Archive for » June, 2016 «

Clothes Make the Man

Click here to read Matthew 3 on

 “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.” – Matthew 3:4

suitThere’s nothing like a good pair of jeans.  They’re tough, they fit just about any fashion sense, and over time they seem to contour themselves right to your country hams.  It’s like nature’s perfect material.

Fun fact: one of the unique aspects of jeans is the way they wear out. Back in the 1800s, jeans were dyed with indigo, which doesn’t actually penetrate into the denim. It sits on the surface, and therefore wears off over time. But the way it faded was an indication of the type of work the wearer performed. A miner might wear out in the knees; a cowboy might wear off faster in the…umm…saddle. The clothes demonstrated not just practical use, but wear patterns came to be displayed prominently to represent particular vocations.


So what does this have to do with John the Baptist? Why are we told he wore camel skins and a belt? Just for background? Just so we can picture what ole johnny looked like?  Nopers. Back in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings, we read about Elijah – “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

When Matthew wrote his gospel, he was particularly interested in tying Jesus into the prophecies in the Old Testament, hence all the repeated references to “as it written.” In this case, it seems he is specifically drawing attention to the fact that John the Baptist is remarkably similar to Elijah – a “crazed” prophet wandering around the desert wearing hair clothes and a leather belt. The clothes he wore demonstrated a particular calling.

Additionally, this was a marked difference from the religious “leaders” of the day, for Elijah and John. In Elijah’s time, it was the prophets of Baal that wore ornamental robes, to “separate” themselves from the common people. In John’s time, it was the religious leaders like Sadducees that wore costly garments, because they “needed to be holy” to work in the temple.

But who did God choose to speak and work through? Crazy, shabbily dressed prophets.  Go figure.


One of the oldest struggles in American Christianity is judging people on how they dress. How long should a dress be? How much makeup is appropriate? How tight can pants be in church before the ushers get involved? How many piercings/tattoos are allowed? Generally, we like to have to pretend to have the stance that “it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside.”

There is some truth to that, but if it doesn’t matter, why does the Bible mention it? (sidenote: In jesus’ case, the Bible mentions that he had a one-piece tunic.) For the moment, let’s consider it from the other side. Why is it important what John wore? Because it called attention to his calling as a prophet. (however, note that he wore something not acceptable to the society; so it’s not always about dressing up in the Sunday best).

In our culture, what does it mean when companies like are making the big bucks printing custom t-shirts, what are we saying on them? What do tattoos mean about a person’s inside? What about wearing a short skirt? What about a tight t-shirt instead of a sweatshirt if you happen to be a muscular man? Does it really mean nothing? Aren’t you actually saying “I want you to notice I have the commitment and self-control to take care of my body”? Or, why do you wear a suit? Why do your hair before going to church?  Is it just to “bring your best to God”? Or maybe so that everyone notices?  Or even because “that’s what we do.”

In many ways, how we look on the outside does reflect what’s on the inside.  Often, you’ll see people that hang out a lot together will dress very similarly.  Why is that?   Are they copying each other? Or do their similar clothing choices reflect their similar interests?

Rather than just say it doesn’t matter how we dress, maybe we should be carefully considering what we are saying by our clothing.  Is it to appear wealthier than we are?  Why?  Is it to show off our bodies? Why?  Is it to show that “no one can tell me what to wear”? Is that freedom or rebellion? When you choose your clothes, do you consider how they honor God? Only you can answer those questions for you.

How does your outside reflect your inside today?

The Fairest of Them All

Click here to read Deuteronomy 21 on

 “you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 21:9

one couple man and woman Criticism concept

We love to assign blame.  If we are in a car accident, one of the first questions that people will ask (other than if you have retained all of your limbs and most of your vital organs) is “whose fault was it?”  If a team loses a football game, the press conference tends to focus on “who didn’t do their job?”  If someone, hypothetically, doesn’t do the dishes, then begins the epic battle Spousal Blame, in which the number and frequency of dishwashings will be brought into play, and perhaps other unrelated offenses may also make an appearance.

But what if it’s nobody’s fault?  Or at least, what if it’s difficult to determine who is at fault? Shocking, in our world, where it’s expected that if one burns themselves in the crotchular area with hot coffee, someone must be held accountable.  Can we accept the idea that sometimes, it was just an accident? Or that both parties are to blame?

We are so focused on “fair” in our world that we miss the opportunity to just do the right thing, whether it’s our responsibility or not.  If you’re in the grocery store, and you come skipping along the cereal aisle, and you notice some pirate-hatin fool has knocked all of the Captain Crunch on the floor, what do you do? Do you casually walk past the boxes?  Do you nonchalantly turn around and head to a different aisle? Do you mention it to a store employee? Do you stop and pick them all up?  Are you concerned with “fair” (I’m not the one who messed it up) or with “right” (this needs to be cleaned up).


The Bible has several passages that address this sort of thing.  In the Deuteronomy 21, we’re given a hypothetical.  A body is found out in the fields one day, and before Briscoe and McCoy get involved, God gives some detailed directions on how to proceed.

Strangely, the first thing is to measure the distance to the nearby towns (though we may wonder exactly how they determined that before GPS), and the closest town is responsible.  Notice that it does not say “determine the cause of death or perpetrator first.”  Notice that it doesn’t matter if everyone knows Town A is populated by nuns and Town B is the headquarters of the Mafia.  If the body is closer to Town A, Town A is responsible.

And not just responsible; they have to make a sacrifice of an entire bull (a considerable financial burden) to atone for the guilt of the town.  They are held to guilty in the death of this stranger, and had to make the payment for the offense, or the whole town would be guilty. Even if they had committed no sin.  Sound familiar?


Despite our almost pathological need for “fair,” the Bible is almost never concerned with that.  The ultimate example is Christ, taking the blame for sins he never committed.  There is nothing fair about an innocent person being killed (even if you don’t believe the Jesus was sinless, it’s clear from the court proceedings that the Jewish leadership was playing pretty fast and loose with the rules of law).  But that’s not the point.  Jesus did what had to be done, not because it was fair, but because He loves us, and it was the holy thing to do.

Today, as you run into the “unfair” parts of life (and you will), and you find yourself looking to assign blame, stop yourself and prayerfully consider your actions.  What can you do today to be righteous, instead of fair? Can you let that co-worker take credit for your work?  Can you let your spouse go to bed early while you take care of the kids? Can you allow yourself to be taken advantage of by your friends and still love them?

After all, if it was about fair, it should be us hanging on the cross.

The Hope of War

Click here to read Deuteronomy 20 on

 “When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?” – Deuteronomy 20:19

civilwarIt’s interesting how fascinated we are by war.  We write poems about it, make stirring and heroic movies about it, and create imaginary wars when we’re kids.  We use war and battle for metaphors in sports (“those linemen are doing some heavy battle down in the trenches”), and even use war as a symbol for relationships (on occasion, of course).

But the reality is different.  Men come home from war, not heroically, but with post-traumatic stress disorders.  Some may never come home at all.  Many of the diaries you can read of men in war time are not filled with inspiring quotes or poems; they talk of wanting to go home, of seeing their loved ones one more time, or the horrors of watching friends and comrades killed or maimed in front of them.  As more than one general has said; war is as close to hell as we get on earth.


Of course, there’s little question that war is sometimes necessary.  The obvious example is World War II; there are always the fringe debaters, but nearly everyone agrees that stopping Hitler was necessary, even at a terrible cost.  Sometimes the necessity of protecting innocent lives requires taking another life; but it’s rarely glorious and never beautiful.

Because it accurately describes reality, the Bible has frequent descriptions of war, primarily regarding the conquest of Canaan in the Old Testament.  Christians have struggled for centuries with the carnage described in these books, and even moreso with the seemingly genocidal commands of God regarding the nations around them.

But notice that even in war, God demands self control.  They were not just to run rampant through the countryside, killing and looting to their hearts content.  In the very first battle, at Jericho, they were not even allowed to take any plunder at all, but instead dedicate it all to God.  People who desired peace were to be treated well, and there are multiple stories of “enemies” joining with the Israelites (Rahab, for example).


In our reading today, God even extends that idea of self-control to the environment.  In a siege, the armies were allowed to cut down nearby trees for siege works, but not to destroy fruit trees.  Why would God include such a random command?

One – it required the armies to have self-control, even while performing violent acts.  Throughout the Bible, violence, and especially killing, are always done in a restrained manner.  Sometimes necessary, but never to be enjoyed or pursued.

Two – it required discernment.  Notice that God does not say “don’t cut down any trees,” nor does He say “cut down any trees you want.”  But they could cut down trees that were not producing fruit.  This would require a moment’s reflection and possibly some patience, depending on the time of year.

Three – Hope.  Leaving the fruit trees to produce again reminded the armies that war was temporary.  Chaos and pain and death will eventually pass. Someday, life would go on again.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment of our struggle.  If we are fighting depression, it seems like it will never end.  If we are having marital problems, divorce seems like the only option.  If we are betrayed by a friend, we are tempted to never trust another.  But God always reminds us that trouble is short-term;  don’t burn down the house because there’s a few repairs to do.  Look to the future; there is always hope when we trust God and his plan, no matter what the current situation is.

Someday, those trees may blossom again.  Don’t give up.