I am a shy person, so when I am asked to something that requires me to stand before a group of people I usually decline. Of course, I want to do my best for God so I am making an effort and saying, “yes” more often. One thing that I enjoy doing is praying. All I have to do is step to the mic and say, “Good morning church, please bow your heads and close your eyes” (or some variation thereof) and spill my guts to God. Everyone’s eyes are closed, no one is looking at me and my knees stop knocking together (as much).
I was asked to do opening prayer then teacher’s prayer the next week and I would like to share them with you.
Holy Spirit, come and fill this place. Embrace and comfort us as we gather together in the house of the Lord. Spring brings revitalization, renewal and new life. The vegetation is being restored after winter, which reminds us of how you were resurrected in a hardened, cold world, we rejoice in the new life that you bring and worship your name in the spirit of holiness. Please be with those that are on their way as well as those who cannot make it. May we continue to be led in the path of righteousness with earnest and loving hearts, *Bless the teachers as they are the vessels that contain your word. Be with them as they pour knowledge into us so that we may overflow with you spirit. In your holy name we pray, amen.
Merciful Heavenly Father, we humbly come into your presence with a spirit of praise. Thank you for bringing us through another week to see another blessed Sabbath day. You are the Great Teacher but you have impressed our Sabbath School teachers to instruct us in your word. Please be with them as they lead us. Let the words you speak through them take root in our hearts and may the Holy Spirit water us with your blessings so that our relationship with you will flourish. In your name we pray, amen.
In an effort to become more involved in my church, I went to the Sabbath School Council meeting and Sister Nance made a comment about how the youth run from prayer and do not participate. I agreed and reflected on my own actions. Even though I usually pray when I am asked, sometimes I am not so eager. It is not that I do not want to talk to God or am embarrassed but I tend to revert to a “go-to” prayer of sorts and repeat myself when I am put on the spot (I like to write them out beforehand).
When Brother Noakes asked me to pray again, I said “no”. I had done it the past few weeks (not that it meant anything). Then I remembered what Sister Nance said about running from prayer and I vowed right then and there that I would not say “no” anymore if anyone asked me to pray. So I changed my mind and said “yes!” I truly believe that God spoke to me through Sister Nance to bring my attention to something I could not see before.
This time I prayed: Loving Heavenly Father, we come to you with a grateful spirit, thankful that we can see another Sabbath day. It is chilly outside but please send your Holy Spirit to warm our hearts so that we may be receptive to what you have in store for us. Be with as we fellowship and worship today in the spirit of holiness. Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father, we humbly come before you bowing our heads in acknowledgement of your greatness. We come asking for your divine protection today. We are all walking targets and Satan is constantly attacking us, but you are our rock, our sword and our shield. Even when we are snared by Satan and step out of the bounds of your protection, you are always the one whom we can run to for cover, our first line of defense.
Satan tries to cripple us with various maladies so we cannot carry out your will so we ask that you heal us spiritually and physically and strengthen us as a church so we will not be caught unprepared when the enemy tries to cause turmoil in our camp. Please touch our minds so you are foremost in our thoughts. Touch our hearts and make it a storage place for your word. Finally, touch our hands so that the work we do will glorify you and be a blessing to others. In your holy name we pray, amen.
A while ago, I had the opportunity to share a testimony with my church family as well as pray as special prayer during the Sabbath School program in regards to attendance. And it goes a little something like this:
Good morning church,
The testimony I would like to share with you is that lately, I have really been enjoying church. I am changing mentally and spiritually in a good way and I am excited about it. My favorite part of church is Sabbath School. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy the sermon and the music but if the sermon is the main course, the music is the appetizer and Sabbath School is the salad. It whets my appetite for the spiritual meal to come. Not only that but Sabbath School is the only part of the service where we get to interact with each other on the mental level and have a meeting of the minds. I think it is wonderful that we can share our thoughts with each other as well as learn from each other. Because I enjoy Sabbath School, it makes me a little sad when so many people miss it. I have dreams of Sabbath School being attended like 11 o’clock service and of 11o’ clock service being packed! I want to come to church to fellowship with like-minded people. I have been too blessed not to come. I have truly been showered by God’s grace and I am so happy that I want everyone to feel like I do. I feel so happy that I want to sing about it. [In fact, I will (insert “Amazing Grace” here)]. Have a blessed Sabbath.
I took off my glasses, held my mom’s hand and closed my eyes (insanely nervous) and I sang “Amazing Grace”. I may be going abroad soon so I wanted to do that for her before I left. I thought I might chicken out so I would have just said, “Have a blessed Sabbath” and skipped the singing but I did it y’all! I sang for my mama! A little later I said my prayer for Sabbath School.
Father we humbly come before your throne of grace to pray a special prayer for Sabbath School. Some of us work hard all week but when it comes to Saturday we just forsake the holiness of your Sabbath and keep hitting snooze while taking your patience for granted. Please grant us receptive spirits. Change our hearts and minds so we are motivated and joyful about coming to Sabbath School. We pray that you will ease our weariness from the workweek and remove the weight from our shoulders before the Sabbath even begins so we can enjoy it in its fullness feeling relieved, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to fellowship with our church family in Sabbath School. In your name we pray, amen.
This is where it gets good. In the very next verse Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. Jesus makes it clear that what he is about to say is in contrast with what the people are familiar with or what was typical (retaliation) by saying three simple words, “But I say”.
So, that “resist not evil” part seems a little odd. I mean Jesus wants me to resist evil right? True. Though again, I must consider the context. Considering the context of Jesus’ character and what he has said in the past, I know this cannot be all there is to understand about this text. Taking that tiny little part by itself makes it sound as if I am supposed to accept evil as opposed to reject it but in context of the whole verse, it means do not be so quick to run away, stand firm so you can exemplify the character of Jesus. After all, Jesus may have been meek but he was not weak! He did not run from the men possessed by demons, he stood firm yet showed compassion for the men by casting out their demons. Let me bring the example a little closer to home. Take our hardened and angry school-aged youth for example. In my experience (USA) teachers are usually not very well-respected by the students (especially in public, city schools) and because of the contention, many teachers disregard, dismiss or just plain give up on the students. However, there are some teachers that take on the challenge and form relationships with these students that change the students’ outlook and help them realize their worth and potential so they can make the most of their collective futures (see To Sir, with Love; Dangerous Minds and “Blackboard Wars” for reference). I believe that is what I am to do when I am faced with tough stuff. Of course, if it is too much to handle, I think I would say a quick prayer and split the scene.
What I like most about Matthew 5:38-39 is how verse 38 is often cited as saying “an eye for an eye” but the very next verse says, “turn the other cheek”. Seriously?! Why in the world would Jesus want us to retaliate against someone who has wronged us then tell us not to with the next breath? I realized the silliness and sadness of this when I started studying these verses. Amazing. It just reaffirms the need to read for myself and in context. Almost half of chapter 5 is even set up in the same “ye have heard…but I say unto you” format (check it out)! I do not think “turn the other cheek” means to accept abuse by the way. It just means that I should not get so easily offended or riled up. Some things I have to let slide for the sake of being Christ-like and I am fine with that. It is not the easiest thing to do but I am a laid-back, non-confrontational sort anyway, so it is not terribly difficult for me to do.
In my effort to read the Bible through, I just finished Matthew. It is only twenty-eight chapters and it is packed full of many of the Bible stories I had heard many times before but I learned so much in reading for myself and encourage others to do the same. I am finished with this “eye for an eye” mini-series and I am glad I can share what I have learned. Of course, there is much more for me to learn but at the very least I hope this promotes discussion about reading and understanding the Bible.
So back to “an eye for an eye”, this week it is Deuteronomy 19: 21under the microscope. It reads as follows, (*ahem) “ And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”. At first glance, again it seems as if I am to indulge in the art of retaliation but looking at the big picture, I can see that the chapter covers “Cities of refuge for murders” and “Laws about Witnesses” (it is labeled in my Bible). Verse twenty-one, the last verse of the chapter, is the one in question and falls under “Laws about witnesses” but there is a worthwhile connection to “Cities of refuge for murders” which I will mention later.
I used the NIV version as a parallel to clarify in plain terms what is going on. I separated the law into three parts:
Everyone else is to learn from this (then eye for eye etc.). So in this case, in addition to doling out an appropriate punishment, the punishment is meant as a cleansing tool to excise the evil from the community (which is what we do now with jail and whatnot).
“An eye for an eye” is not a license to retaliate; however, there are specific circumstances found in the previous verses (“Cities of refuge for murders”) that give more detail:
The purpose was, again, to purge the evil of those who shed innocent blood. There was to be no pity for those who shed innocent blood.
Some may ask, “Why did God allow people to kill others, even if to purge evil? What happened to thou shall not kill?” Remember that back during the BC time, there were purification rituals, which were performed to remove one’s sins. In short, it was basically an “every man for himself” situation where if you sinned, you had to transfer your sins to a perfect lamb (via touch) and then slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice to God as a substitute for oneself. After Jesus died for all of our sins (as the sacrificial lamb) we no longer had to perform the ritual but still atone and ask forgiveness (I did not do a good job at connecting those things but I wanted to mention it). Yes God could have easily snuffed whomever he wanted without human involvement but I believe he was trying to teach his people something. Not only was it a test of obedience, it may have been that he wanted us (I am saying “us” now but referring to Israel back then) to feel the atrocity of taking a life so we would know just how terrible it was and be less inclined to take life for granted and take another’s so easily. Most important, it was an act of love. God did not want his people to be tainted by sin, so those who committed grave sins had to be eradicated for the spiritual safety of the whole. Imagine God having watched Adam and Eve brought to ruin with the aid of some outside force and watching that same thing happen to his people over and over again.
Of course this is just what I see from a little reading and studying on my own but it only reaffirms to me that I serve a loving God, though I may not always understand his actions. Deuteronomy 19:21, in context, is yet another verse that dispels the notion that “an eye for an eye” was meant to be a simple justification for retaliation. Next time Matthew 5:38! Good stuff!
After I prayed, I waited and prayed some more. I did not worry or stress out but I prayed. The Monday morning of the taping I checked my email and there was a letter from school saying that I would not be granted my M.A. but I had fulfilled the requirements for a professional certificate and that they would retroactively enter me into the program so I could get my certificate for the Fall 2012 semester. Honestly, for a minute I was pissed. I felt like a failure and like all my hard work had gone to waste. Then I realized that God had answered my prayer. I asked for the situation to work out favorably so I would have a praise report to share and that is what happened. It did not happen the way I expected but I could have ended up with nothing at all and that realization changed my attitude in a heartbeat and all I could say was “thank you God!” (and then call my mom and tell her everything).
Up until the taping, there was a little confusion as to whether I would give a praise report or prayer request. Whatever I had to do I was prepared for but nervous and it got worse, the closer it came for me to speak on camera and in front of the congregation. With every scheduled portion that passed I got more and more anxious. Then, something amazing happened…technical difficulties. The live feed cut out before the speakers ahead of me took the floor and they had to improvise (with some fancy iPhone technology). After that I was skipped! My heart raced as I thought about making it to the end without having to say anything. I was in the process of trying to become invisible and melt into my seat when Pastor Franklin called me up front (face palm). He asked me to give a prayer request (cool, I didn’t have to tell all my school business just yet).
My prayer request was that in light of our congregation going through the process of discovering and utilizing our spiritual gifts, God would grant us an enthusiastic, refreshed spirit and that we would remember how we felt when we first came to know Christ and apply that attitude to our work for the church. Of course, I want to extend this prayer to cover all those who have a relationship with God and desire to do his will.
Whew! That was a lot! I really wanted to share this testimony though and I feel like I would be doing God a disservice not to. He worked out my school situation, changed my attitude and made it so that I did not have to be on TV (looking like a deer caught in the headlights). I find that even when I pray for something, sometimes I do not even realize that God has taken care of it but this was very specific and “wow”! I had to tell it!
I have a testimony that I just have to share about the power of prayer. For the past six months I have been having a hard time in school. Basically I messed up big time and I was informed that I would not be receiving my M.A. in CSI after four semesters and about $80,000 of federal debt and without passing “Go” or collecting $200. Not only that, I could not reapply for admission. I was crushed. I poked, prodded and pleaded with my professors (very respectfully of course) and anyone else I thought could help me but the most pertinent thing I did was pray. I was scared, anxious, numb; all I could think was “if only I had…”.
My parents never pressured me or made me feel like I was worth any less for making mistakes and I love them for it. In other words, the monkey on my back was me. I knew that even though I could always depend on myself to get into an unsavory situation, I could only depend on God to get me out. In the midst of all that, my pastor called me and asked me to give a praise report for the live segment of “Let’s Pray” that was being filmed at my church. Now, I am notoriously shy and usually say “no” to actions that require me to stand in front of an audience but I opened my heart and just said “yes” (then I immediately regretted it and got nervous). I was having a hard time and had no clue what I was going to share because at that point I was not a happy camper.
From the time Pastor Taylor called me (Thursday 1/3/12) until the taping on 1/14/12 I had eleven days. I can rarely get anything involving school administration done on Fridays (everyone has mentally checked out by 12 pm) and weekends are unproductive so that gave me seven days to work on the school situation. Then I thought “eureka!” I will give a praise report about school. By then, hopefully I should have some good news. I let go of the reigns, stepped out on faith and trusted God fully. And no, I did not pray those “If you do this for me, I will never…again” or “I do not know what is going on God but your will be done” prayers (like Pastor Franklin mentioned to the effect of many an “amen” and head nods). I was open, honest and prayed for what I wanted while claiming his promises.
I prayed something like this: God, I come before you with a spirit of boldness but humbly as well. You are King of kings and Lord of lords and capable of all things great and small. You know the mess I am in and this situation is catastrophic. I am solely relying on the faith that you require of me and asking you to handle this problem. You said that if I ask I will receive (Matthew 7:7) and that you will be my refuge in the time of trouble (Psalm 9:9). Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast (Psalm 57:1). God I want you to work out my school situation favorably so I can have a praise report by the Monday of the taping at church. In fact, I believe that it will happen and I will be waiting for it so that I can share my testimony about the power of prayer and faith so that others may be encouraged; in your holy name I pray, amen.
To be continued…
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Last time I talked about Exodus 21:24 as the first of four biblical sources of the oft misquoted “An eye for an eye” verse. Round 2 focuses on Leviticus 24:20. Some scriptures are cut and dry, I can understand them easily without much brainpower on my part but others can be interpreted multiple ways so I make sure I regard them in context to their surround verses.
Leviticus 24:20 by itself, on the surface, appears to indicate that if someone deals me some damage I am to reciprocate in kind. However, in context of the surrounding verses, that interpretation is not quite right. In Leviticus 24 the Bible says,
15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.
16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.
17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.
19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
20 Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
21 And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
There are a lot of “death[s] and “killeth[s]” in these verses but in combination, I see it the same way as Exodus 21:24; the punishment must fit the crime. I do not want to rely too much on the wording as the KJV Bible is translated from Greek and Hebrew text. However it is interesting to note that in some verses it is clear who is to receive punishment and who will administer the punishment but in others not so much. In verse 15 it is clear to me that the person that curses God will suffer the consequences of his sin at God’s hand (since God is the only one who can absolve that sin). In verse 16 it is clear that those guilty of blasphemy are to be stoned by the congregation (according to the law of the land at the time). Verse 17 specifies who should be punished, what the crime is, and what the punishment is but not who is to administer the punishment (and so on for the other verses). Perhaps the congregation is also in charge of punishment in all subsequent verses in the chapter.
The point is that in context, Leviticus 24:20 like Exodus 21:24 is not simply “an eye for an eye” or revenge but making sure that wrongs are met with a measured and appropriate response.
I may or may not have mentioned it before but I am studying to become a Crime Scene Investigator. Lately I have been watching a lot of crime-themed TV shows like “48 Hours: Hard Evidence”, “Homicide Hunter”, “Dateline” and “Fatal Encounters”. In a lot of cases where revenge is the motive, “an eye for an eye” is often cited and more often than not with “The Bible says, “ or “Jesus said,” in front of it as if trying to justify criminal deeds.
For a long time, I was not sure whether “an eye for an eye” was a biblical concept or not but I never thought to look it up until I saw a list of commonly misquoted scriptures. “An eye for an eye” was on the list but there was no mention of the correct verse (go figure…). I just knew I had seen it somewhere before and finally I found Matthew 5:38 in the concordance in the back of one of my Bibles (from my Barney bag of Bibles). “Ok, I get how it can be mistaken or misquoted,” I thought, but that was it. No further research, no further study; that was it.
Since I had been hearing that phrase a lot lately I thought perhaps there was more to it than the simple misquotation or misinterpretation of one single verse (should have known since the Bible often repeats things multiple times). I went back to my concordance and found Exodus 21:24 (hmm…must have missed that the first time). Google led me to Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. So, the source of Biblical references to “an eye for an eye” is (drumroll) not one verse but four Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 andMatthew 5:38 (there are more on general revenge).
First up is Exodus 21:24 which says, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”. Aha! Justification for revenge! Right? Well, not exactly. Consider the verse in context of the surrounding verses. “22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief (death)[i] follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” It is not as simple as “you hurt me, I hurt you back”. This was a response to a specific event.
In accordance with other versions and commentary it says, if some bros are brawling, hurt a pregnant woman in the process and cause her to have a miscarriage but she is still alive then the offender(s) will be punished according to the husbands wishes, through the authority of a judge. (Judges protected the offender from possible excessive compensation sought by the husband)[ii]. If the woman dies then the offender will be punished appropriately. I believe that this means compensation but not necessarily physical punishment.
Keep in mind the golden rule “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”(Matthew 7:12 , Luke 6:31); in a situation like this and with respect to the golden rule, I think it would be contrary to have someone physically punish another in someone else’s stead which is most likely what was done back then. If a man’s wife was insulted or whatever may be the case, it is the man who would seek revenge not the woman who was the actual person offended. So in the situation where a pregnant bystander gets injured and miscarries, she would not be the one gouging the offender’s eye out, metaphorically speaking, (though capable; you should see some of those crime stories; scary!) it would probably be the husband or some other related male. However, and again in respect to the golden rule, it is inappropriate for me to harm someone on someone else’s behalf since I am not the one who was wronged in the first place.
I know there are other situations where God gave the go-ahead to exterminate a thief and his whole family or where battles have occurred but I am talking about one on one situations. That is why I think in this case “eye for an eye” is referring to appropriate compensation for a wrong as opposed to taking actions way beyond what you have endured. If someone is chasing me and I fall and get a concussion (true story), recover and then chase them with a hammer so they run into a wall and get a concussion (that did not happen by the way) it is overkill (and has other legal implications). Appropriate compensation would be to have them pay my medical bill or simply apologize since I was fine. Similarly consider the importance of the features as a measure of appropriate punishment or compensation. An eye is very important, damaging an eye is more significant than damaging a tooth. If someone damages my eye and I can no longer see out of it, knocking out one of the offender’s teeth is not going to satisfy me. If I accidentally burn down my neighbor’s house (also did nothappen) I cannot pay them back with just my bike.
Even the golden rule is not about revenge but how to treat others. It is not “if someone punches me, they must want to get punched too” but “if I punch someone, I should not be surprised or upset if they punch me back” (it is all in the subtleties).
There are a few other verses to get through so, [To be continued…]
[i] Mischief meant “death” in this verse. “Chapter 21.” Exodus. Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1978. 610-619. Print. Vol. 1 of theSeventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ed. Francis d. Nichol. 7 vols. 1953-1978. 624
[ii] “Chapter 21.” Exodus. Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1978. 610-619. Print. Vol. 1 of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ed. Francis d. Nichol. 7 vols. 1953-1978. 614.
One of the Sabbath school lessons a few weeks ago was entitled “Growing in Christ”. Growth is vital to our relationship with Christ and that was the main topic but what struck me most about this lesson was the part about redemption.
I like thefreedictionary.com’s definitions of redemption as salvation from sin through Jesus’ sacrifice or deliverance upon payment of ransom; rescue. I believe the second definition is the best (deliverance upon payment of ransom; rescue) because it is clearer for people who do not believe as I do or understand the concepts of redemption/salvation as it relates to Christianity. I think most people know that a ransom is offered as payment to reclaim what someone else has taken. Jesus gave his life for me as a ransom so he could reclaim what was his (me) and also save me from eternal death.
So it is like this (Warning. Excessive creative liberties ahead):
Satan said, “Hey world, I got something you might like. It’s called sin, one hit and you’ll be hooked. You’ll get addicted to it but you won’t even notice because it’ll allow you to do whatever you want, whenever you want and you’ll be too busy having fun to even care.”
Everyone gets hooked on sin. Some try hard not to indulge (but they still dabble) while others go big and sin like their life depends on it. However Jesus saw the turmoil and strife sin caused.
J: Satan, your product is ruining my creation. It is killing my children.
S: Yeah, I get that but my customers are satisfied and business is booming. Regardless of your rehab programs and interventions, your people will always return to me. Besides, the FDA is cool with it.
J: How about this, I will give my life for them. I will take on the sum of their pain and suffering and die a physical death and they will no longer be subject to spiritual death as a result of sin.
S: No deal. I abhor your very existence. Shutting down my operation just to see you die a physical death after which you’ll return to your cushy kingdom and continue existing for eternity? Meh, there is nothing in it for me.
J: They will have a choice. I will die for them but I will not force them to accept my help. I will offer my hand to
S: Ok fine, but you will be cutting into my profit. However, my product is the best and your little salvation program will never be enough to shut me down. I will win this war; after all, your children are born with a taste for my sin in their mouths. MWAHAHA (evil laughter). I’ll get my marketing team to make my product even more attractive and I’ll try my best to wrench every single soul from the light of your glory not that I have to since they will continue to come to me in droves of their own free will.
J: What a pitiful being you are. Misery certainly loves company but not only will I release those willing to come from your grasp, I will destroy you in the end. You may win some battles but you will not win the war.
S: Whatever. Allow me to show you the door. As always, it has been an absolute displeasure doing business with you.
At one point I did not even know I needed saving but I realized that I could not save myself. Not only can Jesus redeem me from sin, he wants to. It is that personal. My Creator offered his life, his blood to reclaim me from the power of sin so that I will be able to spend eternity with him in his glorious kingdom and all I had to do was accept him as my Savior. Of course that does not mean I have a reserved spot in heaven, as an Adventist I do not believe in the concept of “once saved, always saved”. Part of being saved and growing in Christ is maintaining my salvation and not by scrupulous application of piety but by loving Jesus. Because I love him, my behaviors change naturally (sometimes abruptly, sometimes gradually).
The reality of it all is that living is hard. Sure things like money and power make it easier but neither of those things will do anything for the state of my soul so instead I have found relief in redemption. The beauty of redemption is that no matter how deep I sink into sin, Jesus’ hand is always extended for me to grab when am drowning.
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