Thanksgiving thoughts

I am not one of those people who demands that people say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” In fact, I like the reminder that Christmas and the days around it are holy days—days that belong to God and not just to us. I have no opinion about the cups being used by Starbucks this season, although due to the prices at Starbucks, I will not be purchasing any beverages in those cups.

On the other hand, I have zero tolerance for the greeting “Happy Turkey Day.” I have already decided on my response if anyone says that expression to me. I am going to teach them that Turkey Day should be celebrated on the 23rd of April. That day is the anniversary of the first meeting of the modern Turkish parliament back in 1920. In Turkey, the day is also called Children’s Day. On April 23 children are invited into the legislature’s building to sit in the lawmakers’ seats and learn how their government operates. That kind of Turkey Day is worth celebrating.

The fourth Thursday of November is a national day of Thanksgiving in the United States of America. While it is known for family gatherings, large meals, parades, football games, and frantic shopping excursions, the day is first and foremost a day to say “thank you” to the God who has protected and sustained our nation. The timing of the day of Thanksgiving is chosen to follow the season of harvest in North America. The history of this day is frequently traced back to the Puritans in New England in 1621, but the real origins of the day can be found in Deuteronomy chapter eight.

Moses was preaching a farewell sermon to the Israelites, reminding them of the commands of God and the promises of God, and preparing them for life in the Promised Land. In the course of his sermon, Moses reminded the people of God how God had cared for them in the wilderness, feeding them with manna and preserving even their clothing and sandals during their travels. Moses also spoke to them about the many good things they would find in the Promised Land. “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you,” Moses said (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Christians in the United States can use this national holiday to bless the Lord our God for the good land he has given us. We thank him for food and drink and clothing and shelter and everything else that comes under the category of “daily bread.” We thank him for our talents and abilities, by which we earn our livings while serving our neighbors and making the world a better place. We also thank our Creator for the talents and abilities of our neighbors: farmers and factory workers, soldiers and police officers and fire-fighters, doctors and nurses and therapists and pharmacists, preachers and teachers and entertainers, and many others who enrich our lives by the things they do. We thank God for good weather and good government (instead of only complaining when they do not meet with our approval). We thank God for the freedoms we have as Americans and for the peace and prosperity we enjoy in this land.

In all these expressions of thanksgiving, Americans can be united regardless of religion (other than atheists and agnostics, who know of no God to thank). Christians, Jews, Muslims, and various sects can all be thankful for the blessings of creation. Christians are able also to be thankful for the gift of redemption and the gift of faith. We do not need to wait for a national day of Thanksgiving to express our gratitude for these blessings—we can be thankful for them every day.

Genuine, joyful gratitude on the part of Christians will do far more to attract our neighbors to the message of the Gospel than all our complaints about commercialism and worldliness encroaching on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Rather than complaining about the world, we can rejoice in Christ who has overcome the world. We have many reasons to celebrate and, in comparison, few reasons to complain. Thanks be to God!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! J. (edited from a post from November 2015)


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick was not Irish. He did not single-handedly convert all the Irish people to Christianity, nor did he drive snakes out of Ireland. He was not a bishop and probably was not a monk, although he supported the establishment of monasteries in Ireland. His day was not a major celebration in Ireland until recently, when the customs of Irish communities in other parts of the world were carried back to Ireland.

Patrick was British, born and raised in Britain in the years after the Roman Empire had withdrawn its forces from the island to deal with matters closer to home. When he was a boy, Patrick was captured by pirates and sold as a slave to an Irish master, who kept Patrick for six years. After that time Patrick escaped, returned home, and apparently also spent some time living in a monastery in Gaul (now France). He felt a strong call to return to Ireland and serve there as a missionary. Patrick did not set out on his own; he was sent as a missionary of the church and received support for his work. While he was not even the first Christian missionary sent to Ireland, he has become the most famous. The strength of Christianity in Ireland during the following centuries led to the re-evangelism of Britain and Gaul after those lands had been overrun by pagan Germanic tribes.

During the 1800s, many Irish people fled their homeland for political and economic reasons. Coming to North America, they faced the same problems most immigrants face. They were viewed suspiciously as “un-American” by their neighbors, in large part because of their Roman Catholic beliefs. As a result, they banded together, helped one another find jobs and dwellings, built churches, and tried to teach their children Irish language and customs. They chose March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day (the anniversary of the missionary’s death in 461), as an opportunity to maintain their cultural identity. Over time, as they became increasingly part of the American fabric, their celebrations drew in community leaders, especially politicians. Saint Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations in Chicago, Boston, New York, and even cities like Little Rock and Hot Springs, are a highlight of this time of year.

What are we celebrating? Some people view the day only as an opportunity to drink beer or whiskey. Others use it to participate in cultural events. Christians can also use this day to think of missionaries and of the mission opportunities we have in the world today. As Patrick willingly returned to the place where he had once been a slave to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so today also Christians share the freedom and forgiveness that belongs to us through Christ. J.

Candlemas (Groundhog Day)

Most people, whether believers or unbelievers, are familiar with the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Far fewer are aware of the minor festivals of the Christian calendar, such as Candlemas, which is observed every year on the second day of February.

As Christians in the Roman Empire chose to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus (that is to say, his birthday) at the same time that Romans and Celts and Germans were celebrating various Yuletide observances, so Christians also chose to celebrate the Presentation of Jesus at the same time that Celts were observing a holiday they called Imbolc. This holiday falls halfway between the winter solstice near the end of December and the spring equinox near the end of March. In Ireland, some of the old customs of Imbolc have been blended into St. Brigid’s Day on February 1, but for most other European Christians and their descendants around the world, Candlemas has received the attention formerly given to Imbolc.

The second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke describes the birth and childhood of Jesus. The familiar account of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, including the announcement by the angel to shepherds and their visit, comes from Luke. Luke also wrote that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day from his birth and was presented to God on the fortieth day from his birth. Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 puts the anniversary of his circumcision on January 1 and his presentation on February 2.

What is the significance of the presentation of Jesus? As at his circumcision, Jesus was fulfilling the Law for the benefit of all his people. The Law of God, given through Moses, required every firstborn son to be offered to God and purchased from God with a sacrifice. This presentation and purchase of the firstborn son reminded God’s people of the tenth plague upon Egypt, when God’s angel killed the firstborn son of every family in Egypt except for those who obeyed God, marking their houses with the blood of a lamb. The details of the plague, the Passover, and the remembrance are filled with images of Jesus and his sacrifice—the death of a firstborn son picturing the death on the cross of God’s only-begotten Son, the substitution of a lamb for some sons (and the use of the lamb’s blood to identify those who were protected) showing Jesus as the Lamb of God taking the place of sinners, and the purchase of the firstborn son in following generations showing the price Jesus paid on the cross to cover the debt of sinners. Because Jesus, on the fortieth day from his birth, was already obeying the commands of God, Christians are credited with his righteousness. We are free to approach the throne of God and even to call him our Father. Jesus took our place in this sinful world so we can take his place in God’s Kingdom.

Bonfires were lit in Europe on Imbolc night as part of the celebration of the holiday. Christian churches chose to replace the bonfires with many candles, filling the church with light to remember Jesus, the Light of the world. From that custom comes the name, Candlemas. I first encountered that name in the stories of King Arthur, for he and his knights would gather on Candlemas, as they did on Christmas and Easter, to celebrate and to await the beginning of new adventures. The king would not allow his court to eat the feast until some odd event had taken place, sending at least one knight off on a mission to rescue some victim or defeat some enemy.

Before the establishment of the National Weather Service or the invention of Doppler Radar, European Christians often trusted traditions about the holidays to make long-term forecasts of the coming weather. St. Swithin’s Day (July 15) in the British Isles was thought to set the pattern for the next forty days—either it would remain dry for forty days or it would rain for forty days, depending upon whether or not it rained that day. In Hungary the weather on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) predicted the kind of winter that was coming: “If St. Martin arrives on a white horse, it will be a mild winter—if he arrives on a brown horse, it will be a cold and snowy winter.” In other words, snow on November 11 promised a mild winter. So also, the weather on Candlemas was thought to predict the next forty days of weather: a clear and sunny Candlemas meant winter was only half over, but a cloud-filled sky on Candlemas morning meant that winter was over and spring was about to begin.

In Germany bears often took a break from hibernation around the beginning of February to check out conditions and get a bite to eat. The weather tradition for Candlemas became associated with the emergence of the bear and the question of whether it cast a shadow. German settlers in North America adapted the tradition to local wildlife, and thus began the tradition of Groundhog Day.

Ironically, more Americans are aware of Groundhog Day than of Candlemas. The fame of Groundhog Day increased in 1993 with the release of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. The movie has little connection to Christian beliefs. It is more suited to explaining the idea of samsara, found in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Samsara is the cycle of lifetimes in which one’s atman (roughly analogous to spirit or soul, but not exactly the same thing) keeps returning to this world until it has learned all it needs to know and is fully enlightened.

On Groundhog Day I check for shadows as I bring in the morning paper. This year, I will also remember to light a candle or two and celebrate the feast of Candlemas. J.

(Reposted from February 2, 2016)

Labor Day

The industrial revolution changed the world. One thousand years ago, Chinese technology created a new and better version of steel. Over the centuries that recipe spread, until it reached the British Isles, where iron and coal were abundant and were near each other, and where transportation by water made it easy to distribute what was manufactured. Labor-saving devices such as mechanical spinners and looms allowed increased production, and what happened in Britain began to happen in other European countries, in North America, and eventually throughout the world.

Capitalism had already begun to develop in medieval Europe. Workers formed guilds which controlled each craft, putting the power of production into the hands of workers. Along with the guilds came financial leagues which led to modern banking and a new financial system. With the industrial revolution came a new form of capitalism. Only those who had access to wealth could buy the new machines. Now workers came into the factories and worked for the investors instead of working at home and controlling their own careers. Following the precepts of capitalism, investors and factory owners paid as little as they could to workers and got as much work out of them as possible, thereby keeping prices low for their customers which allowed them to gain a profit.

Many people realized the problems implicit in the system of capitalism. Even Adam Smith, who wrote the book defining and defending capitalism, explained that workers needed to be treated well to produce a better product—and to be the customers that the factories required. Karl Marx was not the first thinker to attack capitalism, but he offered the most dramatic solution. He complained that the system was rigged to keep the many workers under the control of the few people who had wealth. Government and even religion, he said, always took the side of the wealthy few against the many workers. Marx predicted that the workers would rise in revolt. They would overthrow the wealthy few, along with government and religion, and create a new and fairer system. For a time, the government would own and control the factories and farms on behalf of the people (socialism). After a while the government would wither and die and the people would own the factories and the farms. They would distribute the wealth they produced according to the workers’ needs, and each worker would willingly labor according to his or her ability (communism).

Marx said that the revolution would begin in the countries where the industrial revolution began and would spread as industry had spread. When it had reached the entire world, then the conversion from socialism to communism could happen. Marx did not foresee any way the workers could achieve their goals of proper wages and decent working conditions without violent revolution. He did not foresee any way that capitalism could be preserved.

Marx was wrong. Workers in Europe and North America found ways to organize themselves into unions which could speak to the owners of factories on behalf of all the workers. Christian sensibilities took the side of the workers and implored factory owners to treat them better—fair wages, fewer hours of work, better and safer working conditions. Swayed by Christians and by the growing power of the labor unions, governments began making laws to require the workers in factories to be treated properly. Child labor was gradually abolished, work hours were regulated, and inspectors were sent into factories to guarantee the safety of the workers. Although there were exceptions, generally governments required factory owners to permit their workers to form unions that would negotiate with the owners for the good of the workers. Socialism and communism were not necessary. Capitalism, under limited government regulation, could be preserved, with investors and customers and workers all benefiting from the system.

In the United States we celebrate workers and their contribution to the nation and the world with a holiday called Labor Day. Unlike Memorial Day (which was originally May 30, until it was moved to the last Monday in May), Labor Day has always been celebrated on a Monday, the first Monday in September. Originally that Monday was meant to be a time when workers would parade through the streets of the city to be recognized by their fellow citizens. It was, naturally, an extra day without work for the laborers, a day when they could gather with their families and those of their coworkers in picnics and other festive occasions. Labor Day weekend has become the social end to summer, as Memorial Day weekend is the social beginning of summer.

Every Memorial Day a few people speak out about the importance of recalling the reason for the holiday. Memorial Day is not just about cook-outs and the beginning of summer. On Memorial Day we remember soldiers who lost their lives fighting for their country. I have written such reminders myself. Scolding Americans because we have forgotten the meaning of Labor Day happens far less often. Of course we should be grateful to those workers whose labor improves our lives. We might not go into factories and shake the hands of laborers there, but each of us can mark this Labor Day weekend in some appropriate way. Be kind to the restaurant workers and grocery store workers you encounter. Thank them for doing their jobs. Think of those other laborers who do not get time off for the holiday—police officers, fire fighters, hospital workers, pastors, and all those expected to continue working on a holiday weekend.

Labor Day recognizes workers. It also reminds us of a process—the way labor unions, governments, and Christians concerned about the lives of factory workers combined to assist those workers. Along the way, they rescued capitalism from the danger of revolt. We continue to debate how much regulation is necessary and which laws hinder capitalism excessively. We should debate these things. On Labor Day, though, we also rejoice and are glad for the good things we have because of the work of our neighbors. J.

May Day and Christian freedom

The first day of May is roughly half-way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. For more than two thousand years, this date has been marked by celebrations in Europe and in North America. Romans marked Floralia, Celts observed Beltane, and Germans commemorated Walpurgis on or near this date. While many neopagans try to restore these ancient celebrations, some Christian groups make the day an occasion to remember Mary the mother of Jesus and/or Joseph her husband. Meanwhile labor groups, socialists, and communists all mark the first of May as International Workers’ Day.

For some people in North America, the expression “May Day” is associated with a call for help, since the same syllables spoken in French mean, “Help me.” In one May Day tradition, children or families leave baskets of flowers or sweet treats by the front doors of their neighbors or their friends. Another involves dancing around a pole while winding colorful streamers around that pole to celebrate the springtime. About the only May Day celebration I observe is to set the alarm to awaken me with a song for May Day, “The Merry Month of May,” from the musical Camelot.

A few Christians are opposed to any event or ceremony remembering a date once used to honor pagan gods. Drawing inspiration from God’s prohibition of mixing Canaanite religious practices with the worship of the true God, such Christians oppose even Christmas trees and Easter eggs. They fear that such worldly traditions dilute the meaning of Christian beliefs. They note that most of the earliest Christian communities established in North America ignored–and in some cases banned–the celebration of Christmas. In particular, the maypole appears to resemble the Asherah pole of the Canaanites. God’s prophets severely criticized those Israelites who took part in the custom of the Asherah pole.

Clearly, any effort to honor any god other than the true God is idolatry. Christians should oppose efforts to revive ancient religions, be they Greek and Roman, Celtic and Germanic, Egyptian, Babylonian, or Canaanite. Does this mean, though, that any practice even remotely associated with false religion must be banned among Christians? Does God’s Old Testament position against the Canaanites mean that Christians today should be like the Taliban and ISIS, destroying historic treasures and works of art because they were created to honor false gods?

Paul told the Colossians, “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). Although the immediate context of those words applies more to Jewish holidays such as the Passover, I am convinced that Paul would say the same thing about Christmas trees, Easter eggs, carved pumpkins, and even maypoles. Paul proclaimed Christian freedom. He counseled that such freedom be practiced with restraint, that love for one another should prevail over doing what one is free to do. But Jesus can be honored with traditions that once had pagan meanings. Nothing in creation is so tainted by false religion that it cannot be reinterpreted to proclaim the true message of the Living God.

For Paul, the test case involved meat sold in city markets. That meat generally had first been offered on an altar to a pagan God. Paul did not forbid Christians to buy and eat such meat. He told the Romans and the Corinthians that each believer should follow his or her conscience. Those who feared that buying and eating such meat honored a false god should not buy and eat it. Those who saw that meat is meat and it did not matter where it had been were free to buy and eat. Paul added, though, that those who were untroubled by the past history of the meat should not eat it in the presence of those who were troubled. Out of love for fellow Christians, one should abstain from eating meat when those Christians are around. In their absence, freedom to eat meat was not restricted.

Many aspects of modern life seem tainted to some Christians. Because their consciences are troubled, fellow Christians lovingly limit their freedom to partake of worldly pleasures in the presence of those who are troubled. No kind person would drink wine or beer in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, one still struggling to resist the temptation to drink to excess. In the same way, any Christian is free to enjoy rock music, Harry Potter books and movies, Dungeons and Dragons, dancing, playing card games, or anything else that is not specifically prohibited by God’s commandments. A Christian is free to decorate a Christmas tree, color and hide Easter eggs, carve pumpkins for Halloween, and even celebrate May Day–so long as that Christian is careful not to offend others by these celebrations.

Christ’s victory over evil has set us free from the power of evil. As the redeemed, we are the property of God, and we wish to do nothing that brings shame to his name. Bear in mind, though, that Christians bring shame to God’s name by legalism, defining Christianity by rules and regulations rather than by free forgiveness and purifying grace. To the pure, all things are pure. Any Christian is free to fast–to deny one’s self alcoholic beverages or meat or rock music or books about magicians–but no Christian is free to demand the same fast from others. Whatever we do, we do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, bringing glory to God through his name. J.


Labor Day weekend led me to thinking about the many different holidays we observe. My initial thoughts about holidays became too complex and entangled to post. Here, then, is a summary of my remarks about holidays.

Some holidays are truly holy days. Christmas and Easter stand at the head of this class, although over two thousand years the Church has marked many other days and seasons for celebrations and commemorations. For this reason, I don’t take part in the seasonal objection to “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The world’s recognition that a certain day is holy should be encouraged, not resisted.

Other holidays are national holidays. In the United States we mark Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, among others. All of these are declared by the government to be holy, time for us to set aside work, to enjoy life, and also to consider the blessings we have s citizens of the United States of America.

In the United States, certain days have been set apart to reflect the various cultures of which the American experience has been built. Saint Patrick’s Day, el Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, and Octoberfest all have developed as holidays that call attention to one or another ethnic groups in the United States.

Some holidays reflect the seasons as they change. Most cultures have, in some way, observed the solstices and equinoxes. Many Yuletide customs reflect more the change in seasons than the Incarnation of the Savior. Celtic and Germanic groups in pre-Christian Europe also marked the half-way points between solstices and equinoxes, laying the foundation for Groundhog Day, May Day, and Halloween.

Not all holidays are widely celebrated. Some are personal, celebrated only with family and close friends. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries fall within this category, and some families have other special commemorations to recall past events in their shared lives.

Families and nations sometimes commemorate sad events. September 11 and December 7 are days that “live in infamy” for most Americans. Once again, families might commemorate the loss of their loved ones on the anniversary of their deaths, or they might remember other sad or frightening experiences they have shared.

On my personal calendar, I like to add a few celebrity birthdays to celebrate in my own private way. The four Beatles, the seven main cast members of the original Star Trek, and a few other entertainers are listed on my calendar. They neither know nor care that I remember them on their birthdays. No one else really cares either. I don’t make a major celebration to mark their days, but I do happen to remember them on their birthdays.

Do you have any holidays that are special to you or unique? J.


The difference between ham and premarital sex

Scholars have observed that in the Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), God has given 613 commandments (mitzvah) to his people. Some of these commands are affirmed by Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament, but others are canceled. Students of the Bible wrestle with the difference: why are some things required by Moses but no longer required by the apostles? Why are some things forbidden by Moses but permitted by the apostles? What is the difference between ham and premarital sex?

Let’s take some test cases to examine God’s commands. One of his commands is, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Under the Law of Moses, the Sabbath was defined as the seventh day of the week, beginning at sunset Friday and ending at sunset Saturday. A few Christians go to church on Saturdays; some of them even call Sunday worship “the mark of the beast.” Some worship on the first day of the week but move the prohibition of any work to Sundays, passing “blue laws” that require certain kinds of business to be closed every Sunday. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, Easter Sunday, bounces around in March or April according to a complicated formula involving the full moon. Early in Christianity, believers tried to reach a consensus on the day of that celebration. Some of them became so angry about the different formulas that they actually excommunicated each other—saying that people weren’t really part of the Church if they celebrated Easter on the wrong day. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Law of Moses made strict stipulations about food, especially meat. Blood had to be drained from meat, so that no blood was consumed by God’s people. Only certain animals were kosher (acceptable as food), animals that chewed the cud and had a split hoof. Pigs were not kosher, nor were rabbits and rodents. Fish had to have scales; shrimp and lobster and oysters were forbidden. A few Christians try to stick to kosher food laws today, at least in part. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The first Christians, including all twelve apostles, were Jewish. They maintained Saturday worship and kosher food rules out of habit. When people of other cultures began believing in Jesus, Church leaders wondered how many Laws of Moses needed to be followed by the new believers. Must the men become circumcised? Must the families maintain kosher kitchens? Must they refrain from all work on Saturdays? Acts 15 describes the first Christian convention, as the apostles gathered to discuss these questions. They concluded that only four rules needed to be followed by the Gentiles: Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from animals that have been strangled, and from sexual immorality.

One might expect a few more prohibitions, such as murder and theft and false witness. Evidently the Church leaders thought it obvious that these are not permitted among Christians. It seems strange, though, that three of the four prohibitions are food-related, and all three were later canceled by Paul, in spite of the fact that he took part in this meeting. Paul told congregations in Rome and in Corinth that their members could eat meat that had been offered to idols so long as no one present had a problem with that. He wrote to the Colossian Christians, “Let no one pass judgment on you in regards to food or drink….”

“The substance is Christ.” All the commands of the Law of Moses were pictures of Jesus Christ. Some of the pictures are easily seen, such as the animal sacrifices and the Passover lamb. Others require deeper study, such as resting on the seventh day of the week. Not only did God as Creator rest on the seventh day of the week, but Jesus Christ as Redeemer rested on the seventh day of Holy Week. His body rested in a tomb. His spirit rested in the hands of his Father in Paradise. Christians are free from the Law because Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. The substance—that is, Christ—has come, so we no longer need to observe the shadows. We are free.

Our freedom is not license to do whatever our sinful hearts desire. Our freedom is power to imitate Jesus. As imitators of Christ, we still love God whole-heartedly. As imitators of Christ, we love our neighbors. We respect their lives, their marriages, their property, and their reputations. We act to help our neighbors rather than hurting them or ignoring them. We are content with what God has given us, so we do not covet anything that belongs to our neighbors.

The Church convention of Acts 15 appears to have been studying Leviticus, chapters 17 and 18. All four of their prohibitions are found in those chapters. Leviticus is about purity. It provided the Israelites instruction in remaining pure, beginning with sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, and continuing with various other rules, laws, and commandments. The Church convention chose those signs of purity that might challenge Gentiles. Anything offered to idols would seem tainted and not pure. Blood was sacred, largely because of the blood Christ shed on the cross. Sexual immorality was a sin, not only against the people involved, but against Christ and the Church, for every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church.

Ham and shrimp were forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because they were not part of the sacrificial system like the kosher animals (cattle, sheep, goats, doves, etc.). Ham and shrimp are permitted to God’s people today because we are free, thanks to Christ. Sexual immorality was forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people. Sexual immorality remains forbidden to God’s people today because the love of God has not changed. Some Christians have tried to distinguish the prohibitions by labeling them ceremonial law (no longer valid) and moral law (still valid). This distinction overlooks the fact that Christians are free from all of God’s Law. The burden of the Law has been lifted by Christ. The condemnation of the Law has been removed by Christ. We were dead in our sins until Christ rose and we were raised with him. Our sins are forgiven, our debts are canceled, and the demands of the law have been nailed to the cross. Christ triumphed over all our enemies, and we now share in his victory (Colossians 2:13-15).

We are free from the Law because the substance is Christ. Now our substance is imitation of Christ, which is described by the same Law that once condemned us. The Law describes how we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, sexual immorality (as well as murder, theft, and dishonesty) is avoided as something Jesus would not do. Respect for God—and for his name and his time—is expected, because this is what Jesus would do. The Law does not threaten us, but it does describe us, because it describes Jesus.

The shadow no longer matters, because Christ has come and has claimed us as his people. We rejoice to be his people and to see ourselves transformed into His image. None of us is perfect yet, but the transformation is under way. Christ makes all the difference in the world. J.

First Friday Fiction: Tom Haven Takes a Leap

“Please don’t jump,” I begged Tom Haven. “Don’t do it. Nothing is worth it.”

“Only one person can talk me out of it,” he snarled back at me, his face contorted with fear or anger or mix of the two—I couldn’t be sure which. “You go get her, Allen.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Haven. I can’t do that,” I answered. “You know she’s been through too much already.”

“Do it, Allen,” he insisted. “Do it, or I’ll jump.”

Now that I have your attention, I have to back up and tell you who Tom Haven is and who he wanted me to get, to try to talk him out of jumping. Along the way, I have to tell you who I am and why I was there that day. And I have to explain where we all were, so you understand why I was desperate to keep Tom Haven from jumping.

Let me start with what I know best: myself. My name is Allen Dean. I’ve been working for Mr. Earnshaw since the day he opened his business. Mr. Earnshaw is an investment counselor, which means that he tells people what to do with their money so they end up with more money. The first year it was just him and me. Now he has eight other people working for him too. At first I was his secretary. Then I was his personal assistant. Now I am his office manager. Mostly, though, I answer the phone and take messages for Mr. Earnshaw or for the other counselors. I schedule appointments. I help the counselors remember their appointments. I even keep the books and write the checks from the business account, which is kind of funny, since I’m the only one in the office who never took a class about how to manage money.

Mr. Earnshaw says that he hired me for my voice. He says I have a fine voice for answering the phone. I give people confidence that they are dealing with professionals. At first we sat in the same room, me and Mr. Earnshaw. The phone would ring. I would answer it. A man or (sometimes) a woman would ask to talk to Mr. Earnshaw. I told them I would see if he was available. I would wait about half a minute. Then I would say, “Here is Mr. Earnshaw,” and I would hand the phone to him. After a while he had enough work to do that we needed to be in separate offices, and I really did need to interrupt him to see if he could take a call. Then, as he became even more successful, he began hiring young people just out of school, and I was in charge of taking messages for all of them. When a new person called, I needed to make a quick judgment about which counselor to assign to them. Part of my decision was based on who was least busy, but I also needed to guess if the caller wanted a counselor who was friendly and had a sense of humor, or whether he (or she) wanted a counselor who was all business and matter-of-fact. Mr. Earnshaw says that I’m a good judge of people. He says that my first impressions are almost always right. He says that’s why he’s kept me in his company all these years.

I told him once that he should advertise with the slogan, “Earn more with Earnshaw’s.” He just laughed and said that my slogan didn’t sound professional. His business does a little advertising, but not much. I know this, since I write all the checks. Mostly we get new clients through word-of-mouth. We have a very good reputation in Memphis.

I’m sorry to leave you dangling through all this exposition, as the writers call it. I’m sorry to leave Mr. Haven dangling too. But you had to know something about the work that we do so you can understand who Mr. Haven is. You see, most of our clients like the kind of financial counselor who is friendly and puts them at ease. Most of the agents that Mr. Earnshaw hires have just that kind of approach. Don’t get me wrong. They’re all very good with numbers, especially numbers about money. They understand taxes and investments and a thousand other things that are over my head. But when Mr. Earnshaw was interviewing one year, he found Tom Haven, a serious young man who had graduated at the top of his class. He had no skill for putting people at ease or trying to find out about their personal life. That made him exactly the kind of man that Mr. Earnshaw wanted. More and more of his clients wanted that all-business approach. Tom Haven is very good at what he does—dealing with money—and it shows. When I pick up the phone and talk to a client, if I get the sense that they only want to talk business, I transfer them to Mr. Haven’s line.

The company has moved three times since Mr. Earnshaw and I sat in our one little room. The last time we moved, about six years ago, we ended up in a very nice office building in Memphis. We have the entire fifth floor—offices for each of the counselors, a desk out front for me, two meeting rooms, and a staff room with half a kitchen and a coffee-maker and a table for eating lunch. There’s also a small bathroom. Mr. Earnshaw has a second private bathroom off his office, which of course is bigger than all the other offices.

A few feet in front of my desk is a glass wall with a door in it. The door has the name of the business, “Earnshaw and Associates,” stenciled on it. Through the door and the wall I can see the elevators that connect the floors. To one side of the elevators—to my left as I look through the glass—is an atrium that runs from the top of the building down to the main doors at street level, five floors below. People who come in the doors off the street and walk to the elevator cross through this open space. The floor of the atrium is some kind of hard stone. It’s not even carpeted. There’s a guard rail between the lobby and the atrium on our level and on every other level of the building. The rail is just two pieces of polished wood held up by a metal frame. The wood is waist-high, maybe three feet above the floor.

When I came back from using the bathroom this noon, I looked through the glass and saw Mr. Haven sitting on that wood, his feet dangling into the openness of the atrium. That’s when I rushed through the door and asked him what he was doing. When he said, “Life has just gotten too complicated. I don’t want to deal with it any more,” that’s when I begged him not to jump. And that’s when he told me that only one person could keep him from jumping.

Of course I knew who he meant. Jessica Green is another financial counselor who works for Mr. Earnshaw. She and Tom Haven are opposites in some ways. Where he is cold and business-like, she is warm and friendly. Where he seems to have no personal life and no interest in anyone else’s life (apart from their money), she always knows about family members and birthdays and other personal things. Not only is she charming, she is also beautiful—not in a glamorous way, like an actress or a model, but in an approachable way, like every man’s girl-next-door. I think that when she came in to be interviewed by Mr. Earnshaw, every man in the firm prayed that she would get the job. Our prayers were answered, by God or by Mr. Earnshaw, I don’t know which. Most of the men flirt with her a little bit from time to time, but that was OK, because she was happily married and we all knew it. She didn’t exactly flirt back, but she was friendly with everyone, and nothing anyone said in the office ever seemed to bother her.

If you were paying close attention, you might have noticed that I said she was married. Something terrible happened last year. Her husband was murdered, right in their own home. Two police officers in uniforms with guns in their holsters got off the elevator that Tuesday morning and came through the glass door and asked me to take me to her office. They didn’t tell her right away that her husband was dead. They just asked her to come to the station with them. I don’t know, but I think they might have thought that she killed Brad, being that she was married to him and he was killed in their house at night. We didn’t find out about the murder for a few more hours. Everyone was asking me what happened, what the police wanted with her, and I couldn’t answer. The funny thing was that, from the police station, she called Tom Haven, and he went down there to get her. I never could figure out why, out of all of us that might have helped her, she chose him. But people do strange things when they are under stress. Like Tom Haven, still dangling on the wooden rail fifty or sixty feet above a hard stone floor, patiently waiting for me to get through all this exposition so the real story can be told.

I hope you can understand why I said what I said to him, that she’d been through too much already. But when he told me that I had to get her, I figured I didn’t really have a choice. I ran back to her office. “Miss Jessica, Miss Jessica,” I called to her even as I was entering. “Mr. Haven is sitting on the rail by the elevator. He says he’s going to jump. He says you’re the only person who can talk him out of it.”

“What?” Mrs. Green asked, her eyes opening wide. I had to repeat it all again. Then I added, “Should I call the police, Miss Jessica?”

“No, don’t call the police,” she answered. “I’ll talk with him.” Calmly she began walking down the hall toward the lobby.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t call them?” I asked. I was almost hopping, trying hard to slow myself down to her pace. “I think they have people who are trained for things like this.”

“No, calling the police is not going to make anything better, and it will probably make things worse.” Then, as I started to say maybe I should call anyhow, she added firmly, “Allen, do not call the police. Whatever you think, just don’t call them. I can handle this.”

By the time she reached the lobby, two other partners of the firm had gotten off the elevator and were talking to Mr. Haven, although I don’t think he was paying much attention to either of them. Besides that, two others had heard parts of what I said to Mrs. Green, and they also joined the crowd that was gathering in the lobby. I didn’t think I could add anything to the conversation, so I sat at my desk and watched through the glass. I kept looking down at the phone, wondering if I should dial 911 in spite of what Mrs. Green had said. She told me she could handle this, but how could she be so sure?

I guess I understand why she doesn’t want the police involved. I know she had a frightening experience with the police the day her husband was killed. You can hardly blame them for considering her a suspect, but I don’t think they were very nice about it, even after the other woman came in to the station and confessed to the killing.

Mrs. Green went to her parents’ house for two weeks after the murder. When she finally came back to work, she was not as lively and sparkling as she had been before. We all understood. We left her alone as much as we could, and we tried to act like everything was perfectly normal. She had no trouble picking up her work and taking care of all her clients. I don’t know what she did nights and weekends. That was none of my business.

Mr. Haven went with her to the trial, which had all of us in the office scratching our heads and wondering. She had to testify about her husband’s murder, and I’m sure she had to answer some pretty grueling questions. The newspapers didn’t report much about the trial, aside from the fact that the killer said she was acting in self-defense. Whatever reason she had for being in the Greens’ house, and whatever involvement Jessica Green had with the whole event, the newspapers didn’t say. The whole thing was done in a day. The jury reported their verdict—not guilty because of self-defense—the evening of the trial. Mrs. Green went to her parents’ house again for a few days. By the time she was back at work, we were all very good at pretending that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

But none of us really believed that everything was just the same. I could feel the tension in each member of the staff. The men who used to flirt with Mrs. Green were far more reserved. Her smile, especially for the first few weeks, was more forced and had less sparkle. Mr. Haven, though, showed the biggest change. He glanced her direction every few minutes throughout the day, although he looked away just as quickly if she happened to be looking his way. He did not speak to her often—perhaps even less than he had done before—but I could see that he listened carefully every time she spoke with someone else.

Finally I took him aside and gave him some advice. “Everyone knows that you’re fond of Mrs. Green,” I said. “Go ahead and ask her out on a date. The worst she can do is say no, but she’s likely to say yes. There’s no harm in asking. And she probably needs someone to show some interest in her, after all the bad that’s happened to her lately.”

Nothing changed, and so two weeks later I visited with her. “I know you’re just getting the pieces of your life back together, and I know this is none of my business, but I think you should give Mr. Haven a little encouragement. He’s a nice man, and he thinks the world of you. I’m not saying that you should plan on marrying him, but let him know that you’d be willing to go out with him a time or two. He’s dying to ask you, I’m sure, but he’s very shy, you know. Drop a hint that, if he asks, you would say yes.”

She smiled at me, a sad smile unlike those she used to flash. “Thank you for the advice,” she said, but her face added the message, “It really is none of your business, so don’t bother to say anything like that to me again.”

Mr. Haven appeared more likely to listen, so I talked to him again. “You should ask her out,” I urged, “and you really need to be more careful around the office. When the other men talk to her, try not to look so jealous. I thought you were going to hit Mr. Carson yesterday, and all he did was tell a little joke to try to make her laugh. If you’d be brave enough to talk to her yourself, you wouldn’t need to worry about what anyone else says to her.”

Yes, all these things went through my mind as I watched the group in the lobby grow. Everyone from the office was there now except for me and Mr. Earnshaw. I knew that Mrs. Green was talking to Mr. Haven, although I couldn’t hear her voice over the murmur of the other men and women from the office. If they were talking to Mr. Haven, he didn’t seem to notice. He was speaking to Mrs. Green, I could tell, but the crowd and the glass made it impossible for me to hear any of the words he spoke.

Twice my hand began to reach for the phone. It would be easy to dial 911, to report what was going on, and to get some professional help into the building before it was too late. Both times, though, I remembered how serious Mrs. Green had looked as she said to me, “I can handle this.” I was worried for Mr. Haven, but I had to trust her word that she really could keep him from jumping.

Mrs. Green had always enjoyed decorating her office and the hallway for the holidays. This time, when Halloween came, none of her usual decorations appeared. Some of the other members of the staff put out a few things, but it wasn’t the same without her contribution. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Haven actually brought in a few autumn decorations, something he had never done before. The rest of the staff eyed his effort and exchanged a few smiles and winks, but no one said anything to him about it.

We had a full week off for Thanksgiving. Some of us traveled to be with family, and others hosted holiday banquets in our homes. We knew that the next few weeks would be busy, as investors rushed to carry through their plans before the end of the year. Since we would have another week off at Christmas, we were trying to do about double a week’s work each week between the two holidays.

It seemed to me that something changed somehow during that Thanksgiving week. Mr. Haven did not stare at Mrs. Green in quite the same way, although I could not identify exactly what had changed. Maybe it was that he did not look away as quickly when she looked his direction. Maybe it was that she seemed almost to smile and invite his attention. As Christmas drew near, he again startled us all by putting up a few decorations. Mrs. Green also did a little decorating, although it was nothing as elaborate as what she had done the year before.

Then came the Friday-night Christmas party before our week of vacation to end the year. Mrs. Green arrived in an elegant sleek black dress. No man in the room could keep his eyes off of her. She was actually cheerful, happier than any of us had seen her for many weeks. Only one man in the group stayed away from her. Wherever she went, Mr. Haven seemed to be at the opposite end of the room. He did not seem unhappy, but he did seem to be trying his best to avoid her. He was the first to leave the party. She was the second, heading out the door just five minutes after he had gone. One or two of the staff made a small comment about his behavior and her behavior, but the party was still in full swing, with plenty of other things to occupy our attention.

January came, another of our busy months. Toward the end of January, Mr. Earnshaw asked me, “Allen, is it just my imagination, or are Jessica and Tom both eating out for lunch more often than before? And does it seem to you that they are both gone at about the same time?”

“I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, Mr. Earnshaw,” I said, although my mind was less confident than the words I spoke.

Early on the morning of Valentines’ Day, a vase of flowers was delivered to her at the office. She took the card, read it, smiled, and locked the card in her desk. Everyone else noticed the flowers and commented on them. “Oh, they’re from a secret admirer,” she breezily replied. Mr. Haven was the only person who said nothing to her about the flowers, but he did not seem upset or jealous.

The next month, Mrs. Green came to work with a large plastic shamrock in her hair and a smile on her face more radiant than any I could remember. Once again, as with the Valentines’ flowers, she maintained an air of mystery. I watched Mr. Haven closely, but if he was hiding any secret, he hid it too well for me to find. Speculation ran wild through the office, but Jessica Green just kept on smiling and laughed at any guesses that she heard. Mr. Haven kept himself busy taking care of his accounts all day long.

And now, only two weeks later, he was sitting on a ledge threatening to jump and demanding to speak with Jessica Green. She was out there, talking with him, and all the other people from the office were crowded around, witnesses to the conversation. Suddenly I heard a shout, muffled by the glass. I stood quickly, dreading the worst—I reached for the phone, but missed. My hands were shaking so badly, I doubt that I could have managed to hit the right numbers if I had the phone in my grasp.

Before I could find it again, I realized that the men and women in the lobby were not frightened or worried. In fact, they were laughing. Some were calling out, “Congratulations!” Others, still laughing, were saying things like, “You really had us going,” and, “I should have remembered it was April First.” As they came through the door, one of them was saying, “Her I would have suspected, but who would have guessed that Tom would pull such a prank?”

Sitting down, I breathed out a gust of relief. Tom Haven had not jumped off the rail to drop five floors onto the stone floor. Instead, he and Jessica Green had used April Fools’ Day to announce their engagement. They walked through the doorway, arm in arm, and she showed me the ring he had just put on her finger. “It’s lovely,” I said, “and congratulations to you both. But if you ever pull another stunt like that, I’ll… I’ll push you over the edge myself!”