Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Justice, Bribes, and Oppression -- Exodus 23:6-9


“You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute.  Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


The first sentence tells us not to skew justice either against or for a needy brother’s actions or disputes just because he is poor. It is really an extension of verse 3 earlier in the chapter where we are told not to be partial to a poor man in his dispute. The idea being that everyone is entitled to his/her fair day in court.
And then God warns His people to stay away from (have nothing to do with) a false charge. If you know someone is being falsely accused, there is no excuse whatsoever for us as Christians to be supportive of that accusation.  Sometimes we do so for convenience, sometimes because we want to show we are part of the team, or we want to be in support of the person bringing the false charge forward (especially if they are our boss or someone whom we need for our own goals to be achieved).  God says don’t even think about it. This matter becomes even worse if in the process of litigating a false charge, the innocent or righteous person is killed or put to death (or falsely imprisoned). If we become party to that, we become the guilty ones and God will not acquit us in His justice system. Matthew Henry suggests that this also means we are not to be a false witness against a person we believe is not guilty. And he even takes it one step further outside the courtroom or the justice system and into everyday common conversation. He reminds us that, “A man's reputation lies as much at the mercy of every company as his estate or life does at the mercy of a judge or jury; so that he who raises, or knowingly spreads, a false report against his neighbor, especially if the report be made to wise and good men whose esteem one would desire to enjoy, sins as much against the laws of truth, justice, and charity, as a false witness does-with this further mischief, that he leaves it not in the power of the person injured to obtain redress.” Enough said.
Next, God warns us about taking bribes. Good, honest, moral, business transactions and other relational interactions do not require bribes. Once a bribe is accepted, the transaction/interaction loses all its respectability. The receiver of the bribe then sees everything from a different perspective, exerting great effort and feeling great fear, to keep others from discovering he/she has taken a bribe. God says that is no way to live.
And finally God tells us not to “oppress a stranger” or in today’s world, an “immigrant” to our lands for the His people were to remember they too were once “strangers” in the land of Egypt. That seems to be a general theme that applies to us as Christians. In one sense, we were, prior to our conversion, strangers to the family of God, but by His Grace, we have become adopted sons and daughters. We are not to forget that in our relationship with strangers among us. However, with respect to immigrants, it is fair to consider the direction in light of some questions we can pose:
1. To what extent and under what circumstances should Christians be supportive of open immigration policies?
2. How do we translate God’s direction of not “oppressing a stranger” with respect to their own cultural behaviors, their own justice system, their own faiths, etc., especially where those run counter to both our secular society (albeit ever-evolving) and the faiths of the majority of a country’s existing citizens?
I personally cannot find any support in Scripture for translating “do not oppress a stranger” in a way which includes the possibility of giving one a free pass to practice behaviors or customs or beliefs that put others – individuals, groups, or the nation as a whole, in any danger or real justified fear, whatsoever. Our job is to treat strangers fairly and justly.
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Thursday, April 09, 2015

You Need "Sacred Space"


You Need “Sacred Space”
 If you are an observer of global, North American, national, state/provincial, and/or local news, you would likely agree with my own conclusion that we live in a very restless society. But go deeper than that – get down to our neighborhoods, our churches, our families, our marriages, and even just our own lives, and most of us would say, “We too are very much active participants in that agitated state in which the world and most everyone in it are struggling, doing our best just to survive.”

That is the setting for John D. Duncan’s book, Sacred Space: The Art of Sacred Silence, Sacred Speech, and The Sacred Ear in the Echo of the Still Small Voice of God, published by Austin Brothers Publishing, Fort Worth, Texas, 2014. It’s a setting that Duncan considers dangerous to our physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Writing from personal experience, he argues we need to slow down and renew our damaged souls.

Sacred Space describes one man’s formula for doing just that in three most dangerous steps. Dangerous because each one is capable of changing a person, changing how one faces life each day, and changing one’s impact on everything and everyone they interact with. Duncan first makes the case, backed solidly by scripture, of the need for moving out of noise into quietness through ‘sacred silence’. Only when we have mastered our ability to get there, does he push us on to ‘sacred speech’ whereby in communion with God we can turn our personal chaos into peace. And finally, Duncan shows us how to use what he calls our ‘sacred ear’ to both hear and obey God.

The author shares his personal experience finding himself, in essence, being told he needed to move on from a pastoral calling he loved. He shares how he struggled to know when it was the right time for him to make a choice about what came next. And he agonized wondering why God was allowing this to happen to him. What had he done wrong? And then it hit him like a train coming down a track.  He writes, “I had not taken time to create the sacred space in my mid-life that I did in my younger life both as a pastor and a human being.” Life goes amuck all too often because we have not sat alone in a quiet room, being silent, speaking to God, and hearing God.

In the book, Duncan describes each of the three steps of the process with great details and examples. He then asks us if we’re ready to practice each one. And not just as a passing moment of our day, but as a conscious ‘priority’.  I found myself saying ‘yes’ audibly. There was no argument that would come to mind for any other response.

While teaching us about the second step of his three-part formula, he points out that “stress, the mind, and the tongue can combine to form a lethal combination: chaos.”  Then he shows us how ‘sacred speech’ “like one coin with two sides includes, first, God’s Word speaking to you and second, you speaking to God.” He explains how every book of the Bible has it’s unique role to play as ‘sacred speech’ from God to help us “experience renewal, restoration, even salvation and the glory of a new day with a new outlook . . .” Duncan goes on to teach his readers how to elevate ‘sacred speech’ as prayer, which he says, quoting Frank W. Moyle, in The Book of Uncommon Prayer, is “the elevation of the mind to God.” And there are other appealing tidbits throughout the book like, “Stop the worry is the first step in prayer.”

Finally, in the portion of the book dealing with the ‘sacred ear’ he describes how it enables us to experience a “feast of joy thrusting us into life with God’s peace.” And in the process of doing so, he points out how many of us really miss the implication of Luke 18:11 for us today. Jesus says the “Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself . . .” Duncan points out how so many of us miss this. Too many of us use our imagination wrongly, he contends, praying with ourselves instead of with God or turning our mirrors inward to reflect upon ourselves instead of outward to reflect His image. The art of the ‘sacred ear’ allows us to turn that situation around, reflecting on Christ, “and listening with our ears and heart for what God has for us in that moment or in future days.” He shows us how the ‘sacred ear’ helps us keep balance in our lives during our falls and rises, learning the necessary wisdom at the feet of God.

I personally enjoyed his description of what happens to terrain after a volcanic eruption covers it with its spewed lava and dust. There is in due time a rebirth after the ashes. So it is, says Duncan, with the ‘sacred ear’ that transforms us renewed and prepared for greater future service for Christ and to people.

Near the end of the book, Duncan quotes from William Law’s book entitled A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life in which Law warns us, “then how poorly must they perform their devotions, who are always in a hurry; who begin them in haste and hardly allow themselves to repeat their very form with any gravity or attention!” This is indeed a dangerous book, just as we were warned in its forward, for time and again each one of us can find our own reflection among many of its pages.

I recommend it to anyone who knows there’s something wrong with life as he/she is living it and believes there’s something more. Duncan has found what that is and in his book he shares it clearly and directly, pulling no punches.

    -- Ken B. Godevenos, http://www.accordconsulting.com , Toronto, 15/04/07

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.