THE ONE HE LOVES – Part 1

In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. [Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (NIV)]

eagleA friend once asked her mother which of her children was the favorite. I can’t imagine making such a query, wanting to hear the answer, or how I’d respond to the same question. Since I can’t even pick my favorite color, I certainly couldn’t pick my favorite child. Is it the one with the over-the-top personality who not only could sell ice cubes to Eskimos but convince them to double their order because of a possible shortage? Is my favorite the adventurous one with the wonderfully quirky sense of humor and a mind that puts Wikipedia to shame? Is my favorite the thoughtful child—the one whose faith, strength, and patience rival that of Job? If they were beverages, one child would be a doppio espresso; another spiced chai with ginger, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and cloves; while the third would be calming chamomile tea with a touch of honey. Like those beverages, each of my children is interesting, pleasant, and delightfully unique. One challenged me, one grieved me, and one worried me. Do I love them less because of that? Absolutely not! While I love them equally, because they have been blessed with different personalities and abilities, I don’t always treat them the same. Nevertheless, I love all three of them, just each in their own special way!

When my father called me the “apple of his eye,” I felt precious, treasured, and loved. I realize now that he never used that phrase within earshot of my siblings and suspect he used the same term of endearment in private with them. While there probably were times he liked one of us more than the others, I think we each were the apple of his eye in our own special way.

The Apostle John seemed to think he was the apple of Jesus’ eye. In his gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In the only other gospel written by one of the disciples, Matthew always refers to himself by name. I suspect the difference in how these men referred to themselves has far more to do with their writing style than with whether or not they felt loved. Granted, Jesus had his inner circle—John, Peter and James—but I don’t think that means He loved one disciple more than the next.

Indeed, John was the apple of Jesus’ eye—but so were Matthew, doubtful Thomas, Simon the Zealot, impulsive Peter, prayerful Mary, busy Martha, the woman at the well, and even the repentant thief on the cross. Because each was unique, they weren’t always treated the same but, without a doubt, each was loved and all were the “apple of his eye.” When we accepted Christ, God adopted us into His family and each of us, in our own special way, became His favored and much-loved child and the apple of His eye. Like John, every one of us is the disciple Jesus loves!

For God does not show favoritism. [Romans 2:11 (NIV)]

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)]

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TEACH IT

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronSince 1890, a common teaching method in a surgical residency is to “see one, do one, teach one.” The med student learns the basics by watching an experienced physician do a procedure and then puts his knowledge into practice by doing the procedure himself. He hasn’t mastered the procedure, however, until he’s taught someone else to do it; it is only when we can teach something that we truly understand it.

While Jesus doesn’t call us all to be physicians, he does call us all to be disciples and discipleship follows much the same “see, do, and teach” philosophy of med school. Almost anyone, if they studied hard and observed enough of them, could learn how a coronary heart bypass is done, but that wouldn’t make them cardiovascular surgeons any more than just knowing about Jesus makes someone a disciple of Christ. The first disciples did more than just watch Jesus perform miracles and listen to His parables and, if we’re to be Christ’s disciples, we need to do more than just learn about our Lord.

For the budding heart surgeon, just knowing how a heart bypass is done isn’t enough; he actually has to do one. He actually has to do it by making an incision, opening the chest, touching the heart, and grafting blood vessels from other parts of the body to reroute the blood around the clogged arteries. For Christians, the equivalent of doing one is living like Jesus—applying the Lord’s teachings to our lives and becoming like Him. We put into practice all that we’ve learned about love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation. While few of us would be able to take that second step in medicine and perform bypass surgery, we can take that second step in our faith and put into practice what we’ve been taught by Jesus.

Just seeing and doing, however, aren’t enough if we really want to comprehend something or master a skill. It’s when we try to help someone else understand a concept or technique that we learn in greater depth. In the third step, the training physician teaches someone else how to do the procedure. Because this new student sees things from another viewpoint and asks different questions, the teacher has to think harder and dig deeper to answer and explain his reasoning. It is when the new surgeon can clearly explain and demonstrate which arteries have the best results when grafted and how to remove and reattach them, that he has become a competent surgeon. It’s successfully taking that third step of teaching that eventually turns a med student into a skilled physician.

In Christianity, we often hold back when it comes to that third step: teaching, talking about, and demonstrating how our faith in Jesus works. The command to be disciples was given to us so the gospel message could spread far and wide but, perhaps, in His wisdom, God also knew that it is in sharing our faith that it becomes deeper and stronger. The faith of those early disciples intensified as they spread the gospel message and their knowledge expanded as they taught. When reading Acts and the Epistles, we see how the men who abandoned Jesus in the garden became mature disciples as they shared the gospel, clarified points, answered questions, and explained their belief. Most of us have no hope of ever becoming a surgeon and we’re probably not going to become theologians or even Sunday school teachers. Nevertheless, we have an opportunity to teach about Jesus whenever we open our mouths. Our faith will grow stronger and deeper not just by seeing Jesus in Scripture and doing as would He, but by sharing the gospel message with others.

To teach is to learn twice. [Joseph Joubert]

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. [Ephesians 4:14-15 (NLT)]

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PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES (Who’s Who – 1)

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tried to catch him out by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. [Matthew 16:1 (NTE)]

magnoliaIf I mentioned the Rotary or Kiwanis clubs, used the acronyms AARP, NRA, or PETA, or referred to the #MeToo or BLM movements, today’s readers would understand my references but they’d be unfamiliar to a reader 2,000 years from now. That’s the difficulty we sometimes encounter when reading the New Testament. While the authors knew who they were talking about, the 21st century American often doesn’t.

1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus lists at least four main sects of Judaism—the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. Although no group constituted a majority, each group claimed to possess the only truth. Since politics and religion were almost the same thing in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, we’ll get a better grasp of the hornet’s nest into which Jesus stepped when He began preaching if we know a little about the various religious and political groups He encountered.

The Pharisees are the group we know best. Having originated about 150 BC, they were comprised of people from all walks of life. Josephus reported that “the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.” Popular with the people and considered the highest religious authorities, these powerful men were influential in the local synagogues. They believed that God transmitted both the written law (the Torah) and an oral law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Believing both the written and oral laws of divine origin and equal importance, they demanded strict observance of both. Their leaders were called rabbis or teachers and often attracted followers or disciples. Jesus frequently censured the Pharisees and clashed with them about things like fasting, hand washing, their concept of the Sabbath, and temple contributions. While we tend to see them as legalistic hypocrites, not all Pharisees were phonies or opposed to Jesus; some even became His followers. Moreover, their emphasis on following Jewish rituals and traditions outside of the Temple kept Judaism alive after the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD.

The Sadducees were another religious group in Jesus’ day. Composed mostly of priests, they existed from about the 2nd century BC until the Temple’s destruction. Their political responsibilities included administering the Jews in Judea, collecting taxes in the temple, and regulating relations with the Roman Empire. Because they were backed by the rich and elite, the Sadducees tended to side with whomever was in power. Because they profited from Temple business, unlike the Pharisees, they weren’t popular. Josephus reported that “the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious (obedient) to them.” It was the Sadducees Jesus criticized when he cleared the Temple’s outer courts of its market and money changers.

Believing solely in the authority of the written Torah, the Sadducees rejected the Pharisees’ oral traditions. Their difference can be seen in the way the two groups interpreted the law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….” [Exodus 21:24] Inflexible in their literal interpretation of the Torah, the Sadducees would demand the loss of an eye (tooth, hand, or foot) as punishment for causing such a loss to another person. With their oral tradition, the Pharisees interpreted the law figuratively and would only demand that an equal monetary compensation be given to the injured party. While both the Pharisees and Sadducees believed in mankind’s free will, the Pharisees differed in their belief that God had foreknowledge of man’s destiny. Pharisees believed in the existence of angels and spirits, that spirits could communicate with man, and in the resurrection of the dead during the Messianic age; the Sadducees did not.

What both groups did agree on was that Jesus was a threat to their positions and they joined forces against their common enemy. Sadly, each group was so sure they possessed the only truth, it never occurred to them that they could be wrong! They were so intent focusing on the Law that they missed the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies when He was right in front of them!

“Well, well!” replied Jesus. “You’re a teacher of Israel, and yet you don’t know about all this? I’m telling you the solemn truth: we’re talking about things we know about. We’re giving evidence about things we’ve seen. But you won’t admit our evidence. … And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because what they were doing was evil.” [John 1:10-11,19 (NTE)]

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OUT OF CONTEXT

The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. [Psalm 19:7-8 (NLT)]

gullIf I read a novel simply by searching through it for a few choice sentences, I’d miss the whole plot! I could quote Scarlett’s last words “After all, tomorrow is another day,” but I wouldn’t know why she said it nor would I know why Rhett said he didn’t give a damn! If I picked out just a few sentences in A Tale of Two Cities, I’d never know why Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or even the names of the two cities! While I might be able to quote Santiago’s belief that, ”A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” I wouldn’t know if that proved true without finishing The Old Man and the Sea. Reading only bits and pieces, I’d never know that it was an escaped convict, not Miss Havisham, who was Pip’s benefactor in Great Expectations, that Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester had a lunatic wife in the attic, or the identity of the killer in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Since we don’t read novels haphazardly, I wonder why we tend to do that with the Bible. Rather than a work of fiction, it’s the Word of God! Moreover, we can get in trouble by reading out of context and basing our faith and lives on a few select verses. The story is told of a man, plagued by guilt, who sought spiritual guidance in his Bible. Opening it randomly to Matthew 27, he closed his eyes and placed his finger on the page. It came to rest on verse 5 in which the remorseful Judas went out and hung himself. Wanting clarification and further guidance, the man flipped to another page and randomly selected a new verse. It was Luke 10:37 when, following the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” For that man, reading the Bible as a random series of verses and instructions had tragic consequences. We must be cautious of thinking of Scripture as a faith-based version of a Magic 8-ball. Opening it randomly and putting a finger on a verse to select our course of action is not its purpose.

In spite of its 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,173 verses, the Bible is not a series of unconnected short stories or unrelated verses—it is the continuous story of God’s relationship to man and deserves to be read that way. Individual verses aren’t meant to be read alone; they need to be read in context. The chapter and verse numbers are there solely to make it easier for us to locate passages and are no more part of the Bible than are its page numbers. If we’re not going to read at an entire chapter at a sitting, we’d be wise to follow the advice found in the Talmud: “He that reads in the Torah may not read less than three verses.” [m. Meg. 4.4]

The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A.W. Tozer]

You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:15-17 (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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