Archive for March, 2017

Deuteronomy 24:5-7 (Part 2 of 4)

Miscellaneous Regulations

Newlyweds. Holding hands. Opening doors. Hugging up. Snuggling up. Complimenting. Little notes. These are the early days of marital relationships. Then, life happens. The daily grind happens. Paying bills happens. Him leaving his underwear by the clothes hamper instead of in the clothes hamper happens. Her taking two hours to get ready to go somewhere happens. It takes a lot of energy in those early days to maintain that honeymoon state in a marriage. Eventually, because of familiarity and because of the humdrum of life, we fall away from those cute little (and sometimes nauseating to the outside world) displays of affection during the early part of marriage.

 

I think that both the giddy early days of marriage and the seemingly less-frenzied years later are necessary parts of the development of a couple’s marriage. I am not saying that we should not continue to try to go over the top showing our spouses that we love them in later years but we should not automatically assume that our marriages are in trouble just because we are not pawing over each other all the time like when we were newlyweds. Yes, if we are doing things that let our spouse now that we love them then we need to get back to it. But, a lot of our over the top stuff in the early part of marriage is induced by the newness of the physical relationship and the passion that it creates. That kind of passion that comes in the early parts of marriage is simply not sustainable. That is why it is important that we marry someone who can be our friend as well as our lover. My mom, celebrating her eternity in heaven now for 6 ½ years, used to tell me that “you need to marry a woman who can be your best friend in the living room as much or more than she is your best friend in the bedroom!” Long-term love simply cannot be based on physical passion. It is not sustainable. That is not to say that there should not be periods of passion in marriage that is older than a year. Passion comes and goes. And you appreciate it when comes back but do not think the world has ended when a cycle of passion has ended in a long-term marriage. It comes and it goes. But is your spouse your best friend. Can you communicate with her with just a look? Can you look at him and know just by the way he looks back at you that you are the most important thing in his life? Can you have conversations about anything? Can you enjoy silence together and just enjoy being in the same room with them? Do you look forward to just spending time with your spouse? Is your spouse your best friend? These are the things that kept our grandparents and the generations before them married for 50 plus years. They were best friends. Are you best friends with your spouse?

 

When you think of best friend, does your spouse come to mind? When you think of life without your spouse, does it send a chill through your soul? We all get older, fatter, and wider than we used to be as we grow older. Is your love for your spouse dependent on how good their physique is? Do you want a divorce just because they don’t look as good as they used to? Have you looked in the mirror lately? Neither do you! If you fall in love with someone just because of their body shape, then, you are not in love at all. Do you love your spouse’s soul? Does your wife give you a feeling of home and of comfort and of unconditional acceptance? Does your husband make you feel like a princess and feel protected and cared for and secure? Do you love your spouse’s soul? When you love someone because there is a soul connection not just a physical one that’s when you’ve got something.

 

When we look back on our marriage and all that we have been through together as spouses, can you think of having to do it with anyone else? The shared history of a husband and wife is another thing that makes a marriage more than just physical entertainment. The heartaches, the triumphs, the problems with kids, the accomplishments of our kids, the family times that were and are priceless that are remembered forever, the later years of freedom as the kids leave home, the experience of grandkids, all this collective history. When you look back on it all and you think, man, I could not have made it through it all without that lady right there or that man right there, then that’s true love. Love endures. Love is being afraid of what life will be like when he or she passes on before us. Can you say that about your spouse? If you can’t, then, please seek help for your marriage.

 

My wife and I have been married for seven years now and we have been together as a couple for almost a decade now. And, yes, that passion in our marriage now comes and goes. But she is my best friend I can honestly say. Sure, we have annoying little habits that we annoy each other with. But, I would not take anything for the relationship that we have. I enjoy being in her presence. We have communication where we can make each other laugh with just a quirky look. We have been across the country and back together. We have stories that define our relationship. We have dreams of our future that we both believe in. We have stories about our lives together than are priceless gems that bring smiles and laughter. We have history. When I think of life without her if she passed away, I would feel lost. She makes my life so easy. She takes care of me. She loves doing that. It is not a chore to her. Whatever would I do without her. We love each other in a basic soul kind of way. I know her soul and she knows mine. How could I ever live without that if she passes before me? That’s marriage. She is my best friend and when I think of the future events of life, she is there. It’s not just me there. She is there too. She is part of who I am at the soul level. Thus, future thoughts include her being by my side without question.

 

Marriage is important to God. There is no doubt about that. With that in mind, let’s read the passage, Deuteronomy 24:5-7, and for this morning let’s concentrate on Verse 5:

 

5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

 

6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.

 

7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

Why do you think that God exempted men from pretty much all social responsibilities outside the home during the first year of marriage? It must be pretty important to God that a husband be home with his wife during this foundational time for a marriage. It was important to God that even though Israel was going to be at a constant state of conflict with some enemy that required a standing army that a man should have a formative time for his marriage to his wife. God sees marriage as the fabric that hold society together. If we don’t get it right from the beginning then society itself is in danger.

 

Much of the troubles that we see in today’s world is because marriage is no longer important as a life-long institution. We change marriages like we change underwear. We have kids with different names from their mother. We have kids with different names than their father. You need a scorecard to keep up with what kids belong to what marriage if the child was even born in wedlock to begin with. Our destruction of marriage as an institution is the basis of many of our social ills today. We have so cheapened marriage that is no longer the purview of just a man and a woman. Anybody can marry anybody today. I can marry a cat if I want to based on the way the Supreme Court’s ruling reads.

 

But real marriage, the lifelong commitment, the marriage that God intended between a man and his wife, that real marriage was what was so important to God that he made special provision for the incubation of it at its beginning. If God takes it take seriously so should we.

 

Let us be a people that holds out for the marriage that God intended for us. Let us be a people who marry because we have looked at the woman that we are in love with and we see best friend as much as we see lover. We see a person that touches our soul just by being beside us. Let us be a people that chooses our spouses wisely. Let us be a people that can love for the long-haul. Let us be a people who place the needs of the marriage before the needs of ourselves. Let us be a people that are purposeful about letting our spouses know that they really do touch our soul. Let us be a people that loves our spouses even when we are having disagreements. Let us be a people that submit ourselves to the good of our marriages. Let us be a people as Christ followers that people look at and say that’s the kind of marriage I want.

 

Marriage is of high importance to God. Marriage should be of equally high importance to us. So much so that we  choose our spouses wisely. So much so that we choose that person that we can be friends with outside the bedroom as well as in it. So much so that we see their happiness as important or more important than our own. So much so that we really just love them deep down in our soul. So much so that they complete us. So much so that we cannot imagine the past or the future without them.

 

As Jim Gallagher, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Vero Beach, FL, said in his blog entitled, “Happy Marriage,” says,

 

Whether you are a husband or a wife, perhaps it is time to make an effort to invest in the happiness of your spouse. Instead of thinking of all the ways you’ve been  disappointed,  why not spend time thinking of ways to pour love into your spouse, and see if the God who parts the seas, is able to put life into your relationship.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 24:5-7 (Part 1 of 4)

Miscellaneous Regulations

In this passage, Deuteronomy 24:5-7, we have what seems like a group of unrelated regulations. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that there is a common theme. It is about stealing property or liberty. God is concerned with our liberty.

 

This passage is a reminder that we, too, as Christians should be concerned about the people that we lead not just as people to get to do things for the church, but rather as real people with real stories to their lives. How often do we get frustrated with people in our ministries about the fact that they do not seem to care, that they are ambivalent about their opportunities to serve. Maybe, they have some real issues going on. What if they are just newly married? Maybe they need some time to figure out their new situation. What if they are oppressed by their debt and they are having to work two part time jobs in addition to the regular job and they just don’t have time to serve. Maybe, they are in an abusive relationship where their every move is scrutinized and controlled. Maybe, they are….

 

Do we know our people’s “maybe, they are…” Leading is more than just getting people to do what you want them to for you. Leading, particularly in church settings, is getting to know the people that you are charged with leading. Leading is understanding their problems. Leading is making sure that people do not have their liberty stolen away from them. Leading is fighting for their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have often heard as ministry leaders that you cannot share the gospel with a hungry man until you feed him. We cannot expect to help people grow in Christ unless we get to know their back story. That was a point that we made in this blog yesterday. Everybody has a back story that we must get to know. Without knowing someone’s back story, we may jump to conclusions about what motivates a person that we lead. Just as we want people to understand our motivations so, too, we should attempt to understand what motivates each person that we lead. Yeah, that’s hard. But, that’s why leaders are few and the workers are many.

 

We are going to break this passage down into three other blogs after this one, but this morning, the overall sense that I got this morning was from a leadership perspective. Sometimes, we claim as leaders that people just don’t care. We complain about their apathy toward the church they attend when it comes to giving, serving, leading or whatever. Let’s read the passage, Deuteronomy 24:5-7, this morning from that perspective:

 

5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

 

6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.

 

7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

As most of the detailed laws in Deuteronomy are expansions upon the general principles expressed in the Ten Commandments, this passage is no different. This trio of laws is an expansion upon the Eighth Commandment (You shall not steal). Verse 5 speaks to the fact that the military draft should not steal away a husband from his newly wedded wife and thus should not have that first year of wedding bliss stolen from her. Verse 6 states that collateral for loans must never affect a person’s means of sustaining life. Therefore, taking of a millstone used from grinding grain away from a person as collateral was far worse than taking the shirt off their back. Verse 7 speaks to stealing a person and making them slaves against their will (human trafficking). It is a particularly offensive crime and worthy of capital punishment. It is the only time that the Bible requires death as a punishment for theft.

 

A one-year exemption for the newly married would not only strengthen the marriage relationship and benefit the home, but would also help the morale of the army. God’s concern for full expression of liberty is shown through is concern for the tender time that there is when a couple first marries. It is a tender time where a husband and wife must learn the nuances of the one they married. It is essential time that must be nurtured and not stolen away.

 

Because loans were typically given to relieve the economic hardship of the borrower (23:19 note), the material given “in pledge” was likely not collateral property of value equal to the amount of the loan, but a personal possession given as a token of the promise to pay. In keeping with the purpose of the loan, the lender was not to cause further hardship to the borrower by confiscating essential items. God’s concern for full expression of liberty in our lives is shown here by ensuring that we are capable of earning a living even when we are in debt. Our debts should not be so oppressive that it steals our ability to live a normal life, that it does not steal our liberty away.

 

The chief purpose of kidnapping was the enslavement of others for profit. To sell fellow Israelites into slavery in other countries was forbidden on pain of death, probably because such slaves were cut off from the life of the covenant community (itself a form of “death,” Ex. 12:19 and Lev. 7:20 notes). Indentured slavery was allowed within Israel, but was tempered in several important ways. Paul condemns slave traders (“enslavers”) together with other violators of the Ten Commandments (1 Tim. 1:10). God’s concern for our liberty is shown here because He created us to be free and to have free will. God wants us to be free and not enslaved by others whether it be from racial slavery, sexual slavery, emotional or physical enslavement or domination by others. We are all created in God’s image and have dignity as a result. Although we may voluntarily place ourselves in service to others, we are never to be forced into a life of servitude. God’s concern for our liberty is on full display here.

 

We are, as Christians, to be concerned about the liberty of others, whether it be among the people we lead within the church or people outside our walls. We are to defend liberty of others. When we see wrong we are to try to right it. However, the only way that we come to care about the salient issues of people in our church or in the world at large is to get to know them. How do you think people come to fight the major issues of the day. It is usually because we have gotten to know someone who has been affected by that issue. As Christ followers, we should realize that Christianity is all about relationships and getting to know people’s back stories. We need to know more than a face that we see on Sunday morning. We need to know more than a face we see at a meeting. We need to know more about our neighbors, co-workers, and acquaitances. Some of them may be experiencing a personal hell and we not even know it. How did we come to Christ? Usually, it is because someone got to know us in our messed up life and shared the gospel with us. We must do the same with the people that we encounter. We cannot judge their apathy toward the church (for a believer) or toward Christ himself (for a non-believer) without knowing their back story. You may never know that this sinful world is stealing someone’s liberty away from them without getting to know that person. Everybody’s got a backstory. Everybody’s got something that weighs them down and prevents the full expression of the liberty that God intends for us.

 

Lord, help us to be like Jesus sitting at the well that day when He was tired and thirsty. However, even though he had His own problems and issues that day, He spoke to the woman at the well. Although as God in the flesh, he knew her back story, He took the time to get her to freely talk about it. Through that conversation, she became a Christ follower and affected a whole community for Christ. Jesus could have just asked her to perform a task for Him – get Him some water, but He engaged her. Got her talking. Led her to a relationship with Him.

 

Let us be like Christ. Let us care about people’s back stories. Let us learn about their problems and the things that oppress them. Let us be champions of their liberty. Let us be ones who care about what is behind the face we see. Let us really lead. Let us really care. Let us get our hands dirty in the messy lives of our people. For it is God’s intention to free them from their oppression and give them liberty that cannot be stolen.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

 

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Regulations Concerning Divorce

When God called me to the ministry, I come with a handicap. No, other than not being the brightest bulb in the marquee and not a whole lot of experience in public speaking, I do not have any physical handicaps or any emotional ones. However, I do come to full-time ministry with a handicap. I am divorced. Some churches won’t even give me a second glance. No matter how good my qualifications are for any position. I am divorced. In the eyes of many churches, that is a disqualification. Door shut. Resume set on the “throw away” pile.

 

There was a seen from the movie, A Time to Kill, that seems apropos here. In one scene, the prosecuting attorney completely discredits the defense psychologist by attacking him for his own past. The prosecutor, played by Kevin Spacey, found out that the defense psychologist had been arrested for statutory rape in his younger days. The defense psychologist tried to cover it up on the stand but the prosecutor proved it and he had to admit on the stand. It was a devastating blow at that moment to the defense’s case. The defense attorney, played by Matthew McConaughey, in the next day’s action told the jury that he would have never knowingly put a rapist on the stand as a defense witness. He said it should matter that there was a back story to that arrest. The defense psychologist was 19 years old at the time and the girl was 17 years old. It should matter that the 17 year old girl became the man’s wife six months later. It should matter that they were married for 35 years and that she gave the man three wonderful children as a result of their marriage. Headlines don’t always give us the back story. We see headlines and don’t bother to delve into the details.

 

Automatically judging someone without a check under the hood seems unwise to me but that’s what happens in many search committees for pastoral or pastoral related positions. I am being held accountable for actions that I took or were forced upon me before I became a Christian. Shouldn’t the measure of who I am be how I carry myself since I became a Christ follower? I am not proud of my past. It is ugly and has warts. I lived a life not characterized by Christian values. I am not saying that I should not have to explain my past but I am saying I should get the opportunity to do so.

 

My first divorce was squarely before I came to Christ as my Savior. God was never part of the equation in that marriage even though we attended church at her family’s church – more of social club than a church. We were selfishly oriented people seeking to make the other comply with our wishes and we were willing to trash it all because of selfish desires. Although we reconciled after her affair, her drug abuse was my out for that marriage and led to my affair. We were not Christ followers and God was never part of our marriage from the beginning. My second marriage, born while the first one was crumbling, was not much different. It started without God at the center of it and it was not until after the marriage was crumbling under the weight my financial blunders and her affairs that resulted that I came to Christ as my Savior.

 

God has redeemed me from my past. I have now have a marriage, my third and final one, where God is at the center of it all. We are both Christ followers and it is our expectation that if we ever hit a rough spot that divorce will not, no longer or ever, be an option. We will work through those problems when and if they come. We are committed to the long haul. We know that grace has been given to us by Christ in our salvation and that we will give each other grace in our marriage. In our salvation, we have come to realize that the marriage is bigger than both of us. We should be molding ourselves to the ideal of marriage rather than trying to mold the other person into the perfection that we want. We have been through so much in our previous marriages and realize the mistakes that we have made, ourselves, in our previous marriages, that we do actually grant each other grace in this marriage. Our ministry is the redemptive power of God’s grace. Taking two people who have been married twice before and having their third marriage speak of what God can do when He is the center of it all. It speaks loudly to the fact that God redeems. It speaks loudly that God can use even the most flawed person to be a spokesman for His kingdom.

 

It is that handicap, that stigma of divorce, without knowing my story and my wife’s story, that I immediately thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. How do we reconcile divorce, the reality that it is in our world, with the Christian worldview (based on the biblical evidence)? Let’s read through this passage and come to some conclusion about it after we have read it:

 

24 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

 

In this passage, we see the only Old Testament law that deals with divorce. The way it is written, with its “if…then” wording, suggests that Israelite society was already accepting of divorce. God is setting for regulations for something that was already a problem. He is not condoning it. He is simply regulating it now that the cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn. This law is intended to restrict a practice that could lead to treating women as a commodity – to be traded like merchandise. Cavalier divorce would rob the Israelite wife not only of her dignity but also of her wealth. By divorcing his wife, an Israelite man would acquire solely the wedding dowry that the wife brought to the marriage. The wedding dowry was the Israelite father’s marriage gift to the daughter. It immediately became the property of her husband upon the consummation of the marriage. Thus, the law protects marriage by imparting a solemn gravity to divorce.

 

As I have stated many times, the laws of the Old Testament were set as a minimum of behavior expected of God’s people. Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it. He came to give life to the law and set us free from its condemnation. He also came to teach us that we must obey the spirit of the law and not just the letter of it. He was saying that if we are believers that we must take the law and take it to the next level. For example, with regard to divorce, Jesus says that the law was created as a minimum of behavior. He says that that divorce is only in the law because of our fallen nature and that it is not an expectation of God. He says that the only reason that we should consider divorce is if there has been sexual immorality, nothing else. If both spouses are believers, then, sexual immorality is off the table and thus divorce is off the table.

 

Matthew 19:3-9

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

 

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 

Paul reiterates the higher level of expectation for believers that Jesus set before us. Paul expects us to reconcile our marriages even when the get into a hard place. Divorce simply should not be our first reaction. See what Paul says here:

 

1 Corinthian 7:10-14

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

 

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

 

The only outs that the Bible thus gives us for divorce is if (1) there has been sexual immorality, (2) attempts to reconcile have failed and the non-believing spouse leaves the marriage. Believers are expected to try to reconcile their marriages even when one spouse is not a believer. If both are believers, forgiveness should be the hallmark of our behavior. If it takes a separation for an extended period of time, then, so be it but the idea for believers is to save their marriages. Sexual immorality is our only out for divorce as believers (when our spouse has committed the crime) but even then should we not exhibit grace instead of pride when it comes to our marriage. And if a so-called believer (either the spouse who has cheated or the spouse who was cheated upon) refuses to work on their marriage after adultery has occurred, then, the fruits of the spirit are not evident.

 

These are hard words in a world where we throw away spouses like we throw away soft drink bottles. Divorce is as rampant in the church as it is in the general public. It is a fact of life that we must deal with as people enter our doors. However, once we become Christ followers, we must see marriage as something that we don’t take lightly. Marriage is something that we must try to save at all costs. We must give grace and be given grace in marriage. We must think long and hard before we get married as Christ followers. Because as Christ followers, we are to be committed to our marriages for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us. No longer can we change spouses like we change underwear. We must see the good in our spouses and pray that they see the good in us. We must seek to forgive their weaknesses and pray that they forgive ours. We must pray for them daily and hope that they pray for us daily. Help us to be humbly in love with our spouses.

 

Yes, I am divorced. I have a past before I became a Christ follower. However, I am redeemed. My wife of 7 years is redeemed. Our marriage is a testament of God’s redeeming, reclaiming power. That preaches. That teaches. That shouts from the mountaintop of the redeeming power of the Lord that makes even the foulest clean.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25

Alleviating Hunger

 

There was a song, released in 1970, by a group called the Five Man Electrical Band entitled “Signs” where part of the lyrics said this:

 

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight

So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house

“Hey! What gives you the right?”

“To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”

“If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

 

It was definitely a protest song against the status quo of the establishment culture. All of us are about protecting our property nowadays and preventing others from stealing it or enjoying it without our permission. Written by Five Man Electrical Band lead singer Les Emmerson, this song is a prescient look at class divisions and property rights. Emmerson wrote the song after taking a road trip on Route 66 in California, where he noticed a plethora of billboards that obscured the beautiful scenery. This posed a question: Who is allowed to put up signs that interfere with nature? This led to another query: Who gets to make the rules that appear on so many signs? The song gave voice to those without power or property rights, which in many cases, were the young and the poor. Our society has become less about caring for one another and more about amassing property and protecting it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a Republican and I believe in hard work and I do not believe in creating classes of people who lose the value of hard work through governmental support programs. There should be, in my mind, no permanent government help programs. All of them should be designed in such a way to push people back toward independence. There should be no government programs that perpetuate dependence on the programs themselves. There should be no government programs that create a class of people who have no desire or incentive to go back to work. There should be no government programs that are so attractive in the benefits that they provide that it is a penalty for a person to get a real job making real wages and paying real taxes. Except for a couple of very short periods of unemployment, I have worked continually since I was age 14. I have always wanted to work and worked hard at whatever I have had as a job. Therefore, having sympathy for those who seem unwilling or desirous of working for a wage, whatever that may be, just blows my mind. I realized at my first job, at the Furman University Dining Hall, cleaning up after snotty nosed rich kids that I did not want this to be my life. It began a journey of working hard to continually better my skills, education, and experience. I realized then that the minimum wage is just a starting place and that if I wanted more I needed get more experience, education and skills to move beyond where I started from. I never saw the Furman Dining Hall as a career destination.

 

Having said all that, we do now live in a society of government programs for this and government programs for that. Our federal and state governments are behemoths now compared to what they were just say 75 years ago. We now look for the government to take care of the gaps in the social fabric. It did not used to be that way. There was a day when we churches and families took care of their own and took care of people in the community. We complain about the size of government and how some government programs perpetuate dependence on the government.

 

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to share our wealth with one another. We became a nation of fenced in subdivisions. Enclosed communities with fences and signs everywhere. We have become a nation of alarm systems to protect all the toys that we have amassed. We have become a nation where we are protecting our stuff rather than sharing what we have. We have become a nation that on average gives 2% of our income to our churches even though we have been commanded to give much more. No wonder the churches can no longer serve the poor. We have become a nation where charity has to have spotlights shined upon us as we give. We no longer are a nation of Christian charity.

 

That song by The Five Man Electrical Band was what popped into my head when I read this passage for today, Deuteronomy 23:24-25:

 

24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.

 

In this passage, this remarkable law indicates that ultimately the Lord owns Israel’s land. Thus, providing for the poor from our land is recognition that we are simply stewards of the bounty that the Lord provides us. It is also a warning to those who benefit from our charitable giving from our bounty not to abuse the privilege. When hungry, we may rely on the farmer to provide for our needs but we should get only what we need to alleviate our immediate hunger and should not steal the entire harvest of the farmer. We may get what we need for the moment but we are not to set ourselves up for the winter. We did not work for the grain that the farmer produced so we have no right to take more than only what is necessary to get us by – alleviating our immediate hunger.

 

Therefore, this passage is both charitable and responsible at the same time. We are commanded to be generous with the bounty that we have been given. God expects us to use our bounty, our wealth, to solve problems of hunger and poverty. We are called to share our wealth rather than hoard it. We are called to give succor to the poor and the widows and the downtrodden rather than hoard our wealth behind fences and alarms. We are called to live simply and be generous. We are called to take care of the hungry in our midst. We are called to do more than buy big screen TVs, buy Alexas so that we don’t have to lift a finger to do research, buy cars that can park themselves, boats, and jet skis, pools behind fences, five computers, and five cell phones. We are called to be a generous people not people who need fences and alarms to protect all the crap we buy and think we need.

 

At the same time, those of us who need assistance, should not think that we are entitled to millionaire lifestyles without doing the work necessary to gain that lifestyle. We need to end a generation of people thinking that McDonalds should provide you with $15 an hour. We need to raise a generation that sees McDonalds for what it is – a place to start. We must teach the value of hard work to the next generation. We must build government programs to be what they were intended to be – temporary stop-gap measures while people figured out how to get back on their feet. We must not think that people who have worked hard and earn good money as the enemy. We should aspire to be like those who have put in the hard work and effort to get where they are.

 

We are called to be a charitable people as Christ followers. We are called to be generous. We are called to help set others on their feet and not leave that job to the government. We are called to get out from behind our fences and alarms and be in the world and using our bounty and blessing to solve real problems in our world. We are called to give rather than gather. We are called to give rather than amass all the toys we can. We are called to give to others sacrificially just as Jesus gave to us through His sacrifice on the cross. We are called to be so generous that our churches can actually help any person that needs it in ou community rather than think its somebody else’s job. We are called to be generous by God. Ultimately, He is the Creator and it is from Him that our talents are given. It is from our talents that we earn our livings. Therefore, it all comes from him. Why then are we so intent on seeing it as ours and whomever has the most toys at the end wins? Be generous. Be uncommonly caring for those in need around you. But let us help in ways that will set people up for independence rather than dependence. And let us be people who, when in need, take only the charity necessary to get ourselves back on our feet.

 

Wise counsel from the Lord in two very short verses.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:21-23

Making Vows to God

 

According to Webster’s dictionary, the English word, “vow”, is a solemn promise or assertion by which one binds themselves to an act, a service, or a condition. How often do we make vows to God? How often do we keep them? I swear to God that I will never drink again. I swear to God that I will take my school work more seriously. I swear to God that I will get up and exercise every morning. I swear to God that I will read my Bible daily. I swear to God that I will make better food choices and lose weight. These are some of the vows we say before the Lord. Most of these are rarely kept. We aspire to greatness but rarely put for the discipline or the effort to keep the vows that we make.

 

Aspiring for the greatness that we claim in our vows requires discipline and effort. One of the most important vows that we express in life are our wedding vows. Since I come from a Protestant tradition, our standard wedding vows are this:

 

“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.”

 

It seems though this is just another vow we no longer take seriously. It is one that we break with impunity these days just like saying “I swear I will get up and exercise every weekday morning!” We start off nicely with our exercise regimen. Then we miss a day. Then two. Then tree and all of sudden we are no longer setting the alarm and we are sleeping in til the last possible moment just like we used to do. In today’s America, 50% of all marriages end in divorce. The statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage that a person enters into. We no longer take the vows that we make before the Lord seriously. There is a whole lot of lawyers out there that make their living solely from the breaking of our marriage vows. Divorce law is a $28 Billion a year industry.

 

Maybe, if we took as much time and money getting into marriages as we do on divorces, we would have fewer divorces. Maybe if we took the wedding vows seriously, we would think twice about getting married and think twice about throwing away our marriages. God would rather us not make vows before Him if we do not intend to expend the effort and the discipline to keep them. He says as much in today’s passage, Deuteronomy 23:21-23:

 

21 If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. 23 Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.

 

Breaking a vow amounts to withholding a pledge from God so it is important for us to keep them to the point of not making the vow in the first place if we are not going to keep them.

 

Let’s go back to our wedding vows. Let’s look at each part and see if we are willing to make this vow before God and these witnesses.

 

To have and to hold – this is a promise of not only of exclusive sexual intimacy but in intimacy period. Without being intimate with one another outside the bedroom, there is no intimacy in the bedroom. We must see what the emotional needs of our spouses are and meet them. Many of us see our marriages as one-way streets and they so are not. Marriage is a two-way street. We must meet our spouses needs on their terms not ours. True intimacy comes from saying to ourselves that this marriage is about me meeting your needs. Sounds doormat-ish but it is really not. When we go out of our way to meet the needs of our spouse on their terms, a funny thing happens. They return the favor. Whether they do or not is not the predicating point of love. Jesus loved us so much that He died on the cross for us not caring whether or not we reciprocated His love by accepting Him as our Savior. He loved us anyway.

 

From this day forward – that means just what it says. From this point onward. Not just til we get a better offer from a newer, younger looking version. We vow before God to have and to hold from this day forward. That is an open-ended vow. This day forward. This means today and all the days that follow. This means that even when things get tough, when things get boring, when things get hurtful, we stick to it. The only athletes in professional sports that become legends are the ones that work just as hard at their craft 10 years into their careers as they did when they first got drafted into the pros. Sometimes, these athletes actually work harder 10 years in. When they were fresh out of college and at the height of the physical capabilities, it all came naturally. It was easy to train. It was easy. Later in their careers when their bodies are slowing down and after years of the bruises, bangs, and injuries that come from professional sports, they must work harder to maintain peak physical condition. They must work harder and play smarter to continue to compete at a high level. We must do the same in our marriages. Sometimes, we must work harder to keep our marriage performance at a high level. Sometimes, because of the bumps and bruises of life and within our marriages, it is not as easy as it once was. That is when we must take this vow of “this day forward” most seriously. When the oo-la-la of marriage goes away, and it will and it does, that’s when we must work harder at just loving our spouse. Taking a vow to stay married means loving unconditionally and accepting unconditionally. Take a look at your future spouse right now and ask yourself, is this a person I can find joy with 20 years from now after seeing them at the best and their worst? If not, then, run. Don’t make that vow!

 

The rest of the vows are offshoots from these basic vows. If we cannot get these first two right then the rest are meaningless. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us. If we cannot make our marriages about meeting the needs, all of them, of our spouse and being committed to that effort for the rest of our lives, then we will fail miserably at the better and worse, and the richer and poorer, and the sickness and the health, and we won’t make it to the death parts us part. Marriage is not about us. Marriage is about loving someone so much that we dedicate our lives to meeting their needs. This is so antithetical to our modern sensibilities. Everything is about meeting our needs and getting the world to bend to our way of thinking. It’s all about us. We think that about marriage too! Marriage is not about us. It is about the person that we love. It is symbolic of Jesus’ love for us,  His church. Our marriages should not be about us. It should be about loving someone so much that we make our lives about meeting their needs. In the process of putting the needs of our spouse first, we learn something about selfless love and it changes us and makes us into a person that our spouse wants to please. Funny how that works. In giving ourselves up to the greater good of our marriage, we find that we get our needs meet – when we no longer see getting our needs met as our top priority.

 

Let us begin to be a people that takes our vows before God seriously. Let us be a people with the discipline and the effort to keep our vows. Let it begin in our marriages. Let us be a generation that begins to put divorce lawyers out of business. Let us shrink the demand for divorce lawyers. Let us be vow-keepers…beginning in our marriages. Let us remember that it is a vow before the Lord…not just some flippant thing we do. It is from this day forward a vow to the Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Charging Interest on Loans

 

Although I now have a credit score that I am very proud of, through hard work on my debts and simply being wise about new, bright and shiny, it was not that long ago that my financial situation was a horrid one. Stupid financial decisions in my past, divorces, repossessions and you have a credit score in the 400s. Getting loans for anything was almost impossible and interest rates were high when I was able to get a loan. When I was going through my second divorce in 2004 and from then until say 2007 was my low point from a credit perspective. With all the things that you have to pay for during a divorce combined with maintaining two houses and some stupid purchases, there was time that I had no choice but to get payday loans. You know those places where you get a $300 loan for two weeks and then have to pay them back $315 in two weeks. Sounds innocuous enough. But you get several of those going at one time and living from paycheck to paycheck you can get over your head pretty quickly. You can’t afford to lose $300 out of your next paycheck so you renew the loan and pay back $315 again on the next paycheck. It was a maddening cycle that was hard to get out of. Luckily, it was a cycle that I was eventually able to get out of, but there are those who are not so lucky.

 

If you do the calculations, $15 interest for two weeks is the equivalent of 130% annual interest rate. Payday loans are legal usury because they do not call it interest. The money you have to pay back are called fees, not interest. Call it what you will. It’s interest. Then, there are the lenders in the high-risk loan market. They have 15% interest on loans all the way up to 30% interest. These are what they call predatory lenders. Predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It is also any practice that convinces a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative or unscrupulous actions for a loan that a borrower doesn’t need, doesn’t want or can’t afford. These lenders typically service the low-end of the credit market and charge high interest on loans to typically the people that can least afford to pay high interest. They prey upon the poor.

 

It is this type of lending that I thought of when I read this passage today. There were two things that I thought of when I read it. First, how can one work for companies like that and, two, what people must do to get out of these cycles of debt craziness. Let’s read the passage together now:

 

19 Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

 

Some recent writers on this law have thought that it forbids the putting out of money to interest. But it is noticeable that in both the previous passages referred to (in Exod. and Lev.) the loan is supposed to be made to a “poor man” in “real distress.” Usury in such cases means oppression; and so it is proved to be by the examples given in Nehemiah 5:2-5; Nehemiah 5:10-12. The Mosaic law against usury does not belong to commerce with other nations; it is part of the protections of the poor that are intrinsic to Mosaic law.

 

When I look back on my time when my credit was lousy and I had to seek business with predatory lenders, it really amazed me how people could, in good conscience, work for such companies that preyed on those who could least afford high interest rates. In these loan houses, you get commission off the number and value of loans you generate for your location. Thus, high pressure and unscrupulous tactics are the norm. These companies reward the most unscrupulous volume generators which reinforces the behavior. High pressure sales tactics, harassment of customers with loans when they get behind, repossession of property. It’s all so ugly. At the same token, those of us who have been customers of such loan vendors have to share the blame as well. These customers want new and shiny things like everybody else has.

 

That factor is not limited to poor folks and/or others with poor credit ratings. Even when we have good credit, our society is built on consumerism. We all want new, bright and shiny. We all want the newest, next thing. The typical American family no matter their social status lives off more than they make. A raise means we spend more. We want the newest house. The newest car. The newest toys. We make fun of those who have to swim at the bottom of the barrel with these predatory lenders. But, all of us are just a couple of missed payments, a repossession away from dealing with them ourselves.

 

Let us become a people who learns that creating margin in our finances is what God wants for us. He wants us not to be a slave to our debtors. He wants money to work for us and not vice versa. Let us become a people who learns to live on 90% or less of what we earn. Let us have that breathing room where we can not have to worry how we are going to pay next week’s bills. Let us find our value not in things but in God. Let us be God’s children who buys what we need instead of everything we want. Let us be a people who can be generous to friends and neighbors and family in need. Maybe, these predatory lenders would be pushed out of business if we were not so much like the culture where we ourselves are slaves to our debt payments. Help us to be that people. Let us be a people who are obedient to God when it comes to our finances. God does not want our finances to rule us. He wants us to be wise with our money so that we will have breathing room in our lives. He wants us to worship Him and not our debt payments.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

Earnings of a Temple Prostitute

 

This passage is pretty straightforward and the Bible in totality is pretty straightforward on its stance on prostitution. Let’s just look at a few of the passages from other parts of the Bible:

 

Leviticus 19:29 “Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness.

 

Leviticus 21:9 “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she also defiles her father’s holiness.

 

Proverbs 23:27-28 for a prostitute is like a deep pit; a harlot is like a narrow well. Indeed, she lies in wait like a robber, and increases the unfaithful among men.

 

1 Corinthians 6:15-16 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.”

 

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 It is God’s will that you keep away from sexual sin as a mark of your devotion to him. Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way,

 

So, the Bible is pretty clear here. Prostitution (whether it be male or female) is an abomination to the Lord. Supporting the industry through uses the services of a prostitute is just as sinful as participating in the industry. Therefore, to extend that analogy, the Bible, in this passage, that earnings made from this sinful activity should not be brought into His House and offered to the Lord.

 

One of the main points of my daily blog is to try to relate Bible passages to daily living either through examples from my own life or through the lives of others. So, today, let’s play, “what if…” As the finance director at my church, this is a very potent question that I am going to pose. As you may know from my previous blogs, my church, LifeSong Church, is what they call a “seeker church”. We specialize, it seems, in bringing in people to our church that (1) have been away from church for a very long time, or (2) never have been to church at all in their life, ever. As a result, less mature Christians tend not to get the whole “obedience to the Lord” thing when it comes to money – at least not right away, it comes with time and experience as a Christ follower. Thus, our finances at church are sometimes a struggle. We run a very bare bones operation as a result. So, that sets up the question nicely.

 

What would we do if say the owner of Platinum Plus over in Greenville, or Nikita’s Place right here in the Lyman area, or the owner of Cheetahs down in Atlanta walked into our church and plopped down a briefcase full of cash totaling $500,000 (which would fund about 64% of our budget for the current year)? What if the owner had no strings attached to it? He just says that he had heard good things about our church and what we do in the community. He even mentions that he remembered seeing on our sign by the road a year or so ago that “sinners, thieves, prostitutes, beggars are welcome here!” He liked that! He just wanted to give us some help from the proceeds of his business. No matter what you say to dress up the strip club image, it is a prelude to prostitution (as the recent shutdown and arrests that were made at Platinum Plus over in Greenville). What would you do as director of finance at a church that struggles financially? What would you do if you were the senior pastor of such a church? Would you accept the money and praise God? Would you accept the money and rationalize that in the church’s hands even the dirtiest money can become holy? What would you do?

 

Let’s go to Scripture and see what it has to say:

 

17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute[a] into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.

 

Male and female prostitution was often practiced in worship centers to pagan gods due to the belief that this type of activity would increase fertility. A portion of the fees earned by the temple prostitutes were donated to the upkeep of the temple. This practice was strictly forbidden in Israel but because the Israelites often strayed from God, they did often participate in the practice.

 

So, here, God says that those that participate in prostitution and earn money from it are not to bring their sinful gains into God’s holy presence. It seems pretty clear that what we should do in the scenario presented. Even though the church could make good use of the money and fund outreach ministries in ways that we struggle to attain now, we would have to refuse the 500 grand. But wait, you say. Are we supposed to be loving and accepting of people who have a past! That’s what our sign by the road will sometimes say when we use the tag line, “Sinners, prostitutes, thieves…welcome here!” Why would we welcome them but not accept their money?

 

It seems fairly clear that we must determine if a person is repentant or just trying to assuage their guilt. Sometimes, people give to the church to sanctify their own sinful behaviors. I made money through sinful means but since I tithed on my gains, then, it must be OK. How much tainted money goes into our offering plates each Sunday? When we see people who participating in sin but refuse to call it sin, then, we must draw a line. If a pimp refuses to repent of his sin and refuses to see that what he is doing is wrong, then, we must refuse his money. I think that God is saying the same thing in this passage, if you are participating in sin and refusing to repent of it but yet you bring your tainted offerings to me, I will not accept it and particularly because you go right back out there and participate in your sin.

 

I think though if that same pimp walks into the church and tells me or my senior pastor that God has convicted him of his lifestyle as sinful, that he no longer wants to participate in it, and instead of living off his gains from his sinful past, he would just rather the church have it and use it to reach people for Christ? I think that’s a game changer there. That’s repentance. Same money, but a repentant soul! Matthew 21:31-32 tells us this: “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.” Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Repentance is everything.

 

That leads us to a broader question that we can take away today. What are you and I refusing to repent of? What are you and I saying is OK but is really sin? What sins do we justify as OK and then go into the house of God and worship and refuse to repent! What is that thing that you join in with the culture around us and say that it is no longer sin and it is OK when the Bible clearly stands against it? What sins are you and I calling good and wholesome but are clearly against God’s Word? Are you participating in sins that are clearly stated in God’s Word as being an abomination but yet you justify in your mind why it is not a sin for you?

 

We are called to repentance! We are called to humble ourselves before the Lord and repent of our sins and turn away from them! He can redeem the most unholy of behaviors but repentance and a turning away must come first. As Charles Wesley stated in the song, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing, “He can make the foulest clean!” and “new life the dead receive!”. The Bible tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

 

 

Have you ever wondered why God is not blessing you or blessing your church? What is it that we must repent of? What sins are we participating in that we are saying is not sin? Let us search our hearts for our pet sins that we justify as being OK. Let us bring them out into the light. Let us call our sins as what they are – sins. Let us beg mercy before the Lord. Let us repent of our sins and move forward into God’s grace and God’s blessing.

 

Amen and Amen.