Author Archive

The UnSandaled Savior

Click here to read Deuteronomy 25 on BibleGateway.com

“His brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face…That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled” – Deuteronomy 25:9-10

When you think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, losing a sandal probably isn’t at the top of the list. Bran muffins kicking in during rush hour – sure. Tripping on the carpet on the way into that job interview – awesome. Losing a sweet flipflop – not so much.  But for the people of ancient Israel, losing a sandal was akin to discovering that secret ninja tryout video you sent in is trending on youtube.

Plus, you have the whole public perception thing that was so important in those times. It’s a little strange in our day to think of the emphasis on honor in those days, but we’re not that far removed from the days of duels. As recently as the last couple hundred years, even US presidents had dueling on their resume. Being barren had that kind of seriousness for a woman, and being publicly mocked was one of the worst disasters that could happen to a man.

SPIT SHINE

So here in Deuteronomy we have a story when both shames collide – the theoretical woman in the story is barren, and the man refuses to honor her, thereby bringing shame to himself as well. If a man’s brother died, it was the brother’s duty to marry his widow and carry on the family line. But what if the surviing brother doesn’t want to? According to this chapter, she gets to publicly spit in his face and, the ultimately insult, take his sandals. Even his last name shall be changed to “The Unsandaled.” It seems almost kind of silly to us, but it was serious business for people then.

THE SHAME

Ironically, this scenario happened not once, but twice in Jesus’ line of ancestors. Back in Genesis, Judah (whose descendants were all the kings of Judah, and ultimately Jesus himself) and his children refused to honor this custom with a woman named Tamar. One of his kids was even killed by God for his refusal. Tamar was in pretty dire straits until Judah inadvertently slept with her and continued the family line. In a slightly less soap-operatic scenario, Ruth was also barren after the death of her husband. She was reduced to abject poverty because her husband’s closest relative wouldn’t follow this guideline, until Boaz stepped up. Rather than being shamed as they thought, both of these women have a prominent place in Jesus’ family line.

That’s how Jesus works; He takes our greatest shame, or what we think is our greatest shame, and brings out the greatest glory and honor. Lose that job? Maybe God is moving you on to something better. Get left at the altar? Perhaps God has a greater marriage planned for you. It doesn’t always seem that, and certainly not at the time, but how many times can you look back on what you thought was a humiliating disaster, only to realize it was the very thing that made you who you are today. We never know what God is up to; all we know is that He works all of it together for good for His plan and His children.

Even the Unsandaled.

Unwell Wishing

Click here to read Psalm 108-109 on BibleGateway.com

“Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy…may a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.” –  Psalm 109: 6,11

Thanks to invulnerable yet unpredictable green men, anger has taken on a more positive spin in recent years. It used to be that anger was seen as a negative – only the weak lost their cool and became angry. But now, what with all the good the Jolly Green Giant has done, not to mention the comedic gold of anger management classes and enraged fowl, anger has taken on almost positive tones these days.

Christians, for the most part, still have a lingering distrust of anger. After all, if we are truly close to God, doesn’t that mean that we should be happy and well-wishy all the time? Hard to reconcile that with the desire to take batting practice to the car that keeps parking in your spot, or that quick desire to “accidentally” spill hot coffee on that one co-worker. We know that we should be kind, yet we have this frequent tendency for the most unkind actions.

HE LIKES YOU WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY

The thing is – God understands.  He even put it in his best seller, just for us to see.  God is not surprised by our frustrations, nor is he surprised that maybe we have less than honorable wishes for those that hurt us.  Want that ex-spouse to lose their house? God understands.  Want that embezzling boss to get caught so you can have his job? God understands.  Mystified why that girl keeps getting all the guys even though everybody knows what a backstabber she is?  God understands.

The Old Testament is full of examples of people being angry with other people – sometimes even God’s people.  The Psalms in particular have some pretty detailed descriptions of exactly what the author wants done to his enemies, and we’re not talking wedgies here. Various psalms ask God to visit violence, infertility, treachery, and of course death to their enemies.  Hardly the stuff you’d think you’d find in God’s songbook.

God understands – but He doesn’t accept it.

MARVELOUSLY MORE

God knows that you want that business competitor to fail, yet He asks you to do what you can to help them succeed.  He knows you want to merge that reckless driver right off the bridge, yet He asks us to yield to them instead. He knows you hope that guy at the meeting who got the last custard-filled pastry chokes on a doughnut bone, but He asks you to offer him the fresh coffee as well.

God understands who we are, and knows our desires, probably better than we do. Yet, we are called to live beyond those desires. We are sinful and broken creatures, after all, and so we wil have struggles in this life; yet through God’s Spirit, we can be more than who our desires say we are. That anger and frustration is part of what we deal with, but they are not who we are.

It’s ok to acknowledge them, even in song apparently.  But it’s not ok to act on them, or even to dwell constantly on those thoughts.  We are to take those things to Jesus, and release them.  We don’t plan our revenge, we trust God to bring justice; and if He doesn’t, if that person just keeps on succeeding despite their cotton-headed-ninny-mugginess, we are to celebrate with them.

God understands that we desire the worst for them – but He requires that we love them anyway.

Because while you were the worst you could be, that’s what He did for you.

 

The Christian Clique

Click here to read Deuteronomy 20 on BibleGateway.com

“Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too” – Deuteronomy 20:9

Visit any high school (or, if you dare, middle school) in the United States and you will see two things – consumption of copious amounts of caffeine, and groups separating themselves from other groups. Academics, Goths, Emo, Drama, Athletes, Student Councilors, Artists, Musicians, and so forth and so on – they all have their own place to hang out, their own assigned dress code, often their own dialects, and their individual group attitudes. Like oil and water, the artists and the jocks cannot and shall not mix – that leads to oily art and no one wants that. We call these divisions “cliques,” because it’s catchy and vaguely French, so you know it’s kind of vaguely negative. Most of us could probably look at our high school days and quickly identify one person from all the different cliques, and remember in detail how that person/group made us feel, either included or excluded. It can have an important effect on our lives in such a crucial time of self-identification, not to mention lifelong fashion choices.

CLIQUE CLICHE

Unfortunately, one of the primary complaints that outsiders make of the Church is that it is “cliquey,” that is, it tends to separate itself from the world, or to exclude other people. This is seen as unloving, and to a great extent, unChristian. If people were truly Christian, so goes the argument, then they would truly love all people and not be so judgmental all the time. Generally, the sense is that if the church is so exclusionary, that it must be a bad thing; that is, if the church is representing Jesus, than they should be more willing to accept everyone. So, as Christians, if we want to live our lives and fashion our ministries around the Bible, we have to ask ourselves if excluding other people is Biblical.

As it turns out – it is.

The Bible is full of examples of God and his people excluding others. In several books in the New Testament, including Titus and Corinthians, Paul instructs the churches to warn a “divisive” person or person who is blatantly sinning, and then to disassociate with them. In our chapter today, Moses tells the leaders of Israel that if someone is afraid to fight in a battle, they should be allowed to leave, lest their fear spread to other soldiers. Unity of belief and purpose is essential to the ideals God has established for his people, and high standards are part of that.

A HOLY AND SEPARATE PEOPLE

Notice the emphasis here – the problem is not the person themselves, but the way in which their attitude and/or actions will lead others astray. The assumption is that those “inside” will be loving each other and submitting to each other – that being “inside” is preferably to being “outside” the fellowship of believers because of the love/support/encouragement within. Along with that, comes the responsibility that part of loving each other is to lead each other closer to Christ. If you’re not doing that, then by definition you are not part of the body of Christ. The Bible says that influence has to be excised from the body, lest the infection spread. Sorry, all, but it appears that cliqueyness is part and parcel of serving God.

And yet the comparison to the “popular crowd” excluding people is not quite accurate, despite the repeated accusations. Here’s the difference – in a high school clique, there are people that desperately want to join, and are excluded because of family status, looks, or odor. In Christian clique, there is (or should be) only one requirement – are you striving to love God and others with all your heart and mind and strength? If so, you’re in. The only requirement is a choice you make; it’s actually the opposite of a clique where the choice belongs to others. Joining is entirely in your hands.

The question is – are you in…or out?