GOD’S WARDROBE

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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LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR

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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FENCES

Stay away from every kind of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NLT)]

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. [Misnha (Pirke Avot)]

tigerLast December, after breaching the barrier surrounding the tiger enclosure at our local zoo, a man stuck his hand into the tiger’s cage. A similar incident occurred a few months later at a nearby airboat attraction when a man improperly went through the first enclosure and put his arms into the tiger’s cage. Although both men survived, they suffered serious injuries to their hands and arms. Fences are placed to protect us and keep us from getting too close to danger but you can’t protect people from their own stupidity.

Just as those fences around the tigers’ cages were meant to protect people from the tigers (and the tigers from people), many of the Rabbinic innovations were designed to protect the commandments of the Torah. It is in the Mishnah (the oldest collection of post-biblical Jewish laws) that we find the phrase “make a fence around the Torah.” It is this fence, not the Bible, that explains the hundreds of prohibitions we find in Judaism.

Those Rabbinic rules were supposed to prevent people from being tempted to break the law or unintentionally doing so. For example, items like hammers and scissors that were associated with prohibited work like building or cutting, were not even to be picked up lest handling them led to their use. Although the Sabbath officially begins at sunset Friday, a few minutes were added before its beginning and after its end to make sure no one accidentally worked too late or resumed work too early. Even today, for my Jewish friend, the Shabbat candles are lit and all work has stopped no later than 18 minutes before the sun officially sets. His Sabbath ends when three stars are visible, which can be about 30 minutes after sunset. Rather than additions to the Mosaic law, these fences were seen as a way of helping people remain obedient to the law; they were erected to keep people from giving into temptation or just cutting it too close! Sadly, through the years, the rules became increasingly complicated and, by Jesus’ time, they were the heavy yoke about which He spoke.

Nevertheless, Jesus gave us a New Testament version of building a fence when He equated the emotion of anger with the act of murder and the attitude of lust with adultery. Anger and lust are like stepping too close to the tiger’s cage—they’re dangerous territory! Just as picking up his cell phone on Saturday might lead my Jewish friend to break the Sabbath by using it, lust and anger can lead to something far worse! Sticking your arm in a tiger’s cage or stepping into sin never ends well and, rather than gouging out our eyes or cutting off our hands, we can erect spiritual boundaries to keep us and our loved ones safe. We may restrict our youngsters to G or PG movies or set specific rules about dating for our teens. We might use internet filters to screen out inappropriate content on our computers, abstain from alcohol, or avoid the appearance of inappropriate behavior by following the “Billy Graham rule” of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex except for one’s spouse. We each have our own spiritual fences.

Unless they’re found in Scripture, however, those fences are not doctrine. They are our personal rules and, as such, other people may have different ones, some of which may be closer or further from the tiger’s cage than ours. We are not in a position to judge other people’s spiritual barriers any more than they are to judge ours. Unfortunately, for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the fence around the Torah became more important than the law itself. We must never do that. Every fence we erect must comply with God’s simple law that we love Him with our entire being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

…he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31 (NLT)]

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A DIFFERENT SORT OF FAST – Part 1

What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? [Isaiah 58:4-5 (NLT)]

green heronWith nearly 20,000 tweets, the 2022 Twitter “Lent Tracker” revealed that the top Lenten fast for Twitter users was alcohol. Twitter and social networking took second and third places followed by Lent, sex, coffee, chocolate, swearing, men and meat. Using Twitter to give up Twitter seems somewhat counter-productive and giving up Lent for Lent makes no sense at all. Then again, since I don’t tweet, Twitter itself doesn’t make sense to me. In a survey by YouGov, people were asked what would be the hardest thing to abstain from for Lent and watching TV or using streaming services was the number one answer in all age groups except for ages 18 to 24. It’s no surprise that the hardest thing to relinquish for that group was social networking!

I tried something new for my Lenten observance this year by letting Alicia Britt Chole’s 40 Days of Decrease lead me through the season. Along with a daily devotion about Jesus’ life, an inspiring quote upon which to meditate, a tidbit about Lent’s history, Scripture reading and journaling, a specific fast was suggested for each day. Over the past several weeks, I’ve fasted from things like regret, avoidance, apathy, denial, leavening, and comparison.

Fasting from a meal one day was far easier than fasting from isolation the next. Since the pandemic, I’ve grown comfortable in isolation and gotten lax about making an effort to socialize. As God would have it, my fast from isolation was on a Tuesday, the day our pastor has an informal gathering at a local coffee shop. The day’s assignment was to, “Purpose to link and be linked…and intentionally nurture your God-given web of relationships.” Even though I was behind in my writing, the fast required me to join the others. It was a needed reminder that we are to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works,” and not to “neglect our meeting together… but encourage one another.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Another day, after reading about the woman who lavishly anointed Jesus with essence of nard, the fast was stinginess. I pondered which charity would get the benefit of the day’s fast but writing a check didn’t seem much of a sacrifice since we’ve never been stingy with our money to charity. When my husband asked me to walk the beach with him, my first thought was that I didn’t have the time. The day’s stinginess fast, however, reminded me that we can be miserly with time as well as money. Having been directed not to allow reason to “ration out your love in stingy portions,” I accepted the offer to spend quality time with him. The woman who anointed Jesus is remembered “as one who loved lavishly;” I’d like to be remembered the same way! Time is as precious as money or a flask of expensive perfume and we never should be stingy with it.

Thinking about these two fasts, I realized they both had to do with time. They made me question my willingness to share my time with others, to sacrifice my agenda for a better purpose, and to put relationships ahead of tasks. Like money, time is a precious commodity with a limited supply and, like money, time can be wasted or foolishly spent. Unlike money, however, we can’t gain more than our allotted amount nor can we save what we have for another day. Whether we use it or not, time is gone as fast as it came. May we always remember we have a limited time here and no real way of knowing when our days will end. Let us live each precious day as if it is the only one we have.

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received. [C.S. Lewis]

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:14 (NLT)]

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NO SMALL PARTS 

Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. [Matthew 7:12 (MSG)]

gardeniaWhen the Academy Awards were held recently, Oscars were presented for things like best director, best lead and supporting actors and actresses, and even best make-up and hair styling. If it’s true (as my theater teachers claimed) that, “There are no small parts, only small actors!” how is it that no awards were given to the best small part players? Regardless of the perfection with which they may have fulfilled their “bit parts”, their screen time was too short to be nominated for anything. To add insult to injury, they may have been known only as Dog Walker or Nurse #2! The small role, however, doesn’t mean the character played an insignificant part in the story. Nevertheless, after moving the story forward, the bit part players just fade into the background. Even so, while their names may be forgotten, the story wouldn’t have been the same had they not played their roles.

When thinking of the people who passed through our lives, we know who the major players are but what of the others, the ones who left a small but indelible mark on us—the people with the bit parts in the scripts of our lives? We may have forgotten their names or never have known them at all. Perhaps it was a neighbor who always waved and smiled when you passed by, the teacher who said you weren’t “dumb,” the trucker who changed your flat tire, or the nurse who let you hold your stillborn baby until you were ready to let him go. It may have been the stranger on the plane who prayed with you as tears rolled down your cheeks, the woman who said “You’re beautiful!” when the scarf slipped off your bald chemo-head, or the stranger who listened when you desperately needed to talk. Whether it was a small kindness, words of encouragement, a little unasked-for (but much needed) help, prayers, a chat over coffee, or just a hug, the bit players in our lives played fleeting but pivotal roles and our interactions, while short-lived, changed us in unexpected ways. They listened, challenged, suggested, assisted, shared, taught, and demonstrated God’s love. They had only a few lines of dialogue in the script but the movie of our lives would be incomplete had their scenes been cut by the film editor.

Granted, there probably are a few unpleasant, painful, or upsetting encounters with bit part players we might prefer having been edited out of our lives, but we don’t need to dwell on those. Let’s remember, however, that we are the small part players in other people’s lives—whether it’s the bagger at the grocery, the receptionist at the doctor’s, the busser at the restaurant, the lonely widow down the street, the kid trying to sell over-priced candy or popcorn for his team, the person giving us technical assistance on the phone, the mom with the crying baby on the plane, or the annoying telemarketer. How will we play our role? Will it be worthy of a heavenly award?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. [Augustine]

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (MSG)]

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HOW WILL THEY KNOW US?

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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