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)!

August 11, 2006

In Every Circumstance?

I saw something new in Philippians 4.6-7 this week:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

No, this wasn’t the first time I noticed the phrase “with thanksgiving”…but it might have been the first time I really stopped to think about it. My guess is you might say the same. If someone asked you to quote these verses, you might rattle them off fairly successfully, but leaving out “with thanksgiving.” I think I would have until this week.

Here’s the thing. We most often retreat to these verses in times of anxiety, stress, or difficulty. That is what they are for! But it is precisely these times of difficulty when we feel least thankful. It is at these times when requests—not thanksgivings—seem most appropriate and urgent. In fact, sometimes we may only have a brief moment to pray in a catastrophic situation—yet Paul is urging us in that moment to give thanks? Yes! Even when thanksgiving seems out of place or unimportant, we are to do it. In fact, we should never pray without giving thanks.

Here are three suggestions for how you might pray thankfully, even when the going is rough:

1. Be thankful in spite of your difficulty. No one is glad about losing a child, or being unemployed. But in those moments we can thank God for His other myriad blessings—for Christ, for the privilege of prayer, for a supportive family or church, for the savings we can now fall back on. There is never a shortage of reasons to say “Thank you, Lord.”

2. Be thankful because of your difficulty. Pray like this: “Father, I cannot see it…but I know that somehow, some way, this is for my good. I know you are going to make Romans 8.28 come true in my life. I know this will work for my good, and for Your glory. Thank you God for the blessing of trials that draw me nearer to You.”

3. Be thankful for God’s promises to answer your prayers. After you thank God for His other kindnesses, pray. And after you pray, thank Him ahead of time for how He is going to answer your prayers according to His good will.

So, start praying. And remember, there are always at least three ways to be thankful in every circumstance!

August 10, 2006

Grammar Lesson

Listen to Isaiah 44.22:

I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud
And your sins like a heavy mist.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you

Did you get the order of events in that verse? Read it again:

I have wiped out (past tense) your transgressions like a thick cloud
And your sins like a heavy mist.
(present tense) to Me, for (or because) I have redeemed (again, in the past) you.

The grammar in this verse (and every Bible verse) is crucial. How were we saved? God redeemed us in the past. He wiped out our sins in the past. And because of that ("for") we should return to Him in the present. God doesn't redeem us because we return to Him. We turn to Him because, in the past, through his electing love and his atoning work on the cross, we were already bought with a price. Theologians call this idea "Particular Atonement." I call it really good news. My salvation really is based on Jesus' perfromance, not my own!

So...a good reason to break out those old gramnmar text-books, huh?

August 4, 2006

The One and Only

You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20.3

We would not go wrong by saying that commandment number one is the most important of all. That is what Jesus says in Mark 10.29-30: “’What commandment is foremost of all?’ ‘The foremost is, Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” That is not a direct quote of the 1st commandment, but an amplification and explanation of it. It is first for a reason. And we may very realistically say that, if we get this one wrong, every other commandment will fall in the domino effect.

So what does God mean: “You shall have no other gods before Me?” It sounds like He is saying we may have other gods, so long as God remains at the top of our priority list. But that is actually a misreading. A more literal translation of Exodus 20.3 is “You shall have no other gods before my face.” In other words, ‘I don’t want to see any other gods, hear about any other gods, or even detect a hint that you have any other gods.’

The first commandment teaches us that God is a jealous God. He wants mankind all for Himself. He will not tolerate adultery with other gods—whether they be wooden statues in India, worshipped ancestors in China, Allah in the Muslim world, or the gods of money, possessions, and comfort in the good old US of A. God does not tolerate human beings’ tendency to place other things on the thrones of our lives.

We need to let that sink in. Anything, ANYTHING, that competes with God for our attention, affection, or acquisition is a false god—an idol of the heart. Think it out. Have you lately disobeyed God’s instructions because of financial concerns? Have you displeased God so that you might please your boss, your piers, or that special someone? Have you let sleep, work, or play keep you from God’s house or God’s word? Have you gotten all in a passion because someone dared to infringe upon your time, your property, your feelings? Then you are an idol-worshipper. You have broken the first commandment, plain and simple.

And you’re not alone. We are all idol worshippers. We all love our comfort, our stuff, and our money more than God. Even as Christians we do—maybe not every moment of every day, but we do, nonetheless. We are sinners. And if God required us to keep the first commandment perfectly, we would all be dead sinners by now. But don’t let that soften the blow. God’s mercy doesn’t make our idolatry any less wicked. It actually makes it worse—to presume upon this gracious God!

But do not despair either. God sent His Son into the world to save middle class, pleasure loving, selfish, idol-worshipping Americans like you and me. Jesus bled and died so that we might be free of the penalty that idol-worshippers deserve. And Jesus also bled and died so that we might be free of the power of our idols. So that we might be changed into His own likeness. So that, day-by-day, we might actually become free of our idols and free to obey the 1st commandment. Is He doing that in you?

Needing forgiveness for and freedom from my idols,


August 2, 2006

Quick Fix?

Easy believism. It is the belief (really, the practice) that says that what we Christians need to do is get as many people to walk the aisle, sign the card, pray the prayer as we can. If we can just do this, then we've gotten them into heaven. No worries about whether they actually produce fruit, or whether they become true disciples of Jesus (Matthew 29.18-20). So we heal people lightly. We get them into religion without getting them to Christ. And we have churches (or at least member rolls) full of false converts. We have churches full of people who would scatter like cockroaches should the searchlights of persecution shine upon them. So hear the word of the Lord on this matter:

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
And have not remembered to rock of your refuge.
Therefore you plant delightful plants
And set them with the vine slips of a strange god.
In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in,
in the morning you bring your seed to blossom;
But the harvest will be a heap
In a day of sickliness and incurable pain.

Isaiah 17.10-11
(Emphasis added)

Lesson? Real fruit is better than quick blossoms. Real converts are better than quick professors.