Sunday, March 18, 2018

Black Panther

I tried to like Black Panther, as a lot of people have enjoyed it a lot, but I had problems with some aspects of it that made it a less than satisfactory movie from my perspective.  Writing them down helps me to clarify my thoughts and it allows others to respond if they wish to help me see where I'm missing the point.  There will be spoilers throughout, so if you haven't seen the movie you are warned.

The first issue was right at the start, in the story of the origin of the Wakanda people.  The idea of a people hidden in the heart of Africa, shielded by their magnificent technology, left me cold.  First, the thought that they could come up with the technology so immediately and hide themselves so thoroughly required a suspension of disbelief that is beyond me.  For a tribal people to be able to suddenly and completely conceal themselves upon discovering a miraculous mineral required me to suspend disbelief at the technological level (how would they develop the cloaking field so quickly?), and the sociological level (what human race has ever sat on such power for so long and remain so hidden without using that power to conquer its neighbors?)  Had these people been aliens who landed on earth with the required technology and moral development, I would have found it far easier to enter the story.

The origin story also cast a moral shadow on these people right out of the gate.  If they were such good people that they could hold such power without using it to conquer their neighbors and so powerful that they could perform all manner of technological marvels (including completely healing bullet wounds in a day), why hadn't they used that power for the good of their neighbors before now?  Africa has suffered grievously from all manner of warfare, oppression and disease in the last three millennia; why had these miraculous people not used their power to help this stricken continent long before, rather than contentedly sitting on it and allowing the suffering to continue?  They condescendingly called white people "colonizers", but the fact that they stood by and did nothing to prevent any suffering caused by the colonial powers makes them at least complicit in the suffering and leaves one wondering what kind of moral standing they have to tell our world how to live.  Had the story been cast in a world that less closely resembled our own, I would have felt these tensions less starkly, but the real history of Africa was far too visible in the movie to ignore, and it cast an unavoidable shadow on the Wakanda people.

The unreality of these people - made instantly technologically advanced simply by the possession of a miraculous mineral and simultaneously virtuous enough to not use it to conquer their neighbors and cruel enough to stand by and watch their neighbors suffer without lifting a finger to help - continued to unfold throughout the movie.  That such a technologically advanced people should rely on hand-to-hand combat to decide succession to the throne was equally incredible to me.  Why would a mighty king submit to such an indignity as being stripped of his physical powers to fight as an equal with any muscle-bound contender who might show himself?  In what sense could this be considered either good for the king or good for the people he ruled?  Has there been no king in all the long history of Wakanda who simply refused to endure this abuse and abolished this primitive and brutal tradition?  And that a king should be surrounded by a female bodyguard with no hint of sexual tension between them is likewise implausible in the extreme.  Though the Wakanda people look like us, they are scarcely human in any fundamental sense, making this story far less real to me than many stories with more incredible technology but more real and believable characters.

The spirituality of the Wakanda people also was disappointingly deficient to me.  There was nothing in the encounters that the various kings had with their ancestors that gave any clue that these ancestors had grown in any significant way as a result of their death and transition to the ancestral plane.  There was no hint of any additional moral insight or wisdom that would have made them worth consulting; indeed T'Challa is wiser and better than his father, who has no viable explanation for his past actions and no counsel worth offering to his son.  It seems that the best that can be said about those who die is that they continue to be the people they were in this life, in an existence that lacks any of the color or energy of this world.  Certainly there are more hopeful futures offered by other world religions.

So when these unreal people with dubious morality and an impoverished spirituality make their digs at "colonials" throughout the movie and stand up at the end to offer to make the world a better place, I feel like they are the real colonials, not us.  What I'm seeing is just racism reversed, a condescending paternalism that without any real moral authority presumes to instruct us on how to live our lives.  How do they propose to heal the world?  By giving us their marvelous technology?  They already have made it clear in the story that the theft of this technology would trigger massive warfare; should we just take it on faith that they know how to prevent this from happening?  By advising us to live as unreal human beings with no desire for power, no sexual energy, and no future worth having beyond the grave?  This is just religious proselytization, and we already have religions that offer us more.

Though the movie was in many ways attractive, Black Panther simply had too many issues for me to enjoy the movie.  It felt too much like an effort to tell me that this is how the world should work, an effort made without adequately understanding how the world actually does work.  Had the movie either been kept more separate from the world that we know or made less of an effort to critique the world we live in, I would have found it much more approachable.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Commencement message for Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Back when I was in high school, one popular evangelistic slogan was “God loves you and had a wonderful plan for your life.”  There’s nothing wrong with this slogan - it’s true, and what it tells you you need to know.  It helped me when I was a new believer to find courage when I was struggling with my faith.  But, like all slogans, it’s incomplete.  It doesn’t tell you all you need to know.  Left to stand on its own, it’s subject to grotesque misinterpretation.  So, as we come here today, I want to tell the graduates “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life,” but I want to tell you some of what you need to know so that you won’t misinterpret this slogan and that you’ll get from it the benefit that you should.
Let’s start by looking at the lives of some of the people God loved, and how His wonderful plan for their lives was worked out in practice.  Take Abraham.  God loved Abraham, so He told Abraham “Leave your family and go where I’ll show you.”  Not a really explicit plan.  No clear roadmap of where God was going to send Abraham, nor a timetable of when he was going to get there.  God also told Abraham that He would make him a great nation.  Decades later, Abraham came to God, still childless, to ask Him about this, so God said “Wait another decade and you’ll have a child of your own.”  So this great nation that God was going to make of Abraham consisted of one child and the promise that His children would, after 400 years of slavery, finally become a large enough people to be called great.  To put this in perspective, it would be like God telling Christopher Columbus that he had a wonderful plan for his life that he’d discover the continent that would one day be occupied by a great nation that would put a man on the moon.  This is a wonderful plan, alright, but it’s on a much longer timetable than we are used to.

How about Joseph?  God told Joseph in a series of dreams about His wonderful plan to put Joseph over his family so they would bow down to him.  Subsequently, Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, framed by his master’s wife with a charge of sexual harassment, put in prison, forgotten there by those he helped, then finally brought out of prison to interpret a dream of Pharoah’s after which Pharoah put Joseph in charge of Egypt and his family really did bow down to him.  So Joseph’s plan worked out in the end as he dreamed, but getting there took him through some places he would never have wanted to go.
Then there’s Moses.  Raised in Pharoah’s court, provided the best education available in the most powerful country in that part of the world, Moses set out to rescue his people by killing a slave driver.  When his step uncle (Pharoah) heard about it, Moses had to flee into the wilderness, and where he tended sheep, a job for which one would think he was somewhat overqualified.  After forty years of watching the flocks of a Midianite priest, God shows up and tells Moses about His wonderful plan for his life.  When Moses hears that God is sending him back to Egypt to liberate the Israelites, instead of saying “Finally!  What took you so long?”  Moses replies that he’s a stammering nobody and tells God to look for someone else.  God gives Moses a staff that he can turn into a snake and Aaron as his spokesman and tells Moses to get moving, and Moses reluctantly sets out to be the greatest prophet and leader the nation of Israel would ever know.

God also had a wonderful plan for David, the man after His own heart.  He started by telling Samuel to find David (who, like Moses, was tending sheep) and anoint him king.  Samuel had some reservations about this, as there already was a king, namely Saul, and he thought that Saul might object.  Sure enough, once David was anointed king, he rapidly became so popular that Saul became seriously paranoid and set out to try to kill David.  David fled into the wilderness and lived in caves for the next several years, surrounded by a band of society’s outcasts.  Narrowly evading several attempts by Saul to kill him, and refusing to return the favor and kill Saul when he had the chance, David finally was able to take the throne when both Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle.  Even then, it took a few more years of civil war  before Israel was united under David’s rule.
Or how about Jesus, God’s beloved Son, with whom He was well pleased?  God’s wonderful plan for Him was to be born into extreme poverty where He was pursued by another jealous king, namely Herod, grew up in obscurity, taught for three years, alienated almost all of the Jewish leadership, raised up a bunch of the most clueless disciples one could ever hope to find, was arrested, abandoned, tortured and brutally killed.  Then He was raised from the dead to sit at the right hand of the Father and rule forever.

And when Jesus appeared to Saul (later to be called Paul) on the road to Damascus, He had a wonderful plan for Saul’s life too.  Jesus gave a hint of it to Ananias, a believer in Damascus whom He told “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”  Paul gives us an idea of just how much this was when he talks in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 about his
“imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
So if I came to you and told you “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” you might be excused if your response was “No!  Anything but that!”  And you’d be in good company too.  Moses told God at one point that he was sick of leading the cantankerous, grumbling, ungrateful people God had given him. In one of the Psalms David told God essentially to get out of his life so he could know some peace.  And even Jesus told God in Gethsemane that he really didn’t want to go through with the plan God had for Him.

But fortunately that’s not the whole story.  Abraham did go through with God’s plan, and he had Isaac, and from him came the people Israel.  Joseph went through with God’s plan, and rescued the Israelites when they were only a small clan from starvation and made a place where they could grow into a large nation.  Moses went through with God’s plan and ldelivered Israel from slavery and led them through the wilderness right up to the entry to the Promised Land.  David hung in there and became king of Israel and the progenitor of the line from whom Jesus would be born.  Jesus went through with God’s plan, so we have a Savior. And Paul went through with God’s plan and brought the church into Europe and wrote a large chunk of the New Testament in the process.  God’s plan for these people was wonderful; each one of them achieved milestones which prepared the way for those who followed and they set a foundation on which our faith is built today..  
So, as you look forward into a future that is at best fuzzy, what can we say with confidence about God’s plan for your lives?  First, 

  • God’s plan will require courage.  God’s plans for His people are not for the faint of heart.  They will stretch us, perhaps hurt us, and will probably take us places we wouldn’t have gone had it been up to us.  It’s one thing to read in the Bible that we should love our enemies, but something else to actually look at someone who has hurt us and wrestle through the challenge of forgiving them.  It is one thing to read about the Macedonian church giving generously out of their poverty, another to find ourselves broke or unemployed and being asked by someone for financial help.  Though the world may never see the struggle, walking faithfully on the road that God has called us to is going to ask more of us than we would ever have thought we could give, and there may well be times when we wish we dared to turn our back on the whole enterprise.
  • God’s plan may take far longer to fulfill than we would expect.  Abraham waited over thirty years for the son God promised.  Joseph spent years in slavery and prison.  Moses tended sheep for forty years, David was in the wilderness for years and it was fourteen years after Jesus appeared to Paul before Paul was appointed to ministry.  Though you may be called to great things, it may be decades before you see that calling fulfilled, and the intervening time may difficult, boring or painful.  God takes a long time to prepare some of His people for His service. 
  • This time is not wasted. Tending sheep prepared Moses to lead God's people. Leading a ragamuffin band in the wilderness prepared David to lead Israel. Though the time may appear to be desolate and unfruitful, in God's hands it will produce a rich harvest if you are patient.
  • (added after the fact): Do the good you can do during the desolate times. Tend sheep if there is nothing better at hand. If you find yourself in prison, make the prison as good a place as you can. Make things better than they would have been had you done nothing. God will receive your service even if no one else does, and He knows how to reward those who serve Him.
  • Following God’s plan may make you rich, or it may not.  Abraham was a wealthy man, as were Joseph and David.  We have no idea how much money Moses had, and Jesus and Paul had little or nothing.  Anyone who tells you that following Jesus guarantees that you’ll be rich doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
  • God’s plan for you includes your being a blessing to others.  Abraham was told “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Joseph, Moses and David all blessed the nation of Israel and they set the stage for Jesus blessing the world with salvation, a blessing which Paul was instrumental in delivering to the world.  God’s wonderful plan for you is not intended to bless you alone, but to work through you to bring His blessing to others.
  • God’s plan for you will be worked out in your life with His help.  Indeed that’s the only way it can be worked out.  God repeatedly rescued Abraham from disaster along the way and He preserved Joseph and gave him the discernment of visions that won him his place in Pharoah’s court.  Moses delivered Israel from Egypt with God’s power, David was protected by God in the wilderness and God’s mighty resurrection power raised Jesus from the dead and preserved Paul when he was attacked and stoned.  Your miracles will probably not be as visible as these, but as you faithfully and attentively follow God’s plan for you, you will see His hand on your life, guiding, strengthening, protecting, providing and encouraging.  You will not have to walk God’s path on your own strength, for He will be there to bring you to the end.
  • And when you reach the end, you will find that it will have been worth it.  This is the vocal testimony of the authors of Scripture.  In the end we will find that our sufferings, however bitter and prolonged will be insignificant compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.  We run the race, however long and hard, for the sake of a prize worth having.  We invest the little bit that God has given us so that when He returns He may reward us enormously.  For the sake of the joy set before us, we follow Jesus’ example and endure the immediate suffering and pain.  Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for His people, on that day when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth, and God dwells among His people and wipes away every tear from their eyes.  As all the years of study that you have been through find their meaning in this moment, as you receive your diploma, and in the time to come as you use the skills you have so laboriously acquired, so all the suffering and struggle that God may bring you through in this life will find their meaning in that magnificent moment when Jesus turns to you and says “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

So as you graduate and prepare for whatever God sends your way, I give you the following advice:

  • Prepare yourself for the long haul.  Anticipate that it may be a while before you get to where you really want to be, and that the road may be rocky at times.  Don’t let the struggles discourage you; they’re part of the process, just as your studies were part of the process of getting your diploma, and they pay off in the end.
  • Look for ways to bless people.  Find ways to use what you have been given for the good of others.  God is most likely to be leading you in that kind of direction.
  • Read your Bible slowly and patiently.  Learn from the example of the people you meet there.  Get to know how God works, then start looking for Him to work that way in your life.
  • Pray for yourself and for others.  God works in us and in those we pray for, and we need what He does when we pray
  • Cultivate your vision of heaven.  If your vision of heaven is one of bored angels sitting on clouds strumming harps, you’ll never believe that it’s worth suffering to get there.  Think of heaven as Super Bowl Sunday, a magnificent wedding, Victory Day after WWII, and the closing ceremonies for the Olympics, all bundled together and multiplied by a thousand and you’ll be getting a little closer.  Heaven is so awesome that any suffering we endure to get there will be as insignificant in comparison as the cost of a lottery ticket would be compared to winning the MegaMillions lottery.
  • If there’s something you can do to help someone find God’s wonderful plan for their life, do it.  They’ll thank you for it in the end.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Amplified Paul

For this light momentary affliction...

far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, 
...this light momentary affliction 
and often near death. Five times I received … the forty lashes less one. 
...this light momentary affliction 
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.
...this light momentary affliction 
Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys,
...this light momentary affliction
in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;
...this light momentary affliction
in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

is preparing for us...

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him preparing for us
the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed preparing for us
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. preparing for us
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. preparing for us
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. preparing for us
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison

(2 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44,52, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27)

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Some of us need a storm and a fish
We've bought the tickets, and we're on our way
Somewhere, anywhere, just away
Away from that intrusive, demanding Person
Who loves us more than we want Him to
And wants better for us than we want for ourselves

Some of us need a storm and a fish
To drag us out of that grave that we're busy digging for ourselves
And back, kicking and screaming
To the life that is more real and more painful and more hopeful
Than any fantasy we could possibly write for ourselves.
Some of us need a storm and a fish

May God in His mercy send them.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Inspired by today's service at Grace EV Free of Fullerton

I looked for God intently
I sought Him high and low
He showed his glory to me
But there I could not go

I wanted all the beauty
But not the sov'reign King
I hoped he'd make me happy
Instead He made me sting

His law showed my rebellion
His light revealed my heart
I learned I was a hellion
Born sinful from the start

I could not bear to see this
I shut my eyes and fled
But though I tried to flee this
God captured me instead

He called out, "Child, where are you?"
I whispered, "Here I am."
"I cannot stand before you,
for you will surely damn."

"Your wrath is all that's owed me
I'm blacker than I know"
He silenced me and showed me
His gifts for me, His foe

He gave His Son a ransom
For debts I could not pay
So I could have a welcome
In heav'n on Judgment Day.

He gave His Spirit to me
His light to light my road
His power to renew me
And strength to bear my load

How can I flee my Savior?
I'm pris'ner of His love.
I'm bound to Christ, the Victor.
En route to heav'n above.

One day I'll see His face there
And know as I've been known
Thank God for all His favor,
Praise be to Him alone!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Satan brother of Jesus?

Mormons claim that the Bible teaches that all spiritual beings (including Jesus, angels, human beings and Satan) are brothers under God the Father (  The key points of the argument are:
  1. God is "the Father of all spirits" (Hebrews 12:9).
  2. We are spirits, as are Jesus and Satan, therefore God is our spiritual Father.
  3. If we all have the same spiritual father, then we are spiritual brothers of each other and of Jesus and Satan, and they too are spiritual brothers of each other.

Straightforward enough.  But the word "all" is not present in the Greek text.  A literal translation such as the ESV reads as follows:
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:9, ESV)
All that this passage then affirms is that God is Father of some spirits, not necessarily of all of them.

A Mormon who was fluent in his Scripture might, however, point us to Ephesians 4:4-6, where it says:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV)
Here it says God is "Father of all," but the question is "all what?"  All creation?  All living things (plants and animals alike)?"  All people?  All believers?  It doesn't say.  Given that this passage is part of a larger section that speaks to the church about the relationships that fellow believers are to have with each other, it seems most likely that, "Father of all" means "Father of all believers," in which case it does not support the claim that God is the Father of all spirits, or in particular, of Satan.

Jesus himself identifies "spirits" (according to the Mormon definition) whose father is not God in John 8:37-44:
"I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”  
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:37-44, ESV)

Here the Pharisees with whom Jesus is talking agree completely with the Mormons that God is their Father but Jesus denies it and identifies their father as the devil.  God the Father loves Jesus and tells the truth, Satan hates Jesus and tells lies.  Because the Pharisees do the things that Satan does, they show clearly that Satan is their father and not God.

If God cannot be Father of those spirits who hate Jesus and tell lies, can He be Father of Satan?  Obviously not.  What spirits, then, is Hebrews 12:9 speaking of?  Certainly the Holy Spirit is included in the group, for He is the spirit that pre-eminently loves Jesus and tells the truth.  In Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5 and 5:6, the Holy Spirit is described as "the seven spirits", so it would make perfect sense if Hebrews 12:9 were understood to mean "God the Father of the seven spirits," or "God the Father of the Holy Spirit."  God is also Father of those who have learned by the power of the Spirit to call Him "Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6).

But God is not Father of all those who call Him "Father".  The Pharisees whom Jesus addressed in John 6 called God Father, and he showed them to be mistaken.  Just as not all who call Jesus Lord will be acknowledged by Him in the end (Matthew 7:21-23), so also not all who call God their Father will be acknowledged by Him in the end.  "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).  These fruits will not be seen in their prophesying or casting out of demons or doing mighty works, but in their love of Jesus and the truth.  If people show these in their lives, we can conclude that they have God as their Father, but not otherwise.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Questions about the relevance of the Old Testament Law

A widely circulated letter falsely attributed to Dr James Kauffman and addressed variously to Dr. Laura and George W. Bush poses several rather sarcastic questions about the relevance of Old Testament law to modern society.  I don't know if anyone has ever answered these questions online, but if they haven't, I've answered the questions below for the benefit of anyone who has seen his letter and is curious about how to apply Old Testament law to modern society.

The important thing to note throughout is that in Jesus Christ, the purpose of much of the Old Testament law is accomplished and therefore no longer necessary. This is not true of the entire law, however. For example, the Ten Commandments are not superceded - we still are not to murder, steal or commit adultery. But many of the questions below relate to laws that are superceded (even though they may be based on principles which are still valid). If you would like to know more specifics about to what extent the laws and the principles which they instantiate are still relevant today, feel free to ask me, and I'll do my best to provide the answers.

My answers to the questions are in blue italics below
Dear Dr. Laura: 
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate. 
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them. 
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. 
A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians? 
Answer: Since slavery was commonplace in the ancient world, laws were made to regulate it rather than attempting to abolish it. However Paul, in his letter to Philemon, essentially abolished any religious underpinnings for slavery by telling Philemon that he should welcome Onesimus, his runaway slave who had become a Christian, back as a brother and treat him as a friend. Though it took many centuries for the implications of this teaching to make themselves fully felt, it was a foundational motive for the abolition of slavery.
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? 
Answer: See the answer to the previous question.
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24.
The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Answer: Jewish law spoke extensively about uncleanness because God was teaching the people about his holiness and they needed to learn that we need to be made clean before we can approach him. However the kind of cleansing we need is the spiritual cleaning that is accomplished by Jesus Christ through his work on the cross as we place our faith in him. When Christ died, he fulfilled the primary intent of all of the Jewish laws regarding cleanliness, so they are no longer needed. However some of them can still be profitably followed for pragmatic reasons. This one, for example, had the practical purpose of restraining a man from trying to have sex with his wife during her period, a restraint which still might be desirable.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
Answer: Like the Jewish laws about cleanliness, the laws about sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would ultimately make on our behalf. Once he died for our sins, the animal sacrifices were no longer needed to pay for our sins, so it is no longer necessary to sacrifice a bull for that purpose. As for smiting one's neighbor, see the discussion on the next question. 
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
Answer: Old Testament law requires that in capital cases that there be two witnesses of the crime, so he must not kill the man himself, but must take it before a court with another witness to the event. If the man is convicted, the witness will be required to throw the first stones.
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?
Answer: His friend is correct. The violation of dietary laws did not call for capital punishment while violating other kinds of laws did. But while there may be practical reasons for not eating specific forbidden foods (such as pork, which until recently in modern countries transmitted several kinds of diseases), as moral laws, the dietary laws were superceded by Jesus when he declared that people were made unclean not by what went into them (the food they ate) but by what came out of them - sinful words and behaviors. However the law against homosexuality was never superceded, and Paul emphasizes in Romans 1 that disordered sexual desires are a foundational consequence of our rebellion against God.
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here? 
Answer: Similarly to the laws about cleanliness, this law was intended to remind the Jews that God is perfect and nothing that is flawed will survive in His presence. Jesus, in his death and resurrection, made a way for our flaws to be made right. His healing ministry was also a pointer in this direction, for one day he will heal all the hurts and flaws of his people and everyone who belongs to him will stand before God in heaven completely clean and perfect. So by faith in Jesus those with physical defects of any kind can now approach the altar without fear.
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27.How should they die?
Answer: This was never a capital crime, so talk of the death penalty here is absurd. Rather it was a command not to imitate the dress and style of the pagans around them, and no different in intent than prohibiting school children from wearing gang clothing on school campuses today.
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
Answer: See the discussion of the cleanliness laws above.
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16.Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
Answer: The question of mixing crops and fabrics is too complex to handle here, but the issue of blasphemy is simply a matter of societal survival. To blaspheme is not simply to say swear words, but to speak evil about or wish evil upon God - sort of like a teenager saying that she wished that her mom would be raped and have her purse stolen. When your community depends for your wellbeing on God, this is not the kind of thing you should say to or about him, and could result in punishments that would imperil the entire community. The threat of capital punishment was intended to protect the whole community from the consequences of making these kinds of statements. As for sleeping with one's inlaws - does anyone really think it is a good idea for a woman to have sex with her son-in-law or a man with his mother-in-law?
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.