Law, Grace, and Common Sense

Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:14)

A direct command…very specific…straightforward and to the point.  It doesn’t leave much room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

In terms of importance, this is one of the Big Ten…the commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself…given to Israel as their covenant vows…placed inside the Ark of the Covenant.

Most pastors, preachers, and teachers today would agree this is an important commandment that is still as relevant today as when God gave it to Moses.

A high percentage of those same pastors, preachers and teachers also support the death penalty…believing the Old Testament laws calling for capital punishment set a standard that is still relevant today.  Likewise, many Evangelical pastors in The United States strongly support the right to bear arms…to carry lethal weapons for use in defense.  Most Christians also strongly support the need for an armed military to protect and defend our nation.

How can these men agree the very direct, very specific, very clear law written in stone by God, Himself, “Thou shall not kill,” is relevant today, yet support killing people…for any reason?

It is because they are able to look past the letter of the law to the principle behind the law of the sanctity of life.  They are able to apply common sense and realize that sometimes killing is necessary in order to preserve life.  And they are able to see the many biblical examples demonstrating that following the principle behind the law sometimes requires violating the letter of the law.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

Another very direct command…very clear…very concise.  This one is also one of the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself.  Surely, there can be no doubt as to the meaning, significance or importance of this command.

Fortunately, this command doesn’t carry as much moral dilemma as the previous.  This one should be easy to keep.

Yet, other than the Seventh Day Adventists, almost no Christian churches today keep the Sabbath.  We do not treat Saturday as a holy day set apart for worship.  We have no issue with working hard on Saturdays.

How can this be?  Why would one of the Ten Commandments written in stone by God, Himself, be treated so lightly by people professing to serve Him?  Why would people quick to declare the Bible as their guide…quick to say “God has not changed His mind”…quick to say “the Bible says” so easily treat this law as insignificant?

It is because we believe we are keeping the spirit of the law by worshipping on Sunday.  Yes, we realize Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh.  Yes, we understand the Bible is very clear that Saturday is the Sabbath and we are to keep the Sabbath holy.  However, since Christ arose on a Sunday, we feel confident we are keeping the spirit of the law by worshipping on Sunday.  After all, hasn’t the Christian church worshipped on Sunday for thousands of years?  And didn’t Jesus say, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”?

So, once again, we choose to neglect the letter of the law to follow the spirit of the law…this time with no moral dilemma to justify the deviation…just traditions.  Yet, knowing we are under grace, not under law, we feel confident the letter of the law may be sidestepped in keeping the spirit of the law.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… (Exodus 20:4)

Another very direct command with little room for misunderstanding.  Another of the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself.  Surely, this command is clear and easily followed.

Yet, look at the number of statues and monuments we have erected.  Look at the current social and legal battles being waged over Confederate monuments.  Aren’t we fighting to preserve what God has forbidden?  Could the Bible be any more clear?

Yet, we justify these as cultural icons that have nothing to do with religion.  We argue these are not idols or objects of worship and, therefore, do not fall under the biblical prohibition.

But wait…isn’t the purpose of the Bible to affect how we live our secular lives?  Is it really a good idea to separate the spiritual from the secular to the extent we violate a direct biblical command under the justification it is a secular matter rather than spiritual?  And don’t the intense emotions and fierce defenses, themselves, bear witness to these monuments carrying some deeper meaning than simple artistic décor?

If we make defending a monument a higher priority than loving our neighbor, doesn’t that border on idolatry?

If we make defending a monument a higher priority than loving our neighbor, doesn't that border on idolatry? Click To Tweet

My home state of Arkansas is currently waging a legal battle over a Ten Commandments monument recently erected on the grounds of the state capitol.  Frankly, this one has me shaking my head.  Knowing it would almost certainly draw legal battles, our state legislature somehow decided it was important to have a Ten Commandments monument erected at the State Capitol.

How ironic that we would erect a stone monument engraved with the words, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.”

How ironic, our state legislators would consider The Ten Commandments to be so important they needed to be included in a monument at the state capitol…so important the monument is worth the expense of multiple legal battles…yet not important enough to actually obey the commandments.

To so revere The Ten Commandments that one would erect unto them a monument…in direct violation of the commandments themselves…I don’t get it.

To so revere The Ten Commandments that one would erect unto them a monument...in direct violation of the commandments themselves...I don't get it. Click To Tweet

Yet, whether I understand it or not, hundreds of thousands of my fellow Arkansans…my Christian brothers and sisters…strongly support the monument…and apparently see no contradiction in its erection.  The very clear letter of the law is shoved aside in eager support of what they believe to be the spirit of the law.

Do you see how readily we set aside the letter of the law while claiming to embrace the spirit of the law?  How easily, we justify a law as being of lesser importance under our New Covenant of grace?  How fluidly we apply common sense to biblical examples to justify violating the letter of the law?  We are quite adept at it…and very willing.  In fact, we may even feel a sense of pride in steering clear of legalism to pursue the intent of God’s heart.  Which is great…so long as we truly are pursuing God’s heart!

Let’s look at one more commandment:

Thou shalt not divorce.

Oh, wait…where’s the reference for that one?  Not one of the Big Ten?  Well, surely it’s somewhere in the Bible…

No.  It’s not.  There is no such commandment.

In fact, the law God gave to Moses very clearly makes provision for just divorce…very clearly tells how a divorce is to be administered…and very clearly declares both parties are free to marry someone else after the divorce is final.

Now, some may say Jesus prohibited divorce in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapter 5.  As I pointed out in this recent post, that interpretation contradicts the whole premise of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Besides, if we’re going to assume Jesus’ intent in Matthew 5 is to literally add to the letter of the law (in contradiction to what He said He was doing) then we should be throwing people in prison for being angry with one another:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

And we should be gouging out eyes and cutting off hands of people guilty of lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Obviously, we know better.  We understand Jesus was not adding to the law, but rather was transcending the law by demonstrating righteousness cannot be attained by rigid adherence to external laws.  Righteousness can only be attained thru a new heart by the power of The Holy Spirit.  By applying common sense and understanding of grace, we are able to see past the letter of the written command to the intent and the character of God, and act accordingly.

Why is it then, that on the topic of divorce so many Christians do the opposite?

With very clear direct commands, “Thou shalt not murder”; “Thou shalt honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy”; “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven images” we are able to look past the letter of the law and apply the principle behind the law…pursuing God’s heart with an understanding of God’s grace and situational common sense.

Yet with divorce, in the absence of any clear scriptural prohibition, many theologians and preachers pluck verses out of context to create their own supposedly biblical understanding of a supposed prohibition…to rigidly apply to every situation with no latitude, grace, or common sense whatsoever.

This is precisely what Paige Patterson, John Piper, and others like them have done in telling abused spouses they cannot divorce.  They have fabricated their own commandment where there was none, then rigidly applied it with no grace or common sense whatsoever.

If we were going to be legalistic, shouldn’t we at least be legalistic on points of clear direct scriptural command?  If we were going to be rigidly legalistic on some topics and less rigid on others, shouldn’t we be less rigid on topics on which scripture provides no clear prohibition?

Why would we find latitude to skirt very clear scriptural commands, then rigidly apply man-made doctrinal rules where scripture provides no clear prohibition?

Why would we find latitude to skirt very clear scriptural commands, then rigidly apply man-made doctrinal rules where scripture provides no clear prohibition? Click To Tweet

Doesn’t that stance reveal a heart consumed with arrogantly defending doctrinal positions rather than humbly acting in love through faith by the leading of The Holy Spirit in accordance with scripture?

 

What do you think?

 

Free Gear

Knockout in his new headstall

A few weeks ago, I won a beautiful new headstall in a drawing at the Carson James on-line horsemanship group. This headstall is much fancier and more expensive than any I would have bought for myself.

The last three headstalls I purchased were just plain brown leather. They’re good quality, but very plain looking.  They serve their function without being decorative in any way.  They are on the lower end of the expense scale and serve my need just fine.

This new headstall has lots of fancy stitching, colorful thread decoration, and big shiny conchos. This new eye-catching headstall is designed to be decorative as well as functional.

It is not at all the sort of headstall I would have bought for myself. It has way too much expensive glitz that does nothing to improve my riding.

But it sure is pretty!

As soon as the new headstall arrived, I fitted it with Knockout’s favorite bit and my favorite reins. Next morning, I tried it on Knockout to see how it fit.

It looks great on Knockout!

I must say, it’s pretty cool having such nice gear to use. It’s even better having fancy, expensive gear I didn’t have to pay for.

I like the new headstall so much, the next week I put our fancy new saddle on Knockout for our Sunday morning pasture ride.

Knockout in our new Ken Raye custom saddle

Now, this saddle is a really nice, very unique, very expensive saddle. Much like the new headstall, it is way fancier and far more expensive than I would ever have bought for myself.

We won this saddle in a drawing almost three years ago, at the horse sale where we bought Knockout. The saddle was custom made by Ken Raye’s Custom Saddlery, especially for the 2015 Return to the Remuda Sale, held at the Four-Sixes Ranch in West Texas.  It has the brands of the six participating ranches inlaid in the hand-tooled leather.

At this particular sale, the lot number of each horse sold was placed in a bucket for a drawing at the end of the sale. We bought one horse at that sale.  In fact, I entered only one bid in the sale.  I placed one bid on one horse.  I bought the horse at the price we wanted and won a saddle valued somewhere on the range of what we paid for the horse.

I told Sherri she can’t take me to any more horse sales…I’m completely ruined…my expectations are now way too high.  🙂

I usually think of expensive prizes as requiring a lot of talent to win. In the western horsemanship tradition, belt buckles, saddles, and tack are awarded as prizes in competitions.  As a general rule, the really nice expensive prizes are associated with higher stakes and more difficult competition.  A horseman has to be very skilled to win such nice prizes as these.

But…it turns out, you don’t need competitive skills at all…you just need to be lucky! 🙂

That beautiful, custom-made saddle has sat unused in our house for almost three years. Last week, I finally rode with it.

What took me so long?

Well…it’s complicated…

Partly, it is simply that the saddle is so nice and so expensive we want to take really good care of it. We don’t want it ruined by rain, mud, spur scars, scratches, etc.  It’s a beautiful saddle and we want to keep it looking good.

Partly, it is that I don’t do much riding in public. Almost all my riding is done right around our farm and most of it is solo.  I’m not a competitive rider, nor do I aspire to be.  So, for my purposes, a fancy saddle requiring special care and cleaning after each ride is just more hassle than grabbing my usual saddle that I don’t have to worry about.

But there is another factor, too. Maybe it’s best described as a worthiness factor.

I tend to associate nice expensive saddles with high levels of horsemanship skills. As a novice horseman, it sort of felt like I would be putting on airs if I started using an expensive decorative saddle.  Having done nothing to earn such a nice prize, I didn’t feel worthy of using it.  I know it may sound strange, but I was sort of waiting to reach a higher level of ability…waiting to become a real horseman…before I used that saddle.

And the problem with waiting to become a real horseman is that the finish line keeps moving. Like many other things in life, with horsemanship, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.  I am a much better horseman than I was two years ago.  Yet, the distance between where I am and where I would like to be is now much further than it was two years ago.

So that beautiful, fancy, new, custom saddle sat unused in our house…until last weekend. Last weekend, I decided a free saddle is a free saddle.  The whole point of free is that it doesn’t have to be earned or deserved…it just has to be appreciated and enjoyed.

That saddle wasn’t being properly enjoyed sitting in the house. And my goal of waiting to become a real horseman before I used it was an unrealistic and unnecessary requirement.

I still want to take good care of the saddle. So, for now at least, I plan to use it for Sunday morning rides before church…because I intentionally keep those rides low-key and fairly short.  My Sunday morning rides aren’t so much about training as they are about relaxing and enjoying.

Sunday morning is about listeninglistening to my horse…listening to my heart…listening to My Father…listening to His creation. Sunday morning is about enjoying and appreciating…enjoying fellowship…appreciating free gifts…appreciating God’s grace.

Much like my fancy new headstall and expensive new saddle, God’s grace cannot be earned or deserved. I don’t have to be good enough to merit His grace.  I just have to be lucky enough to discover it…and thankful enough to enjoy it.

Reins of Legalism

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I first started riding horseback, I viewed the reins as the controls used for steering and stopping the horse.  To steer the horse one moved the reins to right or left, much like the steering wheel of a car.  To stop the horse one pulled back on the reins much like the brake of a car.

Funny thing though…the more I used the reins to steer…to control the horse’s direction…the more he tended to wander off from the direction I wanted him to go.  So, I had to correct.

It was sort of like driving a car in need of a front end alignment.  Get the horse pointed the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders to the right.  Use the reins to tug him back to the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders right, again.  Tug the reins to the left of the desired direction.  He drifts right, again.

I decided the problem was too much slack in the reins.  I would have to take tighter control to keep him from wandering off.  When the steering mechanism has too much slack, make adjustments to remove the slack, right?

So, I shortened my grip on the reins and rode with both hands rigidly holding the horse’s head position.  The horse stayed on track.  Problem solved!

Except for one little problem…

I could only be confident of holding our direction by rigidly holding the reins in position.  Micro-managing the horse’s every move does not make for a relaxing ride.  Both horse and rider have more tension and stress than necessary.  Watching more experienced riders I could see they were much more relaxed and usually rode with a loose rein.

“Maybe it’s just a matter of time,” I thought.  “I have to keep tight control for a while to let the horse know I’m boss, then I’ll be able to loosen the rein a little.”  But every time I loosened the rein, the horse started wandering off track again.

Then I started riding a horse trained to foot prompts that had not yet learned neck reining.  That was even worse!  I fumbled to remember the foot prompts…the horse over-responded…I over-compensated…and we zig-zagged along wherever I tried to go.  “Keep at it,” my trainer suggested, “You’ll get it figured out.”

It was horribly frustrating!  My horse and I could not walk a straight line.  I knew it was my fault but felt helpless to correct it.  The horse promptly over-responded to my every foot nudge just to have me immediately over-correct him back the other direction.

Finally, one day I made an amazing discovery.  Every time I turned my body at the waist my horse responded by going the direction I was turned.  “Hey, this is just like snow-skiing!” I thought, “Turn and look to change direction.”

That moment of epiphany, though just the beginning, became a major turning point in my understanding of horseback riding.

Today, I view my reins and boots not so much as a means to control the horse’s direction as a means of telegraphing my body language to the horse.  I see the horse not as a riding machine to be controlled, but as a partner to be communicated with.  I am still a very inexperienced rider, but the paradigm shift has definitely helped me progress.

Lately, I have thought about these riding-lesson truths while pondering Paul’s words about the roles of law and faith.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-26)

Scripture is to us as reins are to a horse. Click To Tweet

In early training, the reins are used to teach the horse to yield direction to the rider.  Later, the reins are still in place to serve a similar function.  However, as both horse and rider gain experience and trust, the reins are used less and less as a means of directing and more and more as a means of communicating.  For a very skilled rider on a superbly trained horse, the reins become superfluous and are no longer needed.

In the same way, as immature Christians we start out studying God’s word to learn how we are to behave, and we sometimes use scripture to micromanage one another’s lives.  One person finds a scripture indicating Jesus drank wine while another finds a scripture indicating alcohol consumption is to be avoided and they beat each other up with their disparate understandings of scripture.  But they are both showing their immaturity by missing the whole point.  Both are still viewing the reins (scripture) as being for the purpose of controlling behavior.  The real purpose is to facilitate communication…to lead us to Christ…to teach us of God’s heart…and to train us in understanding and following the Holy Spirit.

Following the law (as legalists), we hear of a fellow Christian going thru divorce and immediately feel the need to learn every detail of their very personal marital relationship so we can discern (judge) whether or not their divorce is biblically permissible (as legalistic a term as ever was) so we can provide sound biblical counsel (verbally beat them up) to aid them in their Christian walk (control their behavior).

Under grace, we simply ask how we can pray for them and what we can do to help, trusting that as mature Christians they are able to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in their personal lives.

See the difference?

In what areas have you learned to loosen your grip on the reins and trust God’s grace?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Deliver Us

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched … Continue reading

Fear Not

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Although I am not a horseman, we do own several horses and I do enjoy working with them.  Do not assume this means I know much about horses…I don’t…but I enjoy learning.  🙂 One of our horses is a little … Continue reading

God’s Step Family

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Step families are not the same as nuclear families.  They’re just not. Sometimes we expect them to be the same…which usually leads to frustration and disappointment. Every family has its own unique dynamics.  In a nuclear family, children born into … Continue reading

Christ’s Love is a Choice!

Gallery

[Reposted from March 2012, with minor edits] And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but … Continue reading

Does God Harbor Unforgiveness?

Gallery

[Reposted from February 2012, with minor edits] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) What does God’s forgiveness look like?  We tend … Continue reading

Christmas Mourning

Gallery

Reposted (with minor updates) from December, 2012.  This holiday season I am especially praying for my mother, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and children, as we each struggle to process the myriad of emotions related to my father going home to … Continue reading

Extraordinary Service

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Last week, I had the great honor of participating in my father’s funeral…the celebration of Papa’s homecoming! I know that phrasing sounds unusual…but it was an unusual service…an extraordinary service, really! I’ve attended a fair number of funerals over the … Continue reading