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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Behavior

They’re Called Christians but SHOULD be Called Judgy McJudgerson

Christians LOVE to judge people.

Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?

  • We judge people based on appearance
  • We judge people based on their vehicles
  • We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
  • We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
  • We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)

And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.

judgmentWhile we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”

YES! AND HE IS!

What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.

And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.

plankeyeJudgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.

If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”

Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”

God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.

My Life Sucks, and Yours Does Too

realityWell, it doesn’t suck ALL the time. Just sometimes. But I don’t share about the crappy parts online. I only share about the good times – the times that make life seem good, happy, and perfect.

We don’t share about the times our kids having fits and making us want to pull out our hair or send them to boarding school. We don’t post about the times we aren’t getting along with our spouses. And when people DO share those things, often they’re looking to get sympathy or to control public perception. And THAT’S the real issue.

We only  share those things that will  create the public persona we want out there.

We don’t share the things that we think will reflect negatively on us. I’m not the first one to write on this topic. My brother shared an article with me some time ago about the same theme. There’s probably even an official name for the phenomenon – I just don’t know it.

What I do know is that we do this because we gain a sense of self-worth and value through our public image. Yet Jesus wants us to forget the idea of shaping our public image. One time Jesus was teaching:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We do this kind of thing all the time. We want others to see the best part of us, the most generous part of us, the super-parent us, the philanthropic us, the Ubermensch us. But the great things we do don’t amount to a hill of beans. They don’t affect the way God sees us. He sees us when we do things in private. He loves you not because of how great you look to the world, but because he loves unconditionally.

It’s hard to do good things in secret. There’s a part of us that wants credit for doing things when we do good things or when we excel at something. Jesus says we ought to do good for the sake of doing good even if we never get recognition.

I remember one time I was on tour with my college music group. We got off our bus to have lunch one day in San Francisco. I was hanging out with the drummer, and as we exited the bus, the team went off to the left, but the drummer turned right. I asked him where we were going. He said, “I’m not hungry so I’m going to give my lunch to a homeless person, but I don’t need the rest of the group to see it.”

He felt called to do good but didn’t want recognition from others.

I ate my lunch (in a post about doing things without recognition, I’m not going to let you think I was so high-minded)!

But we can all learn from Jesus’s words. Humility ought to be our norm. We should do good just BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. Don’t worry about shaping public opinion of yourself – do what you should do! So here’s your challenge – this week don’t post anything online that would make you look good. It’s okay to build others up, but practice humility this week and change your social media habits.

Your value comes from God, not what others think of you – so practice intentional humility.

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What do you think? Have you seen yourself posting things that make your life look fabulous?

Is Lent a Catholic Tradition that Leads to Hell?

No, it is not.

When it comes to debate, there are a few key verses that Christians always have on standby. If you want to argue with people about predestination and election, pull out Romans 9. If you want to talk about Gifts of the Spirit, pull out 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. If you want to eliminate women from Christian leadership, pull out 1 Timothy 2.

lentIt is no different when we’re talking about the church calendar. Yes, Lenten season is upon us. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans observe Lent, but so do Lutherans, Methodists, and some Evangelical traditions.

But then there are those who ADAMANTLY oppose Lent. They throw around phrases like “Papist traditions” and “traditions of man.” As proof-texts they will read you Mark 7:8-9 –

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

Lent, however, is not a human tradition intended to supplant God’s commands. No one I know pushes Lent as a means of salvation or a ticket to heaven. It’s not about righteousness through works. And Christian traditions are not INHERENTLY bad. They are only bad when we use them in place of God’s work.  Lent is one of the oldest observations in Christianity and, though it has morphed over the centuries, is about aligning our hearts with God. Doug Ponder writes:

The heart of Lent is a season of fasting, which Jesus seemed to expect for his followers to do. After all, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:16). In Lenten fasting we abstain from worldly pleasures to realize their power over us, to remind ourselves of our frailty and continual need of grace, and to rejoice that our appetite for sin has been forgiven and will one day be erased. I know of no Christian who would object to that!

fastingIn the Bible, Paul says that certain days are special to one person and not to another (see Romans 14). The point is not to judge each other, but in Christian liberty allow for a wide variety of how we honor and celebrate Christ. Rather than lamenting the “Papal tradition” of Lent, Christians everywhere should commend other Christians who desire to set aside human appetites in order to give space for God’s work in their lives.

Isn’t this the point of any fasting?

When our fasting (at any time of year) is centered on and motivated by God, no one should condemn it. Richard Foster wrote: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Since there are so many works examining the BIBLICAL practice of fasting, I’m not even going to waste space defending it. It’s an expected part of the life of a disciple of Christ.

This Lenten season, get off your high horse. Examine your life and see where your appetites control you. What can you put aside in order to create space to listen to God?

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For additional reading, check out:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/february/13.54.html?start=1

http://www.christianity.com/church/redeeming-lent.html

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Harper San Francisco, 1998.

Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper San Francisco, 1988.

Alternative Facts: Taking a Stand For Truth

victoriaI’m on a journey to read at least one book a month through 2017. Most recently I read Victoria, the new historical fiction based on the life of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The author, Daisy Goodwin, wrote the book while she was also writing the story for the Masterpiece mini-series on PBS. The book itself is a relative quick read. There is a lot of dialogue and not much dead space between events. The characters are quite engaging and I found myself enjoying the read.

Through the book I also realized that I don’t know a whole lot about British history and government processes (I’m embarrassed to think that the average Brit knows more about American history and government than we do theirs, but I haven’t asked any Brits about it). The book inspired me to dive deeper into the characters and history surrounding the narrative.  That’s the neat thing about historical fiction – you’re given dialogue and relationships that are from the author’s imagination, yet the author’s imagination is guided and constrained by actual people and events. In the case of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin used history and the Queen’s own diaries to help create her telling of the story. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the truth of the story must be balanced against the creative license of Ms. Goodwin.

This got me thinking about current events and the brouhaha about truth vs. “alternative facts.” Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not posting to comment on any particular fact or person. I’m merely dialoguing about truth in general. Regardless of a person’s personal view of religion, politics, relationships, or ANYTHING, one cannot deny that there is such a thing as objective truth. 2+2 is always going to equal 4. Quantitative measurements are objective – it’s only qualitative measurements that move into subjectivity. Still, there is objective truth. We may interpret historical events in different ways, but we can objectively point to those historical events.

As Christians, we are called to be people of truth. A simple search of the word “truth” in the Bible will yield hundreds of results.

  • Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
  • Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. (Proverbs 12:17)
  • I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. (Isaiah 45:19)
  • And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Bible is FILLED with the idea that we are supposed to be people of truth because God IS truth. So if God IS truth, then telling untruths is CONTRARY to the very nature of God. That means that everyone who follows God should be adamantly opposed to the spreading of untruth. That is to say, Christians ought to be the first to stand up and say, “Wait, that’s not true. That’s a deception. That’s fraudulent. That’s a lie!”

deceive-1299043_1280But to often we don’t. We perpetuate falsehoods and untruths because they fit our framework for thinking about and reacting to the world around us. It’s easier to accept some fabrications because truths make us uncomfortable. But comfort isn’t part of the package when it comes to following Jesus. Sure, eternity in heaven will be comfortable in the presence of God, but this life isn’t promised to be a life of ease.

As people called to pursue justice and righteousness and truth, we will need to stand against deceptions wherever we see them.

Because God.Is.Truth.

Things Christians Just SHOULD NOT DO!

Christians do a great job of judging the state of other people’s souls. We’re mind readers, really. We know the condition of your life just by looking at the things you do. If we like the things you do, you’re obviously heaven-bound. If you do things we don’t approve of…well, you’re headed the other way. Some of things that reveal the state of your salvation? Well:stop-1077973_1920

  • you like beer? You’re not really saved.
  • you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
  • you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
  • you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
  • you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
  • you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
  • you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
  • you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
  • you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.

The list of taboo things can go on and on. But in reality, most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists. Look at the Mark 7:

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

That’s pretty powerful. Jesus tells these upstanding religious elite that they’re holding on to human traditions and letting go of God’s commandments. Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

Might we have some good ideas about how to life a righteous life? Sure. You might have your own list of things that you feel you need to do to stay in right standing before God. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Spirit works in each of us at different times, convicting us of some things and freeing us to do other things. But our personal conviction, even if it’s from God, doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be imposed on EVERYONE. Even within Christianity, there is a lot of room for Christian freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – some things are downright forbidden. Adultery is always wrong in God’s eyes. Murder is always wrong. Idolatry is always wrong. The Bible does relay to us concrete do’s and do not’s. But if it’s not specifically spelled out in the Bible, God gives us a lot of latitude to work within our consciences. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you a better Christian.

This is actually a call to unity. We are unified as believers, even if we disagree on some of the peripheral issues. How we live out our faith on these other issues shouldn’t cause us to break fellowship with people. Our Christianity is bigger than these issues – we are united in our faith in Christ and it’s time to let go of our pet issues.

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold. And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent.

The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

It’s Okay, They’re Just Indians

I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me.

sitting-bull-394471_1280That title is offensive on several levels. First, the culturally appropriate word for them is Native Americans. Second, the idea that “they’re just” is a pretty odious sentiment. It conveys they idea that how we treat people can be based on who they are rather than on who WE are or on an intrinsic value that lies within all humanity.

Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely the sentiment many people are taking towards the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. In case you’ve been living under a rock:

The pipeline is currently under construction by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The minor partners involved in the project are Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum. The route begins in the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ends at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.

The Sioux are protesting the pipeline, saying “that the pipeline threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance.”

I’m not particularly concerned with environmental issues in this post (that’s a conversation for a different post). What I am concerned with is how we treat people. Christians have a biblical mandate to treat people well. In fact, we’re called to treat people well even when people mistreat us (one of the Bible’s most difficult teachings regarding suffering under evil rulers and masters). Additionally, people of faith are called to be honorable in how we deal with others.

Do you remember the last time someone broke a promise to you? How did it make you feel? The Bible refers to vows or promises and that God’s people are supposed to known as vow keepers.

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ~ Numbers 30:2

Since God himself is a covenant maker and covenant keeper, we are also supposed to be like that. Yet our government has been notoriously bad at keeping covenants with Native American tribes. Historically, when we have desired something that was on Native American land, we would break treaties, take what we desired, and relocate the people to new land and/or new promises.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet in Hosea 10:4:

They speak mere words, With worthless oaths they make covenants; And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.

You don’t have to agree with the politics of the thing, but when it comes to honoring covenants and how we treat people, I believe Christians ought to be the first to stand with the Standing Rock Reservation. Here’s a page outlining 10 ways you can help support the Standing Rock Sioux.

It doesn’t matter who the people are – we are called to treat people well. The Bible says that we’re supposed to treat others as BETTER than we treat ourselves. Unless the covenant is an immoral or ungodly covenant, we are called to be covenant keepers just as God is a covenant keeper with us.

Settle for More – a Christian perspective from the new @MegynKelly book

megyn-book-cover-529x800Friends who know me know that I’m not really a fan of FoxNews. While I am theologically conservative, I tend to lean more to the left than Fox does when it comes to social issues and politics. That being said, I have not spent a lot of time watching Megyn Kelly on Fox. But I saw that she had a book published, Settle for More, and saw an interview she did regarding the book. Then, by chance, our base library had a copy of it on display. That’s when I thought I’d pick it up and give it a read.

I will admit that it is not what I thought it would be. After all, Ms. Kelly is hardly older than I am. How could she possibly have a memoir? Additionally, I knew that a good portion of her book was dedicated to Donald Trump. A book on Trump doesn’t really seem like it’s memoir-worthy. But the book wasn’t just about Trump. It wasn’t just about Megyn Kelly. The book really was about the last year of Megyn Kelly’s life under fire from the Trump organization/followers, her response to it, and the life that brought her to the point where she responded the way she did. In short, it’s an apologetic

From her telling, Ms. Kelly has endured quite a bit from Trump and his followers. The book gets into a bit of the details. In fact, the last fourth of the book is all about her chaotic experiences with Trump. But the first three-fourths of the book set up the reader to understand the life that gave Ms. Kelly the convictions and determination that allowed her to deal with the hardships of her past year.

She had dealt with bullies as a child. She endured the sudden death of her father when she was a teen. She worked diligently in college and law school. She went through a divorce. All of the negative experiences in her life prepared her (ultimately) to deal with the Trump organization and the grief of her last year. She sums up her attitude in this paragraph:

Adversity is an opportunity, and one that has allowed me to flourish. It has made me stronger, my skin a little thicker. And as with any turmoil in your life, none of it is for nothing if you survive it and take stock.

And THAT is a principle that we would all do well to learn. It’s what the Bible is teaching believers when James writes:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

There is more to our suffering than simply suffering. There is something that happens within us when we endure suffering – we grow. We learn. Get get better. We get stronger. Let’s not be naive, sometimes this world tears us down. Plenty of faithful believers have gone to their graves without ever seeing an end to their suffering. This is where our hope that comes from our faith plays a big role in enduring troubles.

One day the trouble will cease. One day the pain will end. Revelation 21:4 proclaims:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

When you go through difficult times, please know that you’re not the only one. Others have gone before you. Others walk with you. And people will endure hardships until this world passes away. But hold fast, knowing that God is working something within you. He may not remove the troubles, but you can be changed for the better because of them. And one day, God will ease all of your troubles.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Locker Room Talk and Christian Feminists

Words are a funny thing. We use words to label people. We use words to label ourselves. Me? I label myself as a moderate conservative. In terms of religious beliefs, I tend to be conservative on issues of personal morality yet progressive on issues of social justice and care. Extremists on both ends miss the big picture. Those on the FAR RIGHT  like to focus on personal piety and responsibility. Those on the FAR LEFT like to focus on social issues and justice but neglect personal righteousness and holiness. From my perspective, the middle ground is the place where the Church is supposed to live – caring about piety, personal righteousness, AND social issues and justice.

My belief that the Church should occupy the middle ground is what drives my concern with the current issues brought up around the presidential race. Well, words are a funny thing. “Concern” is not the right word. I’m deeply troubled and bothered. No, this is not a post about politics. Rather, it is about issues brought up in the race and that are now part of the national conversation. So let’s talk about sexual abuse and the treatment of women.

First, sexual abuse is NEVER okay.

That seems like something we shouldn’t have to say, right? I do not know of anyone who says, “Well, sexual abuse is okay in some cases.” It doesn’t happen. So we’re all on the same page that sexual abuse is NOT EVER acceptable. But now it seems we have to take it one step further in our conversation. Let’s add:

“Joking and/or fantasizing about sexual abuse is NEVER okay.”

lockers-932113_1920This is where the nation has split recently. I am grieved by the number of self-proclaiming Christians who brush off such language as “locker room talk.” While it may be the way those outside the Church talk about sexuality, it is NOT supposed to be the way Christians talk. It’s not just about behavior, but it’s also about thought. It’s not me saying this – it’s Jesus.

Jesus liked to take Old Testament law that was based on behavior and revamp it to bring in motive and heart issues. In the gospels we see Jesus say repeatedly, “You have heard it said _________, BUT I SAY TO YOU _____________.” The law forbade murder; Jesus forbids hate. The law forbade adultery; Jesus forbids lust. It’s not just the action – it’s the heart.

“Locker room talk” is a heart issue that grieves Jesus. Such talk demeans the Imago Dei, the Image of God, within our community. It doesn’t matter if it’s men talking about women or women talking about men – it has no place in God’s Kingdom. If the Church belongs to Jesus, then we ought to take a stand against such talk. This is where we return to my opening statement about living in the middle between personal piety and social justice.

As a matter of personal piety, we should refrain from course and abusive language. Do not mistake “locker room talk” for anything other than abusive language. The idea of going up to a woman without consent and accosting her is sexual assault and abuse. Our righteousness should shudder at the very thought. On the flip side, our sense of social justice should cause us to rise up and defend those who are on the receiving end of this kind of abuse! Christian, we have a holy obligation to stand against the sexual abuse of our brothers and sisters. Yet too often we are silent. Time and time again we see the Church being a place where abuse is not dealt with. We may say that it is not acceptable, but we do not do anything to defend the abused or to make sure that the Christian Community is a place where abuse does not happen.

I have some online interaction with Christian feminist and pursuer of Christian equality Jory Micah. You may not agree with everything she talks about, but her passion for protecting women from abuse and abusers is admirable. In her passion and zeal, she even told women that, if their church is not a safe place, then it’s time to move beyond the walls of their church and out among the marginalized where it’s safer. Yes, that’s a paraphrase from my memory, but that was the gist of it. And she set off a horde of detractors calling her “Jezebel,” “heretic,” and other nastiness.

While her words seem abrasive, please hear the motive behind it. As a minister, I would never tell an abused spouse to stay with the abuser. Even though I don’t suggest divorce, I do NOT tell people to remain in abusive settings. I counsel people to get out of the abusive home and find safety. Likewise, if the system is abusive, why do we counsel abused people to stay and keep getting abused? This is a condemnation on the Universal Church, but on local churches that do not protect abused people or seek to create a safe community.

I had a chance to talk with Jory and ask her some questions about faith. She is part of a church planting team. She believes in the One true God and the Deity of Jesus. She fully affirms Acts 4:12 that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we must be saved.” No, this isn’t heresy she’s promoting – it’s an attempt to move people out of harm and into a safe community.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Allowing abusive language and behavior to remain in our midst does not do justice or love kindness. All Christians should denounce “locker room talk” for what it is – it is ungodly and abusive language. We should NOT be making excuses for it, nor should we diminish the weight of the words, no matter who it comes from.

 

Excuse Me, But Your Real Character Is Showing

The things you choose to do reflect your character. It is that simple. In fact, you don’t need any fancy-shmancy personality test. The cheapest personality test in the world is on both sides of your nose. Yup, it’s your eyes. If you want to know about a person’s character and personality, watch what they do, because what you do reflects who you are.

We find an easy illustration of this in the person of Jesus. We see that he took time to be around outcasts and misfits and take care of their needs. His behavior reveals that he is compassionate. We see that he went undeservedly to the cross so that we would not have to. His behavior reveals that he is self-giving and self-sacrificing. The hard part comes when we start honestly looking at our own character. People can see your character by the things they see you do. That could be good or bad, depending on what your character is like. If you want to improve your character, improve your actions.

There’s a biblical story that illustrates this principle. You can read it in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail is the wife of Nabal, a wealthy oaf who lived in Maon, sheep-rearing country (though described as wilderness). She and her husband are total contrasts to each other – completely mismatched. She is a woman of beauty and good sense. He is not. The Hebrew word nabal, often translated as “fool,” designates not a harmless simpleton, but rather a vicious, materialistic, and egocentric misfit. Other passages present the nabal as an embarrassment to his father (Prov. 17:21), a glutton (Prov. 30:22), a hoarder (Jer. 17:11), and even an atheist (Ps 14:1; 53:1).BiffThink of it like Biff from Back to the Future.

Most significant for our story today is Isaiah 32:6, in which the refusal to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, precisely the sin of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:6, is listed among the characteristics of a nabal. The story-teller wants us to know from the start what this guy is like.

I think we all know or have known people who’s actions really reveal their character. Now, we already know what Nabal’s character is like – the story tells us. But we see that his actions match up to the description of his character. His character is described the way it is because of his actions.

In the biblical story, as David and his men are traveling the countryside, he and his men come across Nabal’s men and David looks after them. Later on, David asks Nabal to repay the favor by showing hospitality in food and drink. David’s offer to Nabal seems to be negation with invitation into covenant. David is on the run from King Saul, who is trying to hunt down David in order to kill him. David may be trying to win support and provisions from several local farmers with his assistance and protection. Nabal refuses.

David’s claim that he has earned a share in Nabal’s provisions because he guarded the latter’s men and flocks is, in fact, a challenge to Nabal’s political authority, another way of saying that Nabal, despite his wealth and his marriage, does not control Judah or even his immediate territory. Nabal recognizes David’s words for what they are, the words of a servant breaking away from his master. Not to know David or even Jesse is to refuse them diplomatic recognition. In short, Nabal declares from the start his refusal to see in David anything other than a thief, thug, and rebel. Ironically, Nabal says David is a disloyal servant, but he’s setting up the behavior of his own servants who break away, telling their mistress of her husband’s stupidity and ethical emptiness.

When David hears what Nabal said he sort of flies off the handle. “Strap on your swords! No man in the house is to remain alive!” David’s response to Nabal is rooted in the categories of shame and honor. Nabal has shamed David rather than treat him with honor. The only way for David to regain his honor and remove the shame is to take it by force. Abigail realizes that her husband’s insult to David puts the whole household in jeopardy, so she takes it upon herself to take gifts and rations to David and his men.

The structure of her plea to David consists of two tiers. First, Abigail assures David that the vengeance of YHWH will visit Nabal if only David restrains himself from usurping the divine prerogative, and she offers the present as a token of her confidence in the Tightness of David’s cause (vv 25-27). Next she speaks of YHWH’s commitment to his chosen servant, one that vouchsafes to him a security which should enable him to overlook this temporary irritation, which must in no case impede David’s ascent to the throne. David sees the wisdom of her argument and backs down from his attack.

When Abigail returns home, Nabal is celebrating like a king. Here’s an interesting thing – Abigail has just affirmed that David is the God-anointed one who will take the throne. But back at the ranch, Nabal is the one acting like a king. It’s a classic conflict between wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom is realizing what God is doing and getting behind it. Foolishness is puffing yourself up and thinking you’re hot stuff.

Abigail is the personification of wisdom. Nabal is the personification of foolishness. So she waits until he has sobered up to tell him what happened with David. And when she tells him about her encounter, he has some sort of stroke or attack and becomes like stone. Ten days later, Yahweh takes his life.

It seems strange that David acts so quickly to take Abigail for a wife. There are probably political motivations that underlie the scene. To marry the wife or concubine of a ruler was to make a bid for his status and power. This was the story of Oedipus Rex. Oedipus kills the king on the road. Later on, he marries the king’s wife and takes the throne. This was true even as late as Shakespeare’s day. The whole set up of Hamlet is that Hamlet’s father, the king, is killed by Hamlet’s uncle, who then marries Hamlet’s mother and becomes king. David marries Abigail and secures her a new social position and estate. But he also gets something out of the marriage. Nabal was a Calebite, a necessary part of being ruler in Hebron. David’s marriage to Nabal’s wife was the pivotal move in his ascent to kingship at Hebron. David takes over Nabal’s land, his possessions, and his right to lead in Nabal’s place. Abigail is a fantastic prize that set’s David up for his future kingship.

The David of chapter 25 is a man who kills for a grudge. The episode with Abigail and Nabal is the very first revelation of evil in David’s character. He can kill. This time he stops short. But the cloud that chapter 25 raises continues to darken our perception of David’s character. By the time we get to 2 Samuel we find David killing an innocent and righteous man just to take the man’s wife!

The end of the story notes that Abigail is not the only woman married to David. In fact, David has another wife, Ahinoam. Only one other person in the Hebrew Bible bears her name, and she, amazingly enough, is a contemporary of David’s. In fact, her husband is King Saul (1 Sam 14:50)! Could it be that David swaggered into Hebron with the wife of a Calebite chieftain on one arm and that of the Israelite king on the other? A remark of Nathan’s to David suggests that there was but one Ahinoam, wife of Saul, then of David, “I gave you the household of your lord and the wives of your lord in your bosom, and I gave you the Houses of Israel and Judah. A little longer, and I would have given you more like these” (2 Sam 12:8). Nathan alludes to David’s marriage to Saul’s wives, as if it were well-known. The suspicion grows that v.43 and v.44 are connected by more than a similarity in subject matter. Saul’s action in v.44 is a quid pro quo to David’s in v.43. He deprived David of Michal when David asserted his right to the throne through marriage with Ahinoam.

The story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 precedes the story of David and Bathsheba chronologically, and in some ways it is a mirror image of it. First of all, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is a good man while Abigail’s is quite repulsive and evil. Despite Uriah’s goodness, Bathsheba apparently does nothing (or can’t do anything) to save him. Abigail, on the other hand, resorts to elaborate measures to save her husband. Secondly, the story of Bathsheba capitalizes on illicit sex. This is completely absent in the Abigail story. Although David is obviously attracted to Abigail, as witnessed by the speed with which he married her when she becomes widowed, there is no hint of any unseemly behavior between the two, although there are opportunities. Finally, in the Bathsheba story David commits murder because of a woman. In the Abigail story David, as he himself recognizes, David refrains from committing murder because of a woman.

We are the sum total of all that we do, i.e. what we do is who we are. Abigail reveals herself to be wise and virtuous. Nabal reveals himself to be an evil, spiteful man. David reveals himself to be a man with a short fuse who is easily moved by a woman. But we are no different. Our own actions reveal our character. This is true because as adults we make deliberate choices in our actions. Therefore, our actions describe our inner selves, what sacrifices we’re willing to make, what evil we’re willing to carry out or tolerate. Our actions are the blueprint of our character.  blueprint-964629_1920

We need seriously to ask what we want our character to look like. Then we need to make sure that our actions reflect the character we say we want. What actions are we doing to reveal that character? It’s time to take serious account of our character; what it is and what we want it to be. And then, after taking account, we need to make sure our actions line up.

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