The Naughty List

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I think I’ve reached my destination. For it was on December 6 that I determined Christmas would be different this year. I decided I would leave over stuffed days, fits of wrath and perfectionism behind, setting out on a course for Jesus. And so, as I sang along with Bruce Springsteen this morning (at the top of my lungs), I realized I’m already there. I’ve made it to the heart of Christmas! And of all things, select lyrics from Santa Claus is Coming to Town shed light on my path…

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! 

You know, the beat is great and it puts a smile on my face. And yet, today, I think how threatening the words are. You better walk the straight and narrow, or else! It’s kind of like the elf on the shelf. Santa’s minions are placed in homes around the world so that they can spy on children. And guess what, small child…  If you’re not good and perfect in all your ways, well then, no reward for you! No grace for dispensation. This is my elf on the shelf, by the way…

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I’m certainly not down on Santa or the Elf on the Shelf. It’s just that in my search for the true reason for the season, it’s glaringly obvious that this song and these little elves point directly to the Law of the Old Testament. Christmas has become a works based reward system. And before Jesus came along, I think life may have felt exactly that way. You better be good! You better walk the straight and narrow! You better be perfect! And the only way people could walk blamelessly before God was by obeying each and every one of His commandments, and following the Law. Explicitly. And if they screwed up, there were offerings and sacrifices to be made. Burnt offerings and grain offerings and sin offerings and fellowship offerings. There was even a guilt offering. This was the way of life before Christmas came, for it was Christ who ushered in the age of grace. Before the Star of Jacob appeared, the Law guided God’s chosen ones.

And people could accomplish this feat, for the father of John the Baptist proves it. This old man was righteous in God’s sight because he lived without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But here’s the thing… because he walked perfectly, did he still feel the need for a Savior? Did he still look forward to the coming Messiah? Because Zechariah was doing A-Okay. In fact, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, Zechariah was doing exactly what he should be doing. He was serving as priest, burning incense in the sanctuary of the Lord… in a perfect manner, I’m sure. But then, out of nowhere stood Gabriel! And this man of God, who walked perfectly, felt fear.

Gabriel brought good tidings, for old Zechariah and his barren wife would have a son. But amazingly, Zechariah didn’t believe it. In essence, he didn’t receive the good news… at first. And so Gabriel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words…” Wow. What stern measures were taken here. But what a lesson for today. Because it’s the perfect picture of how our hearing can be dulled over time. And through the monotony of rote tradition, our minds can thicken and our hearts can harden. And can it be possible? Dare I even say this… familiarity breeds contempt. For isn’t it true that over time we become complacent and perhaps, just a bit too casual with God. Speaking for myself, I have to say yes.

Oh, I completely identify with Zechariah. Because at times, I am just like him. See, early on I bound myself to God’s law. Since I had more faith in God’s rules than I did in salvation through Jesus only, I was groomed for working. My notes evidence my shaky foundation… “Don’t rely on salvation alone. Works!” And so, bypassing relationship, I moved on to busyness. I believed I should walk blamelessly, and so I strived to do so through acts of service. I tried my best to be good, for I really wanted to be perfect. I thought that’s what He expected. And so in my mind, the more I strived, the better I was. I got so good at going to church, and taking Bible studies, and praying religiously that it was almost as if I no longer needed a Savior. Because on my own, I was doing A-Okay. Like Zechariah. But you know what? You can only carry on in that manner for so long. Because if you keep climbing higher and higher up your own pedestal, eventually you fall off. That’s what I did. For pride comes before the fall.

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“But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13.

For me, the ultimate Christmas miracle is Jesus did not come because we were so good. On the contrary, He came because of our sinful nature. Because God knew no matter how many good works we accomplished, we would never, ever achieve perfection. Thus, Jesus… the reason for the season and God’s perfect gift.

And so, do I want Santa with his long lists, or do I want Jesus only? I can choose the Law with its infinite rules, or I can choose salvation only. My choice is easy, for I’ve tried being good. It doesn’t work. And oh, how I’ve pouted and cried. So, obviously I’m removed to Santa’s naughty list. Therefore, I choose Jesus. I choose a Savior. Because I cannot save myself.

This Christmas, I find rest. I don’t have to work one minute more. My strivings can now cease, for God has already given the perfect Christmas gift. In His infinite wisdom, God sent perfection down… so we don’t have to be.

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5

The Witness Stand

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I think it’s no accident that I’m a legal assistant. I used to work in a law firm, but now, I work from home. My employer is an attorney, so needless to say, he knows the rules. My boss knows most of the laws, and the difference between right and wrong. He no longer practices law through a law firm, but rather, he serves as a mediator. Basically, he steps in as an arbitrary party and listens to the different sides of a case. He counsels the parties, and tries to facilitate a settlement before the matter reaches trial. It’s a good thing. A noble calling. My boss tries to help people resolve issues. And from what I hear, he does a good job.

And so, my being a legal assistant and working for an attorney seems natural. See, although I broke some rules growing up, I have always been a rule follower deep down. I was the one who followed the crowd, but always, there was a piece of me that feared the consequences of my actions. Although I tried to blur the lines a time or two, I could never completely cross over the line that separates right from wrong. And in contemplating my inflexibility, I get tickled when I think about my time in the Air Force. It was during our technical training (a little looser than basic training, but still many rules to follow), when my girlfriend had a good laugh at my expense. See, you were supposed to march everywhere you went. However, only if there were two or more people. Once, I had to go back to the dorms at lunchtime… all by myself. And do you know that because I was so scared of breaking the rules, I marched back to the school… all by myself. This in itself was against the rules, because you cannot be in formation when there is only one! At any rate, my friend had stayed behind during the lunch break, and she told me she could see me coming from afar. For she witnessed my rigidity, stiffly performing facing movements as I maneuvered across the air field. And although she couldn’t make out my face, she just knew it had to be me. Because she knew of my fear of breaking the rules, she could spot me a mile off.

Yes, I am a legal assistant, my employer is an attorney, and I like to follow the rules. So not surprisingly, I love the TV show Law & Order. In great anticipation, I listen… “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups… the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.”  Actually, this comes from the criminal intent version of the show, and I prefer SVU. But I digress… Law & Order. I like law and order in my life, and I like law & order in the show. I am a woman who needs the law, and I can assure you, I crave order. I want to know the rules so I can follow them. I want to know black from white and right from wrong. And as much as I tried to be a free-spirit in my youth, this is my true nature.

Since I have been a legal assistant for at least ten years now, and since I have a love of the Law & Order series on TV, I find it absolutely astonishing that I am just now picking up on some of the legal terms I am seeing in Scripture. Oh, not the more obvious ones… There is the Law. God’s Law. It’s what His people followed through Old Testament times. And Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that law (Matthew 5:17). But here lately, I’ve been seeing some more subtle terms…

Isaiah 43:10: “You are my witnesses,” says the LORD. Today, witnesses are called to the witness stand… the place occupied by a person giving testimony in a court of law. It’s in Hebrews 12 that I find I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses… God’s people are His witnesses. It’s Psalm 50 that displays God as Judge, for from on high He issues His summons to heaven and earth so that he can judge His people. It is God Himself who will testify against the wicked. And what does that word wicked mean? It means criminal, guilty one, one guilty of crime. And who in the Bible is wicked? Esau and Cain, for one murdered outright, and the other held murder in his heart. In God’s eyes, hate is hate whether it’s acted upon or not. And if one harbors hate, she makes both God and herself a liar. The one who stores up hate is not a credible witness. And the one who unleashes her tongue for evil and deceit, this one is wicked. So God Himself will lay out the case before the wicked.

Yes, in my trial by the light of God’s fire, the case has been laid out against me. And I’m so surprised to find myself sitting here… in the witness stand of God’s court. Me. A rule-follower. The woman who needs law and order has broken God’s law. Thus, my life is disorderly. For it’s clear that I’ve neglected to adhere to God’s Law of Love and His perfect Law of Liberty (Romans 14). Restitution must be made for my sins. He is right when He passes sentence, and He is blameless when He judges (Psalm 51:4). So, He sits and He waits. For me. Dare I admit my guilt? My heart, which is pierced by conviction, is evidence of my guilt. So shall I speak up and confess? Or will I remain silent? What about the Miranda rights… do they apply here? Do I have the right to remain silent because anything I say or do may be used against me. Do I have the right to consult an attorney before speaking. Or can I plead the fifth? For I know that anything I say in my defense will only further implicate me. What can I do?

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself-a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6

And then, I remember. I made a confession long ago. And it’s only through that confession that I am saved from God’s judgment today. For Romans 10:9 says that I must confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord! I don’t have to plead the fifth today, for I pled Jesus years ago! And the truth is, it’s only His testimony that stands in God’s court. Because for the life of me, I cannot get it right. Not all the time. I fall short, and by the grace of God, I have an advocate. I have One who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes on my behalf. And you know, I also have someone else, for I have a Counselor.

Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment… John 16:7-8

It is God’s Holy Spirit inside me that guides me in all truth (John 16:13). He is my attorney who comes alongside me… to guide and to help, to counsel and protect. In reality, it is God’s Spirit that leads me. He is the line and lets me know when I cross over from right into wrong. He is the reason I find myself on trial today, for He convicts my heart. But also, He is the One that reminds me of the truth… Jesus. Because Jesus already paid the price for my crime, I don’t have to. And so, I shall be released. I will walk away from this… a free woman. For my record has been expunged.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

History repeats itself… or so I’ve heard.

History repeats itself, right? A popular saying that originated from I don’t know where, but I’ve heard it from more than one person. So it must be true, right? Yes, history repeats. The newest saying I’ve heard more than one time is insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but hoping for a different result. Well… if that’s true, then quite clearly, I’m insane. Because after reviewing my journal from 2010, and comparing it to where I am today, I am doing the same thing again and again. And no surprise, the end result is always the same. The most damning piece of evidence was laid bare yesterday morning. The truth is, I hurt my son. It wasn’t a big hurt, but when it comes down to it, a hurt is a hurt – big or small. It happened during the mad dash of getting ready for school. Time just got away from me, and I cut it so close that I had to dress my son. Because bless his little soul, he only moves at one speed called “taking his time.” As I hastily pulled up his jeans, I felt resistance but tugged anyway. Well, his little foot was caught and it hurt him. And so, because I neglected to manage my time, I caused my son pain in the ensuing madness. And honestly, I think his feelings were hurt more than anything. Obviously, I felt like the worst mother in the whole world. And do you want to hear the most awful part? It was a couple of hours later as I perused through my old journal notes of September 15, 2010 that I realized this wasn’t the first time I had done this.  I read my own confession: “rushed and hurt my son.” It’s a fact that I had the same encounter with my son two and a half years later. Thus, it is a proven truth… history does repeat itself. I felt like a terrible mother then, and I feel like one now. And because I am doing the same thing over and over again (rushing in the morning, but hoping for a different outcome), some would classify me as insane. And I would have to agree with them.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey with God, it’s that there are no coincidences.  And when He wants you to see something about yourself, He’ll bring it right to you. He’ll show you a picture of yourself that you cannot deny. My reflected image came by way of a piece of pottery of all things. It’s the bowl I described in “A Bowl Girl.” I realize that I am the bowl. Just not as it is in its present condition. In no way do I resemble that bowl as it rests on my countertop reflecting rays of light. No, I resemble the bowl as it looked some months ago… when it was high and lifted up on the top of my fridge, collecting so much dust that even if the light had reached its surface, it wouldn’t have glimmered at all. Yes, I am just like that bowl when it was on display… just like a Pharisee. And so, I cannot say I was too surprised when I found notes in my old journal that could have been written by my own hand today. Everything that’s happening in my life today is mimicking what took place then. Again, it is proven… history repeats itself. Because I am struggling with the same thing over and over again. As always, same outcome. This is insanity.

Yesterday morning, I wondered about my being a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I had confronted that particular issue last year. And through reviewing my very old journal, it appears it was my struggle two and a half years ago, too. And until this past week, I didn’t really think I was a Pharisee… again. And as I ponder my past, it becomes clear how I arrived to today… to insanity. See, I am a legal assistant and work for a lawyer. The law is important. I’ve always been a rule-follower at heart. Even as a teen and young adult (when I got into things I shouldn’t), deep down I had fear because I knew there was a right and wrong. My fear was that I would get into trouble for breaking rules. And so years later, after I became His and when I finally came to a point in which I was desperate to know God, I sought knowledge. Basically, I wanted to know what His rules were. Because rules I could follow. And although seeking God’s law is not a bad thing, it can be dangerous for someone like me… a rule follower. Because acquired knowledge can cause someone like me to become arrogant and a know-it-all. It can cause someone like me to be prideful. From experience, I know one can begin adhering to one’s own set of scales of justice. And woe to anyone who falls short, because judgment will follow. I know, because this is exactly what happened to me then, it’s what happened to me a year ago, and apparently, it’s happened to me recently. I cannot deny my own handwriting. And so there’s no denying that I am a modern day Pharisee, repeating the history of Pharisees (religious leaders) from long ago. My attitude no different than theirs, and this is insanity!

Pharisees knew the law better than anyone else, and they followed it to the letter… but, their heart’s were unmoved. Pharisees lacked mercy, and when they came face to face with Jesus, they didn’t know Him and His righteousness. Because they had their own self-righteousness. And this is what Jesus had to say to or about them: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, they despised others, they exalted themselves and thus were abased, they were those who justified themselves before men (but God knew their hearts), they were lovers of money and turned their noses up at Jesus, and they held to what was highly esteemed before men (but was, and is, an abomination before God). A Pharisee knew God’s greatest commandment was to love God above EVERYTHING, and to love his neighbor as himself… but he wanted to clarify and dispute and test Jesus and justify himself. The Pharisee said, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s evidenced that he knew the correct answer when Jesus asked “who was neighbor to him who fell?” The Pharisee said, “He who showed mercy on him.” But head knowledge does not always reach the heart.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

You know, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisee lacked conviction. Because in his eyes, he did no wrong. And it was two and a half years ago when I asked the question within my journal, “Am I a hypocrite… a Pharisee?” One of the most condemning phrases I found to confirm my suspicion was “lack of conviction.” At that time, I knew I judged people. And yet, rather than feel bad about it, I felt justified in my thinking. Because I thought they didn’t measure up. Remember… the Pharisee adhered to his own set of scales.

Like a Pharisee, I know God’s commands and can follow all the outward rules. I can appear very devout, but what about my insides… what about my heart? Like a Pharisee, I am often unmoved, unloving and unmerciful. I’m just like that bowl I kept way up high on the fridge. It was there for display only… cold and hard to the touch. The bowl didn’t know it was useless up high. The Pharisees didn’t know they were useless to God either. And until now, I thought I was. But, history repeats… it’s insanity.

When I was a young girl, my grandfather, Eddie, used to call out to me, “Whoa, Pam!” Sounds similar to what Jesus called out to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Maybe Eddie wasn’t simply calling to me after all… perhaps God gave him insight as to what my future held, and just maybe he was calling out warning instead, “Woe, Pam!” The good news is, whether then or now, I’ve been warned. Because today is the day I see. And the truth is, it’s not at all about history repeating itself… or being insane. Quite frankly, it’s called lack of repentance. It’s called choosing to live in sin. Because to him who knows to do good, and doesn’t… it is sin. In His mercy, God showed me then, and again today. I can no longer deny the truth of what I am… a hypocrite and a Pharisee. This was true two and a half years ago, it was true a year ago… and it’s true again today. I’ve been doing the same thing again and again, hoping for another outcome. They say that’s insanity but today I know better. And the good news is, history does not have to repeat itself. He gives us the choice. And so, I know what I must do… it’s time to stop the insanity… it’s time to REPENT.