Dress the Part

Back in the day, airline employees and their families were required to wear “first-class appropriate” attire in order to fly free on an empty seat on the plane. This was an attempt to have non-revenue passengers blend in with those who paid thousands of dollars for their seats, especially in the event that first class seats were open. It made sense for a while….right up until the point that revenue first class passengers began to wear pajama pants with oversized sweatshirts on the plane. It took awhile, but the airlines eventually relaxed their non-rev travel dress requirements. Until that happened, you could instantly spot the airline families…we were the ones who were blatantly over-dressed for the trip.

This policy was taken very seriously when it was in place. Women had to wear panty hose with skirts and dresses, or wear dress pants. Denim of any kind was verboten, and wearing it was a quick way to be denied boarding.

I remember a trip where I had carefully selected a belted shirt-waist dress in a light blue chambray, and wore the required panty hose and dress shoes. The gate agent came over and told me that there was a first class seat open, but he could not seat me there because of my denim dress. I held out my sleeve as proof and explained that chambray was a men’s dress shirt fabric and not denim, but he would not budge. I can promise you that I never traveled in that dress again.

When the standards are high, you need to pay attention and follow the rules.

Psalm 15 is a writing that pulls no punches when it describes the rules and standards for those who will be allowed to live in God’s tent on the holy mountain, or risk being denied boarding. Take a look, but I’ll warn you….it’s a little scary:

Psalm 15 (Common English Bible)

Who can live in your tent, Lord?
    Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
The person who
    lives free of blame,
    does what is right,
        and speaks the truth sincerely;
    who does no damage with their talk,
    does no harm to a friend,
    doesn’t insult a neighbor;

This list of appropriate behaviors is admirable, worthy, and very daunting. It is a reminder to us every day to strive to do better in our actions. We, who are the people of God, should be known in our community as those who adhere to a certain way of life that includes speaking truth sincerely and never hurting our friends and neighbors with our talk. God expects us to do what it right.

We continue:

    someone who despises
        those who act wickedly,
        but who honors those
        who honor the Lord;
    someone who keeps their promise even when it hurts;
    someone who doesn’t lend money with interest,
    who won’t accept a bribe against any innocent person.

Keeping this list in the forefront of our minds as we begin each day is helpful in remembering what is pleasing to the Lord. If we are faithful to his call to be upright and free from blame, our feet will not stray from his path.

Whoever does these things will never stumble.

It bears mentioning that this psalm is not a prescription for “works righteousness,” where people mistakenly believe that you can earn your way into heaven. No indeed, we can only approach the holy mountain because of the unmerited love of God and the shed blood of the atonement by Jesus. It is only by grace that we are saved, and not by any actions we might do.

So why the list?

To keep you on the straight and narrow so that you remember both God’s standards and God’s promises, and more importantly, so that you won’t stumble on your way up the holy mountain and cause others who are watching you to stumble in their faith as well.

So keep on climbing. Keep on bearing witness to the Good News. Make the changes in your attitudes or actions that this Psalm has brought to your attention. Make sure you are dressing the part of a follower of Christ. Your first-class seat is open….welcome aboard!

Ready to Board by Katie Bartoo

Don’t Deviate

I hate it when I am driving somewhere and I have to deviate from my normal route. This past week has been a series of annoying deviations on the small island where I live. Utility poles are being replaced on the tiny, twisting three-mile road that connects us to the rest of the Outer Banks. This has caused a lot of delays, as we have to stop frequently to share a single lane with oncoming traffic. The turn lane onto this road from the busy by-pass has also been closed, causing a lot of confusion. Am I allowed to turn right from the straight-through lane? Do I have to go through the intersection and turn right at the next road, and then back-track? I just want to get home!

God understood that people needed pretty straightforward directions to follow, so he sent a list of ten very direct commandments to keep us on the straight and narrow. If you can manage to stay in the lanes of these laws, your life will be blessed. You will be keeping your part of the covenantal relationship that gives God the authority to be God, while you acknowledge that you are not God. Pretty simple, right?

The Encyclopedia of the Bible explains it this way:

The Ten Commandments can be seen only, like the rest of the law, against the background of the Covenant; this in turn rests on the salvation-history of the Exodus. Other codes within the law are basically an expansion and application of these principles to various facets of life, rather as the NT epistles apply the truth of the Gospel. Thus the Commandments became the root of all subsequent Israelite morality as well as of religion.

But we are prone to wander (as the hymn writer says) and prone to leave the God we love. We deviate from all the good things that God has prepared for us every time we chase after temptations and titillations that are unholy and unsafe. We replace God with the gods of self-interest, pleasure, lust, and distraction.

Deuteronomy 28 (Common English Bible) 

1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice.

14 Don’t deviate even a bit from any of these words that I’m commanding you right now by following other gods and serving them.

“Don’t deviate even a bit!” Could Moses have been any more forthright than that?

While the Israelites struggled with the wood, stone, and metal-cast gods of the non-Hebrew people around them, we struggle with different gods of our own making. The list is endless, and the truth is, anything that you put in a place of priority over your relationship with God can become your god. Sports, greed, social media, pursuing wealth, substance abuse, and even cheating on your taxes can harm your relationship with the Lord. These deviations make us fall to the wayside and lead us down paths that are harmful and wrong.

Where is God calling you to align yourself once again with the heart of the covenant? Your relationship with God is cursed when you deviate from the Word and break the rules. We all just want to get home…is it time to turn around?

Straight and Narrow by Kathy Schumacher

Fences

When I was a brand new mother, I became obsessed with renowned pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s show on TLC called “What Every Baby Knows.” I was quite sure that every baby in the world knew everything that I didn’t know, so I hung on his every word. He filmed the episodes right in his office, where the viewer watched parents interact with their children as Dr. Brazelton patiently explained everything they were doing wrong. Just kidding! Actually, he was quite affirming in a gentle, grandfatherly way, but he still addressed things they could be doing better.

When it came to toddler behavior, his perspective was that rules are not only necessary, but what the child actually wants and craves. He explained that setting firm guidelines was like building a protective fence around your child. They wanted to know the limits, because going outside the safety of the fence was as scary to them as it was to the parents. I never had trouble enforcing rules with my kids after that…just ask them. When I realized that saying no and addressing rule-breaking was something a child needs to feel secure, I embraced the philosophy. It wasn’t always easy, but it worked.

Such it is with God’s laws and rules for us. The Ten Commandments and the laws that followed were given out of the love of a parent who only wants the best for the children. These rules ensure that the entire community will be safe and enjoy the well-being that comes from everyone knowing what to expect. Justice can’t be a part of a nation without laws.

When Jesus came, there was confusion about the Law. The radical new system that he taught turned a lot of things upside down. The law under the Pharisees had become punitive and was eventually filled with the minutiae of 613 additional regulations. Jesus redefined things.

For example, the law that commanded that the Sabbath be made holy was interpreted as saying that work on the sabbath was prohibited. And “work” became very strictly defined. Jesus argued that if your ox fell in a ditch on the Sabbath, it was within the law to get it out. Therefore healing on the Sabbath was permissible as well. This rocked the Pharisees to the core. Who was this man and what was he saying? Was he about to completely dismiss all of the Law and the Prophets who came before him? Rumors and questioning began in the community.

So Jesus sat down on a mountain and taught the people about the Law:

Matthew 5 (Common English Bible)

17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 

Jesus is clear that what God had inscribed on the stone tablets in Moses’ presence still provided the covenantal framework for how the people were to behave. The Law still applied, but not the minutiae. When the scholars undertook to write rules that explained the Law, they missed the intent of the Loving Parent who gave the Law. God made the sabbath for humanity, not the other way around.

19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Law is a gift to keep us safe inside a defined boundary that is lovingly overseen by the Lord. Breaking the commands will result in being called the lowest of the kingdom, but keeping the commands will result in being considered great.

Being righteous in this context means understanding and adhering to the heart of God’s rules rather than punishing others for violations of the man-made addendums to it. Jesus invited his followers to err on the side of grace in their treatment of others. In this way, they would enter the kingdom of heaven well before the legal experts and Pharisees, who could only ever attain self-righteousness.

Where is God calling you to step back inside the security of his commands? Have you gone outside his commandments to pursue things that aren’t good, and certainly aren’t godly?

Jesus is the gatekeeper, calling us to repentance and righteousness through the confession of our sins. Is it time to come back inside?

A Tiger Enjoying a Meat-cicle

Gladdening the Heart

What rules did you have to obey as a kid? Every family establishes its own set of house rules so that order is maintained and fairness is achieved. In my house, there were rules around homework, bedtime, respect for one another, taking turns, and not chewing with your mouth open. That last one was so strongly enforced that, as an adult, I have had to walk away from people who chew with their mouths open. There is some remnant of a childhood aversion in my spirit that makes me not be able to tolerate the breaking of this particular rule, as though a punishment is going to come down from heaven and I don’t want to be any part of that.

Plus, it’s gross!

We appreciate the safety net that society’s rules and regulations place around us. Don’t speed. Don’t run though red lights. Place your trash cans on the curb on certain days. No swimming without lifeguards. Rules are good for us.

In today’s Psalm, David celebrates the laws and instructions that God has laid down for his people. David knows firsthand the chaos and devastation that come when you break the rules, as he personally violated all of the Ten Commandments and experienced the misery of living outside of God’s safety and provision.

Psalm 19 (Common English Bible)

The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
    reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
    making naive people wise.
The Lord’s regulations are right,
    gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
    giving light to the eyes.
Honoring the Lord is correct,
    lasting forever.
The Lord’s judgments are true.
    All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
        than tons of pure gold!
    They are sweeter than honey—
        even dripping off the honeycomb!

David’s love of the law almost goes overboard here. He declares that the law is more desirable than tons of gold and sweeter than honey dripping off the honeycomb. As we say, there is nothing stronger than the testimony of a reformed sinner! He has seen both sides of the law and knows that staying on the right side of it is far preferable to the punishment that comes from breaking it. Remember, he lost a son because of his sin.

11 No doubt about it:
    your servant is enlightened by them;
    there is great reward in keeping them.
12 But can anyone know
    what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
    Clear me of any unknown sin
13         and save your servant from willful sins.
        Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
    I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.

David’s plea to be cleared of any unknown sin is a reminder to us today to be diligent in reading God’s instruction for our lives. During Lent, we are called to immerse ourselves in scripture everyday. This is a call that will last past Easter and should be the “rule of law” for every day of our lives.

So good for you…you have read scripture today! Like David, we are enlightened by studying God’s commands. Our hearts are gladdened when we read and obey.

Gladdened Hearts by Jessica Spiegelblatt