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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THROWING STONES

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

mimosaYesterday, when writing about the adulterous woman, I wondered what became of the stones that had been gathered in anticipation of stoning her. We know the Pharisees were quick to condemn people for the smallest infraction of the Law. Did they drop those stones in the road or did they put them in the pockets of their robes for another time when they could catch someone else sinning?

My husband was at the Fed Ex store when the woman in front of him dropped several packages and papers. He stooped down and helped the flustered woman gather up her scattered papers and boxes. As she departed, the man behind my husband loudly asked, “Did she even thank you?” and then, without waiting for an answer, angrily continued, “I don’t think she did and she should have. People just don’t say thank you anymore!” I agree with him that good manners seem to be in short supply nowadays; nevertheless, I wondered why he got so angry and felt the need to point out the woman’s faux pas to all around him.

How ready we are to criticize the failures of others while overlooking ours! We all set standards for others and, like that man, get peeved when they’re not met. Yet, when our hearts are filled with criticism and judgment rather than mercy, we’ll go through life picking up stones and looking for opportunities to throw them. Although the critical man cast only a pebble at the woman, it wasn’t necessary. I’m not much different than he and I suspect neither are you. In fact, I might have tossed a small stone at the man in the Fed Ex store! After all, we easily see the failings of others while being blind to ours.

Granted, common courtesy isn’t common anymore and we frequently encounter people who clearly haven’t heard of Emily Post or Miss Manners. But, if Jesus could show mercy to the woman caught in adultery, wash the feet of the men who would betray, deny, or abandon Him, and manage to ask forgiveness for the people who crucified Him, we should be able to cut a little slack for those who commit the petty offenses of everyday life! We certainly don’t need to keep stones in our pockets in case someone offends our sensibilities or look for opportunities to throw them! Maybe people would be nicer if we simply smiled more and grumbled less!

I don’t know why the woman was so frazzled that day or what really was upsetting that man. There’s wise advice in the old proverb: “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Another old proverb reminds people who live in glass houses not to throw stones—and all of us live in glass houses of some kind or another. If we want God’s mercy, grace, and understanding, we must offer those same things to others.

Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart instead of a piece of our mind. [Anonymous bit of Internet wisdom]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, “Let me wash your face for you,” when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. [Matthew 7:1-5 (MSG)]

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AN AMBASSADOR IN CHAINS 

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [Ephesians 6:19-21 (NLT)]

lupineSince the beginning, Satan has been determined to impede God’s plan. He started in Eden and continued by attempting to cut off the promised line of the Messiah with the killing of Israel’s infant boys in Egypt, Haman’s evil plans to exterminate every Jew in the Persian empire, and Herod’s slaughter of boys under two in Judah. When that failed, Satan sought to derail Jesus’ mission to mankind by tempting Him in the wilderness and Scripture tells us that wasn’t his last attempt to stop the Lord. Having failed with Jesus, Satan has been trying to interfere with the church’s mission to spread the gospel ever since.

Satan may have thought he’d found the perfect man to defeat the early church in the Pharisee Saul—a powerful man who hated both Christ’s followers and Gentiles. He rejected Jesus as the Messiah, approved of the stoning of Stephen, and devoted himself to persecuting and terrorizing Christians. That, of course, was before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In a little bit of God-ordained poetic justice, the Saul who had been doing Satan’s work by persecuting the church transformed into the Apostle Paul whose mission became that of building the church!

Satan probably thought he’d obstruct Paul’s mission with an assassination attempt, several shipwrecks, assorted arrests, beatings, stonings, and floggings, along with several stints in prison. Paul, however, managed to turn every hindrance into an evangelism opportunity; he even preached to his guards! Once Paul was put under arrest in Rome in 60 AD, Satan may have thought he finally stopped the evangelist in his tracks. Rather than being imprisoned as a common criminal, however, Paul was confined to house arrest. Although he was chained and under guard, he was allowed to live in a rented house at his own expense. In spite of his captivity, Paul “welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Acts 28:31] Rather than discouraging other believers, Paul’s unstinting faith during imprisonment encouraged them and it was during these years that Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When Paul wasn’t writing to the church, it seems that he spent his solitary time praying for it!

After a few years of freedom, Paul was re-arrested and imprisoned around 65 AD. Confined to a Roman prison that time, he was cut off from the world except for a few visitors. As the apostle faced death, he wrote his final epistle, 2 Timothy and, like his other letters, it is filled with faith, sound doctrine, encouragement, endurance, and love.

While Satan thought Paul’s hardships and suffering would stop him from preaching the gospel, Paul used his hardships and suffering to spread it. When Paul was free, he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ and, when imprisoned, he simply saw himself as an ambassador in chains. Moreover, knowing Paul’s situation, his words about forgiveness, rejoicing in suffering or trouble, and finding joy in all circumstances are all the more meaningful to his readers today. Rather than stopping his ministry, Paul’s imprisonments helped keep his ministry alive because of his letters. His words are as essential to the church today as they were when written nearly 2,000 years ago!

Satan couldn’t stop God’s plan for the Messiah, couldn’t stop Jesus from His mission as the Lamb of God, and couldn’t stop Paul. Satan can stop the church only if the church allows him. Paul didn’t. Will we?

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. [Philippians 1:12-14 (NLT)]

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RELISHING EVERY BITE

Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is in front of you. Eat this book, then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this book. And He said to me, “Son of man, eat this book that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. [Ezekiel 3:1-3 (NLV)]

strawberriesSince it was Easter, along with the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for Sunday treats, I brought a bowl of pastel-wrapped Hershey candy for the little ones. As I placed the candy on the hospitality table, I recalled the last time I had chocolates at church. It was several years ago at our Colorado mountain church. Even though it wasn’t Easter or Valentine’s Day, along with Bibles, the pew book racks were filled with chocolate kisses that morning.

When the pastor asked us to eat a candy, we all quickly and quite happily accommodated him. He then asked us to eat another one. That time, however, he instructed us to do everything deliberately and slowly. Rather than tearing off the wrapper, we were to look closely at it before pulling the plume and gradually unwrapping the candy. Instead of  immediately popping the kiss into our mouths, we were to examine it carefully before placing the chocolate gently on our tongues. Rather than a few quick bites, we were to savor the texture and flavor as it gradually melted in our mouths. Even though the second kiss was identical to the first, the experience of eating it was entirely different. Since this was church and not a chocolate tasting, our pastor went on to compare our two experiences with the way we can read the Bible. He suggested that we need to be as attentive in our Bible reading as we were in the second candy-eating experience.

Are we as unaffected by reading the Bible as we are by a quick bite of candy or do the words actually touch and change us? By pointing out that we can simply consume food and be done or dine and have an experience, the Slow Food movement tries to bring mindfulness to the table! Although both ways of eating will provide calories, only one will be a memorable and affecting experience. We need to bring that sort of presence and mindfulness to our Bible reading as well. We should savor God’s Word the way we would a Lindt bar of dark chocolate and caramel with sea salt, a full-bodied vintage Cabernet, a juicy ripe summer peach, or home-grown strawberries. God’s word should dissolve into our lives, fill us, and impact the way we live.

Lectio Divina (Latin for “divine reading”) is a fancy term for treating scripture not as a text but as the living word of God. An ancient exercise, it became a regular practice in monasteries by the 6th century. Not being Benedictine monks, we could think of it as the “Slow Bible Movement.” As with food, the quality of the Bible study is more important than the quantity consumed. A few verses read and reflected upon so that we respond to and rest in the message is far better than a whole chapter read and forgotten within a few hours. Unwrapping the meaning of a verse takes more time than tearing off a candy wrapper. Rather than quickly scarfing down verses, let’s slowly savor the words we read. We should reread them, ponder them, find something that speaks directly to us, and then respond to it. Our response then leads us to contemplation and prayer as the verses sink into us. In the Slow Bible Movement, we relish what we’ve read and allow it to refresh and renew us as we carry God’s word forward in our hearts.

In Ezekiel’s vision, God fed him a scroll filled with His message for the Israelites. Even though the scroll was filled with words of sadness, they were as sweet as honey to the prophet because they were God’s words. What food is to our bodies, God’s Word is to our souls and we can’t live well without either one. Moreover, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we’ll never be able to share the message of God’s Good News until we’ve consumed it and allowed it to change our lives. We can snack or dine, gulp or savor; the choice is ours.

Your words were found and I ate them. And Your words became a joy to me and the happiness of my heart. For I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of All. [Jeremiah 15:16 (NLV)]

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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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PHILIP AND THE EUNUCH – Part 3

When they came up out of the water, the spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him any more, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, turned up at Azotus. He went through all the towns, announcing the good news, until he came to Caesarea. [Acts 8:39-40 (NTE)]

blue birdWe don’t know how far Philip and the Ethiopian traveled together before the eunuch spotted water. The book of Isaiah is 66 chapters long and there was a lot to cover as Philip told him about the man called Jesus, so it may have been as far as Gaza. It is there that the road split—north to Caesarea and south to Egypt and Ethiopia. While we don’t know the location, we just know that the Ethiopian was baptized when they came to water.

After the baptism, the logical thing for Philip would be to continue south beyond Egypt to the Ethiopian’s homeland. With the support of a rich and powerful man like the Queen’s treasurer, Philip would have been remarkably effective in bringing the gospel to a new part of the world. God’s logic, however, is nothing like man’s. When the men emerged from the water, we’re told that the “Spirit of the Lord” snatched Philip away and the eunuch never saw him again.

The Greek word Luke used was harpazó which meant to seize, catch up, or snatch away. Often used when speaking of a robbery or an arrest, the power clearly belonged to the snatcher rather than the snatchee. Does this mean that Philip was supernaturally carried away north to Azotus? Or does it mean that Philip was carried away by a vision of the Spirit and he immediately changed direction and departed on another God-ordained appointment? It’s unclear whether Luke was writing figuratively or literally, but we do know that the men abruptly departed from one another.

After this significant episode in the advancement of the Gospel, what became of these two men? It hardly seems likely that the Holy Spirit would leave a new convert like the Ethiopian high and dry! Perhaps the scroll, Philip’s words, and the Holy Spirit’s presence were all the man needed. In the 2nd century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, wrote that the eunuch became a missionary to the Ethiopians and, in the 4th century, Eusebius (260-339), the man called “the father of church history,” asserted that, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Ethiopian planted a flourishing church in Ethiopia. All we know for sure, however, is that he “went on his way rejoicing.”

Scripture does tell us that Philip preached the gospel in the coastal cities of Palestine from Azotus north to Caesarea. Because Paul and Luke stayed with him some twenty years later, we know Philip eventually settled in Caesarea, married, and had four daughters. The men stayed with Philip several days and it may have been then when Luke learned of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch.

Rather than an apostle, Philip was one of the seven men selected as a deacon for the early church. A deacon’s job was to distribute food to the widows and alms to the poor and to handle everyday church business so that the apostles could spend their time praying and teaching. Along with identifying Philip by his position as deacon, Luke identified him by his passion and called him “the Evangelist.” The Greek word translated as evangelist was euaggelisté. Used to mean “preacher of the gospel,” its literal meaning is “bringer of good news” or “bearer of glad tidings.”

Evangelism isn’t an occupation; it is a passion. While most of us don’t qualify as “preachers of the gospel,” all can be bearers of glad tidings! When we look at Philip, we see someone who had a passion for Christ—who, when given an opportunity to share the gospel, didn’t say it wasn’t his job. He didn’t doubt, negotiate, hesitate, or refuse—he simply followed the Spirit’s lead and was a “bringer of good news.” Can we do anything less?

This is my solemn charge to you, in the presence of God and King Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom: 2 announce the word; keep going whether the time is right or wrong; rebuke, warn and encourage with all patience and explanation. … But as for you, keep your balance in everything! Put up with suffering; do the work of an evangelist; complete the particular task assigned to you. [2 Timothy 4:1-2,5 (NTE)]

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