This Is What Happens When We Forget God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” As believers, we must let the moral decay of America turn our stomach, but then turn our heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 9:56-57

In this way, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon was fulfilled.

Admittedly, this is a weird story, and it’s even weirder that it was included in the Bible. Like a few others we have come across as we read the Old Testament devotionally, this is a head-scratcher. But at the end of the day, this story of Abimelech’s brief but brutal rule as a judge of Israel and his abrupt, gruesome death is a reminder of what happens in a person, and in a society, when God has been left out of the picture.

Abimelech was one of Gideon’s sons—one of seventy or so. And it just so happens that he was the one son from Gideon’s union with a concubine who lived in a different town, Shechem. So there was probably no love lost with his many siblings; he was probably looked down upon by his brothers his whole life. There is a good chance Abimelech had a chip on his shoulder (that unfortunately ended with a millstone on his head—literally. See Judges 9:50-55).

So Abimelech decided to do away with his seventy brothers—which he did in the most grisly fashion (Judges 9:5): likely beheaded at one time. He killed all but one, Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, who escaped and hid, and then resurfaced with an incendiary prophecy (Judges 9:7-21). This prophecy was a kind of “pox on both your houses” statement that ultimately came to pass. The prophecy was that in selecting Abimelech to be their king, the citizens of Shechem would end up paying for it with their lives and that Abimelch would likewise come to a brutal end for the murder of his brothers. That is the rest of the story of Judges 9.

Now take away the raw brutality of this story, sanitize it a bit, and what you have is the story of leadership in our culture these days. Far too common is the way leaders attain power and the way the citizens surrender power to them. Lying, cheating, doing whatever it takes to make their opponent look bad, saying one thing to get elected then leading another, coming off as a servant of the people but living like a king once in power seems to be just the way it is in our political world. Often in elections, we feel like we have no choice but to hold our nose to cast our ballots. But we get the leaders we deserve.

Why? Simple answer: men have forgotten God. The writer of Judges prophetically summed up our twenty-first century world in the last verse in this book when he wrote, “There was no controlling moral authority to govern peoples’ lives, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Unfortunately, in our day, as was the case in the day of the Judges, “what was right”, without the presence of the “Controlling Moral Authority”, without fail produces moral, cultural, economic and global chaos.

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” In his famous Templeton Address, “Men Have Forgotten God”, Solzhenitsyn said

“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.”

May we never get used to it! May we never feel at home in this present world the way it is now. As believers, we have the urgent calling to humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our sin, repent and turn to him for the healing of our land. As disgusted as you may feel reading Judges 9, let the moral decay of America turn your stomach, then turn your heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Who knows, God may give us a revival like he did throughout the book of Judges as his people cried out to him. Thankfully, God has made a way for that, even in our day:

If the people who are called by my name will humbly pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again. (2 Chronicles, 7:14)

Going Deeper With God: Read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and pray your way through it on behalf of your nation today.

God Is Watching

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God is watching, not just over the big issues of how we treat one another, but even in the smaller ways that we might take advantage of our neighbors, or short change our customers, or do something because we can get away with it, or go light on a violation because there it is a victimless crime. Not in God’s eyes. He is watching, and he cares because justice at levels big and small, seen and unseen represent his immutable character as well as his ideals for his people. We would do well to remember that!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 19:14

When you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession, you must never steal anyone’s land by moving the boundary markers your ancestors set up to mark their property.

When I was little, we would sing a song in Sunday School called, O Be Careful Little Eyes. The song taught that we were not only to take care what our eyes saw, but what our ears heard, what our mouths said, where our feet went, and what our hands did:

O be careful little hands what you do
O be careful little hands what you do
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little hands what you do

The lesson of the song was clear: a loving God was watching us at all times and he was quite concerned that we always did the right thing. Good theology could be found in those lyrics: God is loving, God is Father, God is omniscient, God is omnipresent, and God is just. All true, and we would do well to remember each piece of that theology, even as adults.

When we come to Deuteronomy 19, we find that God is expressing the same concern for the children of Israel. He is quite determined that when they come into the land of promise, his justice would be represented in their legal system:

  • Cities of refuge were to be established: Deuteronomy 19:1-3
  • A process was to be set up for adjudicating both manslaughter and murder: Deuteronomy 19:4-5, 11-13
  • Rules for the evidence needed for a conviction were to be followed: Deuteronomy 19:15
  • Protocols for witnesses to a crime were to be obeyed: Deuteronomy 19:16-17
  • Procedures for judges were to be defined: Deuteronomy 19:18
  • Sentencing guidelines were to be definite: Deuteronomy 19:19-21

And in the middle of those very serious legal protocols, there is another rule issued that seems a bit out of place because it doesn’t seem to be at the same level of intensity as the others: the honoring of boundary lines (Deuteronomy 19:14). By comparison, this might seem to us to fall into the category of a petty crime. We might be tempted to adjudicate it as a “white collar crime.” We might give in to going a little easier on the violator in this particular case.

But even though this crime didn’t leave a dead body, and while it was done out of the view of witnesses, and most likely would have no physical evidence—just a property owner’s word against the accused, since land surveys were not available in those days—we should not miss this cogent fact: this was an act that God had witnessed. And it was a big deal to him.

The point being that God is watching, not just over the big issues of how we treat one another, but even in the smaller ways that we might take advantage of our neighbors, or short change our customers, or do something because we can get away with it, or go light on a violation because it is a victimless crime.

Not in God’s eyes. He is watching, and he cares because justice at levels big and small, seen and unseen represents his immutable character as well as his ideals for his people. That was true for the Israelites, and that is true for us. We would do well to remember,

There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little child what you do!

God is watching. That is not a threat; that is a comfort!

Going Deeper With God: Are there any areas of moral compromise in your life—even in little things? God cares, and he will reward our every effort to bring what might seem like things that are no big deal under his loving rulership.

The Kingdom Logic of Ridiculous Generosity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poverty of the poor near and to invite the blessings of God upon those who are generous toward the poor is still in play today as it was under Moses. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about poverty, each of us must be the church. We—you and I—should be generous where we can and with whom we can. We must give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within our power to help. And as we become the conduit of kingdom generosity, we will never run out of resources to give.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 15:7-10

If there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.

God has a plan for the poor, and it will work. Really! The plan will seem illogical to most, but such is the upside-down logic of the Kingdom of God. What is the logic? The generosity of God’s people. The alleviation of poverty in the big, wide world starts with generosity toward the world near you.

It is really too bad that that poverty in our day has become such a political and sociological football. The problem of the poor would be dealt with quite effectively if we would simply adopt how God told the ancient Israelites to treat the poor among them. Rather, in America, one side says that poverty is the fault of the poor, that they just need to buck up and be responsible, that giving a hand out only perpetuates their poor ways. This “people must be responsible for their own lives” approach however, can be very hard-hearted toward something that is near to God’s heart.

Then on the other philosophical side, many say that the wealthy must be taxed at higher rates so that the government can provide more programs, more handouts, more entitlements to alleviate poverty in America. In much of that “it’s the rich’s fault and the government’s responsibility” approach, we are very likely to be guilty of hurting with our helping. Furthermore, it leads to an attitude that responsibility to help the needy is someone else’s: the government, the rich, the church’s, “they”.

Under the Old Testament law, it was very clear that God did not want any poor to be among the Israelites as they settled into their Promised Land: “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) Poverty would stand as an affront to the God who desired to bless all of his people.

Furthermore, when fellow Israelites fell into poverty, God said that it was the responsibility of their neighbors to help lift them out. They were to freely loan them money, at a reasonable interest rate, and then be willing to forgive the loan at the end of the pre-established seventh year of debt elimination—even if the loan was made toward the conclusion of those seven years:

At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived….  Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2,9)

As the Israelites took this posture toward the poor among them, and there would be poor among them (“if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you”, Deuteronomy 15:7), God promised that they would live under his enormous blessings, both in their economy and in their world impact:

You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 6 The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you. (Deuteronomy 15:5-6)

Now of course, there were significant differences with ancient Israel and where we find ourselves today. Israel was a theocracy, we are not. They didn’t have easy credit and rampant materialism like we do. Most people didn’t foolishly misspend their way into the poorhouse. The poor were not typically addicted to alcohol or drugs or suffer from mental disorder like we find in a significant portion of the homeless today. They didn’t just tolerate laziness and dependence on government subsidies like we do, they had ways of dealing with chronically irresponsible people. So yes, there are differences that would make dealing with poverty more challenging in our complex society than it was for Israel.

However, the generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poor near to you and to invite the blessings of God upon you is still in play. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about it, be the church. Be generous where you can and with whom you can. Give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within your power to help. If each of us take it upon ourselves to eliminate the poverty of another, we can make a dent in the larger problem of the poor in the world today.

Become a conduit of kingdom generosity and you will never run out of resources to give.

Going Deeper With God: Who is within your power to help? Today, be generous toward them in whatever way you are able. God will bless you for it.

Tattoos, Piercings, Purple Mohawks and Living On The Edge

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When our motive for doing anything because it is cool by the world standards, perhaps the case could be made that we are bowing to man-made idols. When God goes to such great lengths to pull his people out of their heathen culture in order to make them into his own holy nation, a people that stand out in the world as distinctly belonging to him and disinctly different than the world, why would they then revert back to worldly ways? Why walk as close to the edge of worldliness without stepping over into it instead of pressing into the core of holiness unto the Lord. Why not press into the center of God’s will, which looks more like Jesus and less like the world?

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 14:1-2 (Living Bible)

Since you are the people of God, never cut yourselves as the heathen do when they worship their idols nor shave the front halves of your heads for funerals. You belong exclusively to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you to be his own possession, more so than any other nation on the face of the earth.

To be forthcoming, I have never had neither purple hair nor a Mohawk. I don’t have any piercings. And I have never seriously entertained the notion of a tattoo—although if I were ever brave enough to get one, I would consider the iconic “Mother” tat embedded within a sailor’s anchor. (You probably have to be of a certain age to appreciate that!)

I don’t have any of those, and don’t really want to, but just to be clear, neither do I have anything per se against quirky hair, body piercings and tattoos that rival Michelangelo’s work. Some people can pull it off; I would look like a doofus. I know plenty of amazing people who have some or all of the above, whose Christian character and kingdom impact is without question.

So what’s the point? I simply want to get you to think about the verses I selected where God prohibits the Israelites from either getting a body piercing or their hair cut in some kind of weird style. Similarly in Leviticus 19:28, God told his people never to get tattoos or engage in cutting: ‘You shall not cut yourselves nor put tattoo marks upon yourselves in connection with funeral rites; I am the Lord.” Now it would be fair protest that this prohibition is only in the context of funerals, but I believe the clear sense here is that if God didn’t like it under those circumstances, he probably didn’t approve of it under normal conditions. You can disagree with me on that, but that is how I see it.

Obviously, many believers don’t see it as I do. In today’s world, a growing number them do all of the above—attention getting hairdos, very obvious tattoos, cutting and more piecings that you can shake a stick at. But I don’t think that is the main point here; it is not so much the activity that we should focus on, it is the motive: “As the heathen do.”

When our motive for doing anything is because it is cool by the world standards, perhaps the case could be made that we are bowing to man-made idols. When God went to such great lengths to pull his people out of their heathen culture in order to make them into his own holy nation, a people that would stand out in the world as distinctly belonging to him and distinctly different than the world, why would they then revert back to worldly ways? Why would they take on patterns and behaviors of the sin-filled culture from which they had been rescued? Why would they admire the latest style or trend or hip factor from the nations that were hostile to God? Why go along to get along? Why walk as close to the edge of worldliness without stepping over into it instead of pressing into the core of holiness unto the Lord.

That, I believe, is the main thing here—what we ought to consider as we seek a relevant application from this passage. Why live on the edge of sin? Why not press into the center of God’s will? Now let me also quickly add that if you are a believer who already has one of the things mentioned above, don’t sweat it. God starts with where you are and then moves you down the road to Christlikeness. Just make sure in the journey forward from today your motive is to be more and more like Jesus.

Now for old school Christians who tend to look in disdain on a younger generation that expresses itself with piercings, tattoos and purply-spiked hair, how about what we do to keep up with the Joneses? What about needing to drive the latest car we can’t afford or having more square footage in our house than a Roman legion required or getting the latest $800 iPhone when the one we have is barely six months old? Do we do exactly what we accuse the young and restless of doing? Is there really all that much difference?

Again, my point in this devotional take on Deuteronomy 14 is simply to get us to consider where we may be flirting with culture rather than striving for greater Christlikeness. The next time you see someone sporting some sort of body art that you don’t appreciate, take a good, long look at your own motives. Perhaps in that moment the Holy Spirit is calling you to a closer walk with Jesus.

That is God’s goal for you, by the way: that you would look more and more like Jesus while looking less and less like the world.

Going Deeper With God: Here is a hard but good prayer to offer to your Lord today: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Proof of Love: What You Do For Orphans, Widows and Immigrants

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The proof of your wholehearted love for God (or fear, service, or followership) is in the pudding of how you actually live your life. God himself says that this is not just a theological calling of fear/obey/love/serve for your private worship, this is a relational calling that is for your public life. For love of God is to be fleshed out among those people you know, and even the ones you don’t know. It is to be exemplified especially among those the community would tend to marginalize—the least of these, as Jesus would call them. The gracious and merciful love that God extended to you is to be extended in the same way through you to the most vulnerable—orphans, widows and immigrants!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 16-20

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? … Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him.

It’s actually quite uncomplicated. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get it; actually, it is so simple even a caveman could figure it out. In fact, God himself spelled it out in very plain language. What am I talking about? Following him.

Simple—not easy—but simple. Do this and you will prosper. Do this and you will be satisfied. Do this and you will be safe and secure. Do this and you will live.

It is not easy because there is an unholy trinity that opposes it at every spit second and in ever square inch of your existence—the world, the devil and the flesh. Whatever is tainted by sin will stand in rebellion against what God demands. That is why you and I struggle with it. The evil one craftily lures us away from it, our culture deceive us into thinking it offers something far better and more satisfying, and our own desires entertain deceitful thoughts of finding success, satisfaction and significance in our own way instead of God’s. Following God is simple, but for those reasons, not easy.

Yet, again, it is quite simple. God says do this and you will bring glory to me and I will release goodness to you. Fear me, obey me, love me, serve me, and follow my laws—do this wholeheartedly and I will release my full goodness to you. By the way, any one of those—fear, obedience, love, service, and following—define the other. In other words, if you want to know what fear is, it is obeying, loving, serving and following God wholeheartedly. What is love? It is fearing, obeying, serving and following God wholeheartedly. You get the point!

But wait, there’s more. The proof of your wholehearted love for God (or fear, service, or followership) is in the pudding of how you actually live your life. God goes on to say that this is not just a theological calling of fear/obey/love/serve for your private worship, this is a relational calling that is for your public life. For love of God is to be fleshed out among those people you know, and even the ones you don’t know. It is to be exemplified especially among those the community would tend to marginalize—the least of these, as Jesus would call them. The gracious and merciful love that God extended to you is to be extended in the same way through you to the most vulnerable—orphans, widows and immigrants:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

So at this point a really tough question needs to be asked of you: What are you doing for orphans, widows and immigrants? Not “what do you think” (and even there, some of us need to really think through our theology on this in light of current political philosophy on education, welfare and immigration), but what are you actually doing to defend, embrace, feed and clothe the orphans, widows and immigrants among you? Defend, embrace, feed and clothe—God’s commands, not mine.

Why should you care about that? Well, that is what God has graciously and mercifully done for you—defend, embrace, feed and clothe—so you better get with it and somehow involve yourself in the very same actions toward the least of these! Seriously, the proof of your fear of the Lord, obedience to his Word, love for God, service unto him and discipleship is in the pudding of how you treat, or don’t treat, orphans, widows and immigrants.

Don’t like what I am saying? Don’t get upset with me—take it up with God. Or go do something about it. (If you need ideas, check this out: http://petrosnetwork.org ) As John Bunyan said,

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

Going Deeper With God: Read and reflect deeply and personally on these verses: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

The Death Penalty and God’s Mercy

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin. But praise the Lord, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer our capital punishment. He took the punishment that fit our crime.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 24:17-22

Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death. Anyone who kills another person’s animal must pay for it in full—a live animal for the animal that was killed. Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind. Whoever kills an animal must pay for it in full, but whoever kills another person must be put to death. This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

Perhaps Leviticus 24 would be an appropriate time for me to do a devotional on the death penalty—although you might consider the juxtaposition of “death penalty” and “devotional” a bit of an oxymoron—but that is not what I think this section of scripture is primarily about. More on that in a moment.

But let me just say that any believer who holds a high view of Scripture (which every believer should, by the way) who offers a glib argument either for or against capital punishment probably needs to carefully and empathetically read, re-read and prayerfully reflect on the seriousness of this account. Mostly, Leviticus is didactic—God is instructing his people on how to live in holiness. This chapter, however, includes one of the few narratives in Leviticus—it tells a real story of a real human situation. And while I won’t get into it here, grasping the context of this drama is necessary to reaching any conclusions about the death penalty from Leviticus 24.

The death penalty, whether you are for it or against it—involves real human tragedy and is connected to human suffering at its most painful. Someone did something so heinous to another human being that it required death at the hands of the state. And someone was victimized so terribly that it will forever mark his or her life. And two families were forced into a trauma they didn’t ask for and for which they cannot simply “take an aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.” This will be with them forever. And in this case, the witnesses to the crime actually had to lay hands on the guilty party’s head—there was no anonymous tip line here—and representatives of the witnessing community had to actually throw the stones that crushed the man’s skull. This was tragic as well as gruesome.

The death penalty might be easy to debate academically, but the reality of taking another person’s life as punishment, rightly or wrongly, will turn the stomach of any person with normal human empathy. Not that I am recommending this, but if you don’t believe me, watch one of the many videos that are now a part of our online living that shows a Middle Eastern stoning for adultery or some other crime. But I want to give you fair warning: it is not pretty and it will turn your stomach in a way that will affect you for a long time.

And one more thing about this chapter as it relates to any death penalty argument: God commanded it! This was not just a human construct; it originated with the Almighty. There is no getting around that. Something so egregious to a holy God took place that the Lord himself issued the death warrant.

Now, does that amount to God’s tacit approval for capital punishment in today’s society? Maybe—he did order it, after all. But maybe not, because we don’t execute every punishment that God ordered against sin in Old Testament in our current culture. We don’t stone adulterers today, nor do we execute those who blaspheme their parents, do we? My point is, using this chapter to argue a pro death penalty position will be fraught with inconsistencies. So take care.

Let me offer this broader insight into what is going on here by quoting from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

The stoning of the blasphemer is taken as the occasion for the summation of the principles of justice. Here again the principle of lex talionis or retaliation is stated as a form of justice. The principle similarly appears in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21. Christ quoted the law in Matthew 5:38-42 and seems to have opposed it, though he was actually not contradicting the OT but was denouncing the Pharisaic use of these verses to justify personal revenge. It is another question whether this law was taken literally or is an emphatic statement of the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. If a man killed a beast, his own beast was not killed (Leviticus 24:21). There is no example in the OT of a judge exacting literally an eye for an eye. The usual penalties of Hebrew law were capital punishment for a limited number of serious offenses and fines and restitution for the remainder. There were no prisons in the early days, and none is mentioned in the Pentateuchal legislation. Apparently we have here an emphatic legal idiom meaning that the punishment must be commensurate with the offense.

The larger point to this tragic human story is that God cares deeply about justice—both in his spiritual family and in the family of mankind. This law established here, referred to as lex talionis, is foundational to the principle of justice that govern our civilized world, and that is simply this: the penalty must fit the crime. If there is too much or if there is too little by way of punishment, the state, which is God’s instrument of justice (see Romans 6:3-5) is guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice.

So here is where the devotional gets wrung out of a death penalty discussion: God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin, don’t we? But praise the Lord, in the greatest act of loving kindness and mercy ever seen, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer the capital punishment you and I justly deserved.

That truly is the mercy and grace and the indescribable love of a just God at its most stunning! Jesus paid a debt he did not owe for a debt we could not pay. And I don’t say this lightly, but for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

Going Deeper With God: Offer up a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God that he commuted your death sentences.

Sexually Distinct

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people’s obedience with abundance.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 18:1-6

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God.  If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. You must never have sexual relations with a close relative, for I am the Lord.

Like the title of today’s devotional? I thought that would get your attention. But basically, that is what God is saying to the Israelites in this chapter: I want you to be sexually pure, unlike the nation from which you came (“where you used to live”), and the nations where you are headed (“where I am taking you”). Do not be like them (“You must not imitate their way of life”). Do not adapt their anything-goes approach to sexual fulfillment nor get enticed into their sexual lifestyles (“You must never have sexual relations with…”), it is a deathtrap—literally (“If you obey…you will find life”).

The chapter then lists out specifically the kinds of sexual practices that were verboten. Now they didn’t need God to spell that out for them—they knew! We know too. We know, instinctively, what is right and what is wrong in terms of sexual activity. The Israelites did as well. Yet people are people, in any age, and they will shoot back with, “Yeah, but what about this? Is this okay? Can I do such and such?” Why do we do that? Because we are guilty of searching for the outer banks of morality so we can push as close to edge of permissibility as possible without pushing on past it. The problem with that type of mentality is that when we push to the limit of pre-sinfulness, it is practically a given that we will become, sooner or later, pro-sin.

Proverbs 6:27 rhetorically asks, “Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?” No. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

So in this case, God says, “I’m going to pre-empt your foolish questions and tell you exactly what kinds of sexual relationships and practices you are not to commit.” And boy does he! He spells out in living color the boundaries that we are not to cross, no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

As you read though Leviticus 18, you come away with a clear list of sexual “thou shalt not’s”. But what are the “thou shalts” of God-honoring sexuality? I have been told that when U.S. treasury agents are trained to spot counterfeit money, they don’t spend their time looking at phony bills. They become so familiar with the real deal that it becomes easy to spot the fake. In the case of human sexuality, I think perhaps it’s is just as critical for us to study the real deal of God’s design and become so familiar with it that we don’t need to dwell on the “is this okay, is that not okay?” approach to morality.

And I think I can put this very succinctly: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage. Now read deliberately and think clear about every single word in that statement: man, woman, husband, wife, within, loving, serving, bonds, marriage.

Our culture will call that outdated, restrictive, counterproductive to pleasure, ignorant and hateful toward certain groups. That is too bad, because the designer of human sexuality says it’s the only way to a blessable life.

Now that is what culture will say—and we should never be surprised that they would label us a weird and dangerous for holding to those views. But the major theme of this chapter is that as believers, God wants us to be different from the culture around us, and even in our sexuality, he wants us to stand out as belonging to him.

Have you ever thought of sexuality that way? Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people with the abundant life.

In your sexuality, God wants you to stand out for your moral purity. So don’t blend in and he will bless you!

Going Deeper With God: Take some time to very carefully and deliberately meditate on the statement: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage.