The Power of Consequences
“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.”
Wow! That’s a radical notion. And it seems extreme. Yet this law comes from the Bible (Exodus 21:15 ESV), before Jesus Christ descended to usher in the era of grace.
As unfair as they may seem, strong consequences can help prevent wrongdoing. An incident that happened to me at a US border crossing drove home this important point.
Several years ago, Debbie and I were cycling across America on our honeymoon. We needed to pass through a narrow security checkpoint, bicycles and all. The entryway was a cross between a revolving door and a head-to-toe turnstile. The metal latticework allowed glimpses of what was within it.
The challenge enticed me. It looked fun and harkened back to Jesus’s metaphor in Matthew 19:24 (ESV). Some theologians have contended that the “eye of a needle” referred to a narrow gate through which a camel entered a city in biblical times. Whether you subscribe to that interpretation or a more literal one, Jesus was emphasizing that a rich person only enters the kingdom of God with much difficulty.
I was facing my own eye of a needle. With some effort, I wriggled my loaded bicycle through the tight passageway. Then, I stood inside a small rectangle with fencing on three sides and a building on the fourth.
Debbie pushed her bicycle into the revolving door until it became stuck. The moment seemed so unusual that I thought it was worth capturing for posterity before coming to her aid. Our friends were not going to believe this predicament. I grabbed my camera and aimed it toward the turnstile.
Suddenly, the building door flew open. Out came a border patrol officer.
“You can’t take pictures here. This is a restricted area,” she snapped as she reached for my camera. “Let me have that.”
I panicked. Debbie and I had cycled from Oregon to New York with some precious memories on the card inside that camera.
“Oh, I won’t take any pictures. I promise,” I said, as I clutched the camera close to my chest.
“Delete that last picture and get on out of here,” she said.
As abruptly as she had arrived, she vanished when the tinted door closed behind her. I was grateful she was willing to look the other way.
Seizing the camera would have been a harsh penalty for an innocent mistake. Nevertheless, the threat provided strong motivation. No way would I breach this law again and risk losing some irreplaceable pictures. When we crossed back into the United States a day later, my camera was stowed away.
Assuming they were enforced, the stringent laws of yesteryear (Exodus 21 and 22) must have been powerful deterrents and commanded respect for authority.
Ramifications serve an important purpose. If border authorities allow everyone to photograph their security framework, the images can end up in the hands of bad actors whose selfish motives will harm innocent people. Scoundrels can learn how to breach security and use that knowledge to perpetrate additional crimes.
Thankfully, God places rules and consequences in our lives. They protect us. The stiffer the punishment, the more likely people will follow the rules. Those rules may even save our lives.
The next time you become frustrated with an inequitable consequence, remember that the law exists for the benefit of you and those around you. If everyone broke it, chaos would ensue.
Love… and Other Mysteries
by John UpChurch, crosswalk.com
My goal is that they will be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have full confidence because they have complete understanding of God’s secret plan [mystery], which is Christ himself. (Colossians 2:2)
There are two things you need to know about how I met my wife. These two inevitably surprise or shock; so, we’ll just get them out of the way first. We met on eHarmony (back when it was still a Christian site), and from the first date to the date of the wedding was four months. Yes, four—and that was actually longer than we wanted.
Okay, so maybe there are three surprises here. You see, I knew I wanted to marry her before we had even seen each other. No pictures. No hints. Nothing. The beauty of eHarmony back then was that you didn’t have to show your face to the other person. You filled out a personality profile, and then found yourself knee-deep in a pool of potential matches. Well, that was supposed to be how it worked, and that’s what happened for my wife-to-be.
But I only had one match. Her.
You could call it providence. You could call it “finding the one.” Or you could call it a decided lack of women on the site. Whatever the case, we asked each other a few questions, and then started emailing. Emailing led to phone calls. Phone calls led to a first date. And a first date led to a second date on the same day.
But I was gone well before that point. Tucked away in our phone conversations about high school nicknames (I’d tell you hers, but she’ll read this) and our faith stumbles and triumphs, I came to know that I’d need to hear those stories—well—for as long our brains could dredge them up. Hers were mine. Mine were hers. All we needed was a place to drive away from with our car covered in toilet paper and chocolate letters. (Wedding tip: never give miniature chocolate candies to your wedding guests.)
When the apostle Paul talked about marriage being a mystery in Ephesians 5:1, I’m pretty sure he had mine in mind. Of course, by mystery, he didn’t mean Sherlockian intuition wringing meaning from a peanut shell (or whatnot); he meant God opening our eyes to something. Where once the darkness smothered understanding, God turned the flood lights on. And it was ten times as awesome for being revealed at just the right time.
And that’s why I’m thankful for the type of courtship I had. Not because I kissed dating goodbye, but because I went in blind. I had understanding of this feisty woman who lived an hour away, but I’d never seen her red hair or green eyes. I knew her spunk, but not her spark. That all changed when she climbed out of her car at the Brick Oven Grill. The mystery came flooding into non-mystery territory. And my jaw dropped. She truly blew away what I thought I knew.
Mysteries should do that: make our minds explode, knock things into place, jack our wonder up to a new level. God hinted at them and then brought full understanding suddenly and perfectly and with a kick-up-your-heels-in-a-hoedown kind of way. And it was worth the wait.
Streams in the Desert – January 29
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early (Psalms 46:5)
“Shall not be moved”–what an inspiring declaration! Can it be possible that we, who are so easily moved by the things of earth, can arrive at a place where nothing can upset us or disturb our calm? Yes, it is possible; and the Apostle Paul knew it. When he was on his way to Jerusalem where he foresaw that “bonds and afflictions” awaited him, he could say triumphantly, “But none of these things move me.”
Everything in Paul’s life and experience that could be shaken had been shaken, and he no longer counted his life, or any of life’s possessions, dear to him. And we, if we will but let God have His way with us, may come to the same place, so that neither the fret and tear of little things of life, nor the great and heavy trials, can have power to move us from the peace that passeth understanding, which is declared to be the portion of those who have learned to rest only on God.
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out.” To be as immovable as a pillar in the house of our God, is an end for which one would gladly endure all the shakings that may be necessary to bring us there!
—Hannah Whitall Smith
When God is in the midst of a kingdom or city He makes it as firm as Mount Zion, that cannot be removed. When He is in the midst of a soul, though calamities throng about it on all hands, and roar like the billows of the sea, yet there is a constant calm within, such a peace as the world can neither give nor take away. What is it but want of lodging God in the soul, and that in His stead the world is in men’s hearts, that makes them shake like leaves at every blast of danger?
“They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever.” There is a quaint old Scottish version that puts iron into our blood:
Who sticketh to God in stable trust
As Zion’s mount he stands full just,
Which moveth no whit, nor yet doth reel,
But standeth forever as stiff as steel!
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” – Hebrews 11:13 NKJV
Havergal Brian’s life has been called a strange phenomenon. Born into a working-class family on this day in 1876, no one would have imagined that he was destined for a career in music.
Leaving school at age twelve, he worked in a coal mine, for timber firms, and for a carpenter. Yet, despite limited experience, he felt called to be a composer. His music attracted some attention, but the dominant reaction was rejection.
Many thought he was an eccentric. But some saw something satisfying. His champions included influential conductors but, in spite of their friendship, few performances were arranged. He could continue composing only because of the support of a wealthy businessman.
Even though he didn’t have tangible successes, Brian kept writing – piece after piece, for eighty years. It was called “one of the longest creative careers ever.” Yet not a note of his music was issued commercially during his lifetime. We can imagine how discouraged he felt at times. Only after he died in 1972 (at the age of 96) did his work begin attracting the acclaim he missed in his lifetime. His music finally was recorded and played in concerts.
His experience reminds us of Biblical principles. Whether or not we get attention or praise, we are to be good stewards of the resources God gives us. Always be faithful. Always work as unto God, trusting the results to Him.