RELUCTANT HEROES

Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [Exodus 3:10-11 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkIn the late 1970s, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of what is known as the “imposter syndrome.” Loosely defined as doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud, it is believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The impostor syndrome manifests in failing to realistically assess our competence and skills, self-denigration, a fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing any of our successes to someone or something else, like luck.

When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, He assigned Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response is a classic example of imposter syndrome. As the princess’ son, he spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, was well-educated, and knew the royal protocol, language, and culture of Egypt and, as a Hebrew, he also knew the language, history, culture, expectations, and God of Israel. Although he was uniquely qualified for the task, Moses belittled his speaking ability and showed his fear of failure with the question, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?”

Moses, of course, is not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when called to do God’s work. Isaiah thought he was too sinful, Jeremiah thought he was too young, and then there’s Gideon. When we first meet him, Gideon is hiding in a winepress while threshing wheat, which seems somewhat cowardly. The people of Israel, however, had been oppressed for seven years by marauding nomadic tribes like the Midianites. Their livestock and crops were being pillaged and the people were being starved into submission as they hid in caves. Not about to let his family starve, Gideon had come up with a clever way to conceal his activity and threshing wheat in a wine press may have been wiser than it was cowardly. Nevertheless, when the angel of the Lord called on him to rescue Israel, the man disparaged not just himself but his entire clan of Manasseh. Even though the people had no other leader, Gideon was sure he had neither status nor authority to call up an army.

Convinced that they weren’t capable of doing God’s work, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Gideon listed all that they weren’t rather than looking at all of the things God is. They didn’t see what they brought to the table and certainly didn’t understand the power they’d receive from God. It wasn’t eloquence that caused Egypt’s plagues or caused the Israelites to follow Moses nor was it strict adherence to the law or maturity that enabled Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy. It certainly wasn’t status and authority that led to Gideon’s victories. It was the power of God!

While there are many competent, experienced, and skilled people in the world, God isn’t interested in whether or not we’re qualified. God is interested in our devotion to Him. If we’re committed to doing His work, God will provide the qualifications! If we’re not devoted to God, however, we’ll remain unqualified regardless of our eloquence, status, authority, talents, wisdom, or expertise. Let us never underestimate our abilities but, more important, let us never underestimate the power of our God!

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them. [James Hudson Taylor]

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. [Judges 6:34-35 (NLT)]

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TAKE THE RISK

Be strong and courageous! … Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. [Deuteronomy 31:6a,8 (NLT)]

Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” … The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? [Psalm 118:4,6 (NLT)]

great egret
Judge Guido Calabresi regularly asks his Yale law students to imagine receiving an offer of an amazing invention that could improve people’s lives in every imaginable way. In exchange for this invention, however, the lives of at least 1,000 randomly selected young people would be taken every year. When asked if they’d accept the deal, his students inevitably conclude they wouldn’t. Calabresi then asks them the difference between that offer and the automobile. The very thing that allows us to travel, see loved ones, easily move products across the country, and do things that couldn’t be done otherwise, kills even more than that! Over 2,600 teens (16-20) accounted for auto accident fatalities in 2019 and, with over 46,000 car fatalities last year, more than 150 people of every age die each day because of a car. Be that as it may, we’re not about to give up driving!

Calebresi uses his example to illustrate how selective we are in our fears. We underestimate and accept chronic risks like riding in a car while overestimating prominent ones like a terrorist attack or plane crash. In actuality, rather than dying from either of those things, we’re more likely to die by choking on food or slipping in the shower or tub but, preferring bathing, eating, and even driving to the alternatives, we decide they’re worth the risk. On the other hand, after assessing the perils involved in things like free solo climbing, running with the bulls, or base jumping, most of us probably decide they’re not worth the risk.

In contrast, any risk we take in obedience to God always is worth it. Regardless of the danger, we must obediently accept the risks in the challenges and tasks He gives us. Think of what Abraham risked by packing up his family and leaving Haran for an unknown destination. Think of the risks taken by the midwives Shiphrah and Puah when they defied Pharaoh by letting boy babies live or the risk Moses took when he returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. It was a huge risk when Gideon and his 300 men took on an army 400 times their size and when David faced Goliath with just a sling and stones. In spite of the risk, Esther approached the king, Daniel defied the law by praying, and the bleeding woman touched Jesus’ robe. Joseph of Arimathea took a risk when he asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and Peter and John risked imprisonment and worse when they defied the Council by continuing to share the gospel. When we search Scripture, we don’t find people who assessed the risks and played it safe. We find God’s version of bungee jumpers and wing-suit flyers—faith-filled and obedient risk takers.

Every God-sent risk comes with a God-sent promise. He will remain faithful to us and be present in the risk. He will protect and empower us and we’ll never need more than what He supplies. As followers of Jesus, we don’t walk by sight. In spite of the risks, we walk by faith because faith means we’re willing to risk anything for God!

Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished. When all is said and done, there is a sort of risk in faith and its exercise. But trust is firm belief; it is faith in full bloom. Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are aware. [E.M. Bounds]

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 41:20 (NLT)]

…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

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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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MATTHEW – Part 2

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” [Matthew 9:10-11 (NLT)]

great blue heronWhen Jesus brought Matthew into the inner circles of disciples, it was as shocking as if someone like Billy Graham brought a loan shark, heroin trafficker, money launderer, or embezzler onto his worship team. But, along with his questionable reputation and his devotion to Jesus, Matthew brought a unique set of skills to the Lord and to countless generations of Christ’s followers.

Without benefit of calculator or computers, as a tax collector, Matthew was good with numbers and a meticulous record keeper. To do his job, a publican had to have been reasonably fluent and literate in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew and, to a lesser extent, Latin. It’s likely that he knew a form of shorthand commonly used in the ancient world since the 4th century BC. A man like Matthew was uniquely qualified to record the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry. Along with his skills and reputation, perhaps the only other thing Matthew brought with him when he followed Jesus was his pen.

The book of Matthew, like the other gospels, never explicitly names its author but ancient church tradition is unanimous in attributing it to Matthew the Apostle. Perhaps the best argument for Matthew’s authorship is the unlikelihood that a man with his skills, who responded to Jesus’ call the way he did, and became one of the disciples, would not have kept a careful record of the Lord’s words and ministry! Matthew had the skills, opportunity, means, and motivation. This is a man who showed such early concern for evangelism that one of the first things he did after leaving his tax booth was to invite his former friends and colleagues to dinner to meet and hear Jesus. When Matthew was honing his record keeping and language skills as a publican, little did he know that God had a far higher and better use for him than collecting money for Rome. Let his story be a reminder that no experience is wasted and God has a unique plan for each and every one of us.

After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, Matthew and the apostles returned to their room in Jerusalem and prayed. Scripture is silent about Matthew after that and, other than writing the gospel that bears his name, we don’t know what became of him. The earliest church records say he carried out his ministry in Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and/or the region south of Egypt known as Ethiopia. Those records also claim Matthew was martyred but they don’t agree on how or where it happened. All we know for sure is that Matthew didn’t just reform; he transformed! When he accepted Jesus’ call to follow Him, the despised and dishonest tax collector named Levi transformed into the beloved apostle and gospel writer named Matthew—a saved sinner who accepted the Great Commission and served as Christ’s witness “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The same Jesus who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. [Acts 1:8 (NLT)]

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