December 26, 2006

How to Read the Bible...

Below I urged you to consider taking up some plan for reading the Bible daily in 2007. I hope you have done so…and are gung-ho to start next week. If you are, you are a lot more likely to benefit from the reading (and keep at it) if you have, not only a plan for what you are going to read, but how you are going to read. What should I do every day as I’m reading? What am I supposed to get out of this? Good questions. Let me give you a few practical tips for getting the most out of your daily Bible reading…

1. Make an Appointment. Do you usually plan important events in your day? I’ll bet you do. Almost all of us employ alarm clocks, calendars, to-do lists, and Post-it notes to make sure that we get done those important tasks. Should we be any less diligent in making sure we get to our daily Bible reading? Do whatever you must—planning a time, setting aside a space, writing yourself a note—to make sure you get to the word.

2. Have a Plan. Don’t just skip around the Bible. Skipping around makes it too easy to skip a day, a week, a month of reading—because there is no plan or goal. So have a plan of what you want to read, and in what order. See the previous entry for ideas.

3. Pray First. Begin each time of reading by praying that God would open your eyes to see, your mind to understand, your heart to believe, and your will to obey His word. And if you get stumped or distracted in the middle, pray again!

4. Read Slowly. Julia has been reading a children’s book (The Brothers’ Promise, Frances Harbor) where one of the characters says this about reading his Bible: “When I pray, I talk fast because I am speaking to God, but when I read, I read slow, because God is talking to me!” Good wisdom from a fictional character! Give yourself enough time to really hear God! And select your reading plan so that the passage is short enough to do so. For some of you this may only be a chapter a day—that is OK! A slowly read, well-digested piece of bread is better than a whole bowlful of beans eaten so hastily that they do not digest!

5. Read for the Original Meaning. The Bible was not written as a nebulous, ‘What does it mean to you’ kind of book. Every passage has one definite meaning. And the Bible was not written to Americans living in the 21st century. It was written mainly to ancient Jews living in specific religious, political, and cultural contexts. You must not divorce the Scriptures from this original context and just glean something catchy off the top. Just because the LORD told Mary “you’ll conceive in your womb and bear a son” doesn’t mean that He is saying that to you! So, before you ever seek to apply a passage to yourself, ask: What did it mean to those who originally read it? Need help with this? Get Ken Easley’s Holman Quicksource Guide to Understanding the Bible.

6. Apply the ancient meaning to your modern situation. If this passage meant this for the ancient readers…what is it saying to me in 2006-2007? Is the passage…Pinpointing any particular of my sins? Giving commands that apply to me? Teaching things about God I need to understand? Giving promises I need to lay hold of?

7. Look for Jesus. As part of your search for the original meaning and personal application, ask: How does this passage point to Jesus? Does it…Show our sinfulness and need for the Savior? Contain a prophecy of the coming of the Savior? Draw a picture of the Savior (like the ram in the thicket)? Consist of direct teaching about the Savior? Show how we should respond to the Savior? Remember that Jesus taught that all the Scriptures speak of Him!

8. Summarize the entire passage in a sentence or two. If you’ve really gotten the passage, you should be able to summarize it briefly—It’s meaning; It’s personal application; It’s pointing to Jesus—hen you’re through reading.

9. Pray about what you have read. Talk to God about it—especially the personal applications. Praise Him for His character revealed in the passage. Thank Him for how Jesus shines forth in the passage. Confess sins brought to mind by the passage. Ask for His help believing and obeying what you learned from the passage.

Surely there are other things to do…but here are the basics. Happy reading!

Wow! That's in the Bible?

‘I never noticed that before’ someone recently told me. She had been reading the book of Genesis and noticed for the first time that, after Adam and Eve sinned, God had covered them with animal skins—the first animal sacrifice; and a foreshadowing of the One who would give his life once and for all to cover our sins. ‘I’ve read that passage dozens of times,’ she said, ‘but never saw that before.’

Isn’t that great? Even for an experienced Bible reader, the word of God is always living and active! There is always something new to learn. That’s not because the word changes. And it is definitely not because, as so many people say: ‘Two people can read the same passage and get two totally different things out of it.’ No, No. The Bible, and each of its passages, has one concrete meaning. But each time we go to it, we do have the opportunity to notice things we skimmed over before; to discover personal applications we had ignored before; and, for some of us, to read portions of the Scriptures we’ve never read before—talking donkeys, ladies driving tent pegs through people’s heads, and prophets walking around naked as a sermon illustration! There is a lot in there that some of us have never seen!

But, seasoned veteran or first-time reader, every time we go to the Bible, there is the chance for the wow factor! Why? Because God reveals Himself most clearly through this Book—and whenever we see God, we inevitably say ‘Wow!’ So let me urge you, as I do our congregation every year at this time, to get yourself into the Bible on a regular basis. Give yourself the chance to experience the wow of encountering God on a daily basis. Here are a few suggested plans…

The Old Testament in a year. If there was ever a place where we might experience the wow factor, it might be the Old Testament. First, because many of us are so unfamiliar with it. And second because the stories are so amazing—filled with the miraculous, the ironic, the majestic, and even the humorous works of God. If you committed to read two chapters a day, you could read the Old Testament by the end of 2007.

The New Testament in a year. I think it helps to take the New Testament slowly. There is so much to mine—sometimes from just a single sentence or two with its clauses, sub-clauses, and so on. So if you just read one chapter a day, you could have the New Testament read by early fall, and still have several weeks left to study one or more of its books more in-depth.

The meditation method. Take a single book with which you are more unfamiliar and resolve to read it through twenty time consecutively—whether you read a few verses at a time, or a chapter a day, or the whole book in one setting, or any combination of the above. It may be very beneficial to just swim in the waters of one single book for several months or the whole year…and then tackle another one when you finish.

The whole Bible in three years. If you studied a chapter a day, you could read the whole in just over three years.

So…what is the blogger going to do? I think I will read through the Old Testament this year…and at the same time practice the meditation method with some book from the New. Maybe Hebrews or Acts. What about you?

Christmas Poem, 5

Lost Sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
Considering why God chose to reveal Christ first to shepherds (Luke 2.8), and what they may have felt like that night.

With moon hung low behind the trees
Josiah bent his creaking knees,
And with a low and muffled groan
Sat down, his back against a stone.
His face was old, his cheeks were drawn.
His eyes were dim, his hair was gone.
And like a leather shoe, his skin
Was tough and creased, but gentle when
He smiled—especially round his eyes
Where flesh was pinched like when one ties
A goatskin tight with corn silk twine—
A bottle filled with fresh red wine.
The skin will harden, dry, and crack—
Yet house the best wine in the rack.
That was Josiah—great in years,
His wrinkles carved by many tears.
But inside beat a heart of flesh
Where tenderness and zeal could mesh.

He’d wield his rod to guard the sheep
And tell old yarns to beat back sleep.
The rest of us would squeeze in close
Like lepers, for a healing dose
Of truth and grace from ‘Siah’s lips.
His tales came in like mighty ships
From distant lands, with golden yields—
And yet he’d never left these fields.

He was a shepherd, just like we,
Who for a measly beggar’s fee,
With flute to while the hours away
Would work all night and sleep by day;
And come home with a muddy gown;
And keep his home at edge of town.
He smelled like sheep, and like his dog.
He’d been banned from the synagogue.
O yes—he was a pious sort—
But ‘unclean’ by the high priest’s court.
Our shepherds’ task is crude and mean.
Some Sabbath’s he would not be seen
At meeting time because a sheep
Had crumpled in a broken heap,
Or hurled itself upon a rock,
Or cut itself off from the flock.
So like the other shepherds he
Was spit on by the Pharisee.
And because he could not afford
A Paschal Lamb to give the Lord
(Or sometimes to have meat for dinner)
He was an outcast and a sinner.

Yes, he watched sheep, but they weren’t his.
They took them for the Temple ‘biz’—
The priests—so they could line the folds
Of priestly garments with pure gold.
A pawn in a religious game,
Still, ‘Siah called upon the Name.

Straight from the Bible, all his tales—
Of parting sees and giant whales,
Of milk and honey from Gods’ store,
Of kings when they go out to war.
But all the yarns that he would spin—
One thread ran through time and again—
The story of a coming King
Who’d ride in while the people sing;
Who’d love the shepherds and the thieves;
Who’d forgive ev’ryone who grieves
For sin—religious or out cast;
Who’d blot out all our filthy past;
Whose blood, just like a Paschal Lamb,
Would satisfy the great I AM.
We all, like sheep, astray in sin,
But God would lay it all on Him!

‘For us?’ we’d say. ‘How can this be?
For us and not the Pharisee?’
‘For all,’ he said, ‘who turn from vice
And trust this Shepherd’s sacrifice.
For Pharisees with vain conceit;
For shepherds with their dirty feet;
The harlot with her painted face;
For heathen of the Gentile race.’

We’d laugh. He’d heard our boastful lies.
He’d seen us walk with bloodshot eyes
Back into town at dawn’s first light,
So drunk we could not see aright.
He’d heard us lash our razor tongues
And watched us fill our desperate lungs
With smoke of hash and pride of life,
And how each man would treat his wife.
And most—he knew the synagogues—
How they saw us as hollow logs,
Twice dead, uprooted, worthless waste.
We were not of religious taste.
And yet he’d tell us all the more:
‘Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
His lambs He’ll come and gather in—
Even the ones who’ve strayed from Him!’

But still we’d drink and still we’d cuss—
‘Messiah will not come for us’
We’d say. ‘You know not where we’ve been.
For all you’ve said, we’re still unclean.’
Besides, if this Messiah comes
He will not waste His time with bums
And rabble here in Bethlehem.
He’ll ride into Jerusalem!
He’ll visit Kings, and eat with priests
Not with us and our mangy beasts!

Our friend would stretch a leathered smile
Across his face. ‘A little while
And you will see that you are wrong.
And then you all will join my song!’

But scoff we did with all our might.
Until one cold and gusty night
We sat and felt the wind grow still
The way the wise men say it will
Before a storm—and we grew stiff.
And then, as though a giant rift
Had torn through heaven’s starry scroll
Like lighting, but without the roll
Of thunder—just a blazing light.
And angel dressed in dazzling white—
His waste cinched with a golden band,
A burning scepter in his hand—

We fell down on our faces.
And, like that light, flashed all the places—
Raunchy, lewd—that we had been,
The lies we’d told, our boasting wind.
And on our cheeks, like guilty blood,
Now hung the grass, the urine, mud,
And filth left by a hundred sheep.
It symbolized how poor, how cheap,
And how unclean we beggars were.

The next few moments were a blur.
All we could do was burrow down
Our faces further in the ground
And wait for him to wield his rod
With all the wrath of holy God
And crack our ribs and break our teeth
Like wolves who’d come to play the thief.

We lay in slop what seemed like years
Until he said, “Push back your fears!
I did not come here to destroy
But to announce a baby boy;
And with good news of joy and mirth
For all the peoples of the earth!
Tonight in David’s little town
Of Bethlehem, amid the sound
Of sheep, of oxen crunching hay—
And in such mire as you now lay,
A Savior’s born for Pharisees
And men of state with high degrees—
But also for the harlot cheap,
And for the men who watch the sheep!”

So Come to Christ! Come one, come all.
Come not, though, to a lavish hall,
But to a manger filled with straw.
Come you who have not kept the Law.
Come to a cross and see the cost
Christ paid to rescue all His lost
And wayward sheep, so far astray.
Come all you sinners, come today!
Christ has flung wide the heav’nly door!
Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!

December 22, 2006

A Freebie

Okay, this isn't technically a Christmas poem...but it is about Jesus! So I'll throw it in for free with your annual subscription! I'll post this year's Christmas poem (#5) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The Disciple’s Song
Based on 1 John 1:1

1. What Was from the Beginning
As darkness hovered o’er the deep
And earth was still a miry heap;
Before the Dippers hung in place
Or moon was lit with manly face,
And man had not from clay been wrought
And paradise was just a thought;
Before the dawn by sun was kissed
Our blessed Christ still did exist.

Before the devil scoffed His might
And led his angels in their flight,
Or left his tracks on virgin sod
And bade man shake his fist at God;
Before man’s fall was yet fulfilled,
Before His blood must needs be spilled,
Before all flesh in sin was damned,
Christ waited, slain, the precious Lamb.

When Abram lived in ancient Ur,
Where nomads dressed in cloaks of fur,
God plucked him up like desert rose
And led him to the land He chose.
He promised him a mighty clan
While Abram still was just one man.
Before his offspring God did bless,
Through faith Christ was his righteousness.

It did not take the fall of man,
Nor promise made to Abraham,
Nor God’s creation turned to vice—
He always was and is the Christ.

2. What We Have Heard
Our hands were blistered bloody red
From mending nets where fish had fled.
Our temples beat like warring drums.
Our ears were filled with seaside hums
Of market slang and bickering
And haughty laughs and snickering.
But then above the deaf’ning noise,
A gift of God: The Master’s voice.

The beauty of “Come follow Me”
Made boats and nets and fish and sea
Seem like a chasing after wind
Given the chance to follow Him
Whose words could sting like whirling sand
“Gouge out your eye! Cut off your hand!”
and even harsher phrases said,
“Repent or you shall all be dead.”

But harshness always dripped with grace
As sweet as honey to the taste.
A word could meet a beggar’s need
Or splint a bruised and wilting reed.
That voice robust with sovereign might
Became a salve for blinded sight,
A balm for leper’s rotten skin,
A flood to cleanse the stain of sin.

This word that caused out hearts to burn
Will never shade, nor shift, nor turn.
We testify to what we heard—
The Son of God, the Living Word.

3. What We Have Seen with Our Eyes
He grew up as a tender shoot.
He wore no jewels, nor sash, nor suit.
His clothes were of the working trade—
Sturdy, clean, and slightly frayed.
A carpenter with hands rubbed raw
From gripping hammer, adze, and saw.
This Nazarene, a faithful son
Was also the Anointed One.

Before our eyes He fed a host:
Five thousand men, two fish, five loaves.
With gentle hands He felt at ease
To bounce the toddlers on His knees,
Or tickle them and watch their grins,
Or wipe the crumbs off of their chins.
He was a Shepherd for His flock;
A gentle, kind, but solid Rock.

This Man the leaders put to test.
With blackened hearts they tried their best
To lasso Him with Moses’ Law,
But in Him they could find no flaw.
And when He did not take their bait,
A story they did fabricate—
“He does not do as Caesar said!”
“O Pilate, we would have Him dead.”

And so we watched His form be marred—
In cowardice, watched from afar.
On that good day we saw God’s grace,
Eyes fixed on Him who took our place.

4. What Our Hands Handled
This one who washed our sinful feet
Was now wrapped in a corpse’s sheet.
But mangled flesh and strangled screams
And bloodsoaked garments filled our dreams.
But then burst Mary in the room—
“I have been to the Master’s tomb!
He is not dressed in fun’ral shroud.
I kissed His hand. He spoke out loud!”

Alive, He came to us that night;
And robed in garments glorious white.
Our hearts whose light had been so dim,
Burst open wide to worship Him.
We bowed our knees with trembling souls
To kiss His feet—and felt the holes
Where flesh was to that wood affixed
And blood with rust and splinters mixed.

Unworthy men touched hands and side
Where God’s own wrath had been applied.
Those wounds in hands and feet and head,
Our nightmares while his frame lay dead,
No longer red like aged wine,
But firm and white, as healed by time.
This truth now touched our fingertips—
“Death could not hold Him in its grip!”

Our hearts were filled with holy hush.
The One whom God was pleased to crush
With Roman lash, and stake, and sword
Was in our arms, the risen Lord.

December 21, 2006

Number 4...

The Not-So-Wise Man
Pondering how it was that the magi in Matthew 2 knew that the star in the east was the herald of the birth of the Savior…and how this pagan set of astrologers became worshippers of the Lord.

My name is Shar-Ezer the great.
I made my fame by staying late
Out on bald Babylonian peaks
Where all is black and star-light leaks
Through tiny pinholes in the sky
And makes men ask the question “Why?”

Night by night I’d march through town
All regal in my magi’s gown
With ox-cart full of shiny tools
That proved me smart and others fools.
I thought that science made men wise
And opened up the blind man’s eyes.
And thus I thought with mounds of books,
With telescope and nightly looks
At heav’nly sights most eyes can’t see
That I should be impressed with me.

So I would stay out late at night,
‘Scope fixed on planets in their flight,
Observing comets, moons, and stars
Like fireflies trapped in ancient jars—
“My jars.” I thought I’d roped them all
And hung the dippers great and small.
I fancied that the heav’nly sea
Was poured out by the likes of me.

But then, one night, all science failed.
The stars of Betelgeuse all paled
And from a land who knows how far
Arose a new, uncharted star!
And, breaking all the rules I knew,
I watched it dance across the hue
Of midnight blues and sunrise pink.
It seemed to call my name and wink
And bid me gaze, bow down, and come

My heart banged like a drum.
What could this be? My mind was vexed.
Had I missed something in the text?

I hurried home and scanned the pages
Of all the wisdom of the sages.
But nothing quenched my newfound thirst.
I think this was the very first
Time I realized that I was small.
And that I did not know it all.
This ‘wise man’ had to swallow pride
And load his donkeys for a ride
To that old shack on Prophet’s Hill
To seek one who was wiser still.

Old Kaphtor’s face was thin and gaunt
With leather skin and eyes that haunt
Young fools like me, so tall and proud.
“Behold, He’s coming with the clouds”
He said.

“Who’s coming?” I replied.
“The One whose star has made you ride
These thirty miles out to my place.
You’ve seen the star. It’s in your face.
And you must ride through deserts wild
To gaze upon that lovely Child.”

Kaphtor was of a dying breed—
The old magi who trace their seed
To prince Daniel the ancient Jew
Whose words, they say, always came true.
His power to interpret dreams
Made him a fav’rite of the kings
And made him all the wise men’s prince.
And so there has been ever since
A school of men who read his words
And trust his God like helpless birds.
A magi class who serve the LORD
And work for no earthly reward,
But share His truth with all who seek…
Whose hearts are teachable and meek.

“What child?” I said. “What do you mean?
Can you explain this star I’ve seen?”

His glance forced me to hang my head.
“Swallowed your pride?” at length he said.
“And now you’re fin’lly asking why?
Young magi, look up at the sky.
A thousand stars that you can name;
That let you play this wise man game,
Parade through town and make your boast
That you’re the man who’s charmed the host
Of heav’n.”

And then he smiled at me.
“A million more you’ll never see,
And moons a thousand lives away.
So gather up your toys and play
And wonder at the starry night.
But know this—It was not your might
That hung Orion in its place
Or lit the moon with manly face.
You did not give the stars their names.
Nor do they shine to speak your fame.”

I wept. My tears he humbly dried—
And with them wiped away my pride.
“I’m glad you came to call,” he said.
“We’ve quite a journey just ahead.
You’re just the one to go with me.
Ready, at last, to bow the knee!
The old man Daniel had it right.
He told us that one moonlit night
We’d see the “star of Jacob” rise
And that the wisdom of the wise
Could not explain the gracious hand
Of God who would become a man.”

“The message of the star in heav’n?
‘For unto us a son is giv’n!’
He’s come! I’ve waited all these years!
He’s come to wipe away our tears.
He’s come and washed away your pride.
He’s come to gather up His bride.
He’s come to set the captives free.
He’s come to see us bow the knee!”

“Now what?” I asked. His eyes grew bright,
And glassy looked into the night.
Then trembling lips began to sing:
“We go to find our newborn King!”

December 20, 2006

Christmas Poems, Part 3

Simeon: There’s Always Wheat among the Tares
Inspired by the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35
Dedicated to Sherman Cating

Young Mary bounced along the trail,
And as she walked she did not fail
To ask her Papa many things—
“Where do the blue jays get their wings?
Why are the clouds so fluffy white?
When will the city be in sight?”
“You have so many questions dear—
Jerusalem is very near.
We’ll be there in one half an hour.
Just look out for the watchman’s tower.
And then we’ll reach those ancient walls
That wrap around the temples halls—
The home of Him who makes birds fly
And paints His clouds upon the sky.
We’ll see the priests parade around
With pomp and might and flowing gowns;
But also peasants in their prayers.
There’s always wheat among the tares.”
“What does that mean, Papa?” she said.
“I thought that wheat was used for bread?”
“That is a happy question dear.
I think it’s time for you to hear
How God ensures that there will be
A remnant who lives faithfully.
When all the world is doomed to hell,
God keeps a few who serve Him well.
Great-grandpa Sim was such a man.
Perhaps He’ll help you understand.

“Great-grandpa grew up in an age
When all the wisdom of the sage
Was ‘Work, work, work, with all your might,
And God will count your deeds as right’—
When all the boys went off to schools
And learned to think their fathers fools
For waiting on the LORD to send
A Savior for the nation’s sins.
But what a mercy from the LORD—
Great-grandpa Sim could not afford
To leave His father’s shop and tools
To go be ruined in the schools!
But zealous as he was to learn,
He let his midnight candles burn
So he could stay up late and read
Of all the rules that he must heed.
But as he read he did not find
A God so cruel and so unkind—
But One who understood our frame,
A God who knew us all by name
And loved us even though we’d sinned
And promised all our griefs to mend.
He learned that life was not a fight
To try and do ev’rything right.
Instead He found in God’s great grace
A sweet and quiet resting place.

“So papa, what was His reward
For trusting only in the LORD?
Did God make him a famous man?”
“No dear, God had a better plan.
God gave great-grandpa two rewards:
First, He chose him above the lords,
And priests, and yes, above the king
To be part of the inner ring
Who’d see God’s great Messiah first—
Who came to free us from the curse.
He told Him he would rest his eye
On God’s anointed e’re he died.”
“And did God keep His promise?” “Yes.
But not in ways that you might guess.
God led him to the Temple gate—
but not to see some head of state,
And not to see a rebel wild,
But to behold a little child.”
I know it seems a little odd—
It doesn’t seem like mighty God
would pin our hope of future joy
on just a helpless baby boy—
But Mary, when our faith is right
God will not let us walk by sight.
My child, if we wish to be wise,
We’ll have more of great-grandpa’s eyes”

“And as for his other reward,
Hear what great-grandpa told the LORD
That day inside the temple’s gate:
LORD, you no longer have to wait.
Release your bond-servant in peace—
I’m ready for the wedding feast!
The faith has fin’lly come to sight
I’m holding in my arm the light
Chosen to save the Gentile race
And restore Israel to her place.
I’ve kissed the hand of God most high.
And I am not afraid to die

“Papa, your story’s not complete.
What’s all this got to do with wheat?”

Her Papa sighed, and then he smiled—
Such questions from a little child!
“Great grandpa’s day was like a field
Which gave a weak and sickly yield.
The crops were overrun with weeds—
those men relying on good deeds.
But grandpa Sim knew He was dust
And in God only did he trust.
And so I say he was like wheat
Which, when it’s rare, is doubly sweet!”

December 19, 2006

Christmas Poem #2

Let them Say what they will Say
Reading between the lines of Matthew 1.24 and wondering what may have gone through Joseph’s mind as he committed to obey the Lord and take Mary as his wife.

Young Joseph wandered out of town.
He trudged the quarter mile around
The hill, and through the fields of grain
To think. What did he stand to gain
Or lose by marrying this girl
With inner beauty like a pearl—
But outwardly a broken reed,
A flower choked out by a weed?
Sixteen, unmarried with a child…
Joseph could hear the raw and wild
Tongues wagging now in Nazareth.
This marriage seemed to be the death
Of Joseph’s honor. It would take…
And leave his reputation in its wake.

Could he obey God through the pain—
That awful cursing of his name?

Just then the wheat seemed bent in half
Like cruel children when they laugh
At some poor soul been made a fool
Out on the playground after school.
He knew that kind of laugh. He’d heard
The young men snicker at the word
Of some poor lass who’d gone astray
And had a baby on the way.

He’d listened as the women talked,
And watched them as they’d sneered and gawked
At pregnant girls and called them tramps.
He’d heard them gossip ‘round their lamps,
And how they called men rogues, and said
Almighty’s curse was on the bed
Of any man who sinned like that…
Who without marriage did begat
A child.

And what would be at work?
He knew sarcastic smiles would lurk
Around each corner of the shop.
He knew crass jesting would not stop,
But only gather strength if he
Told these coarse men about his dream.
He’d have to let them point and grin—
With poison fingers, filled with sin
Like snakes protruding from their arms
With only hopes to do him harm.
They’d never listen to his side.
But only bite, and quip, and chide!

Then, on his face he felt the wind
Blow softly by, then pause and bend
To plant a kiss upon his cheek.
The way his mother used to sneak
Into his room when day was gone
And kiss the forehead of her only son.
He wondered what she’d think of this.
He wondered if he’d get a kiss
When he broke the news. Or if he’d
Get a stern warning he should heed.
He wondered if her heart would joy,
Or if she’d scold her little boy.

So in the house young Joseph went.
And tried his best to give no hint
That anything was wrong. But wise
Old mothers see it in the eyes.
“What’s wrong my son” his mother asked.
“Nothing” he answered through his mask.
“Nothing? Then why such a long face?”
At this he gave a strong embrace
And cried. He wished he might have died
And stilled the bruising of his pride.
At last he lifted up his head
And told his mother all the angel said.

To his relief she did not scold
But believed him. And bowed her old
Head to pray and to thank the Lord.
“Why do you shudder at this word
My son?” she asked. “The Lord has blessed!
He has done more than I had guessed.
He’s sent Messiah to my son.
You’ll shepherd the Anointed One!
Why do you fret?”

“What will they say?
What will the local people say?
They’ll mock and scorn my name and yours.
And number Mary with the whores.
The reputation we have earned
They’ll set on fire just like a burned
Up corn field. And naught will be left!”

“Come. Come outside my dear Joseph”
She said, and led him to the field.
“Why does our corn-patch always yield
A crop my son? Do you know why?
Does corn seed fall out of the sky
Like manna from the Lord on high?
Or is it that some corn stalks die?”
And even when the crop burns down,
Still, kernels fall into the ground
And grow.

My son this is your place.
Some men will slap you in the face
And ugly words will sear you heart.
But this is just God’s work of art.
He’s making you a dying corn
So His salvation may be born.

A seed that lives and is not sown
Is destined to remain alone.
But if the seed falls to the ground
It scatters blessing all around.

So hand the Lord your feeble life
And take young Mary as your wife.
And when the gossip makes you bleed…
Know God is making you a seed.
So let them say what they will say.
Yours is to die and to obey.”

December 17, 2006

Manger Scenes?

Read the Second Commandment carefully...

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20.4-6

Now an honest question...

Is it biblical for us to have nativity scenes in our homes...seeing as how they seem to contain graven images of Jesus? I realizie we are not worshipping them...but I am honestly wrestling with whether we should even have them.

Not grinding an axe. We currently have 3 sets in our living room! Just wondering if anyone has thought through this more than me and can give some insight as to what the Bible is really saying here.

Same question could be asked of pictures of Jesus, or movies on Jesus.

Leave a comment or email me.

December 11, 2006

Here Comes Santa Claus

I had almost forgotten about Santa Claus. But there he is, around ever corner again…saying Ho Ho Ho; shaking his hips in the Garden Center at Wal-Mart; ringing his bell outside every major department store. He is hard to ignore this time of year.

In spite of the difficulty, however, Tobey and I have decided not to do the Santa thing with our kids—not simply because it isn’t true, or to avoid the big let down around age seven—but because Santa seems to detract a whole bunch of attention from Jesus this time of year. Kids—even church kids!—are so wrapped up in what they might get from ‘Santa’ that they almost forget what God Himself has given—even though they could give you all the right Sunday School answers about the meaning of Christmas!

We have a chance to really capture the Christmas season to teach our children about the wonders of the incarnation of Christ, but we are so often hijacked by a jolly old man and eight tiny reindeer! So we’ve gotten stubborn. Call us Scrooges if you like…but our kids’ Christmas (and our own) is going to be about Jesus if we have anything to say about it!

If you’re just starting out, or early enough in the game, I’d recommend the same course of action to you. I believe our kids (mainly Julia right now) are more excited about Jesus and the manger and the wise men and Christmas than I ever was. The main reason for that is because we have, by God’s grace, made an intentional effort to teach the incarnation to them. But a secondary reason is because there has been no competing story…no competing Christmas hero to deal with. So, in our little experiment, Christmas has actually been more fun without red-suits, reindeer, and elves!

But what will we do when Julia and Andrew notice (as they inevitably will) that this chubby old man in a red suit seems to pop up at every turn each December? What are we going to tell them? Well, rather than coming across like scrooges (‘we don’t believe in Santa!') or pretending like it is nothing—which will only make them more interested—we’re going to tell them about the real St. Nick…

Saint Nikolas was a wealthy 4th century resident of modern-day Turkey. But when he was saved by Jesus, He determined from that day forward to give his money away to the poor. On one occasion he heard about a man who was so poor that he was contemplating selling his daughters as prostitutes just to keep them all from starving. So Nikolas secretly snuck to the man’s house by night three different times. The first two times he dropped a bag of gold through the window. But, as the story goes, the third night the window was closed. So he climbed up on the roof and dropped it through the chimney. And so the legend of Santa Claus was born.

But, you see, the real Santa Claus was not a magical man with toys galore and infinite ability to deliver them. Rather, he was an average man who met Jesus and had the attitude of generosity within himself that is so perfectly displayed in Jesus.

Isn’t that a great story? Wouldn’t it be a great story/lesson for your children to learn? And wouldn’t it provide a quick, effective, and honest way to get your children’s attention back from the man in the red suit to the Child in the manger?

December 8, 2006


If ye knew the mind of the glorified in heaven, they think heaven come to their hand at an easy market, when they have got it for threescore or fourscore years of wrestling with God.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford, page 51

When we are in heaven 60 or 80 years of toil and difficulty will seem like a small price to pay for an eternity with Jesus!

December 4, 2006

The Day the Pastor got Sent Home

Last Sunday was a gratifying outcome to a year of hard work and prayer concerning our constitution—and the addition of elders to our church leadership structure. We selected Gary Vaught, Mark Wells, and Scott Harig as our deacons…and Keith Gorby, Charles Tassell, and myself as the elders. I thank God for my congregation - their patience, prayer, and unity throughout this process. I love my church family. They have been amazing!

Way back at the beginning, when I first began to put forward the idea of adopting elder-leadership, one of the advantages I mentioned was accountability for me. I needed a group of godly, well-equipped, courageous men who would be on equal footing with me—men who could and would hold me accountable if and when I sinned, misinterpreted, or just made foolish decisions. One specific example I gave was of elders in the church helping the pastor wisely organize his schedule so that he makes ample time for his family, his congregation, and his own soul. Well, it did not take long to see that this God-ordained system works! Accountability works! Elders work!

Two Thursdays ago, Tobey and the children were at home, quite sick. I was at work, plowing ahead through my normal routine—studying, preparing for Sunday. About 4:30 in the afternoon one of our newly elected leaders showed up with a sheet of paper in his hand. He asked if we could talk, and we went into my study.

He seemed a little nervous—which made me nervous! He began with prayer, then asked: ‘What are you doing here?’ I knew right away what he was getting at, even though I played dumb at first. I should have been at home nursing my wife and chasing my sick, but surprisingly energetic kids. Instead, I was up here working away as if everything was just fine at home.

As we talked, I realized the sheet of paper was a print-out of several scriptural passages which speak of how a husband should treat his wife. He handed it to me and asked me to read them all. That was important! He didn’t just come with his opinion, but with a word from God.

I would like to say that I immediately wept, went home, and apologized to my wife. I didn’t. I thanked him (I really did appreciate his concern). And I went home. But I was bent out of shape for a while because my little routine was interrupted. And thank God it was! Tobey really needed me…and the rest of the weekend went much better because I had been sent home—even if against my will!

I would also like to say that I would have responded the same way had any member of the church come to me like this leader did. But, prideful sinner that I am, I am not sure that I would have. I think it took a man whom I knew God was setting apart as one of my fellow elders to get my attention. It took someone whom I knew had spiritual authority in the church and in my life to make me obey God.

So what is the point? That I am really humble and obedient? No. I was not really excited about being sent home, you’ll recall. So what is the point? That the person who reproved me is super-spiritual? Again, no. The time may someday come when I will have to visit him with a prayer, a sheet of paper, and a kindly rebuke. So what is the point? The point is that even leaders are sinners. And even leaders need accountability and authority in their lives. That is why God gave us plural elders—because we so desperately need accountability to one another; and because having elders works!

December 3, 2006

Great things He Has Done!

Some of you have been following PRBC's year-long process of moving toward elder leadership via this blog. More importantly, you have prayed for us. Thank you! The fruit of our labors, your prayers, and the Lord's goodness is this:

We voted today, with only one dissenting vote, to adopt the new Constitution!

It will be posted to the website soon if you're interested in reading it.

The strengthened Articles of Faith and Membership Covenant also passed unanimously. Subsequently, we chose the following men as our leaders:

Keith Gorby
Kurt Strassner
Charles Tassell

Scott Harig
Gary Vaught
Mark Wells

Please pray for them, and for us, as we now seek to implement what we have been praying about, studying, discussing, and agreeing upon for the last year. And praise the Lord for the spirit of joyful unity that has pervaded this whole process!

November 20, 2006

How to Pray for Your Pastor when he is on Vacation

The following article was written for our congregation, to be placed in our bulletin this coming Sunday. If you are not a mamber of PRBC, maybe it will help you pray for your pastor and family next time they are away. And if you are the pastor yourself...pray these things for yourself...and make your own list for your people! And if you are reading this blog, then by all means, pray for Tobey and I. Here's the article, to be published this Sunday at our church...

As you know, Tobey, the kids, and I are halfway through our fall vacation. As you read this (Lord willing), we are preparing to attend church in Memphis. We are praying for you today…and trust that you are praying for us, too. I thought it might be helpful for you to have a few ideas of specific ways you can pray for us while we’re down south…

1. Pray that we will get real rest—physical and spiritual. We need both. Tobey and the kids have been battling colds this month…and I have been looking forward to going out of the harness for a while—getting the chance to hear others preach; and to reading the Bible simply for my own soul’s sake. So, pray that we’ll come back refreshed and re-energized in every way.

2. Pray that we will have good devotional times while away. This is a bit of a sub-point to #1. But I let it stand alone because it is such a need. For Tobey and I, vacation times often seem to be the times when we let our own personal devotions—and our family worship times—slip a bit. When visiting people and staying in their homes, you’re never really alone. So we need to be extra careful to make sure we
make time alone for God.

3. Pray that we would have good church experiences on Sunday. Some of you have heard me bemoan the fact that, when we go on vacation, we never can seem to end up in a church service where the Bible is preached and we are edified. I know the churches are out there…we just keep missing them! So pray that this trip will be different. Pray that some pastor (who doesn’t even know us) will have a word from the Lord for us this morning.

4. Pray for our times of Christian fellowship. One of the reasons we are making this trip is to spend time with some dear Christian friends. Pray that our times with these different families would be mutually encouraging; that the conversation would be about Christ; and that we would grow as we observe the example of these godly people.

5. Pray for our testimony. Another reason we are making this trip is to spend some time with friends and family who do not yet know Jesus. Please, please pray that we would let our light so shine before men that they would see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. Pray that we might have opportunities to speak much and well about Jesus. Pray that the seeds we plant this week might someday spring up to eternal life in some of these loved ones.

6. Pray that we would earnestly pray for you. Pastors go on vacation, but they do not stop being pastors. The flock at Pleasant Ridge is still my responsibility before the Lord whether I’m off duty or on. And the main way I need to defend and shepherd you while I am away is to keep up my normal routine of praying for you all by name. As we drive around, I should have plenty of free time to do just that. Pray that I would redeem that time by wrestling with God on your behalf in prayer.

Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving us this time away…and for praying for us.

PS - For those 2 or 3 of you who actually read this blog...note that, since I am away, the blog will be dark for a few days. I'll be back at it in early December.

November 16, 2006

Stealing from the Sheep

A recent Wall Street Journal Article as written on the subject of pastors preaching other pastor's sermons. Stealing...from those pastors and, more importantly, from starving sheep who need a word from the Lord delivered from their own shepherd's study and walk with the Lord.

Read Jeremiah 23, especially verse 30.

November 14, 2006

Holy Ambition

I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.” Romans 15.20-21

Isn’t this a great sentence? Paul, if he were living in 21st century America might say it something like this: ‘Get me out of the Bible belt. Get me out of the Christian suburbs. Get me out of the United States. Get me somewhere where there isn’t a church on every corner. Get me into an office where everyone around me is pagan. Get me into a neighborhood—not where all my friends live, or where the living is comfy—but where the vast majority of people are lost. God, send me somewhere where I am surrounded by lostness—and therefore where my light might shine most brightly!’ That was the heartbeat of Paul. He had plenty of churches that would have bent over backwards to keep him around. But his heartbeat was: ‘God, get me to Spain! Get me to the ends of the earth. Get me somewhere where Christ is not already named!’ And if you read on in Romans 15, you begin to see how this passion affected Paul’s lifestyle—and how having his passion might affect yours. A few notes…

1. A passion for the unreached means sometimes sacrificing the fellowship of the other believers. In verse 22, Paul says “For this reason (his commitment to the unreached) I have often been prevented from coming to you.” Paul genuinely wanted to fellowship with the believers in Rome. But there was something more important. It was more important for Paul to get to those places where Christ was not already named than it was for Paul to enjoy the fellowship of Rome. Such is the sacrifice of the missionary—leaving the fellowship of home and church family to go to the unreached. Are you up for that kind of sacrifice? Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and go? Are you willing, even within the confines of your home town, to give up some of the fun times with other Christians in order to spend concentrated time with some lost family who needs Jesus? Do you have the priorities of Paul?

2. A passion for the unreached means a financial commitment. Paul was writing to the church at Rome largely because he hoped that they would give to the Lottie Moon Offering (or whatever the 1st century equivalent was)! Listen to verse 24: “Whenever I go to Spain…I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you.” Paul wasn’t afraid to ask for money. And he didn’t need to be. He assumed that these Christians in Rome would have the same passion for the unreached as God had given him. And therefore he assumed that they would be ready to give of their means to make sure the gospel could reach the ends of the earth. Could he assume that of you? Are you willing to help modern-day Pauls on their way so that Christ may be preached where He is not yet named?

3. A passion for the unreached starts with compassion at home. Paul’s greatest desire was to get away from the places where Jesus had been named. But it didn’t mean that he had forgotten about the Christians back home. In verses 25 and following, we find him collecting and distributing an offering to relieve the suffering of the poor saints in Jerusalem. This wasn’t a hiccup in his otherwise relentless passion. Rather, it was an outgrowth of it. Anyone who is passionate about the nations will also be compassionate toward hurting people at home. We will not be one without the other. So the person who gives a mint to Lottie Moon, yet ignores or even sneers the homeless person huddled over the sewer grating is hypocritical. Underlying Paul’s passion was a commitment to help whoever had the greatest needs—whether spiritual or physical.

So, this holiday season, let’s learn from the example of Paul. Let’s go for broke when it comes to giving and going to the nations. Let’s also find practical ways to get ourselves among the lost right in our own neighborhoods. And let’s make sure that we not forget the struggling in our city—or the hurting, diseased, and lonely in our own church families.

October 30, 2006

A Crucial Two Weeks

Some of you have probably heard me say that November is our busiest time of year. That is true every year…but especially in 2006, what with our moving toward elder and deacon leadership, and revising our constitution. We will not vote on these matters until December 3, but all the remaining planning and praying will be happening over the next two weeks—between today and the 19th, when we will present to you all our nominations, recommendations, etc. in written form. Add to that our Missions Week (and all that goes with it), our Servant Ministry Questionnaires, and our budget process, and you have an incredibly busy…and incredibly important next 14 days in the life of our church. And O, how your leaders and your church need you to be praying! Here is a list of items we hope you’ll bring to the LORD regularly in prayer…

1. The Selection of our Elders and Deacons. These men (and those that follow) will play a vital leadership role in our church until Jesus comes. Please pray that we will get started out right…that the men whom we select would be qualified; and that we’d get them into the right roles. I am in the process of praying with six men about potential leadership at PRBC. Pray for them…and me!

2. The Proposed, Amended Constitution. We met this past Wednesday to discuss the documents. Pray that we will make the Lord’s decision on December 3.

3. Servant Ministry Roles. Every year, November brings the great privilege and challenge of helping each of you find your part in the body—your place of service. We’ve heard from most of you and are pleased to see where God is leading you. Pray that the deacons and I will have wisdom as we slot each of you into your roles of service. And pray that the Lord would raise up more workers for Nursery, Preschool Church, Mission Friends, and Fellowship Team (hint, hint).

4. The Church Budget. The finance committee has completed a proposed budget for 2007 (which you will also receive on 11/19). Please pray that God would make obvious any necessary adjustments, help us meet and exceed our goals, and help us spend every dime of His money wisely for Jesus’ sake.

5. Missions Week. November 12-19 is Missions Week. It will feature three missions messages (two Sundays and a Wednesday). Pray that the LORD would greatly help me (and you) with those messages. Pray that he’d move you to give big-time to our Lottie Moon Missions Offering and our Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection. Wouldn’t it be great if the LORD made this year our most generous yet?

Pray, too, that God would begin to use the compounding effect of year-after-year of Missions Week and missions sermons to make us a missionary-sending church. Pray that God might begin to raise up some of our young people (or not-so-young people!) to leave Cincinnati, leave PRBC, and go live and share the gospel among some people group as yet unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Praying with you...

October 16, 2006


Well, we’ve spent 10-plus weeks on the Ten Commandments. How do you feel? Maybe you are a little irritated with me by now. Every week I’ve been meddling in your business. You feel like I’m that mean, stern-faced, old teacher that used to wrap you across the knuckles with a ruler. And that’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel! The laws of God—the Ten Commandments—are supposed to make you feel like you’ve just been worn out with the principal’s belt again! (He really wasn’t the princi-pal was he?).

Paul says in Galatians 3.24 that the Law is a “tutor” or “school-master” to lead us to Christ. The law is like a moral tutor who teaches us what is right. And though we may like what we’re learning, we keep failing the test. So we leave the classroom every week feeling worse, and worse, and worse. And that is exactly what God wants.

Why does God want us to feel bad about ourselves? Not because He wants to make us miserable, but because it is true. All have sinned and fall short—far short—of the glory of God. No one has ever (or will ever) received a passing grade. And God wants us to realize that so that we will come to Jesus for grace! And it is really a good trade, you know! Even if you were to start passing right now; even if you never sinned again beginning right now, you’d still be carrying around a back-pack full of F’s from years gone by. But if you give up on yourself; if you stop trying to pass on your own, you get to trade your sin-filled backpack for Jesus’ light and sinless back-pack!

Therein is the goal of the “schoolmaster.” To force you to see that you cannot do enough good to save yourself. To force you to see how much you need Jesus.

So yeah, the Ten Commandments are difficult. Intentionally so. God has written a list of ten simple rules that cut to the very core of our selfishness. And He has done so on purpose—to drive us to the Savior. Have you met the Savior? Or are you still trying, in vain, to prove that you can pass God’s test on your own?

If you’ve met the Savior, then you have realized that He alone measures up to this list. And you’ve stopped tying to use the Ten Commandments as a stairway to heaven. But if you’ve met Jesus; if you’ve seen His unique ability to obey God perfectly, then you also have come to have a great admiration for the Ten Commandments that He obeyed. They are not simply the ruler that busts your knuckles. They are also the ruler that shows you how to make a straight line. And though you’ve come to realize you’ll never make the line straight—for Jesus’ sake, you want to try.

If you’ve met Jesus, you want to be like Him. And you know that to be like Jesus is to love and obey God. So, though you have ceased using the Ten Commandments as a ladder to try to get to heaven, you have not thrown out the Ten Commandments altogether. You still want to obey them—not because you think you can, but because you know you should—for Jesus’ sake!

So learn these two important uses of the Ten Commandments. First, let them show you how far you fall short and how badly you need a Savior. And second, once you’ve embraced the Savior, let them show you the path that leads to God’s best for your life—the path of imitating Jesus.

October 9, 2006

The Jones's Don't Really Have it so Great

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20.17

If there was ever a commandment that was written for modern-day America, this would be the one. Yes, there is quite a lot of stealing and adultery. There is plenty of blasphemy and idolatry. There are more than enough lies to go around, too. But I think we might be worse at coveting than any of the other commandments. Why? Because most people don’t think it wrong to covet. Our culture thinks it perfectly normal to be greedy.

That cannot be said of adultery, stealing, and theft. It cannot even be said of blasphemy and idolatry, I don’t believe. But in America, there is almost no one crying out against the sin of covetousness. Even in the church, it has become accepted practice. In some circles (read: Joel Osteen and the rest of the health, wealth, and prosperity movement), covetousness has even been baptized into orthodoxy. It is not only accepted, but encouraged. And before we go throwing stones over TBN’s gold-plated wall, let’s all just take a look around out our own houses, cars, and bank accounts. How many DVD’s do we really need? How big a TV is really necessary? How many spare rooms is enough?

Do you remember a time when you had no DVD’s? Do you remember when you had a much smaller television? An older, smaller home? Are you happier now than before? Probably not. So what has been the point of accumulating all the bigger, newer, shinier stuff? Why, if you were perfectly happy before, is it now necessary to have the latest, the brightest, the trendiest? I know why. Because everyone else seems to have the latest, brightest, and trendiest. At least that is what advertisers have us convinced. And if everyone else has a new laptop, don’t I deserve one, too. If everyone else has a new car, should I take a back seat? If everyone else, if everyone else, if everyone else…

You and I both know it’s true. We were perfectly content with less…until we saw that someone else had more (or that the stores were now offering more). This is nothing less than covetousness.

In the Third World, covetousness leads to theft. I don’t have it. She does have it. I am going to take it. In the West, however, coveting leads to spending binges. Most of us are affluent enough to get the latest, brightest, trendiest without having to steal for it. Or at least we have a credit card! So we don’t steal, we just buy more and more.

But I have been thinking. Our western covetousness leads to a form of stealing, too. Think of all the junk (especially the shiny, expensive junk) you have laying around your house, shed, office, or garage—junk that you really could live without. Next, tally up how much you have spent on that junk. Probably thousands of dollars. Then imagine if, instead of the big screen TV, you’d given that $999.99 to a missionary family. Imagine, instead of the latest cell-phone, you’d given that money, in Jesus’ name, to the Tsunami or Hurricane sufferers. Imagine how that monthly cable money could’ve helped this church the last 9 months.

Now you get it! Wasteful, covetous, impulsive, greedy spending is stealing. Malachi says it’s stealing from God (Malachi 3.8). Thank God He is not as greedy as us. Thank God that He was generous with His only begotten Son—so that greedy Americans could go to heaven! But let’s not just thank God for His generosity…let’s imitate Him!

October 2, 2006

Pants on Fire

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20.16

The last few Sundays at PRBC, we have been noticing (from Genesis) how, for better or for worse, children usually turn out a lot like their parents. And not just in physical appearance, but in personality, in character, and in sin habits. Many of the rebellious streaks that so frustrate us in our children are painted right across our own faces as well! But there is one thing you do not have to teach your children to do…lie.

It seems like lying comes naturally. As sure as a child will learn to crawl, then walk, then run…he will master the art of deceit. Lying is in our sinful DNA. You remember that, after they sinned, one of the first reactions of Adam and Eve was to hide from God. They wanted to hide from Him the truth about the situation…the seedbed of all hiding and misrepresenting of truth ever since.

So we are liars by nature. And we are liars in actually day-to-day living, too. Now not everyone struggles with this sin in equal depth. But all of us find something of the deceiver in ourselves.

We leave out parts of the story that aren’t strategic for us. We fudge numbers a little here and there. We tell people we’ll call, or pray, or be there when we really have no intention of doing so. We exaggerate. We spread rumors and gossip that we cannot substantiate factually (not that gossip is any better if we have facts!). We flatter people to gain an advantage. We make up all sorts of excuses to get rid of those pesky telemarketers. And many of us just flat out lie in order to save our hides.

There is also a way that you can technically be telling the truth, and yet bearing false witness. You know the scenario. Person X leaves a message inviting you to the birthday party that you really do not want to attend. But you can’t call back and say: ‘I don’t want to come to your miserable party.’ But you also don’t want to lie. So what do you do? Before calling back, you schedule a hair appointment at exactly the time of the party. Now you can call back and deceive your friend by telling the truth (technically)! ‘I’m really sorry (no I am not). I cannot come (though I could have five minutes ago). I’d love to be there (not!), but I have a hair appointment that day (whew! glad they had an opening) and, well, you know. Tell little Johnny happy birthday for me!’

There is also a lot of lying that goes on in the business world. Don’t tell someone your company has the best widgets or the lowest prices unless you have barebones facts to back it up! False, or sensational, advertising is a violation of the 9th commandment.

In all these examples, I hope you see that the root problem with lying is selfishness, not just untruthfulness. Why do we lie? Because we value ourselves over everyone else. So we bend, misrepresent, or hide the truth in order to benefit ourselves. And in the process, we bear false witness against our neighbor. We are stealing from them the opportunity to have all the bare facts that we have, in an attempt to prevent them from gaining an advantage from the truth.

Deceit is not a pretty thing. But, O, let us remember lying, denying Peter. He lied about his very faith in Christ three times! But Jesus, who is “the truth” (John 14.6) restored him. And Jesus can restore you, too. But it is only as you turn away from lies and to the truth of the gospel of Jesus that you may be forgiven. In turning to Jesus,“you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8.32).

September 20, 2006


You shall not steal. Exodus 20.15

The eighth commandment seems pretty obvious doesn’t it? Maybe even simple. But I reminded our church this past March that, during the NCAA basketball tournament, employers in the United States estimated a 3.8 billion dollar profit loss due to employees who called in ‘sick’, failed to show up, or watched basketball while on the clock. Stealing is alive and well—and being accomplished in epic proportions by clean-cut Americans. No, no. Most of us wouldn’t make our way out of Home Depot with a stolen hammer. Nor would we swipe the doily from our neighbor’s end table. But stealing goes much, much deeper than simple, obvious theft. Think it out. Stealing includes…

-Laying down on the job and getting paid for it (see above).
-Walking out of work with permanently borrowed company supplies.
-Failing to be honest when we receive too much change (or too many hamburgers).
-Fixing our income tax, budget, or other reports.
-Not paying back our loans on time.
-Bargaining to not pay back our loans to the fullest amount.
-Accepting payment for services we did not perform completely, properly, or honestly.
-Burning bootleg copies of video, audio, and software.
-Refusing God His tithes and offerings (Malachi 3.9).
-Refusing God the glory due His name.
-Turning religious worship into a profiteering campaign (Matthew 21.13).
-Stealing someone’s chastity (Proverbs 23.26-28).
-Refusing justice to the poor and needy (Ezekiel 22.29).
-Copying others’ work without giving credit…particularly abominable among pastors! (Jeremiah 23.30).*
-Robbing others of their good name by slander.
-Leading others astray theologically (John 10.1-5).

So maybe you’re not a shop-lifter or a midnight raider of homes…but, if this is the standard, have you been a thief? I have. So what do we need to do?

Remember the story of the thief on the cross:

One of the criminals who were hanged with Him was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And indeed we are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23.39-43

If you are a thief, I hope this little article places you, for a brief moment, “under the same sentence of condemnation.” Then I hope it causes you to cry out with your thieving brother to the Savior who is willing and able to save thieves!

*In the spirit of the eighth commandment, note that I have been greatly helped above by Brian Edwards’ The Ten Commandments for Today and Alistair Begg’s Pathway to Freedom!

September 15, 2006

Cut it Out!

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20.14

I cannot even open my email anymore without being tempted to break the seventh commandment. Pop-up adds, dating services, and lewd spam messages launch a daily assault on those who would remain chaste. Couple that with racy television, magazine, and newspaper advertisements, and most of us live, it seems, with a live hand-grenade of lust in our hands—just waiting for us to lose our spiritual balance for even a moment, so that it might blow us to smithereens. The situation is even more tenuous when we remind ourselves of what Jesus said in Matthew 5.27-28: “You have head it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That is serious business. So serious that Jesus would go on to say: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you” (Matthew 5.29). Translation? Be ruthless with your eyes. Be violent with any and every tendency toward sexual lust. How do we do it? Here are some tips for fighting sexual sin—for gouging out your lustful eye:

1. Look to the cross and remember that, in Christ, you have the strength to fight
This is most important of all. If you fight in your own power, you will surely fail. But if your strength comes from Jesus, you cannot help but succeed. Listen to Paul on this matter: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.1-4, emphasis mine). Jesus died, not only to purchase your pardon for sin, but to purchase for you the power to overcome it! In Christ you are free from slavery to sin. In Christ you have the strength to fight and win the battle for sexual purity! So enter into the battle, not with great resolves of will-power, but with trembling dependence on Jesus!

2. Make a covenant with your eyes.
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” How does a man live above reproach like that? Job tells us one way in Job 31.1: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; How then could I gaze at a virgin?” Do your eyes gaze at things they ought not gaze at? Then you must make a covenant with them. You must resolve to prevent your eyes from seeing anything that would give rise to lust in your heart. And you must be ruthless about this—even if people call you a prude.

Josh Harris, in his book Not even a Hint, suggests several areas where we are commonly tempted: late nights with members of the opposite sex; particular locations where our eyes see what they should not see; television programs and commercials; magazine and internet ads; movie rental stores; romance novels; sensual music; and racy mail-order catalogs. All of these are areas where temptation can flow through our eyes and into our hearts. And we, like Job, must be ruthless with your eyes…preventing them from seeing anything that might give rise to adultery of the heart.

3. Make a covenant with a brother or sister in Christ.
In other words, find someone of the same gender who will intentionally ask you the hard questions. Someone who will say, ‘Kurt, what websites have you been visiting lately? Kurt, how often have your eyes wandered in the last week? Kurt, what are you doing to fight against that?’ James 5.16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Do you want to be healed of your sexual lust? Then you had better find a brother or sister to confess to and pray with!

4. Do not commit pornography.
Now that is an odd statement. We normally think of looking at pornography, not committing it. So what does it mean to commit pornography? Let Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary help us: “Men are tempted to give themselves to pornography—women are tempted to commit pornography” (Not Even a Hint, 87). In other words, women—the way you clothe and carry your body can contribute to the spiritual ruin of men and boys all around you…just like internet pornography! And ladies, take it from a man who has sexual desires like every other man in this room: Tight sweaters, low-cut blouses, hip-hugging jeans, halter-tops, bikinis, and spandex work-out clothes are a thousand times more difficult for me to close out of my mind than internet pornography ever will be! So, as a man and as a pastor, I plead with you not to commit pornography!

5. Kiss dating goodbye.
I borrowed this title from another Josh Harris book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I don’t have time to say all that could be said in this area, so I urge you to get the book. But let me say this: Nowhere…absolutely nowhere…does the Bible recommend this heart-wrenching, sexually tempting, thoroughly American practice called dating. Now, that in itself does not condemn dating. But listen to Paul’s instructions to young Timothy: Treat “the younger woman as sisters” (1 Timothy 5.2). And it would be very hard to heed that counsel in a dating relationship. What brother takes his sister out to a romantic dinner and whispers sweet nothings in her ears? What brother kisses his sister on the lips, or runs his fingers through his sister’s hair, or sits alone with his sister watching late-night movies?

Do you get the point? Dating is one giant opportunity for lust to flow through our eyes, hands, and emotions straight into the heart. Better, I think, is the practice of courtship, where ‘dates’ take place in a group setting, and where physical touch and romantic language are limited to what would, without embarrassment, take place in public. I wish I had done things this way. So much needless heart-ache and sin could have been avoided.

6. Cultivate a healthy marriage.
Now, read the next little set of verses in Matthew 5 with me: “It was said, WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” There is more here than I have time to cover. For our immediate purposes, this statement will suffice: A healthy, happy, committed marriage is one of God’s greatest weapons against sexual sin! That is one reason why divorce is so heart-breaking—it fosters future acts of adultery!

So, here is my counsel to married people: Work hard at promoting a healthy, happy marriage. Couples who are happy in the marriages, and in their married sex-lives, are much less likely to seek satisfaction elsewhere. And if you are single, let me paraphrase Paul: ‘If you do not have self-control, get married! It is better to get married than to burn with sexual lust' (See 1 Coritnhians 7.8-9).

7. Pick up the sword of the Spirit and fight.
John Piper wisely points out that the Bible—the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6.17)—is the only offensive weapon we have in the fight against sin. It is the instrument we must use to gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands! You and I have to read, and study, and memorize Scripture so that, when that racy add pops up on the television screen our minds say to us: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things he will be…useful to his Master…Therefore, flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, love and peace” (2 Timothy 2.21-22)! It is passages like that which will liberate you and strengthen you to change the channel! But without Bible study and memorization, you have no sword in your hands with which to gouge out the eyes of lust!

8. In all these things, cry out to God for help.
When Jesus taught us to pray, He said that one of the main requests we should make of God is this: “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6.13)! Do you wake up and pray that way? Do you say: ‘Lord, help me not to look at that billboard on my way to work today! Lord, help me not to open up my wife’s lingerie catalog today’? If not, then you are not serious enough about fighting for sexual purity; and the words of James condemn you the way they do me: “You do not have [sexual purity] because you do not ask [for sexual purity]” (James 4.2).

9. When you fall into temptation, confess your sins and repent.
Here is a word of hope to all who struggle with lust: Sexual immorality is not the unforgiveable sin. Any lustful person…any adulterer…anyone struggling with masturbation…and fornicator or homosexual is free to come to God seeking forgiveness and healing! The promise of the Scripture is: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). God wants to set people free from their slavery to sexual lust—so much so that He sent His only Son to earth to rescue them. John goes on to say: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (the wrath absorbing sacrifice) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2.1-2).

You do not have to be chained up by lust anymore. You do not have to go with two eyes and two hands into an eternal death. If you will confess your sins and flee to Christ for cleansing, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death!”

September 8, 2006

I Would Never do That! (Really?)

You shall not commit murder. Exodus 20.13

The sixth commandment may almost seem irrelevant to us. After all, most of us have never killed anyone. And most of us (though not all) have never been up close and personal with someone who has. Furthermore, we might think, ‘Everyone knows it is wrong to kill. So how can you fill up a whole page about the sixth commandment?’

Well, if you ever thought that “You shall not commit murder” was obvious; if you ever were tempted to believe that the sixth commandment didn’t need to be proclaimed from the rooftops, just think about Marcus Feisel. A three-year-old, mentally handicapped child tied up in a closet and left to die by his foster parents while they went off to a family reunion?

And while the city is in a rage over what happened to young Marcus, very few stop to think that hundreds of unborn Marcuses are being sucked out of their mother’s wombs every year in Cincinnati. Hundreds of elderly people are being dumped off by their families to die in dirty, understaffed, inhumane nursing homes. So perhaps the value of human life is not as obvious to the culture at large as we might have thought. Perhaps Exodus 20.13 really does need to be shouted from the rooftops, or displayed prominently on billboards as it is on Montgomery Avenue in Norwood. If there were ever a culture that needed to fall under the conviction of the sixth commandment, it is this one!

Well, perhaps you are thinking like I am prone to think. Perhaps you are beginning to congratulate yourself. You’ve never done such terrible things. You’ve never had an abortion. You wouldn’t abandon your parents in their dying years. You would have treated Marcus better. Congratulations! Pick up a gold star at the door on the way out this morning!

But did you ever stop to consider what Jesus says in Matthew 5.21-22?
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit murder’…But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.”

Now we’re cutting a little closer to the bone. Have you been angry with a co-worker lately? Maybe yelled at your kids, or given your spouse the silent treatment? You’re guilty. Have you (mentally or verbally) called anyone a ‘good-for-nothing’ of a ‘fool’—a lame-brain, an idiot, a lazy bum, a jerk—lately? You’re guilty. Guilty enough to go to hell, says Jesus.

Recently, as I shared the gospel with a young man, I paraphrased Matthew 5.21. ‘If you even so much as call someone a jerk, that is punishable by eternal hell.’ The guy literally grabbed his head—as though his brain were about to explode—let out a groan, and exclaimed: ‘How in the world is anyone supposed to live up to that standard?’

Exactly the response I was going for! That’s just it. The Ten Commandments do not exist as a checklist whereby we can earn our way to heaven. They exist to expose the filthiness of our sinful hearts. They exist to remind us that nice, middle-class sinners are no better off than the inmate on death row. We all alike deserve capital punishment from God. And we all alike need the Savior—the only One, in the young man’s words, who has lived ‘up to the standard’; and who has died in the place of hateful, selfish murderers like you and me. Have you met the Savior? Or are you still on death row?

September 4, 2006

Prayer Requests

The blog will be going dark for the next several days as I attend to some family and ministerial responsibilities. Please pray for:

1. I preach at our local Baptist associational meeting Tuesday the 5th.
2. My she has a knee replacement Wednesday the 6th.
3. Tobey, Julia, and Andrew...traveling back from Louisiana on the 6th.
4. Me...traveling to Nashville for the surgery on Wednesday AM early, then back to Cincinnati for evening worship.

A busy couple of days. See you late this week or early next.

August 31, 2006

Our Household Verse

Honor your father and your mother, that your days me be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. Exodus 20.12

When you have a three-year-old living in your house, there are just certain Bible verses that get used more often than others. Exodus 20.12 is one of them. So is its equivalent in Ephesians 6.1: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” It is amazing what a three-year-old can learn if mom and dad repeat it often enough!

And why are Exodus 20.12 and Ephesians 6.1 repeated like mantras in our home? Two reasons:

1. Because authority in the home is vitally important.
2. Because children (like adults) are so prone to sin.

Let’s think those two out together.

Is authority in the home really all that important? Anyone who ever had a three-year-old (or a sixteen-year-old) will say: ‘YES!’ But the question is why. Why do parents want their children to obey? And why is it important that children do so? So that everyone can get along in the home? Maybe. So that our children will not grow up to be hooligans? Partly so. So that, obeying mom and dad’s wisdom, kids will generally fare better in life? Yes. That is the promise in the latter half of Exodus 20.12.

But let me suggest that there is another, perhaps more important reason why parents must establish loving authority in the home…and children must submit to it. Because authority in the home prepares the way for children to learn the authority of God over their lives. Think it out. We can tell our children all day long that God deserves to be loved, honored, and obeyed. But if we do not teach them to obey, honor, and love mom and dad whom they can see, how will they see the importance of obedience and trust in a heavenly Father whom they cannot see?

In a very real sense (though not a saving one) we parents serve as representatives of God in our home. We are to model (albeit imperfectly) for our children the love, the trustworthiness, and the authority of our heavenly Father. And if we do not lead them to respect our authority, we have presented a tragically distorted view of God. A God who winks at sin, instead of a God who is so serious about sin that He punishes it by death—even the death of a cross!

Now, a second reason why the Fifth Commandment is so important is because our children are quite good at disobeying their parents…and all sorts of other sins, too! No one has to teach them to be stingy with their toys, to lie to their parents, or to hit their siblings. Children are sinners, just like the rest of us!

Unfortunately, too many parents fail to help their children see how bad things really are. They shrug off or laugh at rebellion. Sometimes they even call it ‘cute.’ So kids think it is normal to sass mom and dad, to delay obedience, to poke fun at their parents. Even church kids! They do not know that they are bringing judgment down on their heads by their complete disregard of God’s commandment. And do you know why? Because their parents do not have the guts to tell them what God says and expect them to do it! So they never see the depths of their sinfulness. Thus they never see how badly they need the Savior!

This—and not the church’s lack of ‘relevancy’—is the most obvious reason why 18 year-olds are leaving the faith of their parents in droves. They see no real need for Christ, because they never saw how bad their sins were, because their parents were too lenient!

O, how important the Fifth Commandment is for the salvation of souls! O how important that children, as well as parents, take it seriously!

August 26, 2006

Delighting in the Day

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall do no work…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20.8-11

Have you ever bought a used car? If so, one of the first things you inspected was the odometer. It’s not that mileage is the only indicator of the condition of a car…or even the most important indicator…but it is a good indicator isn’t it? The odometer tells more than simple mileage statistics. It also gives a general idea as to how hard the car has been driven, how much wear and tear might be on the engine, etc. So, we use the odometer as a gauge for measuring a car’s overall desirability.

May I suggest that the Lord’s Day functions much the same as an odometer does for a car-buyer? Sunday is a gauge of sorts—measuring the sincerity of our Christian conviction. Isaiah says we observe the day, not merely by externally obeying the rules—going to church and refraining from frivolous recreation and unnecessary work—but by positively delighting in the day (see Isaiah 58.13-14). We can tell how serious we are about the Lord by whether or not we get fired up for Sunday—a whole day set aside for worship, praise, study, and rest! Let me give you some reasons why I say this is so:

1. God gave us the Lord’s Day for our good—for our physical and emotional well-being. But how do we demonstrate that we believe that God knows what is best for our bodies and minds? And how do we demonstrate thankfulness for God’s goodness to us? Largely by delighting in the Lord’s Day. By taking advantage of the day of rest that God has given to us.

2. God gave us the Lord’s Day as a testimony to a godless world. Another purpose of the Lord’s Day is to give us opportunity to show our friends and neighbors that God is important enough for us to set aside a whole day, holy to Him. And how do we give the testimony? By delighting in the Day. By treasuring the word of God and the local assembly of the saints more than we treasure the NFL or the beauty of a freshly mowed lawn.

3. The Lord’s Day comes to us as a command. Christian observance of the Lord’s Day stems from the belief that the 4th commandment (like the other nine) has abiding significance and relevance for New Testament believers. And how do we show our love for Christ but by keeping His commandments? Strange as it sounds, God commands us to delight in the Lord’s Day! And we show how much we love by how much we delight!

4. The Lord’s Day is our primary opportunity for worship and learning. Sunday is the main occasion when we are spiritually encouraged, morally challenged, and graciously called to believe in God’s Son. This is most important! If we do not delight in the day—we may miss the Son of God in all His glory! Without Sunday and its worship, all of us would be far less spiritually mature…and many of us may never have heard the gospel! Should we not, then, praise God for this all-important day? Of course! And one way we do so is by continuing to observe and delight in the day!

Make no mistake—The Lord’s Day is not the only indicator of our Christian commitment. It is not even the most important indicator. But it does say a lot about our Christianity. It reveals the depths of our faith in, gratefulness toward, obedience to, and delight in God! So…how is your gauge reading?

August 24, 2006

I only have One Friend!

How embarassing to have an obvious, glaring typo that came out as a racial slur! And how much worse to have only one friend who was brave enough to point it out! The rest of you are in big trouble ;)

At any rate, sorry for the mistake...and if it may have offended anyone. And if you didn't catch it...whew!

August 21, 2006

Blessed be the Name

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20.7

I’ll go ahead and say it up front: I go absolutely nuts when I hear Christians (Christians!) using God’s name as an expression of surprise, or worse yet, frustration. ‘O my God!’ ‘Good Lord!’ ‘Jesus Christ!’ These phrases are absolutely unfitting for any person to have on his lips, much less a Christian! To say such things is inexcusable. And other corruptions like ‘Gosh’, ‘Gracious,’ and ‘Jeez’ are no better. We all know what you’re really meaning to say.

OK, OK, maybe I am being too harsh. When those things slither out of your mouth, surely you are not using them intentionally to belittle God and His name. In fact, you may say: ‘I’m not trying to blaspheme God’s name. I don’t even realize I am doing it.’ But that is just the problem! We think so little of God that His name just slides off our tongues without us even realizing it. God is so far in the back of our minds that we can hear His name from our own lips and not even notice the name of the Almighty, infinite, Creator God! This is unacceptable. The LORD will not hold them guiltless who esteem Him so lightly!

And what about all the ‘Christian’ jokes that we often hear and tell? ‘Our Father in heaven, Harold be Thy name’? That is blasphemy! And jokes about the church, or other things of God are little better. They teach us to treat the things of God casually. They numb our wits to the fact that what we believe about God and His church is a matter of heaven and hell!

It is precisely this cavalier attitude toward the things of God that makes us the joke to the rest of the world. Think about it. When a cartoonist makes jokes concerning Allah, the whole Muslim world is in a rage. Crowds gather. Riots ensue. When a ‘Christian’ comedian pokes fun at the things of God, crowds also gather—with cash in hand to get front row tickets!

Am I saying there is no place for humor in the Christian life? No. But the Third Commandment is saying that we should never speak of God in a way that we would be afraid to do to His face. As A.W. Tozer pointed out—no one walks around Buckingham Palace telling jokes about queens. And there will be no work for Christian comedians in heaven either—bank on it!

Now there is one more form of blasphemy that I want to mention—when we pray, preach, teach, or sing things about God that we really don’t mean. Have you ever prayed things you didn’t really mean—maybe because others were listening? I have. And it is blasphemy. Have you ever sung in the worship service, but not paid a lick of attention to what you were saying? Have you ever taught something to others, but had no intention of applying it to yourself? In every case, we have misused God’s name! But God’s name is too precious that we should ever talk to Him, for Him, or about Him without really meaning what we say. To do so is abominable.

So how are you feeling right now? Guilty? Good. That is how the Commandments are supposed to make us feel! Now you can flee again to Jesus, through whom “all sins shall be forgiven…and whatever blasphemies [we] utter” (Mark 3.28); and through whom former blasphemers are strengthened, made faithful, and put into God’s service (1 Tim 1.12-14).

All of us, in one way or another, need our mouths washed out with soap. And that is just what Jesus came to do! So turn your misuse of God’s name into calling on His name. And Jesus will turn your blasphemy into blessing!

August 14, 2006

Second Verse, Same as the First?

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God… Exodus 20.4-5

‘I like how you always repeat yourself.’ That’s what I sometimes get at the end of a sermon. I’m not always sure if it is a complement, or a coy, yet constructive critique. At any rate, the repetition is usually intentional. Preachers often repeat important thoughts, either for emphasis, or to aid the congregation’s memory. I am no different. And when I read the second commandment, I am tempted to think God is doing the same thing. The first commandment was ‘Don’t have any other gods’ and the second one is ‘Don’t have any idols.’ Two ways of saying the same thing? Well, not exactly.

The first commandment has to do with worshipping false Gods. The second commandment teaches us not to worship the true God falsely. Or to quote Alistair Begg again, “The first commandment teaches us to worship the correct God. The second commandment teaches us to worship the correct God correctly.” What God is saying in this second of His Top Ten is this: ‘Don’t try to worship Me, the true God, by means of idols. Remember that I am Spirit, and those who worship Me must worship in spirit, not in a shrine.’

The second commandment presents the possibility that we may attempt to worship the true God, and yet be idolaters. Isn’t that what Aaron and the children of Israel did at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex. 32)? The problem wasn’t worshipping Baal or some other false God. No. According to verse 5 they had “a feast to the LORD.” They weren’t breaking commandment one, but commandment two. They were worshipping the correct God, but incorrectly—by means of an image.

Now you probably haven’t built any golden calves lately. But I wonder if you’ve ever gotten caught up in one of these rituals where a cross is placed in the middle of a room and people are urged to gather round it for prayer, or to write down their sins and nail them to the cross. That is a violation of the second commandment. We come to Christ by faith in His blood, not through a piece of wood.

It is interesting, too, how many people have pictures of Jesus in their homes. Some people even pray or sing in their direction, as though Jesus were really locked up in the paint and canvas. The same phenomenon can happen when we see video representations of Jesus. The problem is not with our intent. The problem is that we are substituting a picture of Jesus for the real thing. We do not need pictures, statues, or crosses in order to help us draw near to God. We simply need faith in the man Jesus Christ.

There is not room here to go into detail about angel figurines, holy water, rosary beads, prayer cloths, and so on. We can make an idol out of anything. And any object that we employ to ‘help us worship God’ is an idol. God means for us to come to Him in spirit, by His Son, and through the Word, period. Anything else is a breach of the second commandment.

Thanks be to God who, through the death of His Son, has allowed us to “turn to God from serving idols, to serve a living and true God" (1 Thess. 1.9)!