Tag Archives: Exclusion

Rules and Exceptions

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God.

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1,3 (NIV)

A large part of my daily vocation is working with companies and their Quality Assessment (QA) efforts. You know, when you call and they say, “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes”? That’s a piece of what our company does.

Many years ago I observed a pattern in many companies with whom I consulted on their QA programs. An exceptional situation will result in a general rule for the population. Often, the rule had more of a detrimental effect than the exceptional situation that started it ever would. Let me give you an example.

Our team’s customer surveys (another piece of what our company does) typically find that customers appreciate a company who knows their name (Remember Cheers? “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”) and offers a personal service experience. Then one day a well-meaning Customer Service Representative (CSR) makes a mistake and addresses the caller by the wrong name or butchers the pronunciation of an unusual sounding name. The customer goes postal on the CSR and calls back to speak with managers and executives up the org chart making a huge deal out of a relatively little thing. Management, not wanting to have that happen again, makes a general rule: CSRs will no longer address customers by name!

The result? One exceptional, cranky customer who made a mountain out of a molehill has resulted in all customers getting a diminished service experience from the company.

Then I began to realize that this isn’t just something that happens in business. It happens all the time in families, churches, communities, and cultures. In fact, it happens in today’s chapter, but I bet you didn’t see it if you read the chapter.

Back in the days of Moses, there were two exceptional enemies of the Hebrews. The Ammonites and Moabites had gone out of their way to curse the Hebrews and attempted to thwart their passing through the land. Because of this, the law of Moses contained an exceptional rule:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4 (NIV)

Then, I read again what Nehemiah and the returned exiles did when they read this text:

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Nehemiah 13:3 (NIV) [emphasis added]

Do you see what they did there? They took an exceptional situation that applied to two specific people groups (the Moabites and Ammonites) being allowed into the temple, and they expanded into a general rule excluding all people of foreign descent from the entire land.

Here’s the kicker. In doing this, they were breaking another very specific law of God in Leviticus 19:

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.'”

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

I can see the legal wrangling spinning in the hearts and heads of Nehemiah and his people: “If we exclude all foreigners from the land, then we won’t have any of them residing among us, and that renders the Leviticus rule moot!”

By the way, what Nehemiah and the people are doing in today’s chapter is part of why Jesus came 400 years later to find a culture of separation, animosity, prejudice, and hatred between Jews and Gentiles. If they’d have interpreted Deuteronomy 23:3-4 differently and made Leviticus 19:33-34 their general rule, things may have just have turned out differently.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of all the ways we still do this today. Parents have one child who rebels and they clamp down their draconian rules on all of their children in the belief that the entire brood is a bunch of little rebels waiting to happen. Two young people at a school dance go too far and the girl ends up pregnant, so the church outlaws dancing in any form as evil. One dumb terrorist thought he could plant a bomb in his shoe (simply resulting in him burning his feet), and now billions of travelers have to have their shoes removed and x-rayed at every airport in the world.

By the way, I think both extremes of the political spectrum do this, as well. Let me give you two easy examples. The right does it with guns: “Because the Constitution made an exception for Colonists to have a musket to defend themselves against enemies and provide food for their tables, there’s no reason why I can’t have an M-16 and a rocket launcher in my home arsenal.” The left does it with abortion: “Because there are tragic situations of rape, incest, and life-threatening situations, we should allow abortion for all women, for any reason, right until the moment of delivery in the ninth month.”

The further I get in my life journey the more I observe that we humans are largely driven by fear, distrust, and emotional over-reactions. I don’t want to live that way. I’d rather have my life, words, and actions driven by faith, hope, and love. And, the latter most of all.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

“Holy Huddle”

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV)

For my entire life’s journey I have belonged to a local church. I’ve actually belonged to many churches of different sizes and denominational affiliations. One of the patterns of behavior I have noticed among believers is referred to by some as “the holy huddle.”

The “holy huddle” is a group of Jesus’ followers who huddle together in life to the general exclusion of anyone else. The huddle worships together, socializes with one another, spends free time together, gathers on holidays, vacations together, and pretty much keep to themselves.

I have, at different times of life, been part of holy huddles. I get the allure of it and understand why it’s easy to fall comfortably into the pattern. We all like socializing with people with whom we share common thoughts, opinions, and socio-economic status. Followers of Jesus also tend to desire the avoidance of both temptation and conflict. As a young man, hanging out almost exclusively with members of my youth group meant being around an environment of positive peer pressure. That’s not a bad thing.

I’m reminded this morning, however, that the “holy huddle” was never God’s paradigm. Yes, those who follow Jesus are encouraged to meet together regularly. Yes, we need to be in relationship with our fellow believers to encourage, comfort, confess, and build one another up. This is not, however, to the exclusion of those outside our spiritual sphere.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes a very clear distinction that is important for any of us who follow Jesus. When Paul had told the believers in the city of Corinth that they were not to associate with immoral people, he was not talking about non-believers in their community. He was referring specifically to those individuals in their local gathering who claimed to follow Jesus but also considered God’s forgiveness as a license for doing whatever they wanted. These people boasted that they could do whatever they wanted morally because Jesus’ forgiveness covered it all, and they encouraged others to join them in their “freedom.”

This morning I’m reminded that I can’t make a difference in my world if I’m not living in it and fostering relationship with those who are not in my holy huddle. Jesus washed His followers feet and encouraged them to do the same. The word picture is both clear and powerful: “Your whole body is clean,” Jesus said, “but your feet get dirty when you’re out walking in a dusty, dirty world. So, you’ll need to wash each other’s feet on occasion.”

My feet will never be dirty if I confine my journey within the “purity” of my holy huddle.

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Confession of a Spiritual Brick Layer

 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.
Romans 10:12 (NIV)

Six years ago Wendy and I were in London and had the pleasure of attending the National Theatre. The production that night was a fascinating play about the different waves of modern immigrants who flooded into London over the past few hundred years. The play was set in one low rent tenement building that became home to all of these various ethnic groups, and in the pub on the street below.

When the French Huguenots moved in the poor Brits in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing French!

When the Indians moved in the assimilated French Huguenots in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Indians!

When the Irish moved in during the Great Famine the assimilated Indians in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Irish!

When the Russian Jews moved in during the Russian pogroms the assimilated Irish in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Jews!

You get the picture. We are such a homogenous and exclusionary society. Even in the “great melting pot” of the United States, which over the past 250 years may have easily become the most racially and culturally diverse society in the history of the earth, we still grumble about the next wave of immigrants. We feel suspicious about people who aren’t “American” and don’t speak English.  We talk about building giant walls to keep people out.

I have observed that followers of Jesus are not immune to this phenomenon. As children we are taught to sing:

“red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

What our Sunday School teachers left out was the bit about these children not being particularly precious in our sight. They didn’t teach us the qualification about these children being “precious in His sight in their own country of origin.”

In today’s chapter, Paul announces to those following Jesus in Rome that the walls the people of Israel had built up in their hearts to exclude non-Jews (known as Gentiles) had been toppled once and for all by Jesus. Beyond that, read the Jesus story and you discover Him toppling walls between genders, walls between social strata, and walls between political camps. Wherever those walls still exist today (and they exist all over the place), it’s because we who have followed Jesus have exerted ourselves to rebuild those walls in our hearts, lives, homes, churches, and communities.

Today I’m reading my own post and examining my own heart. As usual, as I point my finger at others there are three pointing back at me. I live in an incredibly homogenous community comfortable in its lack of diversity. I must confess to you: evidence suggest that I am quite an accomplished spiritual brick layer myself.

God, will you lend me your sledgehammer?

Thanks.

Step back, please.

 

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