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.