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ezekiel unfiltered: chapter 1

On Ezekiel’s thirtieth birthday, the year he should have entered the priesthood in Jerusalem, he found himself “among the exiles by the Chebar canal” in the land of Babylon (Ezek 1:1). Everything he had worked for, his schooling, his plans, were gone. And to top it off, no birthday cake.

But it’s in this place of shattered dreams that God breaks into Ezekiel’s life. In his moment of despair, “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel … and the hand of the Lord was upon him,” along with “the glory of the Lord” (1:3-28). God draws near to us through his word, with his helping hand, and with his radiant glory.

You get the feeling that Zeke is struggling to find the words to describe the heavens opening up to him. It’s indescribable, so he keeps using “likeness.” As a cloud overshadows a windstorm, four Spirit-propelled, four-faced, four-winged creatures emerge (1:4-6). They are not space aliens; they’re cherubim (10:15, 20). And they don’t look like chubby babies either.

In fact, these bizarre looking creatures have their own set of wheels. Well, it’s not really their wheels. Cherubim are more like Motaur (the half-motorcycle guy commercials)—only with gyroscope wheels that can move in any direction. The cherubim and the wheels within the wheels move together “for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels” (1:19-20; cf. 10:17).

Over their heads was “the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire” (1:26). What Ezekiel describes is not a stationary throne on its own, but a four-wheeled-gyroscope chariot-throne (1:15-26). Wait a minute! God’s throne is like a chariot? “There is none like God … who rides through the heavens to your help” (Deut 33:26). He doesn’t just sit on his throne all day, every day, for eternity. His throne moves! Cool.

“And seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance” (1:26). Ezekiel’s description of the Man-God is a lot like John’s description of the fiery radiance of Jesus (Rev 1). No wonder Ezekiel does a face plant. The Lord’s chariot-throne draws near to his people at the gloomiest times and darkest places. Thank goodness.

Hardships are hard. Like Ezekiel, in our moments of despair, God draws near to us through his word to guide us and give us hope. He draws near to us with his hand to strengthen us so that we can take the next step. Jesus draws near to us with his glory to transform us into his likeness “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Hardships prepare us for an eternal weight of glory. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4). We will glisten with the blazing brilliance of God’s glory. The “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

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the weird laws about relational boundaries

Weird laws in the book called, “Leviticus,” are easily dismissed by many people—especially laws that set boundaries for human sexual relations. After all, isn’t sex simply a private matter between consenting adults? Well, let’s take a look at Leviticus 18.

In this chapter, there are four boundaries concerning sexual relations: incest (sex with close relatives; 18:6-18), non-marital affairs (sex outside of marriage; 18:19-20), same-sex affairs (sex with the same gender; 18:22), and bestiality (sex with animals; 18:23). The New Testament offers no exception clauses. So, what happens if someone crosses the line?

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God lavishes his grace on us, without endorsing our sin. In doing so, he establishes the model for how we are to respond to each other. We extend grace to one another, without endorsing each other’s sins.

As we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), we come to realize that we’ve been given a new identity in Christ. What does this mean? It is not the loss of our true selves; our true selves are redeemed in Christ. Our new identity “in Christ” is actually far more profoundly real and intensely intimate than our sexual fulfillment.

This is why Paul says, “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:13-17). We are now joined—spiritually and bodily—to the incarnate, crucified, risen King! It is our union with the living Christ that gives us meaning, identity, fulfillment, and eternal existence. We “flee from sexual immorality” because our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”—not ours to do with it as we please; our bodies “were bought with a price” so we “glorify God in [our] body” (1 Cor 6:18-20).

We still struggle to live faithfully. Our “natural” impulses surface in countless ways. Jesus invites us to come to him as we are—but his offer is not to stay as we are. We are part of a body being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Following Christ requires difficult, costly obedience as we “groan inwardly” for the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Our hope for the complete transformation of our fallen physical state awaits the future resurrection.

Although it may seem odd to contemporary sensibilities, God’s weird laws are not weird after all. God loves us—and we need to trust him. If we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” we will honor the boundaries he has set for us (2 Peter 3:18).

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the weird clothing law

I have a lot of sympathy for those who have been wounded by insensitive and harsh treatment—especially from Christians. The last thing I want to do is to add more pain. So how do we interpret the weird law in Deuteronomy 22:5 that says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Is this about who gets to wear the pants?

This law is a good example of how archaeology can help. Christianity is a historical faith based on actual events. In this case, archaeological discoveries can enhance our understanding of the clothing worn by people in the Bible.

The ancient cemetery of Beni Hasan in Egypt reveals a distinctive clothing difference between the Hebrew people and the Egyptians. The two Egyptians wear the traditional white linen kilt; but the Hebrews are wearing colorful robes. The length of the men’s robes stopped at the knees; the length of the women’s robes came down close to their ankles. The men are wearing sandals while the women wearing fashionable short boots. No one is wearing pants!

On the famous obelisk of Shalmaneser III, we see Jehu, the king of Israel, bowing before the king of Assyria. Neither Jehu, the Assyrians, nor the Israelites are wearing pants. If everyone was wearing robes, what was the reason for “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God”?

The word “abomination” occurs 117 times in the Old Testament. In the majority of cases, “abomination” is used to describe the behaviors associated with pagan, idolatrous practices that are abhorrent to God. Here’s one example: “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations” (Deut 18:9). OK, so we’re dealing with pagan practices.

Once again archaeology comes into play. The Canaanites were known for building “high places” to their gods, Baal and Asherah. These “high places” had an altar with rooms around it for “male cult prostitutes” (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7) and “female cult prostitutes” (Hosea 4:14). Canaanite literature confirms that cultic prostitutes engaged in sexual acts with participants at the “high places” in order to elicit a response from Baal.

These cult prostitutes wore special garments that identified with Baal and Asherah—garments that would often disguise their gender. In 2 Kings 10:22, Jehu “said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, ‘Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.’” Worshippers of Baal wore clothes that identified them as worshippers of Baal. At one point, the Israelite women were even sewing the special garments. Josiah “broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 23:7). The exchange of gender roles in pagan cults was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East.

Deuteronomy 22:5 has nothing to do with “who wears the pants”! It’s really about idolatry. Idolatry always distorts God’s image, creating confusion for God’s image bearers. Instead of reflecting God’s image, idols can only reflect a confused, broken, distorted image. We must help each other to follow Jesus! Everyone is created in God’s image and deserves dignity and respect—no matter what identity issues they are facing. The good news of the gospel is that all of us are equally invited to be met and transformed by God’s tender loving grace in Christ Jesus.

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the weird unclean food laws

Why were some animals and food declared clean, while others were labeled unclean? What was it that made camels, rabbits, geckos, mice, and pigs unfit for dinner? No amount of cocktail sauce could save the shrimp from being banned from the kitchen table! Why were these creatures classified as unclean?

If the primary purpose of the food laws was for health reasons, it is surprising that Jesus abolished them! There must be another reason. In Mark 7:18-19, Jesus said, “Whatever goes into a person cannot defile him” to which Mark interprets “(Thus he declared all foods clean).”

The observance of the food laws was the mark of the faithful Jew. Abstinence from certain foods set them apart from other peoples. As the laws distinguished clean from unclean animals, so Israel was reminded that God had distinguished them from all the other nations on earth to be his own possession.

This food-represent-people connection becomes evident when God shows Peter a vision of heaven opening “and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals … and there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’” Peter refused to eat any of the animals presented to him because the clean animals had been made “common” by being in direct contact with the unclean animals on the sheet. The idea of Gentiles being unclean (unacceptable) was so ingrained in Jewish thought, that Peter deemed it to be ‘unlawful’ (though God hadn’t) to associate with or enter the house of a Gentile. But “the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common’” (Acts 10:13-15). After God repeats this scenario three times, Peter finally gets the message.

When Peter meets with Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, he clarifies the symbolic meaning of the food laws. “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). In the vision, there were animals and Peter rightly interpreted them to represent people.

Peter continues to expound on his new revelation. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him … Jesus Christ … is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36). The distinction between clean and unclean foods is as obsolete as the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The food laws were never meant to keep the Jewish people from associating with non-Jews. To be “set apart” to God’s purposes does not mean disengagement with the world. God had always intended Israel to be a light to the nations, so that by her light, salvation may reach the end of the earth.

According to Paul, “Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor 8:8).  “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). God’s kingdom isn’t about food and drink (Rom 14:17). When we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our food will be to do God’s will (John 4:34). 

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the weird goat milk “law”

If someone says, “hold your horses, there’s an elephant in the room, pigs are flying, the pot is calling the kettle black, and Elvis has left the building,” you don’t wig out. You chill out and open your Bible to what appears to be the weirdest of the weird laws in Scripture.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19b). What kind of law is this? Was it an idolatrous practice? Or some random dietary law? Or was it about the ethical treatment of animals? After all its cruel to kill a baby goat in the milk which gives it life. Or maybe it wasn’t a law all. Could it be that “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” was an idiomatic expression that was used back in the day?

Like, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” No one takes the saying literally. There was never a time when people threw out their babies with the bathwater! We know that it’s a figure of speech that means: “don’t remove something good while getting rid of something worthless.” It’s an idiom.

Remember Grandpa’s weird sayings? “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” What? “We have cell phones in our hand, Grandpa.” During World War II, to “buy the farm” meant to die; now it means, well, to buy the farm. In processing language, our first default approach is to take words at face value, that is, to take them literally.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” is found three times in the Bible. Notice that two are placed immediately after this statement: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19a; 34:26a). The context emphasizes offering one’s best to the Lord. The boiled goat milk that follows is a wry, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek figure of speech that means: “Don’t offer to God something that you want to get rid of anyway.” It’s kind of like God saying, “Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes? I know very well what’s in that soup offering!”

In the third instance, the boiled goat milk idiom follows a long list of food laws (Deut 14:21d). Although it’s placed within a food context, it’s meaning lines up with the other two: “Don’t cut corners. God is in the details.”

Of course, we don’t use the boiled goat milk expression today, and yet, it’s message still rings true. Have you ever given canned goods, you didn’t want anyway, to a food shelf? Have you ever bypassed a $20 bill to throw a $5 into the offering plate? Have you ever served the Lord with a “that’s good enough” attitude? It’s hard to admit, isn’t it, but it’s boiled goat milk—and the goat is bleating: “God knows it’s not our best.”

By understanding the Bible’s idiomatic expressions, we are no longer faced with a weird law. To “boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” is a ridiculously stupid thing to do—just like giving God “less than your best” is a ridiculously stupid thing to do. God doesn’t want our leftovers or white elephant gifts. So “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). Give your best and “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).  

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the weird law that bans sorcery

Some weird laws in the Bible just say, “You shall not,” without any explanation. So we need to do a little research. For example, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18). The law of sorcery has nothing to do with magic shows that are presented as entertainment. This law is placed with other laws related to social responsibilities (Ex 22:16-31).

What is sorcery? Scholars strongly contend that the Hebrew word translated “sorcery” describes something along the lines of “muttering” while “cutting” up hallucinogenic herbs. Ingesting plants to induce altered states of consciousness have been going on for millennia. The ancient Sumerians cultivated opium by the end of the third millennium BC. In the ancient world, people were constantly in fear of all kinds of danger. In such an insecure world, people sought those who claimed to foresee the future, avert trouble, or reverse misfortune. Apparently, women were engaged in the practice of sorcery more than men (cf. M.T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor).

Religious shamans have been known for consuming hallucinogenic herbs as a means of contacting spiritual entities to produce certain results. Moses had to contend with sorcerers in Egypt (Ex 7:11). Canaan, the land that Joshua entered, was deeply entrenched in occult practices (Deut 18:10-12). Assyria was an active participant in the black arts. Nineveh, Assyria’s capitol city, was known for innumerable atrocities and torture, was called “the mistress of sorceries” (Nahum 3:4). Even Daniel’s colleagues were engaged in Babylon’s version of sorcery (Dan 2:2).

Whether we call “sorcery” demonic or not, the fact that God’s law prohibits such behavior indicates a problem. So even though sorcerers might claim that their concoction-induced incantations have benefits, the Torah doesn’t care. Whatever one’s motivation, engaging in sorcery is prohibited. Why? By muttering predictions, sorcerers seek to manipulate the future and exert control over people or events. What the law of sorcery opposes are those who present themselves as able to control other people’s destiny.

On every mission, Paul confronted some form of sorcery. On his first journey, Paul rebuked a Jewish sorcerer who tried to prevent the governor of Cyprus from turning to the Lord (Acts 13:6-12). On his second journey, Paul freed a young woman enslaved by sorcery in the name of Jesus (Acts 16:16-19). On his third journey, many former sorcerers brought forth their magic books and burned them (Acts 19:19).

The law prohibiting sorcery keeps humans safe. The spiritual realm is not a space we can fully process or understand. We are vulnerable to deceptive forces in that unseen realm whose identity we cannot confirm or trust. Willfully contacting the other side suggests that select individuals can control life through the aid of mysterious supernatural forces. “When they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums … who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19; cf. Gal 5:20; Rev 21:8, 15). Why in the world would anyone seek a drug-induced “word” from an unreliable, unconfirmed source?

Turning to channelers, tea leaves, horoscopes, crystal balls, palm readers, tarot cards or any other occult practices for knowledge or power, mocks prayer, diminishes God’s revelation, and disparages any ounce of trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. So no, the law of sorcery is not weird at all. 

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the weird firstborn son law

Weird laws require patience and tenacity because they are often clarified by other laws and stories in the Bible.

For example, “the firstborn of your sons you shall give to me” (Exodus 22:29). What? Why? We find a bit more clarity a few chapters later. “All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. None shall appear before me empty-handed” (Ex 34:20). OK, so this law is about redeeming the firstborn. But where did this idea come from? Eden.

God in his mercy redeemed his firstborn human son with the sacrifice of an animal (Genesis 3:21). In doing so, God rescued humanity from total ruin and restored their purpose for living even in their fallen state. Redeeming “the firstborn son” is about consecrating human participation in God’s mission. Adam, God’s firstborn human son, represented all his future offspring.

Redeeming “the firstborn son” was dramatically displayed when God told Abraham to “take your son, your only son … and offer him as a burnt offering” (Gen 22:2). This is not a demand for human sacrifice to appease an angry God. It is about redeeming, consecrating, dedicating the firstborn son to God’s mission. Burnt offerings could symbolize either atonement for sin or full surrender to God. Offering Isaac was the clearly the latter—and Abraham knew it. He even called it “worship” (Gen 22:5).

Notice what Abraham told Isaac (who was probably 36-37 years old at the time): “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Gen 22:8a). Abraham trusts that a lamb will show up or there will be a physical resurrection from the dead. “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19). Either way, Abraham’s promise to “return” (Gen 22:5) implies that he and Isaac will both come down Mount Moriah alive—which they did. God never intended Abraham to kill Isaac. This was a huge test about surrendering, consecrating, redeeming the firstborn son to God’s mission!

We see this again in Egypt when, once again, God consecrates Abraham’s collective firstborn son. “Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may serve me” (Ex 4:22-23). Israel, God’s collective firstborn son was redeemed so that they could join God’s mission as a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:5-6).

The law of redeeming the firstborn son was ultimately fulfilled when God offered his only begotten Son, “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). In his triumph over sin and death, once for all, Jesus redeems “the church of the firstborn” as a kingdom of priests who participate in God’s mission now and forevermore (Hebrews 12:23). 

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the weird assault & battery laws

We’re not trying to explain away the weird passages in the Bible. We are simply trying to understand them in their proper contexts.

It’s way too easy to plop a twenty-first century perspective into the ancient world of the Bible. But if we understand the environment in which these laws were given, we’ll find principles that are relevant in every culture and every generation. Let’s look at the assault and battery laws in the Torah. Like today’s laws, they often go together.

Assault is the act which causes a victim to apprehend physical harm, while battery is the actual act that causes the physical harm. Today, most state criminal codes make assault a misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to one year in the county jail. Threats of death or serious bodily harm are charged as “aggravated assault”—which is a felony that is usually punishable by fines and a maximum of 10 to 20 years in prison.

When we read the Old Testament assault and battery laws, we should not assume an implied approval into the conditional “if/when/whoever” clause. If we say, “When someone attacks another person, call the police,” we are not condoning the incident. The same is true in the Bible. It uses the if/when/whoever clause to deter people from exhibiting aggressive, threatening behavior toward others, even if physical contact did not actually occur.

The Bible’s assault and battery laws are paradigmatic. They do not address every possible circumstance; they are not meant to be exhaustive. These laws set a standard by example.

  • “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies will be put to death” (Exodus 21:12). The Hebrew phrase, “shall be put to death,” always refers to a civil court verdict.
  • “Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death … Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:15, 17). In the case of elderly abuse, both physical and emotional, parents were allowed to take their adult children to court.
  • “When men quarrel and one strikes the other” and injures him, the assailant must pay for the victim’s medical expenses and the wages he lost during his recovery (Exodus 21:18-19). Sounds fair.
  • “When a man strikes his slave, male or female,” and the slave recovers after a day or two, “he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money” (Exodus 21:20-21). That doesn’t sound fair! But if you keep reading, merely knocking out one tooth of a slave sets the slave free (Exodus 21:26-27). Losing one’s capital investment (“his money”) would hit his own wallet.

The Bible’s weird assault and battery laws are not weird; they are paradigmatic. By setting a standard by example, they are designed to deter people from harming others.

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the weird eye for an eye law

Some laws in Old Testament are weirder than others. And some of these Old Testament laws get even weirder when you see them in the New Testament.

Take for example, the weird law of “an eye for an eye.” “If there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). Here we see that the “eye for an eye” is a principle: any punishment must fit the crime. By preventing excessive cruelty and excessive leniency, true justice involves mercy.

The “eye for an eye” is a principle; it was never meant to be taken literally. If someone’s eye is taken out, how will you respond? If you take that person’s eye out, you may unintentionally end up killing him. It’s impossible to maim, burn, wound, or bruise someone in precisely the same way they burned, wounded, or bruised their victim. Enforcing the “eye for an eye” principle prevented the never-ending cycle of retaliation.

The “eye for an eye” principle is deliberately placed within the context of an example (Exodus 21:22). Say, two guys are fighting, and they accidentally hit a pregnant bystander. If the baby or the mother is injured or even killed, her husband has the right to seek restitution in a court of law for the harm done to his family. “Eye for an eye” was the guiding principle to ensure due process. God’s laws created a system that required multiple witnesses to testify before civil judges (Exodus 18:13-26; Deut 17:6).

Unfortunately, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day used the “eye for eye” principle to encourage everyday retaliation. They would say, if you get punched, don’t hold back; if someone hurls an insult, you should respond with a tongue-lashing. So, when Jesus responds with, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you …” (Matt 5:38-39), he is not abolishing the principle; he’s correcting them by clarifying God’s original intent for such a principle. Applying the “eye for an eye” principle is only appropriate in a court of law—not on city streets.

Jesus goes on to say, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39). The word, “resist,” is used throughout the New Testament for legal disputes—and this fits the context here. “Avoid taking your enemies to court,” he says. “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek.” Is Jesus saying it’s OK to be abused? Of course not! He’s saying, “If someone gives you a backhanded slap on your right cheek, you should turn the other cheek”—that is, turn your face to make it difficult to get another backhanded slap. Don’t retaliate. Protect yourself. Do what you can to avoid abusive situations.

Jesus did not come to abolish God’s laws. He came to clarify them, embody them, and fulfill them (cf. Matt 5:17). The Bible’s weird “eye for an eye” principle isn’t weird; it’s quite relevant, don’t you think?

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the weird law of the poor man’s daughter

It’s easy to pluck Scripture out of its context—especially when it comes to the weird laws. Weird laws are challenging because sometimes one word can carry different meanings.
 
Take for example, the word “sell.” We all know what that means! But “to sell” also means “to persuade.” You can even “sell the game” by playing badly. For the Brits, “California is a bit of a sell” (a disappointment). Then add the word “slave.” This Hebrew word (evid) also means “servant” (e.g., Moses was an “evid of God”).
 
So “if a man sells his daughter as a slave,” what does that mean (Exodus 21:7-11)?
 
The context of this law is “debt servitude.” Debt servitude was the only option for families who could not pay their debts and found themselves living in poverty. So “if a man sells his daughter as a slave,” it is in the context of debt servitude—not sex trafficking. But even so, why would a family in dire, financial straits do this? In the ancient world, females were particularly vulnerable. They had no career paths to take. Insert poverty to the mix and you have a crisis.
 
A careful reading of the text reveals that a poor man’s daughter could be “sold” to a fellow as a “maidservant.” Notice the poor father’s expectation in the deal: either the gentleman or his son will marry her. If neither one ties the knot with his daughter (“she does not please” them), the gentleman has acted deceitfully, that is, “he has broken faith with her,” as Moses puts it. The gentleman must give his maidservant back to her family (“let her be redeemed”). The law of the poor man’s daughter provided hope and protection for young women with no resources, no future, nothing.
 
If the gentleman does marry her, and another woman, the poor man’s daughter retains all the privileges of a wife—including conjugal rights. Yes, the law of the poor man’s daughter ensured sexual gratification for her. She was not a sex slave. She was not owned property. If the arranged marriage was not fulfilled, she was free to leave. That, my friends, is not slavery.
 
Although it’s easy to assume the meaning of words and difficult to understand the ancient custom of arranged marriages, it is simply irresponsible to twist the law of the poor man’s daughter into an issue of human trafficking.
 
God’s laws protected the dignity and rights of ancient society’s most vulnerable. Apparently, the Bible’s weird law of the poor man’s daughter isn’t so weird after all. 
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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.