The Unimaginable

Today, I have the day off as a holiday offered to me by my employer to celebrate and remember Juneteenth. I honestly was not that familiar with the day, and had to look it up. It took a while for what this day was to sort of sink in, and when it did, I was crushed by the enormity of something I had missed for most of my life.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” – The beginning of General Order Number 3, read by Major General Gordon Granger at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

I honestly have no emotional or mental frame of reference to help me imagine what it is like for an entire human population to live in a country with this heritage. Consider it for a moment: Their ancestors were brought to this country by force, and made to work as slaves. That’s where their “American Heritage” begins. And once freed, you would think that the nightmare was over, but it simply morphed into a continual, institutionalized system of abuse, right up until today, and it continues.

I have no words for that. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up with that, live with that, raise children with this background. I simply can’t. All I can do is call out the demonic that drove such a heritage. It is a demonic power that drove people claiming a Jewish Savior to steal, kill, and destroy another fellow human population. And it continues.

In some ways, I perceive this power is not as strong as it was. In other ways, I perceive it is more insidious, and attempts to deceive both populations into stealing, killing, and destroying. What I can’t fathom is how a people so confident in their faith in Jesus could somehow wrap their heads and hearts around killing, stealing, and destroying people. It boggles my mind.

I would point out that this demonic drive was pervasive. It wasn’t just blacks brought from Africa, but the native peoples of North America as well. They have also been part of a continual, institutionalized system of abuse. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh, how I wish it would stop, but it doesn’t. I weep, my heart breaks, but it doesn’t stop there.

In the essay by Ronald Wells, “The War with Mexico” in The Wars of America, which he also edited, he quotes1 Gene M. Brack’s book, Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, as follows:

Over the years Mexicans had become increasingly aware that many Americans…looked upon Mexicans as inferior beings. This had frightening implications, for Americans had respect for neither the rights nor the culture of those whom they considered inferior. They had been merciless in their treatment of the Indian and had reduced blacks to a brutal form of servitude. Mexicans were perceptive enough to recognize that a similar fate threatened them should they fall under American domination.

Brack, Gene M. Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, pg 81

If this quote does not chill the blood of anyone considering themselves a white, Protestant, American, then I am left believing you remain under the demonic influence. And, I realize I have not substantiated my view that Manifest Destiny was, or is, a demonic influence. So, I will simply challenge you to consider the application of this pervasive American belief, and decide for yourself whether it is more stealing, killing, and destroying, or abundant life. I can’t see our application of it as anything other than stealing, killing, and destroying, the mark of the devil, according to my Master, Jesus (John 10:10).

I am left unable to imagine living and growing up with the heritage of blacks in America, Native Americans in America, or even Hispanics in America. Instead I’m left with my own heritage that created and institutionalized a system of destruction of these people, their culture, and their rights as fellow human beings.

Go back to the text of how General Order Number 3 begins. Did you notice how the second sentence begins:

This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

General Order Number 3

The idea was there. The concept of equality, freedom, and justice were perceived, but the application became limited by a competing perception of inferiority. I’m not sure how we got there, but it was not through the application of Scripture, regardless of what any historical interpreter may claim. Such a view of inferiority is entirely antithetical to the Christian Scriptures. What the Holy Spirit reveals through His Christian servants writing under His inspiration reads as follows:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:5-11 NASB (emphasis mine)

This is the reflection of the heart of our Savior, Creator, and Master. The King of all kings, Creator of the universe, He who died and rose again, says that there is no distinction. But we have made one, and we have brutally executed our selfish desires based on that distinction.

I don’t know what to say to blacks, Native Americans, or other peoples in America. I don’t know how to apologize to the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. I don’t know what I can do, other than confess the sins of my fathers, and do better myself. I don’t know what to tell these people as they fight for the rights and appreciation of their culture which has been denied them.

I do know what to tell the other Americans with the same heritage as myself: Repent! For starters, if what you read here does not make you weep for the sins of your fathers, then, again, I can only assume that the demonic influence that refuses to accept the clear charge from our Savior remains in you. Repent! Stop it! You cannot expect to escape the wrath of your Creator if you persist.

For many of us, the response to what I have written may be surprise. It was for me, as I have progressively come to understand my heritage. I had no clue. And that, too, causes me to weep. My ignorance furthered the problem, perhaps a little, but furthered it nonetheless. In my ignorance I remained part of the problem, not part of any sort of solution. I can’t remain that way any longer. The answer for myself is to learn the perspective of my Creator, and love my brothers and sisters, of any color, culture, or heritage.

Let us, as white Americans, repent, surprise or acceptance, either way, repent. Let us not be apathetic and ignorant any longer. In that way, we can finally begin to glorify our Savior, and see His creation as He sees it.

Quite a rant through this particular knothole, but I believe it is an important view. Feel free to post your own road to repentance, or, if you are from one of these peoples we have oppressed, I welcome your view. As I said, I can’t even hope to appreciate your view as completely as I would like to. But every word I hear and read from these perspectives helps me gain a little more clarity.

1 Wells, Ronald A. “The War With Mexico”, The Wars of America: Christian Views, Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 1991, page 75.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Workplace Safety I

In the days of the Industrial Revolution, the workplace became a deadly place. Even wounds could become deadly, and wounding wasn’t uncommon. The combination of ridiculously long hours, dangerous equipment, and little or no training made the mills and manufacturing plants dangerous indeed. Times have changed. Now it’s typically more dangerous to own a factory or business than work in one. Our society has progressed! On the other hand, have we progressed to the point of the sons of Israel?

“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Exodus 21:26,27 NASB

The treatment of slave owners of slaves is addressed here, and the loss of a body part, tooth to eye, resulted in their freedom. The rule clearly holds slave-owners responsible for how they treat those in that condition in their household. Back in verses 20 and 21, we saw that striking a slave, but not killing them didn’t result in the death of the slave owner. Yet, now we learn that striking them, and damaging their eyes or teeth results in their freedom, the loss of any service the master would have gained from them.

This law, again, protects those who are unable to protect themselves. And limits the penalty of those who might be helpful to the poor with their wealth. It keeps people in this society functioning. The point is to live in the land honoring God, but God allows that the stuff of life gets in the way. The details of living, bad choices, and bad circumstances distract from honoring Him. So, these rules are designed to reset the balance. A safe workplace is part of that balance.

“If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.

Exodus 21:28 NASB

This verse is clearly about the safety of working on a farm. The owner of the farm, animals and land, is held accountable for the safety of those he employs, and slaves. An ox is a crucial component to farming in that day. They were like modern tractors in that they were used for all sorts of things, not just plowing. The strength of the ox is what enabled a farm to function, whether olives, grapes, or grains were grown. But that necessary implement of farming had to be kept in check.

If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Exodus 21:29-32 NASB

Knowing of the problem with an ox and not taking proper precautions results in death, of the ox, but also of the owner. He can be redeemed, but he doesn’t set the redemption amount. This is an issue God takes very seriously. Owners/Employers have a grave responsibility before God to care for their employees.

Holding those who have the means to employ others accountable brings balance to the economy. When the wealthy have no accountability, they will naturally oppress those with less power. Expecting them to moderate themselves is foolish. On the other hand, to excessively favor the employee disrupts the balance of an economy. To make it inordinately expensive to go into business increases risk, and lowers the return. That’s inhibits business. Business owners need to be held accountable, not punished for being in business.

So, if you own a business, how are you honoring God with how you treat your employees? If you are an employee, how are you honoring God through your work? Those are the two questions we can take away from this passage. Simple? Until we enter the doors of our employment or business. Then it suddenly gets complicated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Unimaginable Character

How often have you run across passages or stories in Scripture that horrify you? How many times have you discovered a passage that you struggle believing is in character of our Savior? If you have found very few, perhaps you can try to imagine Jesus discussing this one:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Exodus 21:7 NASB

This is one of those passages that are difficult to reconcile with the character we ascribe to Jesus. How could Jesus condone slavery, let alone a father selling his daughter into such an institution? Yet, that same Jesus, ministering to a Samaritan woman one moment, and a woman caught in adultery the next, lived a thousand years after the culture of this law. Think about that, Jesus a thousand years after Moses. So, to judge this law against the culture of first-century Judaism, and especially 21st-century America, looses all sense of perspective. Still, it’s in there, it’s inspired, and Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than abolish the law. That’s a tacit approval of this law.

The circumstances that would drive a father to the necessity of enslaving his daughter would have to be severe, regardless of culture. If the normal rules of debt-slavery were followed (i.e. those for male slaves), then this father would be left with an unmarryable daughter after six years. That becomes clearer as the rest of the corollaries are examined:

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Exodus 21:8-11 NASB

What is not necessarily obvious here is that God has combined two sets of cultural traditions/laws in order to convert a debt-slavery transaction into a marriage contract. There is no option to sell the woman into typical “slavery”, she remains protected as a fellow Hebrew. In fact, notice that the woman is considered family: She’s either 1) a wife (designated for himself), daughter-in-law (designated for his son), or relative (let her be redeemed – technical term for “kinsman redeemer”). So there are some very serious protections included in these corollaries. If the buyer will not adhere to any of these three, then she goes free and the owner forfeits his payment (i.e. the father keeps the money/loan and gets his daughter back).

Also notice the status of this sort of “wife”. If another wife is acquired in a “normal” fashion, then the “purchased wife” has the same rights, guaranteed. She’s not less of a spouse because of how she entered the household. This protects the rights of the poor, protecting them from exploitation by the wealthy, in fact, such a woman is raised to the status of the wealthy (the “husband” cannot reduce her food or clothing).

Judged from the perspective of Bronze Age Cultures, what our Redeemer has done here is elevate the status of women, protect families, and protect women and the poor from exploitation. So, if you do encounter a 21st-century critic of this law, feel free to ask them why they would be against such things.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Social Legality

It seems that “legalism” among disciples of Jesus has created a situation where a major portion of inspired Scripture has been jettisoned: the Torah. It’s as if the law is irrelevant to modern disciples. What is ironic about this is how difficult it has become to now practically apply the Scripture that is still acceptable. There is an alternative.

What if disciples of Jesus considered the Torah of God was actually helpful, still inspired, and still relevant to a life as a disciple of Jesus? What would that look like? How could someone “saved by grace through faith” find laws helpful? Well, let’s look at some. Here’s one we deal with every day, slavery…

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.

Exodus 21:2 NASB

And this is where the typical believer points out that this has no relevance to their lives, and that they even find it embarrassing that God would have a law encouraging slavery. It’s time to be atypical. Read that through. “If you buy a Hebrew slave…” Why would that even happen? It happened when a Hebrew became impoverished and needed money to keep the family farm afloat. This is an indentured servant, not a captive of war or arbitrary enslavement of a race of people. It served that culture as a way to make money without putting up the farm as security. Instead it was the physical labor of a person.

But keep reading, “he shall serve for six years…” there is a legal limit to how much work or how long this person works. It’s not a life sentence, it’s not a curse or a sign they’ve lost everything. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a six-year agreement. Most loans are for longer than that, even for cars. This law refuses to demean a Hebrew who is suffering some sort of financial setback or loss. It protects him from being abused by those with more money.

But there are other problems that could stem from this cultural practice.

If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.

Exodus 21:3-4 NASB

The first part protects both the person who “buys” the Hebrew’s work for six years and the Hebrew bought. If he comes in unmarried, he’s not allowed to take another slave with him (no running off with another slave who’s time isn’t up yet). That part makes sense. If he’s married when he becomes a slave (the “master” got a “two-fer”), he leaves with the wife. There’s no breaking up a family unit which was intact to begin with.

But this sets up the next statement which is hard, and protects the slave-owner. If the slave-owner joins one of his female slaves to the Hebrew slave, she stays after the six years. And this is the rule, even if there are children. To understand this better, it may be helpful to read ahead to the law about female “slaves” (maidservants), but that isn’t the only instance. It could be a foreign female slave in view here. Either way, ownership which was there before the union remains after the freeing of the male slave. It’s a problem, a serious one, and God is interested keeping families together, and has a solution.

But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

Exodus 21:5-6 NASB

This is a very cultural law, but it solves the problem of broken families. The other option is for the slave to go out alone, and earn enough to redeem his family. That could be a problem if poverty caused his situation in the first place. The reality is that it would better to remain a slave if he truly wanted to keep his family together. And, judged from this culture in this time, it’s a horrible situation. And it wasn’t great in their day either. But keep in mind that Paul makes rules about household slaves and their owners in Ephesians 6.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Ephesians 6:5-9 NASB

Keep in mind this is a very different sort of slavery than what was practiced in Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th Centuries. This was voluntary and clearly temporary. It was a “contract” between two people. What the law was designed to do was protect the poor, limit the power of the rich, but also protect “property rights”. While we may judge this culture of the 13th Century BC harshly by our 21st Century AD mores and culture, the truth is that our Creator is clearly interested in how the rich treat those less fortunate, and how the poor are not to be allowed to disrupt the economy (read it again).

When we judge this rule by the standards of our culture then we miss the message of our Savior. He is interested in how we treat those less fortunate, and those more fortunate. We assume the former, and forget the latter. Both have responsibilities. Both are answerable to the same Creator.

As Paul points out, “…both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” We forget that. But our Savior does not. We can learn from these forgotten and disregarded, ignored legal texts. And this is just the first lesson. More to come.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

A Spiritual Compass: Joseph I

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 47 (less chapter 38) is one of the transformation of a spoiled brat into a ruler of Egypt, and savior of his people.  The setting of this character is a dysfunctional family (as nearly every family in Scripture seems to be).  The background to Joseph’s family includes his father stealing the family blessing from his brother, the murder of the men of Shechem by Levi and Simeon, and the eldest, Reuben, slept with his father’s concubine.  Jacob’s wives and their handmaids were the four mothers of Jacob’s twelve, and they didn’t get along.  The household was a mess, much like ours.

Into this messed up family comes Joseph.  He tattles on his brothers, receives preferential treatment by his father (an expensive cloak), and his brothers cannot speak to him in peace.  There is strife already between the kids, and the parents, Joseph, and his brothers are complicent in the problems.  Into this boiling pot, God delivers two dreams to Joseph.  Of course, Joseph shares the dreams, they will also get his brothers going.

He can’t really control how Jacob treats him, and what kid wouldn’t like the attention?  And he can’t really control how his brothers treat him, and what kid would like that?  All your older brothers get to do stuff, and you don’t.  They won’t talk to you peaceably.  They obviously don’t like Joseph, so, Joseph goes with it.  He doesn’t care that they don’t like him, he figures, with how dad feels about him, he’s invulnerable.  Only he’s not.

In the first dream, the twelve, including Joseph, are “bringing in the sheaves”, when Joseph’s stands erect, and the others gather around and bow down to it.  In the second, the sun and moon, and eleven stars all bow down to him.  This one, even his father doesn’t like, but he’s thoughtful about it.  How could his brothers accept such a “dream” from this brother?  But they do have a plan to keep it from happening.

Jacob sends Joseph to Shechem because his brothers have the flocks there.  Only they don’t.  Joseph can’t find them among the hills around Shechem.  He’s found wandering the fields by some guy who tells him they’ve moved to Dothan.  So off goes Joseph to Dothan.  A long way off his brothers see him and plot.

The first idea is to kill him and blame it on a wild beast.  Reuben talks them out of that, saying they should simply throw him in a pit rather than shed his blood.  He wants to use Joseph to get back in daddy’s good graces.  When Joseph arrives, they take his cloak and throw him into the pit.  Then they sit down to a meal.  We’re not told where Reuben went, but he’s not around for the arrival of the caravan of “desert folk” to Egypt with smelly gum, balm, and burial deodorant.

The brothers figure it makes more sense to profit from Joseph at least rather than simply let him die.  So, they sell him as a slave to the caravan for 20 shekels of silver.  When Reuben comes back, he discovers Joseph gone, and is all upset; his plan is ruined.  They opt to take the cloak and dip it in goat blood, tear it up, and give that to their father.  When Jacob inspects the coat, he assumes his son has been devoured by beasts, and mourns inconsolably for Joseph.

So, the choices made by the father brought strife between brothers.  The choices of Joseph exacerbated the strife.  The brothers chose to “unbrother” Joseph, and sold him into slavery.  Then they chose to let Jacob believe he was dead.  This dysfunctional family functioned to intensify their own pain.  Yet, in this account, Yahweh is the One using them to provide for their survival.

Either the plan of Yahweh was to use their dysfunction all along, or He simply used whatever their dysfunction led them to do in His plan.  Either way, their dysfunction was never enough to thwart the direction of Yahweh.  That’s comforting.  Problem families are now more the norm than the exception.  Yet, whatever the dysfunction, our Master still uses such families in His plans.  None are so bad they can’t be used.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

Readiness Part I

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  (Luke 12:35-38 ESV)

No one knows when the appearing of Jesus to close the history of this world will happen.  No one knows.  All Jesus tells us (over and over) is that we won’t know so be ready.  He repeats it a lot.  Passages like this one is where I find my theology of the “last man standing”.  Although in this particular one, Jesus doesn’t mention it; He may allude to it, but it’s not explicit.  What we get from this one is to be ready.

From the context, Jesus is speaking to all His followers.  In the following passage, after Peter asks who Jesus might be meaning this for, Jesus explicitly refers to leaders.  Here it’s everyone.  Every follower of Jesus is supposed to be a ready servant, ready for His return, ready with lamps lit, ready to open the door, ready to serve.  But only here, in Luke, do we find that the Master will then turn about on His servants and serve them.  It’s a statement that had to catch His listeners off guard. What master serves his servants?  Clearly this is no earthly master.

One of the difficult things for me to master in my walk with my Master is submission.  I’m stubborn, selfish, and self-centered.  I am.  I know it.  In a lot of ways I justify it because of the environment I live in.  I’m in America, home of the selfish, land of the narcissist.  If marketing promotes it, it’s only because we respond.  It works so well because we love being selfish.  We consider looking out for number one to be the most pragmatic approach to life.  Even when people talk a good game, care for others, and helping under privileged, and so on; even then there is an agenda.

So, to consider myself a slave is counter-intuitive for me.  Yes, I do live in America, but even so, I know it’s not right and I do it anyway.  I know I’m a slave, either of my Savior or of the enemy of the world.  I don’t get to escape slavery, such thoughts are part of what keeps people enslaved to the enemy.  The thing is, I do get to choose who I serve.

I wish it were that simple though.  It sure should be.  I can choose to serve the Master Who will then serve His faithful servants found ready when He comes.  But more often than not, I find that I’m serving the enemy of my soul who desires my demise and that of all my neighbors, friends, and family.  I know that it’s wrong, but I do it anyway.

I am happy to report that I do this less and less, much less than I used to.  I’m not the same person I was even 5 years ago.  I’ve grown and been stretched much further than I would have imagined.  But I am also very aware of the vastness that separates me from the ideal I see in Scripture.  I know my heart to an extent, and even that limited view reveals some darkness.  But it also reveals some light.  I see that my Master is not leaving me as an orphan, but in spite of my foibles, He continually works to mold more and more into His image.

So, I am confident that one day I will see His face.  I am confident that He will find me faithful (mostly), and I am hopeful that I will be one of those at His table as He serves His servants.  I can’t think of a better choice than to be a slave of One who serves.  I can’t think of a better option than to follow One who loves me and gave Himself up for me.  Who better to be a slave of?  Now to do the work of my Master.

What do you learn from Jesus’ call to be ready?