One Decision Away from Cutting Up a Concubine

sword-1078968_640Are you one decision away from cutting up a concubine?

Most people don’t fall headlong into sin as if they tripped over temptation and fell into a vat of disobedience.

“It just happened . . .” is a gold card lie forged in the depths of darkness and distributed by the stack to would-be saints, often bundled with “Like everyone else, I’ve made some mistakes,” and “I’m not perfect, but who is?”

I’m not a slippery-slope kind of Christian. Too many believers build fences and guardrails around God’s commands that restrict their movements so much they resemble penned-in cattle not free-range sheep. God isn’t interested in breeding veal. His commands are for our freedom not our imprisonment. Unlike me, God doesn’t get nervous when His sheep graze along the edges of the pasture.

Still, there are no banana peel sinners. We don’t slip up. We don’t slide in. We don’t wander aimlessly into wrong actions. We choose sin. We decided to do wrong. One little wandering, compromising, cognizant choice at a time. Those sheep at the edge of the pasture hear the shepherd’s voice. He is always calling, always guiding. They willfully choose to ignore what they hear.

Unpacking this understanding for teenagers takes the courage of a gladiator, the unflinching nerves of an undercover agent, and the patient, steady-hand of a mural artist restoring the Sistine Chapel. Or, a passionate, Bible-loving fool such as myself.

I love to take churched high school students through the Old Testament. These are the first stories Christian children learn but in order to tell them, in order to distill them into picture books and bedtime tales, we sanitize them of their unsettling details. My high school Sunday school students hear, on the first day of class, that they are now old enough for the unvarnished truth.

One of my favorite books to do with adolescents is Judges. The stories are wild, engaging, and ripe for teens. God reveals His people in the book of Judges as capable of both great faith and great foolishness. In other words, He tells the truth about us.

At the start of Judges, the people of God enter the Promised Land, fresh off their walk through the Wilderness, dewy-eyed and faith-strong from witnessing the defeat of their enemies. The writer of Judges, however, traces their thoughts and actions, choice by choice, until he concludes with the  story of a Levite offering his concubine to ravaging attackers in order to save himself and then slicing her body into parts to send to the twelve tribes as a call to action.

The lesson for my teens is that even though the Israelites began in a place of faith, they slowly walked themselves into a dark valley. There was no nation more surrounded by God’s love and guidance than they. They knew the rewards available to them if they obeyed and the punishment promised to them if they chose to sin. The final verse of Judges says, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The teens can clearly see there is no slipping into sin. They note the points of decision – the moments of choice – God’s attempts to redirect – the peoples’ decisions to ignore Him.

One year in concluding this lesson, I ended with this warning, “So, we need to be on guard because you never know when you may be just one decision away from cutting up a concubine.”

As the words left my mouth, I instantly heard their shock factor, but I’ve not yet developed the ability to reel a sentence back in once I’ve spoken. There it hung, in the air like a garish Macy’s day balloon. The headline of one of the strangest stories of the Bible now shot up like a flare for a modern-day youth group. My daughter’s eyebrows lifted in that twisted arc of “are you sticking with that word choice, Mom?” I’d seen before and parents’ faces floating to mind but it was too late. Class was over and that phrase would be the last thing they heard.

God, however, is not as skittish about His stories as I am. He used that phrase in their lives. The teens in that group adopted it as a watchword between them. The first time I heard it, I cringed, but then I realized the power of it as a coded admonishment from one teen to another, “Dude, you may be one decision away from cutting up a concubine.” It became a reminder they used with one another. A phrase that said, “Your choices are heading in the wrong direction and someone else notices. Here’s your chance to redirect.”

It was, in fact, the phrase one of them used to cry for help. I received a call from a frantic pastor. “Lori, I’m concerned about X. He’s asked if I can meet immediately but I’m not sure what’s going on. He said – ‘Pastor, can I see you right away? I’m one decision away from cutting up a concubine.’”

After I explained the “code,” the pastor hung up to meet with the teen and, I’m sure, reconsider his choice of Sunday school teachers, but I thanked God for the power of His Word. It gave this young man the eyes to see the risk he was in and the words with which to call for help.

Too often, I try to market God instead of reveal Him. I love God but I worry that others will only see weird stories about wooly prophets and cut-up concubines so I filter God before sharing Him with others. The most powerful times I’ve seen Him work are when I’ve stepped back and presented Him as He presents Himself in His Word.

He knows better than anyone how to reach us and He knew some of us would need the warning of the Levite to keep us in line.

How about you? What choices are you making lately? Are you just one decision away from cutting up a concubine?

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    The Conversation

  1. Powerful, I am reading this to my son.

  2. Cyn Rogalski says:

    Oh, how I wish you were my Sunday School teacher when I was growing up!
    Thanks for this, Lori. It’s a phrase I’m adopting into my thought life.

  3. Laurie Kincaid says:

    Lori, how great it would be to have you as a Sunday School teacher! I love the perspective you have on Biblical truth. As usual, the title drew me in and I was instantly with you, digging deeper. This line is going on my office bulletin board for sure.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this out! I loved hearing you speak this story, and I loved reading it on your blog. Lori, you are intensely powerful when it comes to presenting the unvarnished God to the world. Thank you for your obedience to Him, and your prayers for me. <3

  5. Marlene Houk says:

    Strange how we think we know the Bible and then hear little-used stories that mesmerize us with their powerful messages. Great blog Lori! The Word of God is powerful!

  6. robin luftig says:

    Lori –
    You have a way of stripping off all the packaging we’ve become accustomed to when dealing with scripture … especially stories in the Old Testament. Thanks for keeping it real, dear friend.

  7. “Too often I try to market God instead of reveal Him.” And that, I might argue, is the central struggle of the modern American church. Good post.

  8. Great stuff, Lori. James 1:14: “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”