When I was a kid we had a dog named “Tibolt”. He was, it seemed to me, the fastest thing on four paws. I couldn’t catch him to save my life. He darted around the yard like someone with a hot firebrand was chasing him. The only hope I had was trapping him inside the fences of the yard. Fences protect things. They guard things. They help keep in what should be kept private and help keep out what should be kept out. We are facing a FENCE CRISIS in America today.
Ray Prichard wrote recently: “In 1988 evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl Henry made a stunning prediction in his book, Twilight of a Great Civilization (Crossway Books). He said that as America progressively loses its Judeo-Christian heritage, paganism would grow bolder. What we saw in the last half of the 20th-century was a kind of benign humanism, but he predicted that by the start of the 21st-century, we would face a situation not unlike the first-century when the Christian faith confronted raw paganism—humanism with the pretty face ripped off, revealing the angry monster underneath. His words have come true, and are coming truer with every passing day.”
You don’t have to go past daytime television, or read the comments section of any internet news outlet to see it – anger unleashed against all moral restraints. I was reading yesterday and young man’s plea: “Let’s legalize marijuana!” I began to wonder what he was thinking… Do we have far too many sober and clear thinking people in America today? Is anesthesia actually the way to solve problems? Some people think so.
Even if you think that young man is extreme (and I assure you he is not), virtually no one in our modern society would disagree that we have lost the “blush” from the American face. We can flip through the channels and see almost anything, if we are willing to degrade ourselves enough and if we are willing to pay for what we want. In the modern world we live in, 27 million women were reportedly trafficked as sex slaves. Child pornography is a rampant phenomenon that has law enforcement shuddering, while courts grapple with one assault on the “rights” of people to do anything they want after another. We seem to be trying to move a society like a ship with no rudder – allowing our civil society to be tossed about with every dark current. Yet, God planned another way. We CAN have a domestic life that is positive, if we will put up the picket fences and stop allowing the destructive beasts to chew away our civility.
Where do we start? Good question. If judgment starts with the house of God (1 Peter 4), then discernment must start there too. We must KNOW what God wants before we DO what God wants. In civil society, we must stop thinking that God’s Word is well known or obvious- for most the basic concepts of Scripture are foreign.
Key Principle: Careful examination of God’s civil codes reveal a path that can bring peace and harmony back to our community – but we must learn that code, then choose to follow it.
Before some of you “check out” mentally let me address two objections that will no doubt block our communication in this study.
First, many believers truly believe our nation is “too far gone” for a turnaround – but that is NOT SO. Let me challenge you with your own experience. Has God been able to turn you out of a life of self and sin to follow Him? Were you less a sinner than any other? Is there something too difficult for our God? Is He content to let our world spiral downward… the answer is NO – and I know that be WE ARE STILL HERE. There is coming a day when the church will be gone. It may be soon. At the same time, while it is yet DAY, we work with the expectation that the same God that changed US will change OTHERS with His Word.
A second objection is often raised by people in our modern American life – we don’t want all this LAW. We don’t want to be LEGALISTIC. We are under grace and we should be sharing with people the words of grace and not all this legal stuff. There is a point to understanding grace – and we cannot earn the love of God through works. Yet, I would caution once again that the church has reveled in grace for so long we are in danger of becoming a free for all when it comes to right thinking and right living. I don’t live to keep a list – but my relationship with Jesus (just like the one with my wife) has rules.
I arrived at the Virgin America terminal in LAX the other morning to return to Florida from California. When I came in, a very nice TSA man had me remove my shoes, belt, wallet, laptop, and various other parts and pieces onto an x-ray machine beltway as I passed through a doorway leading nowhere. They didn’t want to judge me, nor did they like me – they were just erecting the necessary barriers and only allowing those who passed the screening to enter. I could call them “LEGALISTS”, but what they did was for my safety. When I went to the gate, they checked my boarding pass and the size of my carry on – all for my safety and the convenience of other passengers on board. We understand that for all of us to live together, there must be rules… and they are designed to make things WORK BETTER.
Let me look at God’s specific prescriptions for Civil Society that He directed for His people in our passage. On first reading it looks like a laundry lists of laws, but there are actually only specific areas mentioned that may surprise you:
Exodus 22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins. 18 “You shall not allow a sorceress to live. 19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. 20 “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed. 21 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious. 28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people. 29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 “You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. 31 “You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.
Let me sharpen this list for you, and sharpen our attention to it. There are seven areas presented, and each of them has a direct relationship for how believers in the church should look at their world. Each of the specifics has behind it an attitude – and though the law is not ours the attitude it guards against still manifests itself in specific ways in our society.
Problem #1: Irresponsible Men
The issue is not just that men need to take responsibility for sexual activity – but also for sexual attitudes. We are out of Junior High now, so stop acting like body parts are still something to poke fun about. We need men to grow up. In a world where women guard themselves and men act like they are less culpable if she “lets you”, we need to reverse the sense of responsibility. Real men don’t make jokes about base sexual things. Real men face their lust issues and stand for purity. Real men control themselves. When we read about men seducing a virgin – we act like that is NORMAL. It is not normal – it is childish and irresponsible. One step outside the line only encourages another. By verse 19 we are reading the unthinkable – “Cut out Sex with animals” – I can’t even think about this. In a fallen and depraved world where sexual deviance has overtaken our sense of the real purpose and value of sexual expression – we need to recognize that God is disgusted by us pushing all limits.
22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins….22:19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.
The church has become so lax in the area of sexuality that we have allowed God’s wonderful gift of expression of love that was to be shared in a marriage bed, to become a highlight of unmarried humor, and the single greatest topic of sitcoms. We act like sex outside of marriage harms no one – when the Bible clearly says that it DOES HARM. When we warp the uses that God intended for something, we damage our world. Men and women are now facing marriage after a whole range of sensual experiences that were intended for a unique intimacy, and then wondering why so many marriages are failing. This is not the only reason – but it is a reason. God made us, and He knows how we work best. Every time we over rule His Spirit in some area of our lives, we affirm rebellion and raise a fist to His rule and plan.
The rule for seducing a virgin presupposed something we can no longer presuppose – that a man will feel responsible for his behavior in sexual areas. It is not manly to act irresponsibly in this or any other way. The church has to be a place of truth – and the truth is that we have glorified so called “sexual freedom” in our country to the place where men will openly talk about their porn as though it makes them more of a man. Let me be clear: It doesn’t. It shows you lack the control to keep your mind and body in check. You may lift weights and look great on the outside, but if you cannot keep your mind under control, you are not much of a man. One of the most basic parts of a walk with God is that – keeping your heart guarded and your body controlled.
Problem #2: Playing with Spiritual Things
God simply told Israel to cut out witchcraft from His people. In a culture where there are good witches and bad ones – black magic and white – we need to quit entertaining ourselves with evil and get back to walking in truth. I try to speak in principles, but I am continually amazed at how little people really grasp, so I am going to try to be as gracious as I can, while still being pointed.
22:18 “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.
I will not compromise on the issue of witchcraft. I believe with all my heart that Harry and his friends shouldn’t be on your nightstand. I don’t agree that it is an “every Christian should use their own judgment” type of thing any more than PORNOGRAPHY should be a “to each believer their own judgment”. Come on, is it really so unclear that spells, conjuring, and witchcraft are not GRAY AREAS in the Word? Is there some set of verses that make it ok to bring up our children in that world because it is creative? I am genuinely stunned at the number of Christians that cannot see the clear words of God’s heart – KILL THE WITCH. I don’t mean we should all get pitch forks and storm Dr. Frankenstein’s castle – I mean we have got to wake up to the influence this is having on our children and grandchildren.
What’s the problem, Pastor? Well, that is a fair question:
First, we don’t need our children getting de-sensitized to the occult in the modern world. They should learn that spiritual powers exist- and that we are fighting them every day. They should learn the parts of the armor they should put on each day. They should learn who the enemy is, where and how he works, and what they can to do navigate the world and lead others to Jesus. These children are not like us. They are growing up in a world that has no boundaries for darkness – and we should not make them comfortable with things God sternly and flatly forbade. God always has a reason for what He restricts. If we let them market witchcraft to our kids – our kids will normalize it for life.
Second, in an unusual twist, people who grow up with witchcraft entertainment are fed an intolerance towards those who don’t believe in witchcraft’s good uses. In the Harry Potter series, those who don’t accept or understand the warlock are called a “Muggle.” People who believe it is morally wrong to practice magic are “Muggles”. Just so you know – in the ethic of that world, Muggles are wrong. Do you think I am over-playing this? Take a good look at the numbers associated with the Wiccan movement in England before and after the series.
So that you don’t get the idea that I am speaking to personal preferences and not the Word, let me just reinforce what the Bible actually says. Both sorcery and witchcraft was forbidden in the law of Moses (Ex 22:18; Deut 18:10) and was denounced by the prophets (Nah 3:4). Conjuring spells and enchantments were specified as outlawed (Dt. 18:11, Isa. 19:3). Magic in the Bible referred to works of Egyptians, Babylonians and pagans – but was not mentioned among God’s people.
Now I must be honest. I am not going to ask your children if they read the books or saw the movies – but I beg you to more carefully consider what is happening. I try to understand this removal of the fence in the Christian home, but I truly cannot. I keep hearing about how we don’t want our children to be “left out of what is happening in the world” around them. Why do we feel entertainment is so tremendously important that we cannot rebuild the fence of protection here? I believe it is setting up the next generation of believers to be even less defended – because the fences were removed by free thinking parents – and I do not understand the perceived benefits.
Problem #3: The Making of a God
Even the most amateur Bible student knows instinctively that God didn’t allow idolatry. Yet, it is much harder to get a growing believer to see what influence the idolater next door has on them. We live in a world that chooses to make their God fit into their own desires, but we must kneel before the God who IS.
22:20 “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed.
The reason God wanted Israel to be ever so careful about allowing the free exchange of everyone’s view of God is simple: He is the truth and they were telling lies. When we grow up in a world that teaches us constantly on TV and Internet that God is has no theology to speak of, no particular credo, no tenets of faith that would DIVIDE us – we are being educated in a LIE. When we meet the innocuous, harmless god of the public airwaves who is a serviceable god with laws amended to public sentiment – we are being LIED TO. And liars are getting more brazen and more dogmatic.
I am not trying to be belligerent in this. I am simply arguing that people are increasingly swallowing an “all gods lead to heaven” strategy that is pagan to its core and hostile to the Gospel. For this reason, God didn’t want His people getting comfortable with the plurality of pagan gods. Disney grabbed our children young, and has fed them a steady remaking of pagan tales. I am not snooping into your DVD cabinet, I am telling you to get your guard up and watch what is going on. Our children are more able to tell us about foreign gods and pagan rituals than about the basic Judeo-Christian ethics upon which our nation was built. Sit down and talk about what they are learning, and where they are learning it from. My oldest child came home from a Christian school – fifteen years ago in another town – and shared with us cultic practices children were discussing on the playground. They are more influenced than you may think.
Problem #4: A Brutal Generation
There is a brutishness to modernity. Survival of the fittest doesn’t work well in nursing homes. Bullying is what we can expect when we extract the basic moral fibers that hold the nations threads together. We must turn back to tenderness. In a world where power is king and care is weakness – we need to be aware that God is watching and listening to our hard words and hard hearts when it comes to the weak and needy.
22:21 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.
When you listen to believers, can you hear a sensitivity to people? Are we teaching our youth to recognize and work to deliver those who are hurting? Look at the list of people God mentioned:
- Don’t wrong a stranger: Because everyone needs to be drawn in and made to feel love.
- Don’t make it harder on a widow or orphan: Because everyone needs an advocate when life falls apart.
- Don’t make money off those who are struggling: Because those who are down need a hand, not a boot.
God pointed out that He is gracious – so mercy is NOT only for the weak… but for the strong.
Problem #5: A Respectful Mouth
When did it become ok to say whatever came to our minds? Some of the biggest mouths are attached to the smallest minds. I mention the disrespect issue because Facebook has shown us a side of each other we may never have seen before. We must learn and teach reverence to God and respect for authority. In a society that values freedoms over responsibilities – we need to turn back to honoring God, and those He has placed over us. God said:
22:28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
Why is this important? Because our future depends on it. If our children do not learn respect now, we will reap the harvest later. We have to know what is REAL and what is IMPORTANT, as opposed to what is transient and fleeting! John Wesley once expressed his commitment to the Word this way:
“I am a creature of a day, passing through life, as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence, I am no more seen! I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.”
Let me say it clearly: A man is not more educated if he can cite volumes of pagan philosophy but cannot discern the truth. He may be well read, but he is living blindly and walking toward death.
Problem #6: Selfish Priority
Do you want to see modern selfishness? Just look at how people try to get five bags into a carryon overhead bin, while pretending they only have one. We live in a world that tilts the rules toward us, and blames everyone else. At the same time, even among believers, we haven’t really learned to recognize we don’t own what we have. In a world that believes they deserve all they have gotten, we need to turn back to Heaven and humbly admit that what we have came from the Lord!
22:29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 “You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.
The ancient Hebrews had rites to help them remember they got what they got because God gave what He gave. We need help with this, even now. We need to give God the first of our TIME, TALENT and TREASURE – because ALL of it was from Him.
Problem #7: Looking for a free lunch
Road kill isn’t a menu item. In a world that sees no boundaries except the ones that immediately show themselves as dangerous, you need to make lines around principles. Just because you CAN do something, and because it APPEARS to meet a need – does not mean it is the RIGHT thing to do. Everything has a COST, and it is not always readily apparent. The children of Israel may not have known about the bacteria and germ issues, but they had a bigger problem. They needed to take it by God’s Word not to grab something simply because they COULD. From genetic tampering to stem cell research – we need to slow down and really understand that we don’t understand the outcomes of what we do as well as we think.
22:31“You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.
If we would simply work for what we have, spend less than we make, and save some – we would not be so eager for the quick fix or fast blessing. We need to recognize that there is no free lunch – even in the wilderness.
Oh dear ones, I have not entertained you, nor treated a light topic – but we have looked at truth… and in it we found LOVE. God’s Love.
Ryan Rodeman, a dear and learned young man on staff at a sister church in Akron wrote the words I want to close with just yesterday… “Calling something wrong is now the only thing that’s really wrong. Accountability is judgmental. Discipline is mean….Unconditional acceptance with no mention of the harm that we do to ourselves is the new definition of love. This is not love. This is actually more like hate….The Bible shows us that this kind of love is a big part of how God loves us. God disciplines us. He teaches us. He prunes us. He molds us….All of those things have to do with us changing. God cares about us enough not to let us stay the same. That is love. …Love sacrifices. Love suffers. It gives itself away. Love bears burdens, speaks truth and faces reality. It’s not that there isn’t genuine affection or warmth to love. It’s not that acceptance isn’t a part of love. Those are all very real aspects. Love wants whats best for us according to God’s definition of best. To move away from God’s best is to move toward death…” Amen.
Careful examination of God’s civil codes reveal a path that can bring peace and harmony back to our community – but we must learn that code, then choose to follow it.