Heaping Burning Coals on Their Heads

Today I want to look at a strange verse in Romans. It goes like this:

Romans 12:19-21

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thristy, give them somethign to drink; for by doing this your wil heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These verses were very peculiar to me in my youth. A strange mixture of emotions. Both call to love enemies and also an affirmation that we do indeed hate our enemies and have a desire for them to suffer. There even seems to be a moment of gleeful and narrow-eyed satisfaction as your enemy is overcome by anger at the very thought of you doing something nice for them!

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I have heard this passage become a method of revenge instead of a path towards reconciliation. I’ve even used it as such in my early pastoral years. There should be satisfaction when the two warring parties are brought together, but this passage seems to encourage bringing the other to a point of burning rage. A victory in the public relations realm. They come off looking bad, and you come off looking like a hero, rising above their petty sinfulness.

The Christian, then, can walk away with everything: both the piety that comes with righteousness and the smug comfort of revenge. But deep inside we know that this can’t be Christlike. What kind of God would take pleasure in the shaming and seething bitterness that others might carry for us?

It seems to be promoting exactly what modern psychology warns against being driven by, “I’ll show them” instead of “I’ll make things right with them.” The former being an unhealthy pattern of behavior that leads ultimately to failure, and the latter being healthy and life-giving.

One piece that we are missing in our interpretation of this passage is the simple picture that a first-century reader might have in their minds as they read about “heaping burning coals” atop the heads of their enemies.

So where do we begin to interpret this passage? Simple, we always start by trying to understand the mindset of the writer before we do any actual interpreting at all!

Paul is quoting a Proverbs possibly written a thousand years before the time in which he lived. It is found in Proverbs 25:21-22

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you. 

This was a time when Israel was likely still carrying with them the imagery of Egypt, from where they came. After generations of slavery, the symbols and patterns of Egyptian temple worship worked their way into the language, the worship rituals, and the spiritual writings of the people of Israel. And some of these ideas stuck with them all the way into the time of the New Testament.

The picture of “burning coals atop the head” actually finds its origins in the ancient Egyptian repentance ritual (J.D.G. Dunn, 1998). In those days in Egypt, someone who wanted to make amends with someone else would carry coals of fire in a dish on their head as evidence of genuine repentance. It was the emotional act of someone who wanted to be forgiven for the wrong they had committed.

In this scenario, the person with the coals on their head is not angry, they are not bitter or envious or you, and they are certainly not wallowing in shame.

This text is meant to be taken in a positive sense, not a negative one. Any idea that the other should be shamed falls out of line with the love and grace of the previous paragraph that is firmly rooted in Jesus teachings in the sermon on the mount.

This passage is a call to love and to genuinely seek the flourishing of those who would desire to harm us. The love that flows from the heart of God is the only thing that can genuinely seep into their hardened shell and bring them to a place of repentance. It is a proclamation of hope for all those who simply cannot find peace with another. Paul is saying “it can be done, commit yourself to love and hold out hope that one day they will come walking towards you in a public act of repentance, seeking your forgiveness and embracing you as a friend!”

Loving and serving your enemy is not some psychological form of revenge. It is not meant to piously raise you up above them in order to “win.” These types of interpretations allow the hate within us to remain and even to grow.

The point of humbling ourselves to meet the needs of our neighbor is to bring them to a place of softening and eventually repentance. The desire of Christ is always reconciliation. Paul understood it as an expression of outgoing love seeking only good for the enemy, and this is how we should see it as well.

How to Use a Commentary: 4 ways to get the most out of your daily study.

FYI: Skip to the bottom for my list of recommendations

Reading a commentary while you study the scriptures is the best way to ensure that you are correctly interpreting the text. There is no shortage of people, even pastors, interpreting and teaching the Bible without any help from biblical scholars who have devoted their lives to helping you better understand the text and interpret it the way that it was meant to be interpreted.

First off, you might be asking “what is a commentary?”. Well, it is a book (usually pretty large) that is written about a single book of the Old or New Testament. They move chapter by chapter and verse by verse through the text and are often times the culmination of years of arduous and intense scholarly work. It’s like having an expert in biblical interpretation walking you through the text, pointing out things that you might never have seen.

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A good commentary will equip you with the tools that you need to read the text in a way that is well-informed and even life-changing. When the text is rightly interpreted, it can make you a more loving and content person and a blessing to those around you. When it is misunderstood and the meaning is simply guessed at or even twisted to fit our own agenda, the Bible can easily become a dangerous book that can bring out tribalism and even promote idolatry that hurts the world at large.

So as an avid commentary reader and one who has made a daily habit of expanding my Biblical literacy, I wanted to write some advice to put you the path to well-informed biblical interpretation. My hope is that you will eventually come to stand on your own and not rely on the interpretive skills of others, even more so, I want you to be able to spot bad interpretation in a sermon, a small group, or in the media. Too often we say to ourselves “that doesn’t sound right,” but we simply don’t know why. Well, read these tips, grab a cup of coffee, and start interpreting.

#1 Choose a commentary from the last 25 years.

While certain long-established segments of Christianity tend to read commentaries from the 19th century, and all the way back to the medieval time period, I would recommend reading something much newer. Biblical scholarship has made huge strides in the recent half-century. With the translation of recent archeological finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Naag Hamadi Codices, many things have changed:
– Our understanding of Judaism in the first century has been vastly altered, which affects how we read books like Romans and Ephesians.
– Our understanding of the Greek language has been greatly expanded. And with a deeper understanding of casual greek, many words have taken on more complex meanings.
– This is just the tip of the iceberg here, there are so many things that historians and archeologist have brought to the table, and this work is still being done, so try and keep up!

Despite what you have heard, biblical scholarship and how we understand the work of God and the church really does change with the academic work and scholarship of every generation. It interacts with the sciences like linguistics and archeology, and it comes to new conclusions about how different texts should be read and understood. Newer commentaries will be interacting with both the theology of the past and the newer discoveries of the day.

#2 Ignore the Words in Parenthesis (at least for now).

Some people start reading commentaries, but they get confused and discouraged by the constant parenthetical text. For instance, you might be reading Craig Keener’s commentary on Matthew 11 and suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, see something like this:

(Jos. Life 66; Theissen 1991:36).

This can get confusing because you might worry that you are missing something. Don’t worry, you aren’t. In fact, go ahead and assume that if you don’t know what it is, then it’s not for you.

But here’s a quick crash course anyways: The first part (Jos. Life 66) is letting you know that he learned what he just wrote from Josephus’ book The Life of Flavius Josephus, page 66. The other part (Theissen 1991:36) is simply referencing a scholar named Theissen’s writing on this passage from 1991, (called, The Gospel in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition) page 36.

Remember, you are not missing anything. Don’t feel like you are stepping into the middle of a conversation. If there was something important to know, it would be written in the text.

In time, you will learn to move right on by without even noticing them. And if you keep reading, one day you will see a reference to a scholar that you’ve already read in those parentheses, and you will suddenly say to yourself “I’ve read that scholar!”. It’s a great feeling!

#3 Don’t get bogged down in the details.

Most commentaries start with an introduction to the passage, then they move to a verse-by-verse analysis, then they end with a summary and some thoughts. The introduction and summary are often the most important parts. That is where the scholar is bringing it all together.

The middle verse-by-verse will often be difficult to read. It will contain ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and will talk about how those words were used in their day. It will also often times take part in a debate with the commentaries that were written before them; some ideas from different scholars will be challenged, and others will be given more argumentative support. It is okay to skip these parts if they are arduous and boring for you and move to the meat of the applicable material.

#4 There is no Rush!

For some reason, many Christians are in a hurry to get somewhere, and their study habits tend to reflect that. They typically want to study large swaths of scripture in short periods of time. But the reason I love commentaries is that it forces you to slow down and take in the scenery of each paragraph. Walking slowly through the text and resisting the urge to rush through is a spiritual discipline that yields a ton of fruit.

So if you find yourself considering picking up a commentary (I highly recommend that you do!) Here are a few on my current commentary reading list on the book of Matthew which is what we are studying in the church where I minister (Watermark Tampa).

Craig Keener:
The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
(Thorough and contextual, but a bit pricey)

Donald A. Hagner: Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 33a, Matthew 1-13
(Very affordable, more scholastic. Focus on the Intro’s and Summaries of each passage)

Leander Keck: The New Interpreter’s Bible: Matthew – Mark (Volume 8)
(Well rounded and accessible, I would recommend this for a wide range of people)

Rodney Reeves: Matthew (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
(A personal Favorite. Very easy to read!)

N.T. Wright: Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15
(Great for Beginners)

William Barclay: The Gospel of Matthew Volume I (The New Daily Study Bible)
(Inexpensive, super easy to read, can be used as a daily reader.)

Brian K Blount: True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary
(Covers entire New Testament in small bites from an African American Perspective)

 

Bruce Malina: Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels
(Covers entire New Testament, fascinating social study of 1st century Culture, not theologically focused)

 

Law, Humanity, and Matthew 12.

The Pharisees were absolutely committed to the law. In 1 Maccabees 2:35-8, we see just how far they would actually go. Under Judas Maccabaeus, they refused to fight on the Sabbath against Antiochus when he sent a detail of men to slaughter them in the caves in the wilderness.

“Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.” 38 So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand persons. 

Fast forward to Matthew 12:9-14, which ends with the Pharisees (the religious elite) planning to kill Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus was indeed in violation of the law.

 he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. 

It was permitted that a man could receive medical treatment to keep him from getting worse on the Sabbath, but he could not be made better. You could apply a bandage, but no ointment or salve. The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death (Numbers 15:32-36).

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Let us be clear, Jesus did not need to heal that man on the Sabbath. His hand was paralyzed and likely had been so for many years. He would be just as sick tomorrow. Jesus could have easily kept the law and healed the man. But in the eyes of Jesus, any law that kept someone from being made whole, any law that kept someone in suffering or extended their pain even for one day was to be ignored. Healing, love, and care always came first.

The dichotomy is clear:
Pharisees would rather see death than see the law broken.
Jesus would rather die under the weight of the law than allow another to suffer needlessly.

 

Recommended Reading:
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Does Marrying a Divorced Person Really Make You an Adulterer? A Contextual Re-examination of Matthew 5

        Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 5 has been used by the evangelical church at large as a sort of guide for the Christian ethic of divorce. Many teach that Jesus’ teaching is that divorce is only acceptable in cases of adultery, forcing many to stay in abusive relationships and others to suffer in strife for decades, out of a desire to be obedient to the teachings of Christ. It is also understood that Jesus forbids marrying some one who has been divorce, banishing those who have suffered a divorce to a life lived alone.

        But is this really what Jesus was teaching his followers? Are victims of abuse forced to stay in the marriage because of a lack of sexual immorality? Are divorcees really forbidden from marriage again? I would argue that this is not the case at all and I am going to attempt to lay out an argument form scripture that points to a different conclusion, but one that I believe is in line with the intention that Jesus had in his teachings on divorce.

       We will start with and focus mostly on Matthew 5, but will also look briefly at other NT passages as well, including Matthew 19 and Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 7:15.

Matthew 5:31-32
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

The Setting of the text

        These two verses sit within a segment of the Sermon on the Mount centered on what it truly means to “fulfill the law.” At its center the “Sermon on the Mount” insists that the motive with which we act matters even more-so than the action itself (This is the righteousness which surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus talks about in Mt 5:20. It is not mere obedience in the flesh, but acting from a heart of love). Jesus seems to be focusing in on laws which have been perverted from their original intent, and we shall see that Christ’s teachings on divorce are a prime example of this.

Jesus begins with the proclamation: “It has been said.” He then quotes a passage from the Torah (Deut 24:1-4):

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.”

        This passage explicitly lays out the rules to divorce for the Israelites in the ancient world. It lists the commands that a woman should receive a certificate of divorce from her husband as a legal means of dissolving or annulling the marriage contract. To better understand the necessity of this law and its relationship Matthew 5:31-32, we must first take a look at the context in which Deuteronomy 24 was written.

Marriage and Divorce in the Ancient World

        The ancient world was patriarchal. Women were a commodity, not considered equal with men and were entirely at the disposal of their husbands and fathers. Women could neither initiate marriage nor divorce. Marriage was initiated by a man, usually the woman’s father, and the betrothal was often was motivated by financial reasons (i.e. the financial strengthening of one house by joining it to another). Divorce was easy and swift. “A woman,” said the Rabbinic law, “may be divorced with or without her will; but a man only with his will.” A divorced woman was considered undesirable and would often be left with no resources and no one to care for her. J. Goldingay, writes: “When a husband initiates a divorce, it leaves the woman in an ambiguous position. Her rights need protecting.”

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        This need for protection is likely the reason for the command that husbands are to write a certificate of divorce for the women they were divorcing. The Torah assumes that divorce in a society is inevitable and therefore the “certificate of divorce” law seeks the minimization of suffering for the woman being divorced by offering protection for her. The certificate of divorce removes her shame and makes clear that she is not an adulteress, while also offering legal protection from her husbands family. And, according to Goldingay, “The assumption that her husband provides her with divorce papers making clear her status is one way the Torah seeks to offer that protection.”

        Jesus emphasized this point in Matthew 19 when the pharisees approached and asked him if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife “for any reason.” Jesus’ reply enlightens the reader about the intentions of the law:

“Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard’.”

        Jesus claims that the need for the instructions for divorce in the Torah arise from a hardness of heart and a lack of compassion for the women who were being discarded without legal protection and without a hope of finding stability in their lives again. Women abandoned in this manner regularly ended up as sex workers and prostitutes just to survive. David Instone-Brewer, writing about divorce women in the first century, claims that “Unless you have grown sons who are strong enough to work the land (without the help of tractors and weed killer), you have very few choices. There are few professions for women.”

        In light of the context of this passage, both the necessity for and the justice of the commands in Deuteronomy 24 become apparent. Divorced women needed protection, and this law gave it to them.

        But if the law as written is already concerned for justice, why is Jesus amending it? Why does he include it in his “you have heard it said” statements, and then proceed to correct it and even go into more in-depth detail than the Mosaic law? The surprising answer to that question becomes apparent in light of a broader conversation that was happening in the 1st century and a conversation into which Jesus enters, and even takes sides. It was a debate about the ethics of divorce.

Divorce in the Second Temple period (530-70CE)

        There were several schools of Jewish law in the 1st century, and at the two opposite ends of the spectrum there was the school of Hillel, which was considered far more liberal and generous in practice, and there was the school of Shammai, the more stringent and conservative school. At the center of Hillel focus after loving God was loving your neighbor as yourself. Hillel likely played more “fast-and-loose” with the Torah than any other school in its day. The Shammai were the exact opposite. They were strict and austere, they followed the law to the very letter and even built a hedge of laws around the most important laws to ensure that none were broken.

        Until just before the first century, there was an almost universal understanding of how to interpret the divorce commands in Deuteronomy 24, simply put: divorce was only permitted in instances of sexual immorality. So the limits that Moses had places upon divorce were observed and followed.

        Leading up to the time of Christ, and during his own lifetime, other views had begun to emerge concerning the ethics of divorce and alternate interpretations of Deuteronomy 24. The disagreement was mainly between the two schools. It started just a few decades before Jesus, and it was centered around Hillel’s new interpretation of what verse 1 meant when it said; “if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her….” His new view of divorce was called the “Any Cause” divorce. The phrase comes from his reading of verse 1 as a man divorcing his wife “because he has found a cause of sexual immorality.” He concluded that due to the spurious use of the word “cause”, this must be referring to something other than sexual immorality that was equally grounds for divorce.

        The followers of Hillel began teaching that a woman could be divorced for any reason whatsoever, basically overturning the exact reasoning behind the original Mosaic law. They had found a loophole, and it would begin to be exploited to extreme degrees. Keener notes, “The School of Hillel understood the passage to mean that a man could divorce his wife for any cause, even burning his toast (“any matter”-m. Gittin 9:10; Sipre Deut. 269.1.1).” Hillel believed that as long as a man gave his wife a certificate of divorce, then he wasn’t breaking the Mosaic law.

        As was his way, Hillel had found a way to apply the scriptures liberally, except this time it was to great harm. Women began to be thrown out and divorced for any and every reason that the men found cause, and many women found themselves without protection, honor, and provisions for their daily life. And many of them ended found themselves entering into sex work and became as adulterers.

        This new view, however, was not accepted by the disciples of Shammai. According to Instone-Brewer, Shammai claims that Hillel “had interpreted the Scriptures wrongly and that the whole phrase ‘a cause of sexual immorality’ meant nothing more than the ground of sexual immorality; it did not mean two grounds: sexual immorality, and ‘Any Cause’.” The followers of Shammai, in their attempt to follow the strict letter of the law, also maintain the integrity of this law. Divorce, to them, is only justified on the grounds of sexual immorality.

Hearing Jesus’ answer anew.

        When Jesus says : “You have heard it said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce’” he was stepping into the middle of a 1st-century debate on the interpretation of the law of Moses, the Torah. He does so boldly and unafraid of the consequences. Interestingly, he also is unafraid to take the side against those whom he was accustomed to siding with. Jesus answer is clear and precise, with no ambiguity: “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

        Several times throughout scriptures Jesus has sided with Hillel on various issues (The Golden Rule, the welcoming of non-Jewish people, castigating pharisees for apparent excessive legalism, etc.) seemingly because he emphasized grace and love over the law. But here, he sides with Shammai. Jesus bravely rises above earthly categories and insists instead on love and justice. Jesus says that the man who divorces his wife in this way makes her a victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” In other words: A man who casts out a woman unmercifully because he has decided that his vows before God no longer matter is making an adulteress out of her. She is doomed for the streets, the slums, and the sex trade. For no man in that day would take in a woman who bares that kind of shame and who has been thrown out because she now bares the shame of an adulteress. Few men would take her shame upon himself.

Jesus’ answer is Mercy, not condemnation

        Many have read this passage as nothing more than a command for Christians to follow regarding divorce. They have understood it to mean simply:

“If there is infidelity, you may divorce. But you may never marry again. Also, do not marry another who has been divorced. Both offenses are equal to adultery!”

        But, as we have seen, that was not the intention with which Jesus entered into this ancient discussion about the law. Jesus was confronting the injustice of selfish men who were taking advantage of women, using them, having their way with them, and then abandoning them through simple “any cause” divorce.

        Jesus was not calling divorced women “adulteresses,” and he was not calling the men who married them “adulterers”. He was confronting the systemic evil that was being taught and perpetuated by the religious leaders of his day. He was righting the wrongs of “any cause” divorce in his day.

        This is further reinforced when we look at other places in the New Testament where divorce is permitted for different reasons. The Apostle Paul, for instance, allows for divorce in the event that someone cannot find peace in their marriage (1 Cor 7:15) because of being married to a non-believer (“The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace”). Paul obviously permits divorce in instances other than infidelity alone. He cites intense strife (i.e. lack of peace) as a plausible motive to dissolve a marriage. So if Jesus only allows for divorce in cases of infidelity, then we have pitted Paul against Jesus, and that ought not be. 

         If we as followers of Jesus are to find an ethic of divorce that is consistent with not only  Matthew 5 but also Matthew 19, Deuteronomy 24, and 1 Corinthians 7, then we must enter into the context of Christ’s own day. We must look to the evils that he was speaking against, namely the abuses of patriarchy that the religious leaders perpetuated and encouraged, as the objects of condemnation. We must also identify and confront any lack of compassion for women, and any a hardness of heart that would allow a man to throw away his wife, thereby bringing shame and suffering upon her. We must also confront these issues in our own day, and join those standing against them.

Conclusion

        I have met many pastors who refuse to perform the wedding ceremony of one who has been divorced, and I know that many (if not most) evangelical denominations do not allow their pastors to perform ceremonies for divorce people, and even the denomination in which I am ordained forbids it. I believe this is a poor and uninformed decision that is not based upon a firm grasp of the ancient scriptures. They are ignoring the context in which Jesus spoke these words and are likely hurting or even shaming those who have already suffered great pain and are trying to start again. The ethic of Jesus sermon on the mount is centered on love, restoration and giving hope to the hopeless. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ fully displays that nothing and no one is too far gone. Re-marriage can be a life-giving picture of resurrection and both the pastor and the church have a crucial part to play in that re-birth.

        When the church at large condemns one who pursues a divorce for reasons other than “infidelity”, when they pile shame on top of suffering, and when they castigate someone for not sticking the abuse out and waiting for God to intervene, they are missing the point of Jesus teachings.

        While divorce is always a tragedy, the writers of Deuteronomy didn’t ignore it’s realities. Instead, they sought to minimize the damage that it causes to the most vulnerable party. I need not present an exhaustive list of acceptable reasons for divorce, but abuse (either physical or emotional) is certainly one of them.

        Jesus did indeed give us a law and a rule concerning divorce and remarriage, and they do not include condemnation or shunning. The law is grace, the rule is love and the goal is restoration.

For more info, please see the books below, especially Instone-Brewer.

Bibliography

 The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Barclay, William. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. 3rd ed. edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Wright, Tom. Matthew, Part 1: Chapters 1-15. 2 edition. London : Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. (pg 41)

Keener, Craig S. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm.B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1999.

 Barclay, William. 1: The Gospel of Matthew Volume I. Revised, Updated edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. (pp. 174-175)

 Goldingay, John. Numbers and Deuteronomy. Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition. (p. 177)

 Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities. 2007 or Later Printing edition. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2006.

Life Under the Roman Empire in the 1st Century

 

This essay on the first century is meant to provide a simple surface level overview of the context in which the New Testament was written. It’s not riveting, and it wasn’t meant to be. But I believe it is incredibly important to understand that Jesus and the early Christians lived and wrote in a very different world form our own, and our understanding of scriptures will change based upon our understanding of its context.


The Cultural Background of the New Testament:
Life Under the Roman Empire in the 1st Century


The Roman household was highly patriarchal and centered, not around blood relatives, but a cooperation of men and women brought together under the authority of one man called the “paterfamilias”. He was the father of the unit called a “
familia”. He held ultimate power in the house and could buy, sell or even kill his slaves. Everyone in the familia worked for the good of the paterfamilias and their own success in life was dependent upon his own.

Children were expected to display unconditional obedience at all times. Children were governed by the Roman family law patriapotesta or “power of the father,” which gave him absolute power to punish as he liked, to put them in chains, to sell them into slavery or kill them in their youth*. Children were to honor their fathers as one would honor a god. Fathers were strict as an expression of love, and mothers were to be more sensitive and nurturing**.

Marriages were arranged, and women were commonly married in their teens and were usually married to much older men. The woman was considered the property of her father and ownership passed from the father to the husband upon being wed, a custom that was rooted in the Roman Patria potesta. Marriages were usually economically motivated, and contracts were drawn up beforehand which dealt with financial issues such as inheritance***. 

For the Roman citizen, honor was held in high regard above all else, and it was defended at any cost, even his very life. The accumulation of honor meant the furthering of your career and stature among your peers. The Paterfamilias’ honor was held in high regard by the entire familia and they all worked to maintain the honor of their leader. Being challenged by a subordinate was a challenge to your very honor, and brought great shame. A man would feel a great responsibility to recover honor that was lost or shame that had come upon them.

Patriotism was also held in incredibly high regard amongst the Romans, especially for those in the service of the Empire like an official, a governor, or a soldier.  A Roman who was loyal to the Emperor was called “amicus” to them and was considered trustworthy. Friends of Rome, or “Amici Populi Romani,” were people or states who had loyalty to the Emperor. And any who were not regarded as friends of the Empire could not advance in status and would find their career in jeopardy. Even the rumor of disloyalty would be devastating.

Roman life centered around the cities and the Empire went to great lengths to encourage urban life. Large amounts of money were spent on public plays, feasts, and on arenas where the people could be entertained by violent gladiator matches, all in the pursuit of keeping the Roman citizens happy.

Citizens of Rome were entitled specific rights that slaves, resident aliens, and Jews were not. Citizens could vote and appeal to Caesar when they felt they were being mistreated. Moreover, they were exempt from certain types punishments that were considered humiliating and thus beneath that of a citizen of Rome (like crucifixion)*4. 

The Jews in the first century were under the occupation of Rome. They were monotheistic and worshiped their ancient God, Yahweh, rejecting the pantheon of gods of the Gentile world. Idolatry was a great offense to the Jews and they considered any sculpted images, whether of deities or natural beings, to be idols. The Gentiles were quite fond of art, especially sculptures, and decorated their cities with the statues and paintings of, not only created things, but also the divine beings whom they worshiped. The presence of Gentile craven images in Jewish cities was a source of great friction between them.

While there were Jews in the diaspora who had learned to live quite comfortably under the empire, most lived in Jewish communities that made concerted efforts to separate themselves from their barbarian counterparts. They did not take part in Roman life. They did not wear the same clothes, shave their beards, worship Roman gods, or enter into Roman houses. Doing so would make them “unclean,” meaning that they could not continue with their usual worship habits until they were ritually cleansed again, according to their Mosaic laws. 

The Jews believe that the Romans were making their cities unclean just by living there and different sects of Judaism had different solutions for this problem. The Zealots concluded that the answer was to wage war against their occupiers, and would regularly commit assassinations by hiding daggers in their clothing and attacking individual soldiers and officials who were in large crowds in public spaces, slipping away in the chaos that ensued. Others, like the Sadducees, believed that they could partner with the empire and negotiate a better life under the umbrella of their safety. In Jesus day, they controlled the priesthood and most of the political affairs. They were more open to Hellenistic influence than most of the other sects*5. The Pharisees were vocal in their dissent of any Gentile occupation and sometimes resorted to outbursts of violence. They managed the synagogue life *6 and were the leaders of middle and lower class peasant Jews.  The Essenes, while holding views similar to those of the Pharisees, separated themselves altogether by moving into the wilderness to practice their religion unabated. Almost all believed that one day they would be free of their oppressors and would have their own nation where Yahweh would finally rule, the questions was whether to wage war themselves or wait for God to accomplish it.

Outside of those four main sects of 1st century Judaism was several smaller sects that are lesser known but do offer some significant to NT context. Among them are the Herodians who were supporters of the pro-Roman Herod dynasty*7, and the Am-ha-Eretz, or, “the people of the land” who were mostly poor farmers who were against Roman rule and supported the Pharisees. 

In addition to these sects, there was a group called the Samaritans, an off-shoot of the Jews who remained around Schechem when the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  They revised the Hebrew scriptures to argue their own place in Israel’s story and built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim that could be seen from Schechem. They were rejected by the Jewish leaders as discredited and there were significant hostilities between the two.

 

* Barclay, William. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. 3rd ed. edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. p. 202

** Burge, Gary. The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Context. Zondervan; unknown edition (February 2, 2009), n.d. p.91

*** Ibid. p.90

*4) Ibid. p.  87-88

*5) Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels. 3.2.2007 edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2007. p.131

*6) Ibid. p. 132

*7)  Ibid. p. 132

 

 

There are no Logos on Tombstones

When I was twenty two I had enough interest in God not to get myself into trouble, but not enough to understand what life is about. In your early twenties the world is ahead of you, the great accomplishments of your life are yet to be accomplished, your story could go anywhere.

Half way through your thirties you start to wake up, if you are lucky. You start to realize that you might actually be, at this moment, what you will ever be. Some  respond with divorce, some with faith crisis, some with apathy, some with nostalgia and attempting to prolong adolescence even longer.

But there are some who awaken to something altogether different. Some who understand what The Teacher, the author of Ecclesiastes is saying, and those who grasp the story of Jesus and the gospel awaken to something incredibly important. It is something that you will notice when you walk through any cemetery on earth. There are no logo’s on tombstones. There are no corporate symbols, company names, or government seals. No slogans, no church names, no non-profit kudos. And there will not be one on yours. What you find on tombstones is the description of those whom you loved, and who loved you. “Beloved Father”, “Beloved Daughter”, “Loved by all who knew them”… and so on.

My tombstone will not have the Watermark Logo on it. It will have the inscription that my loved ones put there.  People are more important than organizations and brands. People are eternal, organizations expand and dissipate and disappear like the morning fog. tombstone

In your early twenties you want favor in the eyes of people, you want favor in the eyes of God, and you want happiness. The problem is that you have been told that what you build with your hands is how you find meaning, purpose and favor, but it’s not. It is what you build with your heart.

King Solomon wrote:

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

At the heart of the gospel is a reminder that you are not the sum of your actions or deeds, yet most people’s lives do not reflect that. Love and faithfulness to God and others will give you everything that you are seeking from your accomplishments, but it will also bring you happiness and joy that can not be found anywhere else. We know, deep down, what matters, but we don’t live like we do.

Protect what matters. For those of you in your twenties, practice love and faithfulness. When you wake up in your thirties, forties, or fifties, you will have found what your heart was seeking, but you will have obtained it in a way that you never thought you could. And it will stay with you.

Evangelicalism’s Life or Death Moment

Euangelion. It is a simple word that means “good news”. It was, from the mouths of Jesus and his band of disciples, a message of hope. That God, through Jesus, is fixing everything that is broken and setting all things to rights again. Not through the power of earthly might, but by the cross.

In the 1960’s a group of prominent former fundamentalists resurrected a term (evangelicalism) that had been used to describe a movement in 19th century Great Britain that was centered around reforming an increasingly hopeless society by the simple act of teaching them what Jesus taught. Jesus message of reconciliation, grace, mercy, love and salvation coming through Jesus own life being poured out for us took root in the hearts of people and was instrumental in the healing of society in that nation. It was believed that the good news of Jesus could do the same here.

In the last 2 days I have received emails from family, friends, acquaintances, church members, and other pastors linking to videos of politicians, pastors, and various leaders, all evangelicals, and their message is the same: “Do not bring the refugees fleeing the middle east into our nation and our states”.

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In the last several decades evangelicalisms message has shifted from “good news for a hurting world” ever steadily towards “news”. And the news is not good.

The “news” is that we no longer believe that God is in control, we believe that we are.
We no longer believe in Jesus when he said:

“Do not be afraid”.

We no longer believe Peter when he said:

“the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment…”.

We now believe that when Jesus said:

“he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”

he meant “the righteous poor from our own country”.

We now believe that when Jesus said:

“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”

He really didn’t mean all captives, and he didn’t mean all who are oppressed.

And we think that when Jesus said:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

that none of it applies to us.

I hear Christians say “But they hate us”, which is exactly why Jesus said:

“for [the Most High] is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

The fact is that we are in danger of turning away tens of thousands of people who are actually homeless, actually starving, actually sick, literally outcasts, very very poor, extremely persecuted, utterly rejected and totally unwelcome in, not just their own country, but in almost every country in which they have sought asylum. Surely the people who, for decades, have claimed that we are a Christian nation built upon Christian values can remember what Jesus said about the poor, the immigrant, the starving, the naked the hungry and the persecuted. Surely the same evangelicals that spent millions of dollars to legislate morality understand the immoral act of locking the doors on these people when we have so much and they only have each other! Surely we understand the demand that our scriptures lay upon us to take in these people, to love them, to welcome them into our communities and our shelters.

Do we not understand the significance of God using the cross to bring salvation to a world that believed that it could only be done by the sword? Do we really think that our walls and our guns can save the world this time? If that is so, then evangelicals have traded their crosses back in for swords.

In case you haven’t noticed, millennials no longer trust evangelicals. Time after time the hypocrisies in our message have ensnared us and repelled them. For the most part, they have been rather gracious to us in all of our glaring faults, our conflicting messages, and the way that we have cozied up to the empire. But this will pull, whatever fragments of wool are left, away from their eyes. They will finally see what american Christianity has become: “Anti-Christ”.

If I may channel the ancient prophets for a moment, I would argue, as strongly as I can, that the fate of evangelicalism and the fate of the Syrian refugees are bound together. We will never recover from the decision to turn them away. Our sins will light up the sky. Our heartlessness will be our downfall. The lampstand will be removed and we will be sent into the exile of irrelevance until we are either replaced or until we are repentant and Jesus once again sits on His throne in the heart of the evangelical movement.

But if we have compassion, if we open our eyes to the opportunity that is laid out before us, to be the arms and eyes and hands and feet of our risen Lord, if we die to our old ways and repent, then resurrection awaits. These people need Jesus, and never before has the church had this kind of opportunity. Instead of going to them, they are coming to us!

If we respond in love it will be as Isaiah 11:16 describes Gods people coming back to Him: “There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt.” Isaiah is saying that every obstacle will be removed, and Gods people will come running to the temple to worship.

Is it risky? Is it a little scary? Is it a little dangerous? Of course, love is always risky, a little scary, and dangerous. No one knows this more than Jesus Himself, who’s love for you sent Him to the cross. But remember his words, over and over: “Do not be afraid.”

You Can’t Go Back

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You Can’t Go Back.

This morning I tried. I really did. I knocked on the door of the first place on this earth that I can remember being. At the end of a peaceful cul-de-sac, across the street from a park. The house felt smaller than I remember but I guess when you are ten years old everything seems huge. A young woman in her early twenties answered the door. I think she might have been high, either that or I woke her up. Either way, it is probably annoying to be interrupted in either of those situations.
“I’m sorry to bother you”, I said. “I grew up in this house and just wanted to take a couple pictures and didn’t want anyone to look outside and get creeped out”. She stared blankly. “Yeah, do your thing”, she replied. I backed away and turned to walk back out the the street, on my way I pointed at a huge tree in the middle of the yard, “my family planted that tree” I said over my shoulder as I glanced back at her. She looked at the tree, then back at me, then shut the door.
I took a few moments in the driveway to take it all in. The fire hydrant that used to be the base for my G.I. Joes. The grass spaces between ours and the neighbors driveway that I was so proud of jumping over on roller skates without falling. The basketball hoop that my dad and grandfather had erected that used to stand right at the edge of the driveway (now missing, but an obvious patch where it was taken down).
Somehow I expected it to seem much more magical than it actually was when I stood there. I mean, I haven’t stood here in 25 years. But here I was. And I remember everything. A flood of memories. I stand there for a couple more minutes and think to myself “So this is it, huh? Hmmm, wheres the magic?”.
I walk across the street to the park where I used to play little league games. Past the playground where I learned to be brave and climb. The field where I have memories that are as clear as day of my dad chasing me across the grass while I ran full speed with the football under my arm. Again, wheres the magic? A million more memories flooded my brain with every bench and hill and baseball backstop. But it wasn’t magical. It was just a park.
I learned today what I think everyone comes to learn in their adult years. It’s not the place. Its the people.
It was my childhood home, but my brothers weren’t there to pull me on my skateboard behind their bikes. My mom wasn’t there to yell “good job T!” everytime I climbed higher. My dad wasn’t there to cook burgers on the grill. Family, that is what made it magical. It isn’t the house, the field, the playground, or the yard. It was love. It was the human beings that shared it with me. Yes, the magic is gone away from this place, but it has not gone from my life, or even this world. It has gone to New York, and Indonesia, and Tampa. It has gone everywhere where the people who made it joyous have gone.
Many of you have fond memories of your life. The places, the people, the experiences. You might even have the urge to try and return. I want you to know that even if you did manage to return to the location, the house, or the city, the magic is not there.
The fondness that your soul has for certain memories and periods in your life will often times disguise itself as an affinity for a place or a time. Sometimes when we look back, we make the same mistakes that we so often make when we think about the future: we think fondly about a house we will buy, or a place we will live, or a thing we will do, and we think our pleasure will be there. It will not.
The truth is that the fondness that your soul has is for other souls. Family, friends, community, and God. We were created this way. The connections that we form is where the actual magic and joy deep within our souls resides.
My job is not to go back and try and enjoy those times again, it is to bring those times into the present. To do everything in my power to ensure that my children feel these same experiences. When I am old I want to hear them talk fondly about all of the amazing memories that they have with their father, mother, sister and brother, grandpa and grandma. I want them to, one day, go back to their childhood home (that they live in at this very moment) and to realize the full truth that what made this place great was not the toys or the basketball hoop or the parks, it was their Father and their Mother and the fact that we took every opportunity to enjoy their youth alongside of them.
Your job, parents, is not to give them a great childhood, it is first and foremost to enjoy them. To reflect back to them their joy and their pain and their laughter and their imagination. And to make sure that they understand that this is what God does for us. It started with the first man and woman, Gods first son and daughter, whom he dwelled with and enjoyed. And then he taught them to be fruitful and multiply that love and communion and enjoyment generation after generation for thousands and thousands of generations until this very day.
It is in the intrinsic things that life is found. Pour yourselves out for your children, your neighbors, and the world around you, and you will find true joyous life. You were created for this. Created by a God who does this for you every day.
You cannot go back. It wasn’t the time. It wasn’t the place. It wasn’t the activities.

It was love.

So may you look back and move forward, remembering and resurrecting Gods love. For generations to come.

P.S. – Its time to turn off your screen and be present. Starting now.

Fake Sunglasses are Bad for Your Soul.

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There has been much written and learned in the last decade about “wholeness”. The movement towards “whole” foods is gaining ground so quickly that the fast food industry, as well as companies like Monsanto that genetically modify natures seeds, are beginning to suffer. People are beginning to believe that things should be “one”. One thing. A seed should be seed, naturally and without modification. Meat should be meat, not a mixture of things that look like meat.

When something that we take into our body is “one” thing, studies have found that our body can use all of it, and not just some of it. Our bodies are able to heal faster, to repair damage that has been present for years, even decades. We also know that when something is “whole” we are not being deceived. We know what it is. We know that someone is not trying to trick us.

In the same way that whole food has positive effects on our bodies, much work has also been done to explore what happens to our mental and spiritual health when we do not practice a posture of “wholeness”.

Both Duke and Harvard University have done studies on the impact of what they call “Fake Adornments” on our ethics. The study was quite simple, but effective. A sampling of 500 women were given expensive Chloe sunglasses and 50% of them were told that the sunglasses were fakes, cheap knockoffs. The women were then asked to complete several complex mathematical equations that could never be realistically completed in the time allotted for them to be completed. They were told that they would be paid money for each math equation that they completed correctly. The payment, however, was based on the honor system. In other words, no one would be checking their work.

The study found that about 70% of those who believed that they were wearing fake sunglasses lied and stole money from the researchers by saying that they had completed the impossible equations correctly.

In other studies they also found that women who believed they were wearing knockoff sunglasses judged others more harshly than those who knew they were wearing the real deal. They were also more cynical, and viewed others in a much more negative way.

It turns out that when we fake it in life, when we pretend that we are something that we are not, it actually effects us at a deeply spiritual and moral level. We fake it to make ourselves feel better, more glamorous, more attractive, wealthier, cooler, more intellectual… but then we begin to feel like a phony and we become more cynical, more deceptive, and this negativity pushes outwards and begins to affect how we look at the world around us. We begin to think that everyone is lying and deceiving, but it is really just us. 

Christians often times talk about “Integrity”. Integrity comes from the word “integer”, which means one. It is a whole number. When we have integrity, it means that we are the same person, one person, all of the time. It is someone who is whole. They are not like the modified food, claiming to be one ingredient, but really made up of several different hidden things. The person who has integrity is one personOne ingredient. They are who they appear to be, and they are not trying to deceive you.

The soul desperately wants to be one person. Its desire is for the mind, body, and soul to be the same person. Most of us are not one person. And our souls know it.

We are married, but have eyes for other people, or another life.
We are poor, but weighted down with debt in order to appear wealthy.
We are doubting and skeptical, but pretend that we fully understand and believe.
We are addicts, but we pretend that we have it all under control.
We are one person, but we are two people.

The soul will not stand idly by and let you be two people. It wants a center. It will move you towards whatever person that you are nurturing. If you are nurturing your lustful thoughts, you soul will push you that direction. It will push you towards being a whole person, meaning an adulterer. You will eventually find yourself at the point where all you are lacking is a proper opportunity to fulfill the desires of your heart.

Oscar Wilde experienced this. he writes:

“I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.”

Peter wrote to the church on the run from Nero and he urged them not to let their guard down, not even against the little things. He knew that the little things actually have a pretty profound impact in the person that you are becoming. he says in 1 Peter 2:11:

“Beloved, I urge you … to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

The passions of the flesh.
Riches and images of success.
Fame and accolades.
Convincing people that we are something that we are not.
Fake sunglasses, fake prayers, fake chastity, fake you and fake me. THAT is what is warring against our souls.

We want to be one person to them, and yet be another to ourselves. We are feeding our souls spiritual fast food. It is not what it appears to be. It is bad for us, and we can feel it. It will kill our souls.

It is out of this double-mindedness that God gave us the church. The community of confession. Where we come, we sing, we worship, we listen, we hear, we repent, and we take communion. We ask the gospel to touch the innermost parts of us that we have kept hidden from it’s view.

We bring our fakeness and sin into the light and we say “Here it is. Here is my stuff. My lies and phoniness”. And we confess it, and we lay it down.

Strive for integrity. Become one person. Be whole. Even if that one whole person is not yet as good as he/she should be, he/she can still be whole by being honest. And that is the first step to your soul finding healing and growth.

Where Does Happiness Come From. Part 2

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This week I’m going to build off of what I wrote in my last post about finding true happiness in this world, and today I want to start with a passage from the Psalms.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures…

I have always loved this Psalm and it is has always been a favorite amongst Gods people since the day it was written. I have even written songs about this passage and we sing them regularly at the congregation that I pastor here in Tampa.  It is a passage that we read when we need provision, when we need God to intervene, and when we need a little bit of peace in a chaotic world.

But, like much of the scriptures, this passage has been divorced of it’s original context. And when we remove a piece of writing form it’s original time, place, and audience we tend to miss some incredibly important things that we desperately need to hear.

Usually when we think of this passage we picture big fat fluffy sheep grazing in a field lush with green grass up to their mouths. In fact, if you do a quick google search of Psalm 23, this is exactly what kinds of images are conjured up. As if the sheep barely need to even lower their heads because the grass is so thick and healthy that they can almost wander with their eyes closed and open their mouths and be fed.

But the reality of that passage in it’s original context was actually much different, and it should have a profound impact on the actual meaning of the text. The “green fields” that the sheep were supposedly wandering in did not actually exist like we have just described them here. In reality, they looked more like this:

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Not quite the same, I would say. The food that was available for the sheep was not really all that abundant. In the morning, as the sun was rising, the dew would settle on these tiny sprigs of grass, and they would soak up the dew like a sponge. They would indeed turn green, but only for a short time. By noon there would be a scorching wind coming in from the east that would cause the grass and it’s flowers and greenery to wither and fade.

Without a shepherd the sheep would never eat, because only the shepherd knew where to lead them to find the food that they need. The shepherd knew that at different times of the day there would be grasses good for eating in certain parts of the valley, and he would take great care to lead the sheep to exactly what they needed to eat at the exact time that they needed it.

Think about that for a second.

The shepherd didn’t lead them into a land of plenty where they never needed to think about food anymore. He didn’t lead them to a place where they had such abundance that they could relax and no longer worry about being fed for the rest of their days… that kind of place did not exist!

Instead, the shepherd would lead them to exactly what they needed, exactly when they needed it. It was their “daily bread”. It was not year by year, but moment by moment.

If the sheep wanted to live, they had to keep their eyes on the shepherd. In fact, to take their eyes off of the shepherd was the most dangerous thing they could do. And all first century nomadic peoples knew the context in which this passage was written. Peter, Paul and James all wrote about it. Here is what James said in chapter 1:

 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

That word for “scorching heat” is the Greek word “καύσων (kausōn)”, also called the simoon”. And it’s heat could killed a healthy man who did not take shelter under a tent, tree, or at least a turban.

So lets reevaluate how we are to read this text.

I know that we want God to lead us into a place where we are at perfect peace. Where there is plenty to feast upon and no lack of abundance. But that is never promised to us in this life. Instead, we are told that we have a shepherd that we can trust, who knows the way through the fires of life, who has gone ahead of us and calls us to follow Him. He knows the way. He is paving and has paved a way for us to be fed and nourished. A way for us to find peace. Not a storehouse of peace, but a fountain of it. Constantly flowing.

Peace is not abundant food or money or shelter… it is abundant trust and faith that, if we follow our shepherd, we will always be given exactly what we need when we need it.

In fact, it is when we receive too much abundance that we tend to fall into misery. When we have too much of a good thing, we find ourselves alone and heading towards destruction.

Pay attention to exactly what God said to the Israelites when he was about to lead them into abundance. He is not telling them that it will be what they need, instead He warns them that it of the dangers of it all. Read Deuteronomy 6:10

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers…with great and good cities that you did not build, 11and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12then take care lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of bondage…

It did not take long for them to forget about the God who fed them in the wilderness day after day. It did not take long for them to fall into idolatry. It wasn’t long before they found themselves back in bondage once again.

Usually it is when we have too much that we forget our shepherd. He becomes unnecessary. We find ourselves self sufficient, and so we isolate ourselves.

Sometimes the things that we are praying for, that things that we want, that things that we look at and say “If I only had THAT, then I would be HAPPY!”… THOSE are the thing that will be our undoing.

Sometimes the most loving thing that God could possibly do for us is to say “no, you don’t need that, and I will not be giving it to you”.

Sometimes the most loving thing that god can do is to give you just a little, right here, right now.

Sometimes when we are receiving all of the things that we always wanted, we should be terrified because perhaps we are actually being chastened and disciplined.

Happiness comes in the providence. It comes from posture of thankfulness.

Perhaps the best way to put it is in the lyrics of a beloved song from The Muppet Christmas Carol:

Yes, and every night will end
And every day will start
With a grateful prayer
And a thankful heart

So may you wake up tomorrow in want and need. Because only in the seeking and finding, day by day, do we really understand that love is real and that we have a shepherd and a guide who sees, who understands, and who is capable of granting salvation in every moment. Not just later, but NOW.