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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

9/1/11 The promise is for us

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Mathew 18:1-5,10)

The promise is for you and your children- and for all those who are far off. (Acts 2:39)


Thoughts: The promises of God are not just for previous generations, and they are not just for old people. Rather they are from generation to generation.  Circumcision in the Old Testament was a sign of the promise given to chidren who could not yet respond.  It was a sign that God had chosen them before they could choose Him.  Some may have grown up to reject the promises and faith offered, but the sign of the promise was always upon them.  Baptism too is a sign of God's promise.  Some may reject their baptism (whether the baptism was made at 3 months, 13 or 30), but their baptism will always be upon them.  It is indelible.  Believer's children are a gift.  Those who discount the ability to teach and expose the child to the faith, are missing an important ingredient in faith development and conversion.  God's Spirit uses the faith of those around us- placed there by God's providence, to lead us to Himself. 
   Jesus said that the children were the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  This may imply that there are children in heaven now.  God does not ignore children (children are to be seen but not heard- would not fit with heaven).  Rather God welcomes them and sets them on a pedastal.

Prayer: May I recognize the importance of children, and the importance of your promises to them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

8/30/11 Let the children come

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

(Jesus, the Childrens' Friend- Warner Sallman 1892-1968)


Thought: Today I would have you pray for Ashley, a 20 month old, with severe brain trauma from a huge limb that fell on him.  It does not look good for Asley's earthly life to last.  But we know that Jesus welcomes little children.  We trust that He will again.
God gives life, and children are His first- for He made each one, knows them, and loves them. 
In Colton Burpo's book, "Heaven is for Real" a four year old describes his near death experience and trip to the entrance of heaven.  There he saw many, but especially two people stand out- his great-grandfather whom he had never even seen in pictures, and his sister who was unborn (his mother had a miscarriage- Colton did not know about this either, but was able to tell his mother about his young sister).  He describes that there are not all adults in heaven.  If Jesus loves babies, it is not too unromantic or idealistic to say he would want to call some into His presence. 

Prayer: For parents who see their children suffer, for children who suffer, and for Ashley, we pray tonight, Lord.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

8/29/11 Coveting and Being Radical

The Tenth Commandment: "Do Not Covet." 

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:21-26)


(M. Leone Bracker- 1924-"Thou Shalt Not Covet")

Thoughts: Not coveting means giving up our desire for things and placing our security of this life in things.  Coveting can control us, enticing us to be un-neighborly to the point of lying, stealing, killing, or taking someone who is not ours to take.  The fruit of the Spirit gives us a help- one of the fruits is self-control.
   David Platt has written a book last year that has sored in readers- "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream." His solution to the greed, the coveting, the constant advertising is to radically give up everything.  His solution to free ourselves from the selfishness is a radical fasting from material goods.  But there is always danger in making one example in scripture the norm for all of us.  Commands are for all of us.  Examples may be for parculiar situations or people (not all are called to go into the ark like Noah; or speak to Ninevah like Jonah).  We may learn from such examples, but that does not mean we are all called or commanded to such things. The rich young ruler teaches us much, but Jesus does not command this of everyone.  Zaccheus wasn't rebuked for only selling half his possessions to the poor.  The Old Testament standard of giving 10% was not condemned by Jesus.  If the option for us is sell everything or sell nothing- most will sell nothing. Is it right to sell everything you have and then live off the generosity of others (as the monks in the middle ages did)?  The Reformers saw this as a digression from the gospel of grace, and the idea that we are to appreciate and be good stewards of what God has given us. 
    To get rid of greed, does not necessarily we mean we need to go on a non-eating fast for most of us. But rather not being a glutton, and cutting back for the long haul.  The best, and lasting diets are the well-balanced ones designed to last a lifetime, not the radical 15 pounds a week purgings.  Not coveting is a way of life for an entire life.  Giving to the poor and caring for those in need is not a one time- one year deal (where does scripture say "one year?").  The motivation behind Platt's desire to get rid of greed and the need for terrific transformation needs to be heard.  The American dream is not the Christian dream.  But they are not always antithetical either.  God may bless people in order to be a blessing, and use their sphere of influence (think of the parable of the talents where some are given many and others little), for a higher cause.  We are called not to covet. Perhaps it would appear to be easier if we removed ourselves from all things-- and from the world itself.  But the obedience to this commandment is most clear when people do it day by day for the long haul. 

Prayer: Help me, O God to not give myself to things- but to you.  Give me grace to share with the poor.

John Calvin Abridged: Christ points out that the young man lacked one thing in keeping the Law.  The Law nowhere obliges all of us to sell everything.  Yet the Law encourages us to bear the cross and to avoid sinful desires and covetousness.  He says to him that one thing is wanting because he did not need to preach to him about fornication or murder or other parts of the Law.
     It should be observed he does not just ask him to sell all- but to also give to the poor.  To sell everything would be an attention-grabbing ambition.  As charity is the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14), the one who deprives others of the use of money deserves no praise; So Christ doesn't just ask him to sell all, but to give to the needy.
     The worker who lives by his work to support himself or his children would do wrong if he sold all unless it was necessary. To keep what God has given us, using it in a wise and frugal manner- including providing for the poor is a greater virtue than squandering it all.  Some monks are idle while feeding on the bread of others. It is a sad exchange when those called to give to the poor, have to feed themselves on the possessions of others. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

8/28/11 God our refuge

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3)
 
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”


(Map of Hurricane Irene- larger than Europe)

Thoughts: Our savior is pretty weak. Not Jesus- but the one/thing that so many put their trust in.  At the coming of the hurricane, people are trusting in the evacuation order to keep them safe; the weather channel to help them know and understand the future; and the national guard to keep the things that they have given themselves too safe. 
But the scriptures tell us that we do not have to trust in such weak help.  God is always there. providing refuge and strength for us- courage in the face of the earthquakes and storms of life.  Jesus did not just ride out the storm with them, He calmed it.  But our view of Jesus is so weak and secular and unbelieving.  We are afraid of being disappointed with our God if we trust Him as if He could do something about our situation.  The Church in America will always languish until we start believing in God again, calling out to Him again.  If we do not really believe in God's ability to help/bless/punish then our view of God is pitifully weak and we have little faith, little hope, and really little ability to love God (for He does nothing for us, and becomes quite impersonal, uncaring, and weak).  Because God delivers, we can be still before Him and know He is God.

Prayer: May we trust in you in the midst of Irene; in the midst of our earthquakes; in the midst of the problems of life.  May we find you to be our Deliverer.

(Jesus in the storm. Rembrandt)






8/27/11 Go with God

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139)

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. The Lord will watch over your coming in and going out from this time and forever more. (Psalm 121)

("The Wings of the Dawn" Brookgreen Gardens, SC)

Thoughts: "Via Con Dios" ("Go with God")- is my favorite address.  God always sees us, and always is with us- not forsaking us- going with us.  I think of these Psalms and this idea today for a few reasons.
1) All those travelling today (like Lovic and me); These are great "travelling mercies" Psalms. 2) All those evacuating or facing danger/problems from Hurricane Irene;  They need to know that God is with them in the storm- as Jesus was with the worried disciples in the storm on Galilee 3) All those who are uncertain about their future (that would be most of us).  There's a song, "I don't know about tomorrow, but I know who holds my hand."  For believers, the image is that God is right there- reaching His hand to us.  Our task is, in God's grace, to grab it and hold it no matter what happens- trying to do His will with humility and discernment.

Prayer: I cannot hide from you, Lord, so instead I choose to embrace you.  Forgive me, welcome me back in your grace, and keep me in the palm of your hand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA7H-qWBBRI







Friday, August 26, 2011

8/26/11

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind.  Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.  (Ps. 107:31-32)

To the elders among  you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed- be shepherds of God's flock under your care. (1 Peter 5:1,2)

Thoughts: We had meetings at the Fellowship of Presbyterian meeting place (Bloomington MN) from 8 AM til 10:30 PM.  Thousands are here with lots of worship meetings, prayers, and idea sharing.  Apparently there will be a meeting in January (in Orlando- thank God) where the proposals at this meeting will take more concrete form.   It is obvious that different churches have different felt needs because of their contexts.  Some are happy in their presbyteries who work together well and do not spend extensive time on such debates and there is tremendous trust and pulling together.  Others are looking at having two presbyteries in the same area; others are pulling out.  Still others are in hostile presbyteries who make it hard to say no to them.  Yet, there is a tremendous, strong sense of unity and pulling together for a common cause. 
I learned some things today.  I did not know that in 2001 more Christians belonged to non-denominational churches than the denominational ones.  It is clear we are in a post-denomination environment.  Yet, schism is still something real.  We heard from the PCUSA moderator and stated clerk today too- they are here.  Heard some great preaching, and good conversation with elders concerned about their local church but also about the Church as a whole.

Prayer: May the elders lead the church, O Lord.  May all the people follow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

8/25/11 Necessary Fellowship

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:33-34)

How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim good news. (Isaiah 52:7)


(Pre-conference worship service 8-24-11; They were expecting a couple of dozen but 1,000 showed up; could this be a movement of the Holy Spirit?)


Thoughts: Tonight at the Fellowship of Presbyterians we heard from a Korean pastor and an Hispanic pastor, a woman pastor, and we sang songs of praise and thanks to God.  It was a wonderful time of confession, fellowship and listening.  It occured to me the limits of any gathering.  This is not the end- the resolution- the problem solving conference.  In fact, much will be simply an idea sharing, fellowshiping, networking, worshiping, and praying conference.  many of the solutions are in the hands of elders not here or general assembly commissioners not present.  Impatience would say, "I am wounded as a church- fix me now- make the hurt go away."  There is no quick fix- except for the Holy Spirit.  He is the only balm in Gilead for this church.  We need to put ourselves in a position to hear the Spirit and listen to the Spirit.  That comes in prayer and waiting on Him- not rushing off to push a magic "staples" button.  We all need to really pray. God is alive and cares about what we do. 

Prayer: Tonight Lord, let me seek your face.  May you bless the teaching and ruling elders in this place. 

8/24/11 God in control

1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give
Egypt for your ransom,  Cush[a] and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are       
                  precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—




Thoughts: Yesterday was bad news for our country's capital.  An earthquake hit our capital.  The Washington monument was damaged, the National Cathedral had a couple of spires damaged.  At the same time, it appeared that Hurricane Irene was headed right for Washington (though that could change, and hopefully will).  Certainly, we have had financial earthquakes on wall street, and high unemployment.  There does not appear to be a very safe place for investment now- not gold or oil or real estate or stocks, and our cds and savings are still producing low interest rates.  Even the church, which has been a beacon of morality and spirituality seems to be stuck in moral malaise and a dry secularism that expects little from God except continuing decay in number.  So what do we do?
     Perhaps we are being shown that "we are are only mortal" (Psalm 9:20).  Perhaps we are being shown, in God's providence, where our hope should lie (not in money, things, houses, cars, investments/ "securities"). 
     God is in control. We need that perspective (which is the prayer emphasis for Fellowship of Presbyterians today).  He has not removed Himself.  He wishes us to come back to Him with our whole heart.  For those who seek to be faithful- the good news is that when we pass through the fire we will not be burned.  Often God has used natural disasters as alarm clocks to wake us up to Him.  I remember when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989, it seemed everyone in my state of South Carolina was praying, and very few lost their lives- though many lost their things.  Things can be replaced.  Our ultimate hope is in God.  It is not in planning or structures (though these are necessary).  Our hope lies in the solid rock.  Gathering together to worship and pray is not meaningless- even if no structures and great ideas come.  When the Holy Spirit comes, new life, strength, courage comes. 

Prayer: In your mercy gather us together as a mother hen would gather her chicks under her wings.  We come to you for refuge, for hope. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

8/23/11

26 Praise God in the great congregation;
   praise the LORD in the assembly of Israel. 




1 How good and pleasant it is
   when God’s people live together in unity!
 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
   running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
   down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
   were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
   even life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)



Thoughts: What unites churches, presbyteries and general assemblies is a focus on the same God and trust that each other are worshiping that God, singing to that same God, praying to that same God in united voices, listening for God in the same word of God.  This will be done in Minneapolis.  This should be the goal for our churches, our presbyteries, and our General Assembly.
     Another thing that unites us is mission and witness.  As we seek to unite to do God's work, there is unity.  But we must be able to define witness as physical (helping the poor and needy), social (helping the oppressed), mental (helping with education and the mentally ill), and not to be left out- spiritual (helping others to know and love our God).
     Another, less compelling thing that unites us is nurture- the need to have fellowship (not being alone or isolated) and grow together in knowledge and love (despite and through our differences).
     What does not unite us are structures, organizations, and forms.  Without love for God (illustrated in worship) and love for neighbor (illustrated in mission), the organization is a house of cards- a whitewashed rotten-wooded wall.  The more we are united in worship and mission and felowship the more the institutional structures will come.  Perhaps it is the three N's- our need, our neighbor, and our nurture.

Prayer: Come, Lord, guide us and unite us by your Holy Spirit.  Help us to find our direction and unity in you.  Unite us in our need and in our service.





(Prayer together at a GOoDWorks mission function)

Monday, August 22, 2011

8/22/11 Prayer for the church

This week we will be complimenting the Prayer Guide of the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

Today we are asked to pray for leadership- using Psalm 19:Matthew 24:3-7, 12-14

Here is a complimentary passage from Joshua 1
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”


Taking of Jericho- James Tissot 1896-1902


Thoughts: Moses had died, and there was a whole people wandering around like a bird looking for a place to land.  But they had many obstacles in their way- walled cities, giants, equipped and trained armies.  They did not know what would happen.  Their economy was surely suffering- they had no way of making food, no standing army, no industry, no cities.  But they had faith.  God chose a leader-- raised him up.  In fact, God had been training and raising him up all along- under the tutelage of Moses. 

Prayer: Help us, O Lord to be strong and courageous.  Help us to have your Book always on our lips, meditating on it every day- every night.  In a fluid, changing, precariously perched world- help us to find you as our solid rock from which we go forth.  Increase our witness for you, Lord, at home and abroad. Raise up leaders for your Church.

[Note this blog averages about 200 readers a day]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

8/21/11 Noses Grow and Pants Catch Fire

Ninth Commandment: Do Not Lie

9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices (Colossians 3:9)

8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)


(Pinocchio's nose- grew when he lied)

Thoughts:  Would that we could find a way to tell if someone was telling the truth.  "Liar, Liar , Pants on Fire" is a childrens saying (possibly referring to stomach upset when one lies).  Pinocchio's nose grew when he lied.  The CIA tried to find a universal truth serum but they could not fine a foolproof drug.  David J. Lieverman wrote a book "Never Be Lied To Again" about detection through asking questions the right way and noting expressions and movements. However, God never can be deceived (think Ananias and Saphira).  He sees all, including our motivations.  Yet He continually asks us to strive for truth.
    In our culture, as part of our falling away from God and morality, we tend to make fun of those who try to tell the truth all the time.  Thus the tongue in cheek "Liar, Liar."  Or the Geico commercial about Honest Abe being asked, :Does this dress make me look fat?"  Cornell University has identified a new kind of lie- "The Butler Lie" in which someone texts (or emails) someone else and says, "I've got to go the waiter is here" (when they may not even be at a restaurant).
     Lying is wrong in that it destroys trust.  Aristotle said there cannot be a universal rule about lying, because you cannot trust a liar.  Thus when the Cretan Epimenides says, "All Cretan are Liars" (and he himself is a Cretan) he cannot be trusted.  [much of the above from wikipedia- thoughtful article]
    Lying also perverts and destroys communication and love.  We are designed by God to love one another, and we bring dstrust into that relationship when we lie and are dishonest.  We are meant to speak honestly and openly.  We are affronted when someone "lies through their teeth" or "tells a bald face lie" lying to us face to face.
   In the end we are called to tell the truth because God tells the truth.  Numbers 23:19 says, "God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.  Has he said and shall he not do it?"  In contrast to that is Satan who is called by Jesus "the Father of lies."  God created reality- and seeks to sustain reality.  Evil and untruth is a delusion, perversion of reality.  We wish that noses would grow and pants would catch fire because we want to be able to tell what is true or not.  Truth matters, and we should be on the side of truth- which is the side of God.

Prayer: May I be kind and loving enough, Lord, to tell the truth even when it hurts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

8/19/11 Speaking up for the Oppressed

Ninth Commandment: Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Deuteronomy 5:20)

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Matthew 26:59-60

(The Mocking of Christ- Gerritt van Hornthorst 1617; Los Angeles County Museum of Art)


Thoughts: There is a sense in which Christians are called to stand up for those who are arrested for better treatment, because our Lord was arrested.  Until we are found guilty (in the United States Court system) then we are presumed innocent.  Part of the reason for that is that Jesus was condemned before he even had a chance to answer his accusers.  If Jesus can be arrested and crucified others who are innocent can too.  So Christians should always stand up for speaking truthfully and fairly. This does not mean, however, that the criminal should not be punished.  It only means criminals should be treated humanely and truthfully. 
     There is also a sense in which this command compells us to stand up for the oppressed and the bullied.  Christians are at their worst when they have gained power and become the oppressors.  The Jews, the homosexual, the ethnic minority, those of a minority religion have all been oppressed before.  Christians are called to treat all people as made in the image of God and one for whom Christ potentially has died.  This does not mean that it doesn't matter what we do or believe.  It does mean that people should be treated with grace and fairness. 
    When Christ was arrested, there were many false witnesses, but the true witnesses were quiet.  Peter who was brave enough to follow, was not brave enough to identify with Christ.  We should speak up for those who are oppressed and not being treated fairly- who cannot speak for themselves.

Prayer: Help us remember, Lord, how you were treated.  Help us to be true witnesses when others are false.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

8/18/11 Not maligning another

Ninth Commandment: Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor

 1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (James 4:11)

(Ecco Homini- Behold the man.  People bore false witness against Christ, slandering and maligning him as if they were pure).


Thoughts: The Study Catechism (Q114) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) speaking of this command, says, "God forbids me to damage the honor or reputation of my neighbor.  I should not say false things against anyone for the sake of money, favor, or friendship, for the sake of revenge or any other reason.  God requires me to speak the truth, to speak well of my neighbor when I can, and to vew the faults of my neighbor with tolerance when I cannot." In a consumer-crazed society, we are asked to judge.  We are encouraged to text to see who gets to stay on the next round.  We are encouraged to tweet or email a comment about why we think this or that human deserves to be punished.  These words of scripture admonish us to speak our words slowly and tenderly- for tomorrow we might have to eat them. Part of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile is not laoding judgment and slander on another.

Prayer: God, help me to be quick to listen, slow to wrath, and slow to speak.  Let me build others up instead of tearing them down.

John Calvin Abridged form Institutes: We should guard ourselves against those who seek to bring sanctification to themselves by charging others with wrong. When we growl with ill will toward our neighbor hurting him- that is false witnessing.  1 Corinthians 6:10 says that slanderers will not inherit the kingdom. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

8/17/11 Flattery will Get You Nowhere

Ninth Commandment: Do not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light
   and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
(Isaiah 5:20)



Thoughts: Calvin once said, "We must not call 'black' 'white' under the pretext we are forbidden to offend anyone.  There are many who would like to see nothing condemned and would prefer that we disguise the language of the guilty (thus crimes are not condemned under their proper name- like 'thief')."  Flattery is a form of false witness.  In the church, we seek so much to be nice people that we forget to stand up for our faith.  It is a hard thing in a world that has lost its moral compass to stand up for faith.  Often the prophets were martyrs. People do not thank you for disagreeing with their lifestyle or morals.  Yet, speaking the truth in humility and love are important.  Flattery may keep a relationship from failing, but flattery refuses to allow depth, trust, rebuke, and correction.  Proverbs 9:8 says, "Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you."  A flatterer deceives in order not to offend- sometimes to the point of calling good evil and evil good. Those around the emperor (in the story "The Emperor's New Clothes") did not want to disappoint the emperor by telling him the truth, afraid of his wrath or to make him feel bad.  The emperor had a lot of shallow followers, but no one who really believed in him or trusted him- and no one he could trust. 


Prayer: Let my words reflect reality, O Lord.  Give me grace to speak the truth in love.  


John Calvin Abridged: Today the world has come to the point that it seems that we are not good friends and are not faithful and loyal to those with whom we associate unless we acquiesce in their favor when they are wrong.  When they are guilty and we ought to be calling this to their attention and chastising them, we turn to eloquent perjury instead...That is how we esteem God's truth.  (Sermons- quoted in Hauerwas and Willimon "The Truth About God.")

Monday, August 15, 2011

8/16/11 Lying to God

Ninth Commandment: Do Not Steal. (Dt. 5:19)

1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. (Acts 5:1-10)

(The Death of Ananias by Raphael 1515)


Thoughts: We can deceive ourselves, and even lie so much to others that we begin to believe the lie.  But this story is about two people who tried to deceive God.  Annanias and Saphira thought they could fool the church- and they could have in part.  But they could not fool the One who sees all and knows all hearts.  This is a warning to give with sincerity, and not to do things just for show.  In the end, we must come clean and be honest before the Lord.

Prayer:  Let me seek truth and pursue it, Lord. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

8/15/11 Do not Lie

Ninth Commandment: 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16; Dt. 5:20).

 5 An honest witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies. (Prov. 14:5)

19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19)

(Michelangelo- Moses)


Thoughts:
(Ex. 20:16: לֹֽא־תַעֲנֶ֥ה בְרֵעֲךָ֖ עֵ֥ד שָֽׁקֶר׃ ס);  (Dt. 5:20 לֹֽא־תַעֲנֶ֥ה בְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ עֵ֥ד שָֽׁוְא׃ ס )
Note: that while the English translation is the same, there is a difference in Hebrew.
Exodus speaks of not lying or being untrue; Deuteronomy speaks of being insincere, deceitful- a slight difference in emphasis.

     While this law was intended for court, there is an attidue toward false speech that applies very much to every day life.  God does not lie, for God does not need to lie.  A lie is a purposeful delusion of relaity (which is what "deception" means).  God wants us to see reality for what it is.  Perhaps some feel that the truth is too painful to bear.  Or that we can elevate our own welfare more if we lie. 

Prayer: Give me grace to see life for what it is.  Give me grace to speak about reality truly yet with love.

Westminster Shorter Catechism:
The ninth commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor's good name, especially in witness bearing.
The ninth commandment forbids whatever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor's good name.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

8/14/11 The Worst Kind of Stealing

Eight Commandment: Do Not Steal

 16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.  (Exodus 21:16)

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:6-10)

(House of kidnapped American in Lahore, Pakistan)


Thoughts: Kidnapping is perhaps the worst kind of stealing, for it is the stealing of a human being.  Yesterday in Lahore, Pakistan, Warren Weinstein was kidnapped.  He was working to help the needy in tribal areas.  Weinstein has a Phd in International Law and Economics, and was fluent in six languages.  Our church had a mission trip to Mexico cancelled because of the rise of the number of kidnapped Americans along the Mexico-USA border.  Stealing a person is serious to God.  In the Old Testament it was a capital offense (Ex. 21:17; Dt. 24:7).  In the New Testament Jesus gave a stern warning against those who would hurt a child. 

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to respect the life and freedom of another person.  We pray for those kidneapped and for their families that you would bring restoration and peace, thwarting the evil plans of those who cause harm. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

8/13/11 Stealing a Reputation

Eighth Commandment: Do not Steal. (Deuteronomy 5:19; Exodus 20:15)

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

(Jericho Today- a Sycamore Fig Tree similar to the Zachaeus climbed by the main road).


Thoughts: In the world of facebook and internet it is possible (and happens frequently) that a story is repeated thousands of times without checking the source to see if it is true.  Or, perhaps part of the source is true and conclusions are reached that over-reach reality and ruin a person's reputation.  One example is the lady in Korea whose dog pooped on the train (and she refused to clean it up).  Some took her picture with their cell phones, others took video and posted it on the web.  Within hours it received millions of hits, and she became known as "The Dog Poop Girl."  The girl ended up dropping out of her school.  In the world of internet we are encouraged to judge, to tear down, to post shocking and nasty stuff.   John Calvin said that part of this commandment is that we not exploit another person.  Tearing people down is stealing away their good name and reputation. 
     Shakespeare said in Othello: "Who steals my purse, steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
     'Twas mine, 'tis his and has been slave to thousands.
     But he that filches from me my good name
     Robs me of that which not enriches him,
     And makes me poor indeed."
The story of Zacchaeus is the story of the opposite of stealing- it is restoration.  Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector (in fact the chief of the Tax Collectors in that region), could legally take from people more than was required.  His name was mud.  His reputation was so bad that people could not understand why a holy man would even be around him.  But if Jesus stayed away from sinners, then he would stay away from all of us (while we were yet sinners he died for us).  When Zacchaeus offered to give to the poor and to pay back four times what he had taken unjustly, he had done what the Rich Young Ruler could not do.  Jesus knew he was not just talking, or putting on a show, but was putting his money where his mouth was. 

Prayer: May my possessions not possess me, O Lord.  May I be careful of the reputation of others.  May I be slow to speak, slow to judge, and quick to listen. 

John Calvin Abridged: This commandment obligates us to care for other's good.  The crafty should know that God sees how they treat those of simpler mind.  The powerful should be careful to know that God sees when they oppress the weaker person. Let each person consider what in his rank and station they owe to their neighbors (rulers rule well; ministers teach by word and example; Let the people respect ministers; parents care for children; children resepect the elderly; workers work well; employers treat their employees as their siblings and coservants under the Lord. We should look after the well being of others.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

8/12/11- Honesty as Theft Prevention

Eighth Commandment: You Shall Not Steal. (Deut. 5:19)

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.(Deut. 25:15)

The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. (Prov. 11:1) (also cf. Pr. 16:11; 20:10,23; Lev. 19:35-36; )

Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? (Micah 6:2)



Thoughts: In some ways, stealing applies to each commandment.  Here is a re-wording of the Ten Commandments from the perspective of not stealing: 1) Do not steal the worship from God; 2) Do not steal the identity of God; 3) Do not steal the honor/name of God; 4) Do not steal the time of God; 5) Do not steal the respect due to others; 6) Do not steal the life of another; 7) Do not steal the spouse of another; 8) Do not steal.  9) Do not steal the truth away; 10) Do not steal in your hearts.
    In the passages above, honesty in commerce is seen as of real imnportance to God.  Why?  It is not just honesty in order to establish a nation, but it is a matter of human trust.  Maybe a few people can get away with stealing (in this life- not in the eyes of God), but generally, if a nation wants to stay out of poverty it must have a sense of honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness.  Douglas North won a Nobel Prize in Economics for demonstrating that trust was a necessary institution that led to a better economy.  Some of the poorest countries are also riddled with corruption and distrust. 
    Honesty as a value is a prevention against theft.  If we expect bribes and dishonesty it leads to our own temptation to take a bribe.   So we will be tempted to be the proverbial dishonest used car salesman-- who will always have small print and hidden fees.  But if we are honest and we expect others to be honest as well, then it leads to trust (until that trust is betrayed).  Among honest people the thief stands out.  Among thieves theft is expected, and there is a tendency to sleep with one eye open.  Honesty is the best policy.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to be honest in my studies, in my work, in my dealings with others.  Keep me from being enamored with deception, but instead help me to love you and your righteousness.

John Calvin Abridged: The purpose of this commandment is to "Render to each person their due."  We are not called to pant after another person's possessions, rather we are to do all we can to help them keep them, as all of a person's possessions are of God's distributing.  So we should not exploit another person for our own good.  On the other hand, it would be good to avoid dishonest people, even if we have to lose something by doing so. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

8/11/11 Theft of the Soul

Eighth Commandment: Do not Steal.

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’ ; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Luke 19:46)

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:1-10)

(The Good Shepherd;  Alfred Soord d. 1915)


Thoughts: Jesus spoke of the ultimate thievery- the stealing of the soul.  There are some who would put themselves in God's place (for many different reasons- often pride), tearing down trust in His Word, so that their advise and opinion can take its place.  The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day were such people- by adding so many of their man-made laws to God's.  The leaders who were giving into Baal worship in Jeremiah's day (Jer. 7:11) were also such people by tolerating and syncretizing other religions in order to get along and fit in.  Such people are wolves in sheeps clothing.  They steal the sheep in order to destroy them.  This week in Bowman, South Carolina farmers lost 42 goats to a wild pack of dogs who killed their goats- not for food but just because they could.  There are many who would destroy a person's faith for the sheer joy of it.  Such people are thieves of the soul.  Some are wise professors whose philosophy is to tear down someone's faith to nothing so that they may build their own world-view from a "much wiser" perspective.  Some are atheists with no hope who do not want others to have any hope either. Some want others to follow them instead of God.  Some have been taught to steal souls for so long, that they are numb to even questioning their actions.  Today there are many who point away from the narrow gate, and there are few who are willing to bravely declare Christ is the way to life, truth, hope, strength, and love.  In Jesus' day, the Pharisees, Scribes and Pharisees were numerous and people like Anna, Simeon, and Mary were few.  In such times, it is hard to not listen to the robbers who are like the many voices pointing Pinochio to Pleasure Island. 

Prayer: Lord, give me discernment so that I will not listen to those who wish to steal my faith away from me.  Give me grace to never lead anyone astray from you. 

John Calvin Abridged: Our Lord here points out that we should never count the truth by the number of sheep or shepherds.  No plague is more ravishing to the church than when wolves work under the garb of shepherds.  We must, above all things, guard ourselves against pretending shepherds who are really wolves and thieves. So we ought not to reckon a person a shepherd because they make that claim or even have some credentials. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

8/10/11 Looting as Stealing

Eighth Commandment- "Do not steal." Deuteronomy 5:19

1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. 2 There is only cursing,[a] lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Because of this the land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away. (Hosea 4:1-3)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

(London looters 8/8/11)


Thoughts: We stand aghast at the looting and stealing in London.  But when Katrina removed most of the police presence and ability to respond quickly, people stole and looted almost everything in certain sections of New Orleans.  Studies indicate that usually after a disaster looting does not occur (think after the Japanese earthquakes).  What does the New Orleans' looters sociological strata and the London looters sociological strata have in common?  Poverty is there.  Lack of respect for authority and police is there.  Envy of those who have more (and a sharp contrast between the have nots and the haves) is there. Education and employment seem to be lacking.  The other ingredient that is missing in both mobs is Christian religious commitment (and maybe even a self-perception of rejection of the Christian morals).  Certainly stealing is a human phenomenon and sin crosses all religious barriers.  But the devout who are taught to not steal are less likely to do so.  Jesus said that our outside actions come from our inside heart (including theft). It should not be a surprise that the looting also involves destruction, arson, malice, and arrogance.  Inside all of us is the same potential. 

Prayer: May my heart be true and pure to you, O Lord.  Give me grace to be content and be at peace within that I might not be angry without.

Monday, August 8, 2011

8/12/11 Debt as Theft- Eighth Commandment

Dt. 5:19- Do not Steal.

Dt. 24:15 You shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and his heart is set upon it); les he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin to you.

1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
2Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 
3Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
4Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.6You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you (James 5:1-6)

(Wallstreet stock trader in dismay)


Thoughts: Debt is theft in that it is holding back what is due.  Debt opens up to theft when a bank forecloses on property without going through proper procedures (as Bank of America and some others did in 2010).  Debt becomes theft when title loan companies and check cashing companies charge 300- 800% interest, taking advantage of the poor.  Or the credit card company that raises rates and fees just because it can.  Sometimes the downgrading of one's credit score (or bond rating) when one has never missed a payment can put one in position to miss a payment, fear can make a terrible reality.  Debt becomes theft when we do not pay our employees what is owed to them for work done in good faith.  Debt becomes theft when we borrow with no intention or good faith effort at paying back our debt. 
     Dave Ramsey has some good thoughts on how to reduce our debt:  http://www.daveramsey.com/article/get-out-of-debt-with-the-debt-snowball-plan/lifeandmoney_debt/

     One of the great tragedies to the world economy is the United States' debt.  The United States has a good credit rating still.  But it has a problem in that it continues to take in ($2.173 trillion in 2011) less than it spends ($3.818 trillion).  That's a deficit this year of $1.645 trillion- which with previous year's deficits adds up to $14.2 trillion. 
     In the end-- confidence and trust, courage in the face of fear, contentment and peace replacing greed- are all spiritual things.  In God we trust.  Not too long ago a person sued to get this removed from our currency and coins.  But if we do not trust in God, the motivation of restraint to greed and selfishness is weakened.  In some ways, not stealing is a matter of having peace and trust in God.  Stealing (or even going into debt) is not a matter of how much you have or don't have.  It is a matter of being content in who you are and what has been given you (and that God will provide).  Belief in God can calm our fears (hear that Wallstreet?). 


Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to put our confidence and trust in you.  You made us, Lord, help us in our hour of need.  Help us not just financially, but restore us spiritually. 



Sunday, August 7, 2011

8/8/11- The Eight Commandment- Tensions Between Ownership and Generosity

Devotional on the Ten Commandments (with reference to the New Testament)
Eight Commandment: "Thou shalt not Steal" (Deut. 5:19).

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something useful to share with those in need. (Eph. 4:28)

(Miserliness contradicts Godliness- for God is generous- He owns it all)


Thoughts: The premise of this command is that it is possible to steal something from someone else in that a person can be said to "own" something else.  Pierre Joseph Prouhon said that all private property is theft.  For in his eyes, nothing is owned by the individual, but it is owned by the community.  This is a form of communism.  There have been various Christian experiments in communal living in which people give up their private property recognizing God owns it all.  Most of these have been short-lived, with certain forms of monasticism as an exception.
     Traditionally, with some exceptions, Judaism and Christianity have believed that it is possible to own something on earth, but that everything we have is a gift- a sacred trust- from God.  We are called to be stewards of everything we have (as a gift from God), and to in recognition of that give a percentage- a tithe back to God.  When the people of God are generous, poverty is mollified, and people become more sensitive to the plight of the poor to whom they are giving.  When the people of God are sacrificially generous, there is usually not a debt problem for people are careful to measure their 90%.  Tantamount to that is that the poor do not feel so oppressed when people are sacrificing for them.  But when the rich think they deserve their possessions, and begin to horde or live extravagantly (think "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"), the poor feel alienated.  Christianity lives little room for miserliness or greed.  The other extreme, communism, puts the state as the arbiter and doler of wealth.  But the state too often becomes corrupt and wealthy while the people live in oppression or squalor. 
    An interesting thing is happening in Wenzhou, Peoples Republic of China.  It is an experiment in both Christianity and capitalism.  In 1999 the state mentioned the word "Christmas" in a traffic ruling, and a revival broke out thinking that the state was allowing Christianity.  Today over a million Christians live in Wenzhou.  At the same time (and I don't think unrelated), Whenzhou's economy began privatization.  Wenzhou's GDP increased 16% per year from 1978- 1996 and today Wenzhou's per capita income is $3,000, double the national average.  Perhaps capitalism and economic progress go hand in hand. 
    It is not wrong to have possessions as long as those who possess them see them humbly as a gift from God and respond in generosity to others. 

Prayer: Lord, first thank you for all that I have.  Help me to be a good steward of it.  Keep me from stealing, but also keep me from forgetting that all I have is a gift.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

8/7/11 Guarding our Heart

Do not Commit Adultery. (Deut. 5:18)

Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.  Proverbs 4:23

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27,28)

(Carl Henry Bloch d. 1890- Woman at the Well)


Thoughts: The Bible says that we are not our own, therefore we should honor God with our bodies.  The Bible says that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.   "The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (1 Cor. 6:13).  God does not just care about our hearts and souls- He also cares about our bodies.  Yet, He encourages us to guard our hearts.  Sometimes we guard our hearts against adultery by making sure our bodies are dressed modestly, and that our bodies are in places that would not tempt us.  The good news is that we are not the shepherds of our own souls.  Jesus told the woman at the well- you have had five husbands and the one you are living with now is not your husband.  Yet, He reached out to her, and she was made able to respond.   On our own, this commandment may seem impossible.  But with God all things are possible.  He gives us strength to resist temptation, and calls us to come back to Him.

Prayer:  You who welcomed the Prodigal Home, welcome me.  You who encouraged Hosea to take his wife back, take me back.  Cleanse me, purify me, make me whole. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

8/6/11 Animal House

 7 “Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
8 They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife. 9 Should I not punish them for this?” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 5:7,8)

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:22-27)

(Animal House Toga party)

Thoughts: Should we really seek to give in to our natural instincts, and live like animals?  The ability of human beings to contain their animal instincts point to something higher.  There are some that say to have any standards at all would be hypocritical, for no one can perfectly keep their standard.  So, maybe the best thing in life is to be animal-house-like.  If so, we should give up the illusion of human love.  Maybe another question would be, what kind of animals are we? 
There is very little true monogamy in the animal kingdom (10-15% primates; 3% mammals; formerly it was believed 90% of birds were monogamous, but that figure has been brought into question).  Certain Gibbons and apes are monogamous. 
     But the question is broader than that.  First, is it a healthy thing- physically and financially to be monogamous?  The answer would have to be "yes."  For monogamy- generally controls sexually transmitted diseases (currently 8-10 million American teens contract STIs each year).  If you ask a divorcee if they were better off financially before their divorce, generally the answer would be "yes"-  (One roof, one utility bill, no alimony, sharing of resources and time). 
     A second broader point relates to our Maker.  Scripture links monogamy (one spouse) with monolatry (worship of one God).  Above Jeremiah points to adultery with the spouse as a sign of adultery against God.  Romans also points to God giving humans over to sexual immorality because they forsook the right idea of God (preferring many to one).  The covenant we make with God is a symbol of the covenant we make with the spouse (the image is we are the bride of Christ).  Purity of heart toward God shows itself in purity in our sexual relationships.  Sex is not bad- it is a great gift given to us by God.  But God protects it and human love by the commitment of marriage. 
    The goal is not to behave like animals, giving into our animal instincts.  But to behave as children of God, seeking to honor and glorify Him. 

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to seek not the baseness of our nature, but the higher calling you have given us. 

Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q, 71- What is required in the Seventh Commandment?  A. The Seventh Commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor's chastity, in heart, in speech, and behavior.
Q. 72- What is forbidden in the Seventh Commandment?  A. The Seventh Commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

8/5/11 An Economic and Spiritual Fall

Do not commit adultery (Dt. 5:18)

6 During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. 10 In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD. 11 The LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah. 12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north: “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the LORD,
‘I will not be angry forever. 13 Only acknowledge your guilt—  you have rebelled against the LORD your God,.. “‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land,  the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. 20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the LORD. 21 A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God. 22 “Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.” (Jeremiah 3:6-13, 19b-22)


(Fall of Jerusalem by David Roberts 1850)

Thoughts: We can learn a lesson today from the fall of Israel and Judah.  The fall of those two nations (about 240 years apart) was blamed here not on poor political decisions (though there were many), or poor weather, or poor foresight, but on spiritual decisions.  Secular historians simply speak of a land stuck between two empires (Egypt and Mesopotamian powers).  But scripture mentions a link between being faithless to God and God's forsaking his people.
    Jeremiah (also Hosea and Isaiah) use the image of adultery as what the people of God did with their own God.  They became faithless to the faithful God.  They were enticed by novelty, sensuality, greed, the forsaking of the poor, and the indenturing of their own people to elevate themselves.  Truth is, there is no excuse for adultery.  There is also no excuse for leaving God. 
     In the last ten years our country has purposefully forsaken God in the name of freedom of religion.  An example that happened yesterday was the U.S. Air Force forbidding chaplains to teach a biblically based Bible study (http://blog.beliefnet.com/on_the_front_lines_of_the_culture_wars/?p=2438).  We can no longer pray out loud in our schools and there is pressure everywhere to give up everything Christian in our nation.  At the same time the number who claim to be Christians has decreased sharply in America since 2001- about 10% in ten years.  Attendance in church has plummeted. We have forsaken the idea of keeping a Sabbath as a culture (it's one of the busiest shopping days for many- and we are a weary, tired people).  Over half of our young people move in before (or instead of marrying).  Laws are placed on the books of many states that only Sodom and Gomorrah could love.  If we wonder why we are in this pickle, how did we get in this mess?  Is there not a spiritual side to things?  Is there not a God who cares what we do?  Has He not told us in scripture what we ought to do, and have we shut our ears? 
    Jeremiah (and God) begs the people to turn back, and that even now God would welcome them.  There is always hope in repentance.  There is no hope for those who are going down the dark path away from God. 

Prayer: May we, O Lord, turn back to you with our whole heart.  May we quit our selfishness, our greed, our forsaking you and turn to you with our whole hearts.