at something like a simple honesty fix when He sees a tough patience issue. He’ll get out His heavenly tool kit to work on a selfishness adjustment, replace the foolishness with godly wisdom, file down that vanity, and then get to work on that persistent case of pigheadedness. Even a pesky obedience problem can’t deter Him from His holy work. He’s not going to stop until we’re completely rebuilt.

When we accept Christ, we’re reborn or regenerated and taken from spiritual death to life. A momentary act, regeneration is the exclusive work of God. It’s like towing a broken-down car out of the junk heap and into the shop. The restoration part is called sanctification. TV’s restoration specialists usually have a deadline in which to complete their work but God’s sanctification work is never done; it’s a process that lasts a lifetime.

There is, however, another major difference between the car restorer and God. The mechanic doesn’t need the cooperation of the car to do his work. Sanctification, however, is a joint effort between God and us. We must do our part to mature and become more like Christ. As God continues His work in us through the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened in our continual struggle against sin. Because this process of putting away sin and putting on godliness never ends, we won’t be leaving God’s garage any time soon. It is only when we return to our rightful owner at Christ’s resurrection that we will be completely restored.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)]

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