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the weird slavery laws

Scripture contains some difficult laws to interpret. It’s not hard to imagine that one day, someone will try to ban the Bible because of them. Let’s talk about the weird laws. For example, take the laws concerning slavery.

The Israelites had come to Egypt as refugees during a famine. They were an ethnic minority in a large imperial state. When a new pharaoh changed Egypt’s immigration policy, the Israelites were forced into slavery simply because they were Hebrews (Ex 13:14). The ten plagues that were poured out on Egypt demonstrate how God feels about racial slavery.

Immediately after the Ten Commandments, the very first law God gave to Israel concerned the treatment of slaves. In it, God was essentially saying, “If you have slaves, do not treat them like you were treated in Egypt. You must protect and dignify them.”

Why doesn’t God prohibit slavery? Well actually, he does. God bans the type of slavery that kidnaps human beings and sells them for the purpose of human trafficking. “Kidnappers must be put to death, whether they are caught in possession of their victims or have already sold them as slaves” (Ex 21:16). According to Scripture, the kidnapping of any person for the purpose of enslaving them is a capital crime. The Bible unequivocally condemns human trafficking.

In the Old Testament, the word, “slavery,” is usually addressing “debt slavery.” Debt slavery was the only option for people who could not pay their debts or who found themselves in abject poverty. When the poor could not provide for their families, there was no welfare system. God’s law offered provisions to help them work off debt. Debt slavery was voluntary. People could willingly offer their labor in exchange for outstanding debts; in return, masters would provide all their needs. Such servitude, however, was limited to a six-year contract. After that, slaves were free to move on or keep working. Their debts were forgiven (Ex 21:2-6; Lev 25:35-55; Deut 15:12-15).

In the New Testament, Roman slavery was vastly different. Most slaves were prisoners of war—which means that they were merchants, doctors, lawyers, and even politicians (e.g., Eph 6:5-9; Col 4:1). But they lived under a formidable authoritarian state. If Jesus or Paul or any of the early Christians were to call for their immediate emancipation, it would have led to a mass execution. Yet notice how Paul encourages slaves who had a chance to be free: “avail yourself of the opportunity” (1 Cor 7:21). He also lists human traffickers among those who are “ungodly and profane” and puts them in the same category as murderers, the sexually immoral, and perjurers (1 Tim 1:8-10; cf. Rev 18:13).

Apparently, the Bible’s weird laws about slavery aren’t so weird after all. 

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can’t top Easter

The word “indeed” originates from a Middle English term that means, “in truth, or in fact.” So when we say, “Jesus Christ is risen indeed,” we’re saying, “It’s true! He is risen! It’s a fact! Can’t top that!”

In one scene of The Lord of the Rings the beloved character named, Sam, exclaims, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Well yes, but only because Jesus Christ is risen. Indeed, everything sad is going to come untrue.

Jesus Christ is risen, which means the new creation has been launched. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). What Paul reveals here is mindboggling! Apparently, the new heaven and new earth are not wholly future (Rev 21-22). Part of creation has been redeemed—that’s us! As God’s new creation, we live in anticipation of the renewal of the whole earth. Indeed, it is a fact! Can’t top that!

Jesus Christ is risen, which means righteousness will prevail. Sometimes all we can see is the viciousness, hatred, and suffering around us. Indeed. But one day, God will manifest his full presence, his heavenly space, and purge the world of evil. That is why we sing: “This is my Father’s world: O let me ne’er forget. That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Resurrection guarantees true justice. Indeed, it’s a fact! Nothing can stop that!

Jesus Christ is risen, which means when we die nothing significant about our life will be lost. While creation groans, we groan, too (Rom 8:22-23). But with hope! “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future” (NT Wright). Resurrection makes life worth living. Indeed.

Jesus Christ is risen, which means we, too, will be raised. Our union with Christ is so intimate that it can only be described with organic metaphors, like a vine and branches, a tree and fruit, a head and body. We are that connected. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the big harvest to come when our body will be resurrected to “hold the weight of glory” on the new earth (2 Cor 4:17). There is nothing that can stop or top that!

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo,” says Sam. “The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end … because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing … this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” Sam’s right. A great shadow has departed. Jesus is risen. Everything sad is going to come untrue. Indeed.

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when God drops in to visit

God is attracted to humility.

Take this 8-year-old king named Josiah (2 Chron 34). He had a lot of obstacles to overcome. His Grandpa, Manasseh, was utterly wicked. His Dad was worse; but Josiah found the Lord in spite of them. Apparently, it’s not always “like father, like son.” Sin’s consequences are influential, not determinative or causative. 

People often misinterpret God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 20:5-6). What people fail to see is that God is the active agent behind the visit—not demons or Satan. What does “visit” mean? The Hebrew word means “to inspect, to take action to cause a considerable change in the circumstances” (the outcome could be good or not so good). Divine inspection-visits are merciful interventions because of the iniquities of the father—not punishments on children for having bad fathers! Each person can respond to God’s “visits”—that is, they can choose to turn to God or continue in the sin of their fathers.

How did Josiah respond to God’s visit? When he was 16 years old, Josiah chose to seek the Lord. When he was 20, Josiah cleansed Judah from its idolatry. Six years later, at the ripe old age of 26, Josiah wanted to “repair the house of the Lord.” It hadn’t been renovated for 250 years! 

Jerusalem’s magnificent temple was a dilapidated warehouse full of junk. There were no services in the sanctuary. The Bible was completely discarded. But while the remodeling was going on, Hilkiah, the priest finds the Book of Law. He shows it to a guy named, Shaphan, who takes it to the king. Josiah wept when he heard the words of Scripture and orders Hilkiah and Shaphan to “go inquire of the Lord.”

They seem a bit scared to go to the house of Huldah the prophetess. Judah is in big trouble! She says tell Josiah “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.” For the one whose heart is tender and responsive, there is great hope!

God is looking for humble, tender hearts. Let’s pray for a divine visit! 

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kingdom culture

When you’re a leader, you have to at least look calm. But don’t let Jehoshaphat fool you. He’s pretty freaked out. His enemies had joined forces and were about to erase Judah from the map. So the king sets his face to seek the Lord. “Do not be afraid,” says the Lord. “Stand firm, hold your position … You will not need to fight this battle.” No worries, God’s got this.

While revival breaks out, Judah’s enemies start arguing about how to cancel God’s people. That’s the thing about cancel culture; it never ends because everyone sins. Sinners need to be canceled.

Although the term has been around for several years, cancel culture was barely a blip on Google trends until the summer of 2020. Canceling went viral like the virus. Maybe we should start calling out the difference between cancel culture and kingdom culture.

Kingdom culture laments human brokenness and offers forgiveness. With cancel culture there is no redemption—only public humiliation. But in the Kingdom culture, we not only confess our sins and God forgives us; we seek to restore one another “in a spirit of gentleness” (1 John 1:9; Gal 6:1).

Kingdom culture cherishes grace and mercy. With cancel culture, mob enforced judgments are not open to debate. But in the Kingdom culture, the merciful are blessed and “mercy triumphs over judgment” (Matt 5:7; James 2:13). We actually run to “the throne of grace with confidence … to receive mercy and find grace” in our time of need (Heb 4:16).

Kingdom culture values conversations. With cancel culture, there are only statements. But in the Kingdom culture, “speaking the truth in love” enables us to “grow in every way and be more like Christ” (Eph 4:15). Kingdom conversations build up that we may give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29).

Kingdom culture appreciates forbearance. With cancel culture, the entirety of a person is judged on one word, one action, one assumption or accusation. But in the Kingdom culture, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” we are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3). After all, there is only one Judge of all the earth. Thank goodness.

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don’t take the bait

When falsely accused, all kinds of emotion usually kick in. Your natural instinct is to counter with a few choice words of your own. But you don’t have to take the bait. Consider how Jesus responded to false accusations.

When Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy, he responded with “Why” questions like, “Why are you thinking such evil things?” (Matthew 9:4-5, GNT). Jesus wanted to give his accusers a chance to reflect and awaken to what’s driving the charges. Why? “Why” questions reveal the motivation behind the accusation. If Jesus asked people why they thought the worst of him, you can, too.

When the Pharisees falsely accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus asked another kind of question: “Have you not read?” (Matt 12:3-5). By directing their minds to Scripture, Jesus tried to shift their attention away from their allegations and redirect their thoughts to greater principles in Scripture. As the psalmist puts it: “All your commands are trustworthy. Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause” (119:86).

When Jesus was falsely accused of using satanic power to cast out demons, he responded with humor by way of the reductio ad absurdum. “If Satan is casting out Satan, he is fighting himself and destroying his own kingdom” (Matt 12:26). The implication is that even Satan is not stupid enough to undermine his own work! Humor can be a winsome way to expose the absurdity of false claims.

Lastly, Jesus often dealt with false accusations by sharing a story as an indirect method of presenting the truth. Through parables, Jesus was able to communicate his love and concern for people in spite of their denunciation of him. Share your stories. It’s a peaceful way to disarm accusations.

Whatever comes your way, pause, take a breath, ask why questions, point to Scripture, throw in some humor or a good story, and keep following Jesus.

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scripture is not enough?

Many of Jesus’ parables begin with “the kingdom of God is like …” But the disciples were confused by them. They ask Jesus, “Why do you speak in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). They suggest that he might be more successful if he would speak plainly and just lay out his main point. To their surprise, the reason Jesus says he teaches with parables is so that people will “see but not see, hear but not hear” (13:11-7).

Why does Jesus say that? Aren’t teachers supposed to be clear? Jesus’ goal is not to confuse people, but to get people to come to the source of life—to God himself, of course!

Parables are not nice little bedtime stories. Nor do they provide cool spiritual truths to apply to our lives. No, every parable is an invitation to join a revolution that thrives on sacrificial love, mercy, humility, truth and justice. In the parable of the sower, God is secretly planting seeds for this subversive movement. Jesus calls the seeds: “the word of the kingdom” (13:19). Seeds of God’s kingdom are being planted and are growing—even if its growth remains hidden to the world.

Some receive the word gladly as soon as they hear it, but notice, “it does not sink deep into them, and they don’t last long. So when trouble or persecution comes because of the message, they give up at once” (13:20-21, GNT). Oh, oh. Why didn’t the word sink deeply into them? What does it mean for scripture to sink deep into you?

When you pass through suffering you realize something very special. You realize that it’s not enough to have Scripture. Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for his faith, explains, “When you pass through suffering you realize that it was never meant by God that Psalm 23 should strengthen you. It is the Lord who can strengthen you, not the Psalm which speaks of Him so doing. It is not enough to have the Psalm. You must have the One about whom the Psalm speaks.”

Yes, my friends, “everything depends on whether we have remained in the sphere of words or if we are merged with the divine realities” of God Himself. Join the revolution.

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persecuted peacemakers

In the first century, only Roman emperors were deemed “sons of god” and “peacemakers.” The notion of Pax Romana (Roman peace) aimed to unify the imperial empire. However, the way of ensuring peace and unity was by silencing or eliminating dissension. Social harmony meant forced conformity.

Of course, Jesus had to turn Pax Romana on its head. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). OK, so what does Jesus want us to do?

In a recent study, entitled, “Hidden Tribes,” it was revealed that we have not two—but seven political “tribes” in the United States. There’s Devoted Conservatives, Traditional Conservatives, Moderates, Politically Disengaged, Passive Liberals, Traditional Liberals, and Progressive Activists. How in the world can Jesus expect anyone to be a peacemaker these days?

In Jesus’ day, tribalism flourished. The Romans mocked the “lazy” Sabbath-observers. The conservative Pharisees sparred with the progressive theology of the Sadducees. Militant Zealots plotted a violent uprising because they loathed the Roman government. The Essenes withdrew to the desert because the Jews had contaminated the temple. And the Jews and the Samaritans simply despised each other. These groups hated each other—and yet they all united to get rid of the only One who could reconcile them to God and one another.

The life of Jesus clarifies what true peacemaking is all about (note: peacemakers are not peacekeepers). Peacekeepers avoid conflict by trying to keep warring factions at bay. Peacemakers enter the fray by trying to make transformational changes. Peacekeepers triangulate to maintain the status quo. Peacemakers enter the mess despite the personal backlash from those unwilling to change. Peacekeepers may eventually persecute the peacemakers if their power or position is threatened. “Peacemakers,” as E. Stanley Jones puts it, “must get used to the sight of their own blood.”

When you read about Elijah hiding from Jezebel, or Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace, or Jeremiah being thrown into a miry dungeon, do you ever think, “This is crazy! I’m so shocked people hounded them!”? Not likely. Persecuting peacemakers has never been and will never be weird.

Be like Jesus. Be a peacemaker. Show the world what kind of King you serve. 

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joyful acceptance

Of course, not everything Christians claim as persecution is really persecution. Yet, it’s not helpful to trivialize marginalization by claiming that “It’s not as bad as what other groups experience.” If every form of oppression is compared to genocide, then everything would be dismissed. 

One vivid snapshot of Christian persecution is found in Hebrews 10:33-34. “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

In this passage, we find three forms of persecution:

  1. “reproach” = enduring verbal insults aimed at damaging reputations
  2. “affliction” = enduring socio-economic oppression (e.g., vandalism, imprisonment)
  3. “partners” = enduring guilt by association (viewed as accomplices, sympathizers)

How did the early Christians get to the point of joyfully accepting all forms of unjust treatment? The “better, more abiding possession” of the Age to Come had become so real, so palpable to them, they could almost taste it.

“The world into which we shall enter at the coming of Jesus Christ is therefore not another world; it is this world, this heaven, this earth; both … renewed. It is these forests, these fields, these cities, these streets, these people, that will be the scene of redemption. At present they are battlefields, full of the strife and sorrow of the not yet accomplished consummation; then they will be fields of victory, fields of harvest, where out of seed that was sown with tears the everlasting sheaves will be reaped and brought home” (Edward Thurneysen).

You can joyfully accept what comes your way because you know what lies ahead. May you taste the goodness of God’s future in every trial.  

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the spectacle

Tune in for Jeopardy! “I’ll take ‘THINGS TO CANCEL’ for two hundred.” Hooray! It’s the daily double! “A display to gaze at and trash,” says Ken Jennings, the new host of Jeopardy.

“Uh, what are people?”

It happened to Jesus at his crucifixion. “All the crowds had assembled for this spectacle” (Luke 23:48).

It happened to Paul as well. “I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).

In the first century, Roman spectacles were an integral part of Roman culture. Spectacles were staged in various arenas, such as theaters, stadiums, and circuses, but the most important was the amphitheater. Tickets were available for wild beast shows in the morning, executions of condemned criminals at midday, and gladiatorial shows in the afternoon (Alison Futrell, The Roman Games, 84-103; Thomas Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators, 55-56).

The reason for making a public spectacle of one person was to instill fear and deter others from undesirable behaviors. Public humiliation not only served as a punitive function for maintaining order; it became an elaborate form of entertainment in Roman society.

Today, it is common to hear calls for public outrage and reprisal for perceived offences in the digital “amphitheater.” Agree with the consensus or you, too, may be accused of “being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:33). No one wants to be the next #spectacle.

Thankfully, Paul left instructions on how to handle this (1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a).  

  • “When reviled, we bless” = when railed on, ask God to empower them to accomplish HIS will  
  • “When persecuted, we endure” = when targeted, pray for patient steadfastness while God accomplishes HIS will 

  • “When slandered, we entreat” = when disparaged, ask the Lord for the winsome courage to win them to the truth in Christ 

Give to others the gift they so desperately need but can find nowhere else. Grace.

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prepare (just in case)

That old Chevy of yours—you love her, don’t you. You’ve had her for years. She’s so dependable, always there for you, always starts right up. But what if it’s 20 below? You hope she’ll come through for you! But past faithfulness does not automatically ensure future faithfulness.

Timothy was a faithful follower of Christ, and yet in 2 Timothy 3, Paul felt compelled to teach him how to weather persecution. When the atmosphere turns cold, how will you handle it? You know how to prepare for a blizzard, but persecution? How do you prepare for that?

Paul offers four things you can do now—just in case.

Study the lives of those who have endured persecution. Timothy not only followed Paul’s teachings; he observed how Paul endured persecution. How did he conduct himself? How did he keep his aim in life intact? You, too, can study others who stood for Christ under fire. Learn how faith demands patience, love, and steadfastness and follow their lead. You’ll find that God “rescues” his people by carrying them through persecution (2 Tim 3:10-11).

Decide now not to be offended. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). So get over it. Accept the fact that there is a cost to becoming like him.

Refuse to attribute corporate guilt to Christians for the work of impostors. “Evil doers and impostors will go from bad to worse,” exploiting the faith, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). But as for you, don’t betray your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Stick with them. “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” along with the rest of God’s faithful (3:14).

Immerse yourself in Scripture. Notice that it’s in the context of persecution that Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-16). Every moment you read the Bible, God is breathing life into you, teaching, correcting, training, and equipping you for what’s ahead—whatever that is. 

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when the lost persecutes

You know it’s wrong to hate. But what if YOU are hated? Let’s look at one of those Jesus statements that we don’t like.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:21-22). What kind of Devo Tip is this? 

How can the gospel, which offers a message of hope, love, and grace, be taken as an evil thing, and its message-bearers as deserving heart-wrenching intimidation and betrayal? In Matthew 10, Jesus forces us to consider the reality of “lostness”—which is harder to accept when it comes to family and friends. But it gets even tougher for us when “the lost” persecutes. 

When you share the good news about Jesus, you are not likely to be called “Beelzebul” (“the prince of demons,” Matt 10:25). Being labeled as “narrowminded” or “backward” isn’t so bad. But what if you’re called an “extremist” or “radical” or worse?

  1. Persecution aims to silence or bait you—but God wants to sanctify the words of your mouth. “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say … For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt 10:20).
  2. Persecution often creates a strawman fallacy (it alters and exaggerates to attack the extreme distortion)—but God wants to get creative and reveal himself through you. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matt 10:25).
  3. Persecution intends to paralyze you—but God intends to deliver you from all your fears. “Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matt 10:26-27).   
“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit … Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (Matthew 10:21-28, The Message).
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the incarnational principle

During Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the mere quoting of scriptures did not force Satan to run away with his tail between his legs. Jesus’ Bible knowledge was powerful because his character and actions were fully formed by it. If all we have to do to ward off temptation is to press the Bible app on our phone, then one tap on an appropriate verse would assure a trouble-free existence!

The incarnation was not only an event; it’s a vital principle.

EVENT: God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, he “embodied” his word. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus not only came to explain Scripture; he personified it, he realized it, he incarnated it. He is the living Word.

PRINCIPLE: Christ intends to “embody” his word within the very fabric of your character so that he can reveal himself to others through you. To use C.S. Lewis’s words, the incarnational principle is “an experience so momentous that … [our] whole consciousness is changed. We become what we were not before.” 

The incarnation principle penetrates deeper than application. Let’s look at some examples.

“Do not murder.”

  • APPLICATION: don’t kill anyone
  • INCARNATION: everything in you works to sanctify and protect life

“Do not commit adultery.”

  • APPLICATION: don’t have an affair
  • INCARNATION: everything in you works to sanctify and protect marriage 

“Show no partiality.”

  • APPLICATION: treat everyone equally
  • INCARNATION: everything in you works toward justice and dignifying individuals

Notice how difficult it is to apply some verses without the incarnational principle. 

  • “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.” (Yeah, just do that, right.)
  • “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit need to rewrite everything in you for that to happen?!)

How does God’s word get so deeply into you that it becomes who you are? How does this happen? Not overnight!

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something greater than deliverance

It’s been months and we’re still praying for deliverance from this plague. What is God up to? We’re ready to celebrate Christmas, but we’re facing a long winter ahead. 

Is the Lord trying to prepare us for what’s next (whatever that is)? Does God want to teach us about something greater than deliverance? 

Did you know that the most common prayer request from suffering Christians from around the world is: “Please pray that God will give us the strength to overcome this hardship in ways that will honor him.” They don’t ask for deliverance; they want to “overcome evil with good” (Roman 12:21).  

Richard Wurmbrand knew all about social isolation. He was tortured in a Romanian prison for 14 years. “In solitary confinement,” he wrote, “we awoke when the other prisoners went to bed. We started with a prayer, a prayer in which we traveled through the whole world … The Bible tells us about one of the great joys we can have, even in a prison cell: Rejoice with those that rejoice.’ I rejoiced that there were families somewhere who gathered with their children, read the Bible together, and told jokes to each other and were so happy with each other. Somewhere there was a boy who loved a young girl and dated her; I could be happy about them. There, they had a prayer meeting; and there was somebody who studied; and there is somebody who enjoyed good food. We could rejoice with those who rejoiced.” 

Is there something greater than deliverance? Once while lying on the planks of his bed, Richard remembered Jesus saying, “When you are persecuted … for the Son of man’s sake, rejoice, in that day and leap for joy.” He said to himself, “Leap for joy, I have not done this.” So he jumped! “I came down from my bed and I began to jump around.” The warden just happened to look through the peephole. He thought Richard had finally lost it. The guard immediately entered, quieted him down and said, “You will be released … everything will be all right. Just remain quiet. I will bring you something.” He brought Richard a big loaf of bread. “Our portion was one slice of bread a week,” said Richard, “and now I had a whole loaf, plus cheese … It was beautiful to look upon.”

“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5). Leap for joy, dear friends! (Yes, like Richard, really do it)! 

I think King Jesus is preparing us for what’s next (whatever that is). Overcoming is greater than deliverance! That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. 

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who’s muting you?

Some people seem to freely say whatever they want. But for others, the topics they openly talk about are dwindling. What’s happening?

Is the Lord pressing “mute” on some people? Or has cancel culture canceled some voices?

In the Christmas story, Zechariah got muted by God. The angel, Gabriel, tells him, “you will be silent and unable to speak” until his son is born (Luke 1:20). Being muted creates space for other voices to be heard. Sometimes God wants us to stop talking long enough to listen.

But notice that God doesn’t keep the mute button on forever. When Zechariah is free to speak, he doesn’t hold back. Listen to the power of his words: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). 

Being muted has power, but so does the freedom to speak. 

Perhaps God isn’t the one who’s muting you. You respectfully listen to people sharing what they believe; but you’ve shut down about those topics. “It’s not worth it,” you think. You’ve forgotten that the Lord gives the gift of silence and the gift of words. Is it time to unmute yourself? Could it be that God wants to mute others long enough to hear a “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” a voice that “speaks the truth in love” (Luke 3:4; Ephesians 4:15)? 

“If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence” (Psalm 94:17). Ask God to lift you from the land of silence, the land of cancel culture, and then press unmute. “God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19). 

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mishmash

When God delivered Israel from Egypt, “an ethnically diverse group went with them” (Ex 12:38). Who were these people?

Some were Egyptians. I like to believe that among them were the now-elderly midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to slaughter Hebrew baby boys (Ex 1:15-22). But who else?

Some were Cushites (Black Africans). Black Africans not only joined Israel; Moses married a Black African woman. In Numbers 12:1-16, God rebuked Moses’ siblings for opposing her. Another Cushite was Phinehas who was a faithful Black priest that saved Israel from being destroyed (“Phinehas” means “the Cushite/African”). More famously, both the prophet Zephaniah and the Queen of Sheba (the Sabean kingdom of D’mt) were Black (cf. Zeph 1:1; 1 Kings 10:1-13). Less famously, the guy who rescued Jeremiah from a miry dungeon was a Black man named, “Ebed-melech the Ethiopian” (Jer 38:7-13).

The Israelites themselves were already an ethnically diverse group. Backup to Joseph’s rise to power. The Hyksos, a people of mixed Semitic-Asian descent, were likely reigning over Egypt during that time. This means that Joseph’s wife, Asenath, was a West Asian-Egyptian woman (Gen 41:45). From their two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, came two of the 12 tribes of Israel. Yes, two of the 12 tribes of Israel were West Asian-Egyptian-Hebrew. Apparently, Joshua (of Ephraim) did not look Scandinavian.

Others joined the mishmash of faith as well. Caleb, Rahab, and three judges, Othniel, Shamgar and Jael, were all Canaanites (Num 32:12; Josh 2; Jud 3-5; cf. Gen 15:19). Ruth, a Moabite, married Boaz, the son of Rahab, which means that David was part-Moabite, part-Canaanite, and part-Hebrew! The Ark of the Covenant was stored in the backyard of a Philistine named Obed-Edom from Gath (2 Sam 6:6-11). Uriah and Bathsheba were Hittites (2 Sam 11-12). Elijah supplied food for a poor Phoenician widow (1 Kings 17). And Naaman, a commander from northern Syria, came to faith in God through a miraculous healing (2 Kings 5).

Quite a mishmash! Isn’t it perfect?

It’s perfect that a Black man named, Simon of Cyrene, “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” carried Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Eventually, this Black man’s wife and son would become leaders at the church in Rome (Rom 16:13).

It’s perfect that Philip shared the gospel with a Black man (Acts 8:27) while two Black guys commission Paul to take the gospel to Europe (Acts 13:1).

What about Jesus? He’s the perfect mishmash (Matt 1:1-17)!

And look at you. You fit right in (Rev 7:9-10).

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salt & light

God intends that societies should be ordered under wise human stewardship. However, as history unfolds, two threats to society quickly emerge: anarchy and tyranny (Genesis 4).

The threat of anarchy. “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” says Cain after killing his brother Abel, “and whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:13-14). Cain feared a world of lawlessness and terror in which God would pay no attention to rampant, arbitrary violence. The irony is thick, isn’t it? Cain feared the anarchy he himself practiced.

The threat of tyranny. “I have killed a man for wounding me,” boasts Lamech, “a young man for striking me” (Gen 4:23). By taking a life to avenge a bruise, Lamech turned justice into a weapon for personal vengeance. What kind of justice is that? Threats of violence only enhance the power to control people.

Both threats reflect “the culture of death,” where “choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense,” gradually become “socially acceptable” (Pope John Paul II).

If you think Jesus simply wants people to try harder to behave so that the world is a better place, you’ve left the gospel station. His list of “blessed are …” is not a pep talk. Jesus was making an announcement:

“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light the world” (Matthew 5:13-16).

“If a piece of meat goes rotten, it’s no use blaming the meat. That’s what happens when meat is left out on its own. The question to ask is, Where is the salt? If a house gets dark at night, it’s no use blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask, Where is the light? If society becomes more corrupt and dark, it’s no use blaming society. That’s what fallen human nature does, left unchecked and unchallenged. The question to ask is … Where are the saints who will actually live as saints—God’s different people, God’s counterculture—in the public square … and pay the cost of doing so?” Christopher JH Wright

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politics of fear

It’s hard to deny the politics of fear on both sides of the political aisle. Republicans and Democrats regularly paint ominous pictures of what will happen if the other side wins the White House in November. This isn’t anything new. Pharaoh weaponized fear to maintain his power (Exodus 1:10). Notice the three-step pattern of the politics of fear:

1. Present a threat that arouses fear. Pharaoh says to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us” (Exodus 1:9). Suddenly, the Israelites are a threat to Egypt’s wellbeing. An “us vs. them” has been created. They aren’t like “us”—and therefore, can’t be trusted.  

2. Show how vulnerable “we” are. “If war breaks out, they’ll join our enemies and fight against us” (Ex 1:10b). Classic strawman argument. “They” are trouble. By creating on a stereotype, “we” can vilify them.

3. Explain how “we” can protect ourselves from “them.” “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them” … so they “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Ex 1:10a, 11). Having established an untrue premise that “they” are bad, and even harmful, the politics of fear can successfully dehumanize “them,” making it easier for “us” to justify hatred and violence. 

Note, too, how the politics of fear quickly spreads from one person (Pharaoh) to a small group (taskmasters) to an entire nation (“the Egyptians [literally] loathed the people of Israel”; Ex 1:12). Apparently, fear is not only the result of evil; evil is also the result of fear. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the spiritual damage fear creates. “It crouches in people’s hearts,” he wrote, “it hollows out their insides … and secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others.” 

For those of you who don’t want your insides hollowed out during this election season, take a lesson from the midwives: they feared God (Ex 1:17, 21). The fear of God is the only thing that liberates people from the politics of fear. 

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else”—Oswald Chambers 

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prove Satan wrong

Sometimes we are given a perspective that the characters in the Bible lack. In the story of Job, we have the inside scoop: what happened to Job had nothing to do with God’s discipline or punishment. 

Conversation 1: Satan approaches God to insult him by slanderously accusing God of bribing people with blessings so they will worship him (1:9-11; 2:4-5). (It’s like saying that we only love Grandma because she’s got ice cream. Take away the ice cream and who cares about Granny?) Such a nasty allegation had to be answered by putting someone to the test.

So Satan destroys everything near and dear to Job. Job himself was infested with worms, had difficulty breathing, and was reduced to skin and bones (7:5; 9:18; 19:20). Before Mrs. Job abandons him, she tells him to curse God and die (2:9)—which is exactly what Satan hopes Job will do. Job is suddenly alone and homeless. He has to move to the city dump and use broken pieces of garbage to scratch the burning itch that covered his body (2:8).

Why would Job love God anymore? If you lost everything, would you still love the Lord?

Conversation 2: When Job’s buddies got to dump, they initially didn’t recognize him. He looked so repulsive they were speechless. After a full week, Job breaks the silence with anguish. Do his friends pray for him? No. They slanderously accuse Job of having some secret sin that brought all this down on him. They offer no comfort, encouragement, hope, or grace. No wonder Job says, “miserable comforters are you all” (16:2).

Have you ever questioned what someone did to deserve their trial? Why not evaluate your spirituality by what happens to you?

Conversation 3: God appears in a whirlwind with 77 questions. Does he explain why people suffer? No. He talks about his wisdom and power over creation—including one creature in particular: the 7-headed sea serpent-dragon (Job 41; cf. Isaiah 27:1). Why highlight him? Is it a coincidence that the sea serpent reflects the cruel nature of the ancient dragon behind Job’s suffering? “Terror dances before him … his heart is as hard as stone … he is king over all the sons of pride” (41:22-34).

PRAY: Lord, through good times and hard times, I want to make bold statements to the dark side. I want to prove that Satan is wrong about me, too. I love you Lord because of who you are. I love you Lord no matter what happens. Bring to light the unsearchable riches of Christ’s victory “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Amen. (Ephesians 3:10)

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5 levels of forgiveness

There was a face, a real person, and a boatload of stories behind Peter’s question. He’d been hurt too badly, too many times by someone. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Can you relate? “Lord, you know what I’ve been through. It’s not fair to let it go. Not after what they’ve done. Forgiveness is too much to ask from me. It’s too painful to even talk about.”

What if you tried to think of the “seventy-seven times”—not as an exact number to calculate, but as steps you can take toward healing?

Steps into LEVEL 1 FORGIVENESS: acknowledge the hurt. One guy really hurt Paul. Did Paul pretend that nothing happened? He doesn’t go into detail but simply states a fact: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” (2 Timothy 4:14). He named him. He dared to call out the damage. This is where you start. You cannot forgive what you refuse to acknowledge.

Steps into LEVEL 2 FORGIVENESSbelieve that God’s grace is greater than any sin. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Grace is greater than fear, greater than bitterness, greater than manipulation. What Jesus has done for you is greater than anything that’s been done to you. Grace >                          .

Steps into LEVEL 3 FORGIVENESS: let grace flow by releasing the offender to God. Let’s go back to Paul. After acknowledging the harm done to him (Level 1), Paul released Alexander to God: “the Lord will judge him for what he has done” (2 Timothy 4:14). Releasing someone is not letting them off the hook; you are placing them in God’s hands. As God deals with them, Paul says to “beware of [that person]” (2 Timothy 4:15). In other words, releasing frees you to protect yourself and others from further harm.

Steps into LEVEL 4 FORGIVENESS: ask God to forgive them. Think about Stephen. People are stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-60). Did Stephen look his murderers in the eye and say, “I forgive you”? No, he looked to heaven and said, “Lord, forgive them.” Ask God to do what you haven’t been able to do (which is what they really need anyway)!

Gently ease into LEVEL 5 FORGIVENESS: full forgiveness. You’ll know. Along the “seventy-seven” step journey toward forgiveness, you’ll realize that Jesus is healing your heart.