On punching faces and turning cheeks

punch in faceIf you’ve read your Bible, you probably read Matthew 5, where Jesus talks about turning the other cheek. To paraphrase, “You’ve heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer them your left one also.” Turn the other cheek. It’s the way of love. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the way of two sore cheeks.

I get that I’m supposed to love my enemies. I get that as a Christian, I am called to be a person of love, not of conflict. Jesus wanted us to love. After all, God is love. So why did Jesus have to correct this whole “eye for an eye” thing? Where did that saying come from? Let’s take a look:

Exodus 21:23-25 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Wow. This is more than just a “you’ve heard it said.” It actually comes straight from God to the Israelite people. So why would God advocate punching your neighbor in the face? And why would Jesus contradict what God had told the Israelites? Good question. I’m glad you asked.

In this passage in Exodus 21, it’s clear to me that God was trying to establish something. No, not face punching. That’s not it at all. He was trying to establish personal accountability. It seems to me that the people were getting away with a bunch of stuff that really offended the heart of God. They were careless in their caring for one another. Some guy’s bull went around goring people to death and he was like “oh well.”  So God needed to give them some basic human principles like, “take responsibility for your actions.”  If you are going to go around being a jerk and knocking people’s teeth out, then I’m gonna make a rule that someone gets to punch you in the face. Sounds fair to me.

Fast forward to the quote by Jesus. Why would He correct God? Well, He didn’t really. He was correcting what people had done with God’s commands. They had taken them into their own hands and used them to justify themselves. For example, “hey man, my cow broke it’s leg on your property, so I went ahead and killed one of your cows… because I can. God said so. Deal with it.” Doesn’t sound very neighborly does it? Definitely not loving. So Jesus came onto the scene and corrected this kind of arrogant brand of justice. That kind of thinking wasn’t what God intended in the first place.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this “eye for an eye” talk? Two things really. 1) Take responsibility for your actions and 2) let the way of love be your way of life. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived that way. The way of love would never punch someone in the face, at least not intentionally. The way of personal accountability would own it’s mistakes and offer to make things right when things go wrong.

My goodness, God really knew what He was talking about. We should try to take His advice!

Crooked Picture Frames

crooked picture frame

As I sat down to write today, I looked up at the wall where the family pictures hang. Off to my left, one was crooked. Of course, I immediately fixed it. That made me think of Sunday morning while I was preaching. For some reason, I found myself making sure my Bible was set down straight next to my notes. And last week during family pictures, I was giving input into how to arrange the family for the photo when the photographer said to me: “Brad, it doesn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.”  I think I have a problem.

The truth is, I like things perfect. I like them refined. I like all the rough edges smoothed and the blemishes worked out. I like straight picture frames and symmetrical pictures. So I often hold myself to that same smoothed out standard. The problem is, God doesn’t. In fact, He prefers quite the opposite.

Exodus 20:25 If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use.

My brain tells me that God prefers things that I have perfected, but my Bible tells me that He prefers things just as they are. Here in Exodus 20, God gives these simple instructions on how to build the altar of sacrifice: naturally. Use the stones with all the sharp edges. Use stones with cracks in them. It’s okay if they are different colors, shapes, and sizes. It can look messy. In fact, it should look messy. That’s the kind of altar He is going for.

Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, and it has always seemed to say that I need to bring my holy and pleasing self to God. But that’s not what it says in light of Exodus 20:25.  It simply says to bring myself.

God isn’t after perfection. He isn’t after our smoothed out stones. He doesn’t need us to take our tools and fix ourselves before He uses us. Instead, He asks us to come as we are, natural and uncut. It is in that state they He does His best work. If He feels it is necessary, He will do the refining; He will do the shaping. But we’ve got to let go of the perfectionism of our self. I’ve got to let go.

So today, I bring him my crooked picture frame, my sideways Bible and my asymmetrical picture. I come as I am. Because that’s how He asks me to come.

Dude.

snowboardingDude. It’s a complex word. If your friend is doing something stupid you can say: dude. It means I wouldn’t do that if I were you. If your friend is being annoying you can simply say: dude. In that context it means knock it off. If it’s something scary: dude. If it’s something exciting: dude. And most especially if it’s something awesome: duuuuuuude!

Here’s how it works in context: You are out snowboarding with your friend and he attempts to go over a jump that nobody should attempt. Mid-air you think he is going to die but then against all odds, he lands it. Your reaction can simply be this: Dude! Duuude!  Duuuuuuude.  Translation? Don’t do it, that’s stupid. Oh no, you are going to die! Whoa, that was epic.

So I was wondering what it would be like if the Israelites used the word dude. I know, I’m weird… but stick with me.

Exodus 19:18-19 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

This is just the coolest scene ever. God in all his glory descends on the mountain and covers it with smoke. Then the mountain starts shaking violently and everyone hears a loud trumpet blasting even though no one is playing a trumpet. To top it all off, they all hear the voice of God. In my head, I can imagine standing there taking it all in… Dude. Whoa, duuuude! Um, dude? Duuuuuuude.

As silly as the inside of my brain may sound to you, I genuinely want to have this kind of reaction to the God of the universe. Because sometimes I forget how enormous he is. I don’t think about his infinite might. I get stuck in the doldrums of every day life and lose sight of the awesomeness of my God. But somewhere deep within, I long to just ponder his power. 

So today I am going to stop and think. I am going to remember all the great things he has done. I am going to marvel that he sent his Son to rescue me from darkness. That he died for me, forgives me, receives me, heals me. I’m going to hit the pause button for a moment, think upon his greatness, and let it out.  Duuuuuuuude.  That’s all that really needs to be said.

You’re doing what?!

I’m not afraid to try things that I haven’t done before. It doesn’t mean I’m good at them, but I’ll try them. Let me clarify: I’m not talking about skydiving or eating fish eyeballs. I mean skill stuff. Like playing a new sport or attempting to fix something. But just because I attempt things, doesn’t mean I am doing them the best way possible. I worked in retail for 13 years. During that time, I worked many positions within the store. With each position comes a new skill set. I remember when I first worked night crew, stocking the shelves for the next day. The way I was opening cases of cans was taking me a while and the others were working circles around me. When one of the experienced guys saw how I was cutting open the case, he was like “what are you doing?”  Then he showed me the pro way to do it. It was way better! I was just doing the best I could, but there was a better way.

youredoingwhatMoses found himself in a similar situation. He started out as a one-on-one leader but the leadership needs began to grow. Rather than adapting his leadership style to the changing needs of the people, he just continued to stay course on the only way he knew how, which was exhausting! So when his father-in-law Jethro came to town and saw what was going on, he quickly asked: “you’re doing what?!”

Exodus 18:14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Jethro then proceeded to give Moses some wisdom about how to better handle the situation. You see, it was a blind spot for Moses. He couldn’t see it any other way. He figured this was the only option he had. And he needed someone else with wisdom to look at the situation with fresh eyes. That wisdom probably saved Moses from a continued life of exhaustion and frustration.

Do you have anyone in your life who asks, “you’re doing what?” Do you have anyone who you have allowed to speak into the places where most people can’t go? You see, we need wisdom from others. We need input. We may not like it or even want it, but we need it. Because, quite frankly, we have blind spots. We get entrenched in things and don’t see any other options. So we must find ourselves a mentor, a trusted friend, a person of wisdom. These are the people who might just see something that we don’t. It might be as simple as how to open a box more efficiently. But it also might be how to get out of the proverbial box that you have been stuck in for so long.

Unrealistic Expectations

Mom. I’m thirsty. Mom. Mooooom. I’m hungry mom. Mooooooooooooooom. I’m hungry and thirsty.

Sorry son, I don’t have any snacks with me. You’ll just have to wait until we get home. 

But mom. Moooooooooooom. I think I’m going to die of thirst. I need a drink now.

No, you won’t die of thirst. And I can’t get you a drink now, because I don’t have a drink now.

But mom, I’m thirsty.

Dude, you are in the backseat of a car. Not trekking through the Sahara Desert. It can wait.

really thirsty

Sometimes, that’s how it goes. Kids People have unrealistic expectations. Maybe you’ve been put in that kind of a situation. You know, where there’s no actual solution to the problem? Just whining. Moses found himself in a similar spot, too.

Exodus 17:1-2 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin,traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

Here’s the situation: there’s no water to drink. None, zip, zilch, nada. No water. But the people demand water. Talk about unrealistic expectations! How in the world can Moses give them water when there’s no water? It’s not possible people! Don’t you see there’s no river nearby? No lake, no spring, nothing. The kids are just going to have to wait until they get home because daddy’s got no water. In fact, don’t talk until we pull into the driveway.  Seems like a fair response to me.

The odd thing is that’s not what Moses did. Even though their request was impossible and their whining unbearable, he did something. He asked God for help. This is huge! I mean, I don’t always think that way. Either there’s water or there’s not. It doesn’t occur to me that maybe God could just make water. If this was multiple choice it would go like this:

A) Yes I have water. Here you go. B) No I don’t have water. Stop asking.

But with God there always seems to be a “C” choice. Like He’ll just produce some water from a rock. Or He’ll take away your thirst. He’s got a solution, I was just too focused on choices A and B and didn’t C it. (You see what I did there?)  Friends, we have got to stop limiting God based on what we think the possible outcomes are. He is bigger than the solutions we can come up with. Unrealistic expectations don’t phase Him. We just need to ask. If we do, He might just point us to a rock that produces water like He did with Moses.

Memory Lapse

memory lapseAm I the only one who this happens to? It’s evening time and the family is getting ready for work and school the next day. Everybody is making their lunches, setting out clothes, going through backpacks, etc. The parents are multi-tasking. Then something sparks in my brain: I need to grab something out of the garage for the next day. So here I go, out to the garage. Once I get out there, my brain goes blank and I have no idea what I came for. So I just stand there scanning random items in the garage and attempting to scan my brain hoping for some clarity. Complete memory lapse. And back into the house I go, empty handed.

I hate it when that happens. It could be worse though. I could have a memory lapse of far more important things. Things like my anniversary date or my kids’ birthdays. Or a promise I made to a friend. Thankfully, I generally just have memory lapses on small things. Things like: I can’t remember what I ate last week. Because really, that doesn’t even matter much. But I do know this, I did not eat at a five-star restaurant every day for the last month. I would definitely remember that.

The Israelites though… their memory was a little off when they recounted their days in Egypt. In case you don’t know the story, they were slaves. The work was hard and they were abused. They couldn’t worship God freely. It was not a great life. I’m guessing slaves don’t eat at five-star restaurants very often, either. But when God freed them and led them out of Egypt, they seemed to have a complete memory lapse when it came to their living conditions.

Exodus 16:3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Really? I mean, really. You were a slave with a mostly full stomach. Now you are free man who is hungry. Let’s look at the bigger picture here, people!

I’ll be honest, I scratch my head when reading about the Israelites. How is it possible that God did something so great in their lives a few days ago and now they are complaining? I mean, I would never…. oh, wait.

We do that, too, don’t we? We allow our present situation to shape our outlook. We forget all the great things that God has done in us and for us. We get overwhelmed and stand in the middle of the garage without a clue. Yet, if we just scanned our brains for a moment, we might remember what Christ has done for us. We might be able to recall what our life was like or would be like without Him. The Israelites believed that their days in slavery were great compared to their current situation. It wasn’t true; it was a complete lapse in memory.

I’m hoping that WE can get OUR memories straight. I hope that when we face hard things, we start remembering how great God is in our lives rather than make up stories about how our old lives used to be. Because when we start remembering correctly, our faith is built. Peace shows up. Hope pays us a visit. Let’s get our memories straight, people. The truth is: Egypt wasn’t that great.

The Warrior Name

Warriors seem to like nicknames. There’s something epic about an ordinary guy becoming extraordinary with a nickname for the ages. Tony Stark became Ironman. Ben Solo became Kylo Ren. Randy Poffo became “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Fighters and warriors with extreme names, because Terry Bollea doesn’t quite have the same ring as Hulk Hogan.

randy-savage-hulk-hogan

A warrior name gives a warrior his identity. It allows us to connect to the legend, the power, the show of it all. And while most fighters need an alter-ego to connect to their inner warrior, there’s one who is simply a warrior. No new name needed. His name is the Lord.

Exodus 15:3 The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. 

How anti-climactic. The Lord is a warrior. Yes he is! He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. He is the ultimate champion; no one can defeat him. “And now introducing the reigning champion! All the way from heaven. His name is the Lord, but his warrior name is…  wait for it…. The Lord.”

That’s it? No warrior name? Just, “The Lord?”

Yep. He doesn’t need a warrior name. The Lord is simply the Lord. He is a gentle father at the same time as he is a mighty warrior. It’s just who he is. If you need comfort, he is the Lord. If you need peace, he is the Lord. If you need him to climb into the ring with you and completely destroy the enemy with his power, he is the Lord.  We don’t serve a one dimensional or two dimensional God.  His ways are infinite. His power is limitless. His warrior capabilities are endless.

The Lord is a warrior. And I’m thankful that when I face things that I can’t begin to handle, he’s MY warrior.

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