DRY BONES

Taos NMThen he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” [Ezekiel 37:4-6 (NLT)]

The Jewish people were in despair. Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple destroyed. Exiled to Babylon, they were without a king, homeland, or hope. God’s promise of Israel’s restoration is depicted in Ezekiel 37 when the prophet is transported in a vision to a valley filled with desiccated bones. The Lord instructs Ezekiel to speak a prophecy over the dry bones that the Lord will bring them back to life. As the prophet begins to speak God’s words, the bones start rattling and coming together as skeletons. The prophet watches as muscles, tendons, and skin cover the bones until they became fully formed bodies. Although the bodies look alive, they are no more than unbreathing corpses until the Lord instructs Ezekiel to tell the four winds to breathe life into the lifeless beings. As the prophet speaks God’s words, he witnesses the once dead bodies come alive, stand erect, and become a great army. The initial meaning is pretty obvious: the bones coming back together illustrate Israel’s restoration and the wind or breath entering the dead bodies illustrate spiritual renewal or rebirth.

Be that as it may, as a Sunday schooler who didn’t understand the story behind Ezekiel’s somewhat eerie vision, picturing those dry bones rattling and rising up gave me the creeps. Perhaps it was because of the children’s song Dem Dry Bones. Even though we sang it in Sunday school, the song was associated more with Halloween (and its ghosts and goblins) than Biblical prophecy. Sometimes, a second verse was added in which Ezekiel, after connecting those bones, disconnected them—not a pleasant visual for any child! Perhaps I’d simply seen too many Saturday matinees with zombies, mummies, or other creatures of the night. Not understanding the context behind Ezekiel’s prophecy, the whole vision seemed as macabre as does the Body Worlds exhibit that features real skinless corpses preserved in plastic.

Yesterday’s devotion mentioned how I enjoy listening to worship music on my frequent trips to and from my doctor’s appointments. When I first heard Elevation Worship’s Rattle, with its words, “And the bones began to rattle, rattle, rattle, rattle…This is the sound of dry bones rattling,” I initially thought of Ezekiel’s vision. The thought of hearing dry bones rattling immediately brought up the old ghoulish images from childhood. But, as I listened to the rest of their words, those bones weren’t the dry ones in Ezekiel’s vision. As they sang, “Saturday was silent, Surely it was through. … Friday’s disappointment is Sunday’s empty tomb,” I understood they were singing about Jesus rising from the grave and the renewal of life for those who are restored by His power.

Today, I returned to Ezekiel 37 and saw his vision as more than a simple prophecy of the people’s return from their exile in Babylon, the reconstitution of the modern state of Israel, and/or the end times and the second coming of Christ. I saw it as a beautiful story of hope and rebirth. Although the prophecy was for Israel, I see Ezekiel’s vision as an illustration of what God can do for and with us right now—the life-giving power of His word to put back together the pieces of our broken lives and the power of the Spirit’s breath to bring us back to spiritual life! No longer will I cringe at the thought of dry bones rattling and rising. They tell me that no one ever is beyond restoration—no one is ever so spiritually dead that he or she can’t come alive again. The rattle of dry bones will remind me that, without the resurrection power of Jesus and the breath of the Spirit, we are little more than dry bones in a valley.

No difficulties in your case can baffle him, no dwarfing of your growth in years that are past, no apparent dryness of your inward springs of life, no crookedness or deformity in any of your past development, can in the least mar the perfect work that he will accomplish, if you will only put yourselves absolutely into his hands and let him have his own way with you. [ Hannah Whitall Smith]

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

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BROKEN-DOWN WALLS

An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his great foolishness. … A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. [Proverbs 5:22-23, 25:28 (NLT)]

Stagecoach Rd GalenaThe book of Nehemiah opens with Nehemiah’s distress at learning that Jerusalem’s walls remained in shambles even though decades had passed since the first Jewish exiles returned to the city. Broken walls and no gates meant Jerusalem (and the Temple) were defenseless against enemies and wild animals. Just as a city is defenseless against its enemies’ attacks, a person without self-control is defenseless against the Satan’s attacks.

The story is told of Raynald III, a 14th century duke in what now is Belgium. After his younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him, the duke was captured. Rather than kill his elder brother, Edward built a room around him in the castle. Hardly an ordinary prison cell, it had several un-barred windows and a nearly normal-sized unlocked door. All Raynald had to do to regain both his title and property was to leave his room.

While walking out an unlocked door sounds easy to us, it wasn’t for Raynald. With the nickname of “Crassus” (Latin for “fat, gross, plump”), the deposed duke was grossly overweight. To gain his freedom, Raynald just needed to lose some of his girth so he could fit through the door. Rather than dieting his way out of prison, however, the obese man grew even fatter as he feasted on the delicious rich foods his brother sent to him each day. When Edward was accused of cruelly imprisoning his brother, he justified his actions by saying, “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so will.” Indeed, Raynald wasn’t Edward’s prisoner; he was a prisoner of his appetite. With no self-control, he gorged himself in that room for ten years until the door was widened after Edward’s death.

Just as a city with broken walls and no gates is vulnerable to attack, a person with no self-control, like Raynald, is equally vulnerable. Because of his brother’s insatiable appetite and self-indulgence, Edward knew how to defeat Raynald. Like Edward, Satan knows what tempts us—be it gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, laziness, envy, pride or any other sin. Self-control is the last (but not the least) characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul. Indeed, without the power of the Holy Spirit, we are as defenseless as an ancient city with broken-down walls. Nevertheless, in the end, we are the ones responsible for patrolling our gates and judging what will enter into our lives. Although empowered by the Spirit with the self-control to refuse entry, we are the ones who must close the gates.

Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem, however, was about more than safety. Although their broken walls and burnt gates made them vulnerable to enemies, to the ancient pagan world, the strength of a city’s walls represented the strength of the people’s gods. Nehemiah knew those wrecked walls dishonored Jehovah’s name; to the rest of the world, they meant a powerless God and a disgraced and defeated people.

When we can’t control our passions, anger, conversation, spending, appetite or any other behavior, what does that say about us? Are we a disgraced and defeated people? When we, as followers of Christ, fail to exercise self-control, what does that say about our God? Because of his lack of self-control, Raynald was held captive by his appetite and dishonored his own name. Without self-control, we become captives to sin and dishonor Jesus’ name.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. [1 Corinthians 6:12 (NLT)]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

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THE PRINCE’S PSALM

swamp lilyI will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. … I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. [Psalm 101:2,4 (NLT)]

Starting with Solomon, Psalm 101 was sung at the kings’ coronations. Believed to have been written by David, the psalm has several “I will” statements in which the king resolves to reign righteously, sing of God’s mercy and justice, and live a blameless life in his home. Pledging to refuse to have anything to do with wickedness, he promises not to tolerate crooked dealings or evil and to be so careful about the character of his associates that only those above reproach would serve him. He vows to be intolerant of slander, conceit, arrogance, deceit, and falsehoods and he pledges that his daily task will be to search out the wicked to free the city from all evil.

Perhaps because the psalm describes the proper conduct for a Christian king, it was known as the “prince’s psalm” in Europe. Ernest I (1601 –1675), the Duke of Saxe-Gotha (and known as “Ernest the Pious”) is said to have sent an unfaithful minister a copy of the psalm as a subtle way of voicing his reproach. It soon became a popular saying that whenever an official did something wrong, he would receive a copy of the “prince’s psalm” to read! With his deep concern about civil government, Martin Luther wrote an 80-page discussion of the psalm in which he expounded on the qualities of a Christian prince or magistrate. Those leadership qualities haven’t gone out of style and 21st century Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe suggests we simply call the psalm “Leadership 101.” Indeed, the psalm is an excellent plan both for virtuous living and good governance.

The psalm’s lofty goals, however, were written by a man who didn’t live up to them and sung for other kings who couldn’t either. I’m sure David had every intention of walking in a way that pleased God. He never envisioned raping Bathsheba, committing adultery, plotting with Joab to murder Uriah, having to deal with Amnon’s rape of Tamar, nor the family and political intrigue that comes with at least eight wives and nineteen sons. When sung at Solomon’s coronation, the new king probably was filled with good intentions, as well. He never pictured having a harem of 1,000, building pagan shrines for Chemosh or Molech, or worshipping those foreign gods. Like David and Solomon, we usually start out with good intentions but seem to lose our way when it comes to achieving them. Even the Apostle Paul admitted difficulty in putting his good intentions into practice when he said, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” [Romans 7:18-19]

In spite of our high ideals and lofty goals, sin loves to rear its ugly head. If people like David, Solomon and Paul couldn’t live up to their good intentions, what chance is there for us? Not much if we hope to do it on our own, but the good news is we’re not alone! “Thank God!” said Paul, “The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Romans 7:25] The rest of the answer is found in Romans 8. Today, don’t just read a portion of this beautiful chapter—please read it all.

And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. …Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. …The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. [Romans 8:2,5,11-12] (NLT)] 

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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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