Selective Outrage – And What It Says About Us

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of

Moral outrage that is not based in any kind of higher, propositional and immutable moral truth might be real, but it is wrong. It is selective, inconsistent and hypocritical—and ultimately dangerous. That is why God calls us to live by his unchanging truth.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 20:5-7

The Levite, the husband of the woman who had been murdered, said, “My concubine and I came to spend the night in Gibeah, a town that belongs to the people of Benjamin. That night some of the leading citizens of Gibeah surrounded the house, planning to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she was dead. So I cut her body into twelve pieces and sent the pieces throughout the territory assigned to Israel, for these men have committed a terrible and shameful crime. Now then, all of you—the entire community of Israel—must decide here and now what should be done about this!”

If you have been following this story from Judges 19, you have to question the outrage of this Levite. It seems a bit manufactured. After all, he is the one who pushed his wife out the door and into the waiting arms of the sexual perverts of Gibeah, who brutalized her throughout the night until she died. He cowardly offered her up to save his own skin, showing no concern for her safety, much less her dignity as a precious human being. Then the next morning when he walked out the door and saw her lying there, he callously told her to get up and get moving. If you dare, read the story in Judges 19:25-29—but be warned, it will turn your stomach.

But wait, there’s more. The Levite then takes the dead body of his wife, a concubine, and cuts her into twelve pieces, sending a part to each of the twelve tribes of Israel in order to manufacture national outrage over what has been done to him. At this point, it is no surprise to us that he had considered her nothing more than property—if that. To him, she was nothing more than trash.

Why the selective outrage? Isn’t this the height of hypocrisy? Of course it is. And it is the predictable result of people following a philosophy of moral relativism. When people have no controlling moral authority to keep them between the rails of decency and civility, they will do what seems right in their own eyes—which will habitually be so wrong. Ultimately they will be anything but decent and civil. In one moment, they will do things and allow things that are beyond the pail without batting an eye. Then in the next moment, they will blow a gasket in anger at what someone has done to them. Even though they feign tolerance of what somebody else thinks is right, they become insanely intolerant when that person’s thinking becomes action that personally affects them.

The anger is selective; the wrath is manufactured. Make no mistake: it is real, but it is wrong. It is wrong in the sense that the moral outrage is not based in any kind of higher propositional and immutable moral truth. If truth is relative, then to be consistent, nothing can be consistently wrong. It might be wrong in this moment, but not in the next. At the end of the day, moral relativism is absurd. That is why this man’s outrage—and that of the nation—was hypocritically and fundamentally flawed. It was selective, inconsistent and disengaged from God’s unchanging law. In a very real sense, it was worthless. And most likely, the guilt of the perverts of Gibeah that he was proclaiming was really the guilt he felt about his own immoral behavior.

That is what happens when a society thinks they can do better than God. Isn’t that what we see in our society today? We don’t mind aborting babies in the name of choice, but will riot in the streets over genetically modified wheat. Crazy, huh. Not that GMO’s are right, but taking life in the name of freedom to choose what happens to your own body, that is akin to what Jesus described as “straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)

Ok, enough of using our relativistic culture as a punching bag—although it deserves it. What about us? Do we do the same? Do we cluck our tongues in disgust at sex trafficking but consume porn in private? Do we gripe about the breakdown of society but tolerate divorce in the church? Do we decry world hunger yet ignore the needs of the poor in our own community.

I could go on and on, but the simple answer to all of the above examples is, “yes we do!” The point I want to make is this: whenever you begin to get upset at something, check yourself for personal consistency. Is your outrage selective? Is your disgust hypocritical?

Probably! That doesn’t make you an irredeemable human being. It just reveals that you are a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace. And it means that God is calling you by the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in a manner worthy of your calling as a redeemed child of God—consistently submitted to him.

The world is now famous for manufactured outrage. Don’t be of that tribe!

Going Deeper With God: Wherever you are feeling anger, take a look at what God is revealing in your own life. He is calling you to repent and to consistently surrender to himself.

Don’t Let Them Forget God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Let’s not let them forget God! As moral relativism increasingly influences our culture, people will do what seems right in their own eyes, but it will always be so wrong. Perhaps we can be the voice of reason by fiercely committing to and vocally defending the Bible, the only source of what is truely right, even as our culture wishes the Word of God would go away. It won’t, thank God!

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 19:1

Now in those days Israel had no king…

I know, this is the same exact sentence that begins Judges 18. It is not a mistake. It is the third time in three chapters that the writer uses the same sentence to describe the moral condition of Israel during this time. And each time, the sentence is followed by a story that disturbs our sensibilities. In this case, what follows is arguably the most revolting story in the Bible. I won’t even retell it—you can read it for yourself—but it is brutal and disgusting. But pity poor me, trying to come up with an edifying devotional from it.

To unpack that phrase in more detail—in those days Israel had no king—and would refer you back to the devotional I presented for the previous chapter. Just to summarize, we are being given a picture of what life was like in Israel when they had abandoned any controlling moral authority that kept them between the lines of social civility and moral uprightness. Things got increasingly ugly.

The writer of Judges has prophetically summed up our twenty-first century world in this statement that he has used three times at this point. Then, in the very last line of his book, he adds to it: “There was no controlling moral authority to govern peoples’ lives, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

“What was right in their own eyes” reflected a philosophy of moral relativism, which is simply put, public and private life without the presence of a “controlling moral authority”. Unfortunately, both in the day of the Judges and in our day, without fail moral relativism produces personal, cultural, economic and global chaos. Alexander Solzhenitsyn presciently described it in his now famous Templeton Address, “Men Have Forgotten God”. He lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

“The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century…Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.”

He was describing the atrocities that took place in Eastern Europe. He might as well have been describing Judges. And sadly, he is describing what will a happen in an American culture that, like the aforementioned cultures, embraced relativism as their philosophy of life. When we have no controlling moral authority—a God who decides what truth is, who determines how man should live and who holds him accountable for it—each of us will begin to do what seems right in our own eyes.

We will do what we think is right, but it will be so wrong!

All that to offer this reminder: you and I can perhaps be agents of change by simply and fiercely committing to a source of truth that is unchanging, the Word of God, and unapologetically calling our culture to God’s standard, even as it has forgotten God.

The prophetic drift of this fallen world is inexorably toward forgetting the Almighty Creator and Ruler of us all. Let’s not let the world forget God without a fight.

Going Deeper With God: Tell someone about your belief in God’s truth today. Even if they don’t believe, they need to know that you do.

The Need For A King In Your Life

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As he did with Israel, God wants to be our sole Lord and King. Yet he recognizes that we need a controlling moral authority in our lives with skin on. So he has ordained leaders to watch over us. No longer are they kings, but they are shepherds, pastors, spiritual leaders, mentors and accountability partners. And the charge that God has given them is to watch over our souls as those who must give account to God someday for the way we live our lives. So joyfully, willingly, gratefully come under their authority—that is God’s path for you to thrive.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 18:1

Now in those days Israel had no king…

I have selected only a portion of a verse for today’s devotional. The rest of this chapter is the same song, twenty-ninth verse of what we have seen over and over again in Judges. We have been treated to the depressing fare of what happens to a people when they have no controlling moral authority: they do what seems right in their own eyes. And that is never—never—pretty.

So rather than going into the particular details of the sad account of Judges 18, let’s just say the spiritual anarchy that we saw in Judges 17 had continued on into this chapter. In fact, chapter 18 literally continues what began in chapter 17. It is a strange mixture of idol worship openly disguised as worship of Yahweh. It is stunning how easily Israel actually thinks that their surrender to idols made by man’s hand is simply a legitimate representation of their worship of the Lord God.

Back to the opening line: we are told that Israel had no king. They would get one soon enough; Judges bridges the time gap between Moses and Joshua to the start of the inauguration of the Israelite monarchy, beginning with King Saul and carrying forth under the Davidic dynasty until the nation is sent into Babylonian exile. And while a king to control the nasty impulses of this nation seems to be the spiritual antidote to what ails them, an earthly king will be God’s concession to them. God himself wanted be their sole king; that is his ideal. Yet hopelessly flawed by sin, God would graciously send them a man who would hopefully be that controlling moral authority. But God warned them: some kings would be good and godly; others would not. And when they were not, Israel would rue the day they begged God for a king.

Now how about us? Like Israel, God wants to be our sole Lord and King, but he knows we need a controlling moral authority in our lives with skin on. So he has ordained leaders to watch over us. No longer are they kings, but they are shepherds, pastors, spiritual leaders, mentors and accountability partners. And the charge that God has given them is to watch over our souls as those who must give account to God someday for the way we live our lives. The writer of Hebrews made this appeal:

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith…. Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. (Hebrews 13:7,17)

Now we live at a time where we have been conditioned to bristle at the thought of submission to anyone. We question authority. We do not like the idea of being accountable to anyone who might call us out for our behavior. As a result, far too many of us live unexamined lives. But if nothing else, Judges show us the ugly truth about having no king, which is living without any controlling moral authority: we do what is right in our own eyes. And like we find in chapter after chapter in Judges, that is never a pretty picture.

I would make an appeal to you that it is God’s will for you to voluntarily and joyfully submit to a spiritual leader. Slowly, carefully, prayerfully re-read Hebrews 13:7 & 17. It is for your own good that God has ordained people to watch over your souls. So important is it that God will even hold them accountable for how well they do their job with you. It is a blessing to you that you submit to them—submit not as a doormat, which is a misreading of the biblical word; but rather to line up under their oversight, which is the true meaning of submission. If you will, believe me, you will thrive under the humble, godly, servant-hearted leadership of an anointed leader.

Israel had no king, and it was disastrous. What about you? Who is the controlling human authority in your life representing God to you? If you can’t answer that, you may be in trouble. If you can, come under their loving leadership willingly, gratefully and joyfully.

Going Deeper With God: Pray for your spiritual leader today! He or she is a gift from God to you.

Spiritual Anarchy

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As in the days of the Judges, far too many Christians and Christian churches have set aside any controlling moral authority, so they do whatever seems right in their own eyes. In reality, this is nothing more than spiritual anarchy. Make sure you are not in that camp, and make sure you do what you can to encourage your church not to go there.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 17:1-3

There was a man named Micah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. One day he said to his mother, “I heard you place a curse on the person who stole 1,100 pieces of silver from you. Well, I have the money. I was the one who took it.” His mother replied, “The Lord bless you for admitting it,” He returned the money to her, and she said, “I now dedicate these silver coins to the Lord. In honor of my son, I will have an image carved and an idol cast.” … In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

If we were to hold a vote on the weirdest stories in the Bible, this one would be in my top ten—maybe even in my top five. You read this story and it leaves you scratching your head. A man named Micah has admitted to his mother that he stole money from her, she praises the Lord for his “honesty” in returning the loot, then turns around and celebrates by commissioning a family idol and declaring that it is in honor of her wonderful son and of the Lord.

What…wait…what? She somehow twists stealing into honoring God by carving an image and casting an idol! What in the name of sanity is going on here? Simple explanation: this is spiritual anarchy, plain and simple. Anarchy is defined as “a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority.” That is exactly what Judges 17: 6 describes:

In those days Israel had no king, so everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

Israel had no controlling moral authority—or at least they chose not to follow a controlling moral authority, because they did have the law of God that should have been their constant guide. But over time, they moved God to the margins and devolved into spiritual anarchy, and as a result, a lot of really weird stuff happened in a nation that God had called to be his own holy people; stuff that the people justified as acceptable and pleasing to God.

Twisted, right? Yet is it all that different that what we see today among people who claim to follow God? When the rate of divorce is as high among so-called Christians as it is in the secular society, you have spiritual anarchy. When you have so-called Christians celebrating lifestyles and philosophies that are clearly opposed to what they are called to in God’s Word, you have spiritual anarchy. When you have so-called Christians whose way of living is clearly rooted in this present world and not in the kingdom to come—“believers” who are addicted to money, pleasure and power—there you find they have drifted into spiritual anarchy. Where you find spiritual communities who make their worship about what they prefer, who employ entertainment techniques to attract new members, who move the Holy Spirit to the edge of their services in order to employ more relevant styles, who focus more on a cool café in the lobby rather than the call to seek God at the altar, there you find an inexorable rush toward spiritual anarchy.

In our day, Christians have set aside any controlling moral authority, so they do whatever seems right in their own eyes.

So now that I have gotten that rant out of my system, answer me this: is this not the state of Christianity among far too many Christians and far too many churches in America today?

If you think so, then make sure you are not in that camp, and make sure you do what you can to encourage your church not to drift into spiritual anarchy.

Going Deeper With God: As you pray today, pay close attention to the way Jesus taught us to begin our prayer: Our Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done!”

Hey There Delilah

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

“Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Passion is never to govern our lives; principles are supposed to do that. Our passion is to fuel our principles, and our principles are to be in the driver’s seat of our lives. The story of Samson and Delilah is a powerful reminder of what happens when that gets reversed. So get clear about your core convictions—then passionately pursue them!

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 16:4-6

Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “Entice Samson to tell you what makes him so strong and how he can be overpowered and tied up securely. Then each of us will give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to tie you up securely.”

What is it that drives you? What motivates you at the deepest core to do what you do? What are the driving convictions of your life? Figure that out and you will have figured out you—who you are, what you are, how you live and where you are headed.

Unfortunately for Samson, one of Israel’s most famous but most flawed judges (the judges were more military deliverers than paragons of moral purity), it was passion that drove him more than principle. Especially his passion for woman, which we also saw in Judges 14, and now again in this famous “love” story in Judges 16 as Samson takes up with a new wife, Delilah. As you read this account with the added benefit of historical hindsight, you wonder why in the world would Samson put up with Delilah’s traitorous antics even once, let alone four times. Why couldn’t he see what we so clearly see?

Easy answer: Samson was driven by passion more than principle. So are a lot of people—perhaps even you. Sometimes I am, too. Now to be sure, God created us with the capacity to be passionate. Without it, we wouldn’t be human. Without it we could never express righteous indignation. Without it, we could never experience compassion. Without it, we might be perfect, but let’s not forget that God rarely chose the perfect, he mostly chose the passionate to accomplish his purposes; imperfect people like King David and the Apostle Peter.

Yet while passion is a God-given capacity, it must be kept in its rightful place. Like any other capacity, it is never to be out of control, it is never to be the master of our thoughts, feelings and actions. Only the Holy Spirit is to control what we think, how we feel and what we do.

So what is the right purpose of our passion? Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this insightful thought: “passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.” By that, our passion is never to govern our lives, our principles are supposed to do that. Our passion is to fuel our principles. Passion will be what elevates what we believe at the deepest core to the level of driving convictions over the long haul of our lives.

Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I believe one of the main take-away’s from Samson’s life is that we would be wise to think through and then codify what I would call our driving missional convictions. These would be our non-negotiable values, like living for the glory of God alone, ruthless trust in God’s sovereignty, obedience to God’s Word, submission to God’s will, wholehearted love for God—and neighbor, and full-throttled commitment to the Missio Dei—the mission of God. I could go on and on, but for practical purpose, we would benefit most from settling on five to ten missional convictions, then allowing those convictions to drive everything in our lives at all times and in every way—our thoughts, feelings and actions.

In fact, if you want to avoid the Delilah effect, that is, an approach to life that puts passion in the driver’s seat, then I would suggest that you spend some time thinking through your life convictions—like ASAP. Then discuss them with the people in your life whose help you will need to live them out. Finally, codify them and literally place them where you will see them early and often to remind you of what you want your life to be about.

Do that, and then get passionate about them!

Going Deeper With God: Write out your driving missional convictions, share them with your closest relationships, post them in an unavoidably visible place, and then verbally review them every day this week.

Unusual Means

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What is described in the Bible doesn’t excuse sinful and flawed behavior, it only explains it. It requires a little bit of wisdom to know the difference, but once you understand that, then you will begin to see in matters great and small, God is in charge, and God is in control. Aren’t you thankful for that?

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 15:13-15

The Philistines bound Samson with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

The first senior pastor I worked with out of college used to say, “there is a lot more to God that we don’t understand than we do understand.” He was right. Not that we shouldn’t pursue the knowledge of God—we should. There is no greater or more worthwhile effort than knowing God. And God graciously grants us wisdom, understanding and knowledge, according to Proverbs 2:6 and James 1:5.

But keep in mind in your honorable pursuit that there will be things about God and the record we have in scripture of his dealings with men that do not always make sense—at least in our mind. In those cases, we just need to chalk it up to the fact that God was at work in ways that are much higher than ours. There is a large part of God that will remain in the realm of mystery, and even though we are curious about it, I think we do want a Deity whom we don’t fully understand, and therefore cannot control. Paul states this in his eloquent doxology from Romans 11:33-36,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

I would put Judges 15 in that category. In several instances, God uses a deeply flawed judge—which by the way, the judges of Israel were not so much moral leaders as they were national deliverers—to bring judgment upon the godless Philistines and relief to the suffering Israelites. As you read this chapter, I would simply suggest that you remember that the sovereign God can use anybody he choses to bring out his larger purposes. God can use a deeply flawed prophet, preacher or president for his glory—and he does early and often.

Now keep in mind as you read this passage, and others like it, that what is described in the Bible doesn’t excuse sinful and flawed behavior, it only explains it. It requires a little bit of wisdom to know the difference. So once you understand that, then you will begin to see in matters great and small, God is in charge, and God is in control.

Aren’t you thankful for that?

Going Deeper With God: Take a moment today to affirm in a prayer of praise and gratitude that God is sovereign over the affairs of this world—and of your life.

Flawed People & Really Bad Decisions

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

“God uses flawed people to accomplish his work!” How many times have you heard that or seen examples of it in scripture? Samson is the poster-child of a flawed hero, an impulsive man who famously loved the ladies a little too much—which ultimately cost him his life. But the Bible’s explanation of flawed character is not an excuse for it—neither for Samson nor for you. Thank God that he uses cracked pots, but that does not mean we shouldn’t give diligent effort in partnering with him to transform the vessel.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 14:1-2

One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. When he returned home, he told his father and mother, “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me.”

All of us have made really bad choices in life at one time or another. If you haven’t, just wait a few hours; you will. And usually, the core culprit to bad decisions is impulsiveness. Who of us hasn’t surrendered to an impulse purchase? That is usually what is behind buyer’s remorse. What person has never spoken out in anger or foolishness before we thought about the consequences of our words? That is why most good parents teach their children to think twice before they speak. Is there any person on the planet who has never acted on a whim? I doubt it.

Samson is arguably the poster boy for impulsive choices—he liked the ladies and exercised neither a whole lot of good judgment or self-control in the woman he chose to be with. In this case, it was a girl who became his wife. In chapter 16 it is a prostitute. Later in that same chapter, it is a woman named Delilah who became his second wife. In the case of Delilah, it was a marriage that looked good on the outside, but down the road it caused great pain for Samson and his family, and ultimately caused this famous judge of Israel his life. In Judges 14, this unnamed girl captured his affections—a Philistine beauty whose character went no deeper than her flawless skin.

Samson’s choice of women has been the plot for several Hollywood movies over the years, but in the real story of this marriage, however, the romance part of it ends quickly, and the marriage not too long after that when the girl’s father marries her off to the best man at Samson’s wedding. Mr. and Mrs. Samson—bad choice, bad marriage, bad outcome.

Now obviously, as you look at the whole of Samson’s story, God accomplished a great work through this impulsive man’s life. God redeemed his bad choices for a good outcome (at least for Israel; Samson died in the process). We are told in Judges 14:4 that when his parents questioned his choice of a wife, “His father and mother didn’t realize the Lord was at work in this, creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time.” It is true, as John Newton said, “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.”

That is the big picture of the story of Samson’s life—God uses flawed people to accomplish his purposes. And the micro story here in Judges 14 is equally instructive. So let’s dissect Samson’s decision so that we might see how easily we fall into the same kind of impulsive living—and most importantly, learn from Samson that it is best to avoid impulsive choices. Here are three aspects of the Samson’s poor decision making:

First, visual took precedence over values. The opening words of the text tell us that when Samson gazed upon this lovely woman, it was love (or lust) at first sight: “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye.” What we see can be deceptive; perhaps it is always deceptive. A good rule of thumb is “don’t believe everything you see.” Of course, I am not just speaking of what you can verify factually, but you must learn to see what is congruent with the values of your faith and avoid what is incongruent with your most deeply held values.

Second, desire outweighed wisdom. Samson’s “wanter” took the baton from his “see-er”, while any kind of thought process took a backseat to both. After he “saw” Timnah, he said to his dad, “I want to marry her.” I see; I want. There is no indication that Samson gave any consideration to what the consequences of marrying a Philistine girl might be. Delayed gratification was not in the picture here; self-control was not exercised. He saw her, he wanted her, so therefore, he had to have her.

Third, action dominated reason. I saw her, I want her, now go get her for me: “But Samson told his father, ‘Get her for me! She looks good to me.’” (Judges 14:4) Unfortunately, Samson’s father Manoah didn’t put the brakes on his son’s wishes in the way a father should; we see no fatherly insistence that a reasonable process be followed. So Samson got what he wanted—he got Timnah and with her, he got a boatload of trouble. The outcome of his flawed decision reminds me of what James talked about,

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Again, God used Samson’s mistakes for his own glory. And he will use yours and mine, too. But wouldn’t you rather God use your good decisions for his glory and your good. I sure would. And maybe one of the reasons we have this compelling story of Samson and Timnah is to alert us to slow it down when we are in the middle of a strong desire to get what we think we want.

Think early; think often—that is why God gave us a brain and then commands us to think: “‘Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.’” (Isaiah 1:18) And if that weren’t enough, he placed the Holy Spirit within us to give us in the moment counsel!

Think, listen, then do—or not!

Going Deeper With God: Are you in the rapids of an emotional desire right now? Are you looking at a website and feeling mesmerized by that hunky guy or foxy gal? Are you flirting with a purchase that will over-extend you financially? Is there an emotion—anger, jealousy, sadness—that is getting the best of your ability to “think” rationally? Pull into a Holy Spirit eddy and let the Lord bring some rational wisdom to bear.