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The 10 on Tuesdays
Reflections on the 10 Commandments | By Kevin Lobert, Youth Pastor
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
#10 It’s A Matter of the Heart
A story was told of Abraham Lincoln. His boys were upset, and he was carrying one in each arm away from a crowd. When someone asked what was wrong with his boys, Lincoln replied, “Exactly what’s wrong with the whole world … I have three walnuts and each boy wants two.”
This final command deals with a matter of the heart. It’s interesting actually, that both the first and last commands – the bookends of the commandments if you will – deal with matters of the heart. For the rest of the commands, others can prove that you’ve broken them. We can see someone bowing down to an idol, not taking a Sabbath, stealing something, or lying, but the first and last commandments are matters held between God and you. They are commands of the heart.
Command #1: Do you put anything before God in your life?
Command #10: Do you covet what isn’t yours?
These bookend commands, as J.I. Packer says, “move from actions to attitudes, motions to motives, forbidden deeds to forbidden desires.” No one can find you guilty of breaking these commands except for yourself and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
This 10th command is significant!
In fact, it is not a stretch to think that the breaking of this 10th command is the springboard to the breaking of all the previous ones. If you covet comfort or peace, you may break the first three. If you covet money, you may break the fourth. If you covet independence, you may break fifth. If you covet your neighbour’s spouse or possessions, you may break the sixth through ninth.
The story of David and Bathsheba, in 2 Samuel 11, is a perfect example of this. David coveted Bathsheba, and what results from this covetousness is him breaking the other commandments. First, he takes her from her house (breaking the 8th commandment) and sleeps with her (7th commandment). Then, to cover up his tracks and hide what he did (9th), he has her husband killed in war (6th).
Coveting leads to all sorts of trouble.
So, not only is coveting a matter of the heart – something between you and the Lord – AND not only does breaking this command lead to the breaking of others, but we can be guilty of coveting so many things … things that perhaps we don’t even realize.
Maybe we don’t covet our neighbour’s spouse or possessions, but maybe we covet their reputations, their spiritual gifts, or their sense of humour. Maybe we covet how relaxed, driven, or handy they are. Coveting can take many different shapes.
The commandment reads “do not covet”, but what is our calling then?
Well, to put it plainly, we must be content in all situations.
In fact, we read this command all throughout the Bible:
Proverbs 16:8 teaches us how coveting gains us nothing by saying, “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”
In Hebrews 13:5, the author says that you should “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
And Paul, in Philippians 4:12-13, says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
When we are content with what we have, or who we are, our covetous nature goes away. And it isn’t just that we are to be content with what we have, it is that we must be content with what others have, too! Actually, we must not only be content with what God has entrusted to others, but we need to rejoice with them in that!
God calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Paul teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). If we are to love our neighbours in this way and rejoice when they rejoice, that means we should be finding joy in our neighbours’ gain!
Furthermore, if our neighbours are who Jesus says they are in the parable of the Good Samaritan – meaning our neighbour is everyone we come in contact with (Luke 10:25-37) – then we must be grateful for everyone’s gain, and content in all situations! “Rejoice always … give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16,18 emphasis added).
In his book The Ten Commandments from the Back Side, J.E. Kalas puts this beautifully:
“When I rejoice in my neighbour’s having, I become wonderfully, almost unimaginably rich. When I covet, my life is so small and petty, but when I rejoice with my neighbour, my life has no boundaries. I feel better about myself because I’m so much more likable when I’m not envious. I feel better about God, because I’m seeing more of God’s goodness when I get out of my own small world. I feel better about life, because I see its blessings more clearly; I see what I have, instead of what I haven’t.”
This posture, this attitude of contentment, is not simply the antithesis of covetousness, but is the key to finding joy in life. Our vision becomes clearer, Christ’s gift of grace becomes more evident in our lives, and, as 1 Thes. 5 teaches us, we start living out God’s will for our lives! With contentment comes peace, and an understanding that God is sovereign over all things, including who you are and what you have.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What things do you covet?
2) As with the previous commands, how does coveting affect our community? What relational holdups come into play when we covet?
3) How does a posture of contentment allow us to revel in Christ’s gift of grace to us? How does God’s sovereignty become clearer when we are content with who we are/what we have?
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
~ Exodus 20:17
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
#9 Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire
Full disclosure, I have to give a shout out to J.I. Packer for a lot of the thoughts written below. His book, Keeping the 10 Commandments, has influenced this reflection big time. I need to give credit where credit is due.
The 10 Commandments can be found in two spots in the Bible: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. What is interesting when reading the two versions side-by-side, you notice small differences here and there. The commands themselves are the same, but some of the words are different, and therefore, sometimes different conclusions can be drawn, depending on the version of the commandments you are reading.
In the English NIV translation, however, command #9 reads the exact same in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” Even though the English is the same, in the original Hebrew there is a slight difference.
When translated, the word ‘false’ in Exodus means untrue, whereas in Deuteronomy the word ‘false’ means insincere. Now, on the surface that is not the biggest of differences. But there is a slight nuance between the words that matters here. Untrue means flat out wrong, but insincere means more disingenuous or misleading.
What we can take from this is that lying, or bearing false witness, is not simply an action, but rather a collection of actions all out for the same purpose. We actually see this most clearly in the court of law. In court, when a witness comes to the stand, the bailiff simply doesn’t ask the witness ‘promise not to lie?’
No. We’ve all seen Law and Order.
The bailiff asks the witness, ‘do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’
From that little question, we can unearth that lying is wrong, but so is exaggerating, telling half-truths, or misleading someone with silence. And we haven’t even brought up things like gossiping or slander yet … both of which, at their core, deal with presuppositions and false assumptions that are used to damage and deface someone else’s character to others.
This ninth command is a far reaching one.
So, what is this commandment getting at when it tells us not bear untrue or insincere witness against our neighbour?
This command – as we’ve been noticing with all these commandments – relates to the social/relational dynamic in a community.
Notice, God does not say “do not lie” (though, that truth is embedded firmly in the command). God says, do not bear false witness (or lie) against your neighbour. It links us to our community.
There are two main reasons we lie to each other, and both reasons are communal in nature. The first is to bring someone down.
It’s called malice – using our words to tear down one’s reputation to someone else because we are jealous, or spiteful, or we just want to see someone fail. Things like gossip, slander, or spreading rumours are all forms of malice, and are all done to someone else.
The other reason we lie is because of pride. We lie because we don’t want others to know our true selves – how we were wrong, how we acted, or what we actually thought. By doing this, we present ourselves in a better light then we ought. No one wants to look foolish, or wrong, or have their character take a beating, and so pride holds the truth hostage.
Whether malice or pride, both types of lies have a societal effect on our community.
That’s the bad side of lying, but some of you may be wondering if there is room for “good” lies? Can one bear false witness in a positive way?
And the truth is, yes … you can … kind of … maybe … well, it depends.
If exaggerating, or telling half-truths, or simply omitting information all fall under the ‘lie’ category, we may find ourselves in tricky situations. What about if we are dealing with people who are emotionally compromised and can’t handle complete truths in a specific moment? Or, what about in times of war where innocent lives depend on false information being given? Or, what if foolish or evil people would use the truth to harm others? Honestly, sometimes in frivolous situations, the truth may actually do more harm than good.
Is lying OK then? Do the ends justify the means?
Once again, we need to remember that the command is not to bear false witness against your neighbour. The heart of the command is driven by relationships. It’s driven by love. So, our motivation in these situations must also be loving. If telling a lie means loving a neighbour, maybe there’s room for that. Think of Rahab in Jericho, when she hid Caleb and Joshua and saved them from the king. Her lies saved their lives, and in the end her family’s lives as well, all in the name of the Lord (Joshua 2:4-5).
And yet, a lie is still a lie. It’s a marker of the brokenness in the world. Whether we lie out of malice or pride, or because we think the ends justify the means and by lying we can actually love our neighbour better … a lie still goes against the way God created us to live. In any situation where we lie, even if we believe we are completely justified to do so, may we remember that we need the saving blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we always pray, Lord, lead me not into temptation – even in the times where lying is clearly the best option for our neighbours.
Oftentimes we lie for our own misgivings – to gossip about someone or hide our flaws from each other. But even in the trivial times where we find ourselves telling white lies to protect our loved one’s feelings – or harder yet, if we ever find ourselves in a position where we need to lie to save a life – may we always seek truth, and always remember that God’s grace covers all things.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What acts encompass lying? Which ones do you commit more than you should?
2) How does bearing false witness affect your community?
3) Ethically, is there ever such thing as a good lie?
Next week, Commandment #10: You shall not covet
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.”
~ Exodus 20:16
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
#8 Sticky Fingers and Sticky Intentions
When I was around six years old, I was shopping with my mom. We went to Zellers.
Ah, Zellers … Let’s all take a moment.
Anyways, down one of the aisles, someone had left an unopened Mars chocolate bar. I looked around, and I noticed that mom was pretty far down the isle looking at pillows, or oven mitts, or bike helmets, or whatever six-year-old boys figured moms thought were important. Either way, my mom was in her element and distracted by whatever Zellers was offering on clearance, so I went for it.
I grabbed the Mars bar, opened it up, and took a big bite out of it. After doing a quick shoulder check and realizing my mom was still immersed in discount items, I took a second bite. Then a third. Figuring my luck was about to end – mom wouldn’t leave me 3 meters apart for much longer – I quickly tucked the wrapper under what little was left of the chocolate bar and skittered back to my mom’s side.
It was the perfect crime! No one would ever know!
Until we reached the checkout. A large man dressed in a very official looking black polo with a red ‘Z’ on the shoulder walked up to us. He pulled my mom aside. He must have been at least 17 years old. My mom’s face went from delightfully pleasant, to extremely disappointed.
My mom looked at me and asked, “Kevin, did you steal a chocolate bar?”
My heart sank. Somehow, in some way, I got caught. I couldn’t believe it! Though I didn’t fully understand it, jail did not seem fun. Would they have cheese-slices there? What was their playground like? I bet no one in jail got Christmas presents.
Worse, mom looked ticked, and I knew I was going to have a meeting with dad later that day. Those three bites of chocolatey goodness were certainly not worth all of this! Knowing I had nowhere to run, I quickly fessed up and, stuttering, owned my mistake. My mom covered the cost of the chocolate bar, we left the store, and I felt humiliated, guilty, and ashamed. I don’t remember talking about the incident ever again.
It was a wonderful lesson in the wrongs of thievery.
This 8th command is all about stealing. In the commands leading up to this one, we hear how community, life, and sex are all sacred. With this eighth command, God tells us that ‘stuff’ is sacred too.
Really? Stuff? I thought people are important, and stuff was not.
Well, it depends on our posture. If we get caught in the belief that our stuff is our stuff, we’re in trouble. But, if we understand that our stuff is actually God’s stuff, we can wrap our head around this command a little better.
Biblically, ownership is stewardship. God entrusts us all with stuff, and with what He entrusts us, we must use for His glory. In the parable of the talents, we are all called to use what God has given us for His kingdom purposes. We are also called to give an account for how we use everything that God entrusts to us. What God gives me is different than what God gives you, but no matter what God gives us, it is our responsibility to steward that for God’s ultimate glory.
Therefore, “It is not God’s will for us to have anything that we cannot obtain by honorable means, and the only right attitude to others’ property is scrupulous concern that ownership be fully respected” (J.I. Packer).
It’s not rocket science that stealing is bad. Pretty much everywhere, governing bodies dictate that there be penalties for people who take what isn’t theirs. Generally, people understand stealing is wrong. Even a thief knows they are committing a crime. Our selfish, fallen nature means that robbery still happens, but broadly, we understand this concept.
But what is stealing? Perhaps God’s view of stealing is broader than we think?
In Deuteronomy 25:13-16 and Amos 8:5, the Bible condemns the use of false weights and measures, saying it is unlawful for one to use deception in business. That means, we should not overcharge for an item that is clearly worth less. A relevant example are those stories we heard of people stocking up on toilet paper and Lysol wipes, then turning around and selling them for an exorbitant price. Some say that’s capitalism: supply and demand. God says that’s robbery, and a breech of the 8th commandment.
The inverse is also true. Bartering a fair price down to a bargain is also considered stealing and goes against God’s warnings in both Deuteronomy and Amos. We are called to charge what is fair to charge and pay what is fair to pay. Anything more – or less – breaks God’s command.
This is possibly the most common form of theft today. When an employer hires us to work so many hours for so much money, we are to work those hours doing what we are paid to do. So often, people start work late or end work early. Coffee breaks and lunch times are often extended, or we simply waste the time we are supposed to be working. This is stealing.
Likewise, employers will often demand more from their employees in the name of loyalty. Unless agreed upon, an employer cannot ask an employee to work longer than that for which they are paid, unless they are fairly compensated. Once again, failure to do so is theft.
Even one’s reputation can be stolen. In Othello, the great play by William Shakespeare, the character Iago says “Who steals my purse, steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” Firstly, we need to reintroduce the word filch into our everyday language.
Secondly, while we will get to bearing false testimony against your neighbour next week, by gossiping and slandering one’s character to others, you are in fact stealing their reputation from them. Essentially, gossiping is breaking two commandments – both the 8th and the 9th – at the same time!
There are other forms of thievery as well, but we get the idea. This command is about respecting one another. We are not to take advantage of each other, to take one’s property, possessions, time, or character. We are called to love, to treat everyone honourably, and to reflect God’s loving nature in all areas of life.
If we have wronged someone in this area, we are called to both repent and make it right. Just as Zacchaeus returned ten-fold what he had stolen after his encounter with Christ, we too are to make amends when we have wronged someone. We must be instruments of love and grace, righting the wrongs we have committed to each other, and offering forgiveness and grace to those who have wronged us.
Questions to Ponder:
1) Time, Value, and Reputation are all things we can steal. What are other less-obvious things people can take from each other?
2) Is there someone you have stolen from? How can you make amends?
3) Is there someone who has stolen from you? How can you forgive?
Next week, Commandment #9: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
“You shall not steal.”
~ Exodus 20:15
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
#7 Sex is Sacred
Shhh … stop … this is a church site … don’t … just … it’s awkward if you … some things should just be priv… not everyone is comfortable talking about … you can’t just … what if someone sees this who …
That is what will be discussed in this reflection. If it makes you squeamish, I can’t help it.
Have you ever noticed that Scripture is far less squeamish about sex than we Christians are? The Bible talks about sex a lot: from why God gave us sex (Genesis 2), to how we are to approach sex (1 Corinthians 6) to how pleasurable God created sex to be (the whole book of Song of Songs). Yet, we as His church have a hard time bringing it up. Granted, sex is a very personal, vulnerable, and intimate part of life.
But it is also extremely important for us, both personally and socially, to understand what God’s intention was for creating sex.
It is in that light that we will engage the topic of sex because this command does so unabashedly. There may be sexual terms in the following paragraphs that you are unused to seeing, and while I will not apologize for them, now you know what is coming. Onward we go!
As we continue to work our way through these commandments, we come to realize these commands are sequential and relational: command #5 was about the sacredness of community and family, command #6 about the sacredness of life, and this command #7 is about the sacredness of marriage and relationship.
Sometimes we want to limit this command to married people, thinking God is simply telling married folks not to cheat on each other. While the structure of marriage is central to God’s overview of sex, this command is not simply limited to our narrow scope of adultery (one spouse cheating on the other). This is a command for all of us, no matter what our marital status may be.
God designed sex for a man and a woman to enjoy within the committed bonds of marriage. Sex is a relational act of love between two people who completely and loyally give their lives solely to each other. Genesis 2 teaches that the two people become one flesh. There is a unifying of bodies, souls, or identities within a sexual relationship once two people marry. And, as J.I. Packer says, sex heightens “the sense that, being given to each other, they now belong together, each needing the other for completion and wholeness.”
The place that sex has in the world as God designed it, then, is for two people to grow closer together within the bonds of marriage and lifelong mutual fidelity. Sex allows for the married couple to continually ‘know one another,’ as the Bible says, and is an example of love and faithfulness to each other and their creator.
That means that casual sex outside of marriage “cannot fulfill God’s ideal, for it lacks the context of pledged fidelity (J.I. Packer, emphasis added).” This includes all sorts of things:
– Adultery: Sex which destroys God’s sacred unity of two married people.
– Fornication: Sex outside the faithful union of marriage.
– Pornography: Sex as lust and control, not love, for someone with whom you are not committed to.
– Homosexual Intercourse: Sex outside God’s design for one man and one woman to become one flesh.
– Masturbation: Sex with oneself for an ego trip, making it personal and not relational.
While some may think all these examples push the limits of this command, let’s remember that Jesus, in Matthew 5, says that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in their heart. Anyone who looks lustfully. All of the above involve looking or thinking lustfully, and so all fall into this ‘adultery’ category. Any sexual act outside the boundaries of marriage – which God has put in place – breeches the purpose for which sex was created by our sovereign God.
So, why? What is the harm? Why does God use one of His 10 Commands on sex?
The reason is because breaking this command not only minimizes God’s intentions for sex in our lives, but it undercuts God’s design for us. And not just His physical design, but His relational design as well. While things like masturbation and homosexuality go against His physical design for human creation, adultery, fornication, pornography, and prostitution go against His relational design for us as well – and when you read relational here, please think beyond marriage.
The 10 Commandments, the covenant law, were instrumental in both the familial and societal structure of Israel. To break this 7th command – just like with commands 5 and 6 (and, spoiler alert, commands 8, 9, and 10 to come) – is to break down the structure of society. This is not merely a private concern between a man and a woman, but a public concern. Sexual immorality tears families apart, which negatively impacts generations of people, which fractures society. And if anything fractures enough, it crumbles.
This was especially true in Israel. The surrounding nations of Israel committed all kinds of sexual immoralities: orgies, homosexuality, selling sex, using sex in business deals; sex was meant as either a currency or as a means for physical gratification, even at the expense of another. It was about receiving, having, or gaining. It was entirely selfish.
Israel was to stand apart from all of that. God said, no, sex is not for oneself, but for each other. For marriage. For the family. To strengthen love. To strengthen God’s People. That is why it was created, so the community can operate with a healthy foundation of people not using one another for personal gains, but for building the foundations of a loving, familial society. Essentially, by following this command, our communities are strengthened, because relational fractures never affect just two people.
While this was true in Israel, boy is it ever true now, too? We live in an overly sexualized world. We have more access to sex than ever before. With technology as advanced as it is now, sex is readily available within two or three taps on your phone. The human sex trade is as heartlessly prominent as ever, and our world encourages sex outside of marriage, losing one’s virginity hastily, and adding to one’s scorecard. In our current context, sexual identity is not just talked about anymore, it is paraded down the street.
Truthfully, as much as our church culture needs to be talking more about sex, our world culture could sure afford to talk about it less. We as a church need to talk more openly about sex, the God-created beauty of it, and the ramifications that our overly sexualized culture may have on us all.
But above all, we need to openly talk about sex because so many of us struggle (or have struggled) with this commandment. Pornography usage amongst both men and women is sky-high and rising. Erotic fantasy books are flying off the shelf. Co-habitation is on the rise, ‘sexting’ is a real problem for many, and the guilt and shame of our previous sexual relationships do not just simply go away on their own.
Church, we need to talk to each other. To remove shame. To move forward. But most of all, we need to remind each other that God’s grace is enough! In fact, it exceeds everything we have ever done! Jesus’ sacrifice covers all sins, even the private, sexual ones that our churches struggle to properly help with.
If you have struggled, or continue to struggle with any sexual sin, bring it to Christ. His grace is more than sufficient! And then, do not remain silent. Talk to a trusted brother or sister in Christ. Seek out help. Talk to someone. Stop the cycle.
And if you are approached by someone who struggles, please respond to this conversation with love and grace. This is hard for them! They trust you. Approach that person as Jesus would, full of grace and truth.
So, please talk. Don’t just do it for yourself, but for your family, your church, and for the foundations of community God has put in your life. Because with all these commands, God knew Jesus needed to come to rescue us all.
Which is exactly what He did!
Questions to Ponder:
1) From a biblical perspective, what is adultery?
2) How does breaking this command affect the communities we are a part of?
3) Does our church need to spend more of its time discussing the topic of sex? Why or why not?
Next week, Commandment #8: You shall not steal.
“You shall not commit adultery.”
~ Exodus 20:14
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
#6 Do Not Murder – Is It So Simple?
This reflection will be short.
The 6th command means that we cannot kill anyone. Reflection finished. Any questions?
Oh, if it were only so simple.
Tied for the shortest command of the bunch, these words seem so simple. Do not murder. Easy. Done.
Yet, once we peel back the layers of this command, we realize how complex it actually becomes. Divisive issues in our culture like abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide are wrapped up in these 4 words. What about the death penalty, or killing someone in a war? Both of these God seems to justify in Exodus 21:12-17 and Deuteronomy 20:10-18. Later, in Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus equates hatred to murder, and 1 John 3:15 is even more blunt about that fact. Now we must envelope hate crimes, foreign relations, gossip and issues of social justice into the fold. All of a sudden, this 4-word-sentence doesn’t seem so short.
While we will not be able to dig too deeply into most of these tremendously large issues, we will look at the heart of this command. When we do that, I hope we can undergird our understanding a little more and come away with an appropriate lens with which to look through when approaching these complex issues.
At the heart of this command is the sacredness of life. When Adam and Eve were created, they were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). After the flood, God re-emphasized that mankind is created in His image in His covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:6). Because of this, as J.I. Packer says, “human life is thus the most precious and sacred thing in the world, and to end it, or direct its ending, is God’s prerogative alone. We honor God by respecting his image in each other, which means consistently preserving life and furthering each other’s welfare in all possible ways.”
That is why Jesus can equate hatred, or malice, cruelty, or even bullying to murder. To degrade a life is to degrade God, and to subject another life to cruelty is to subject God to that same end. In many ways, disobeying this sixth command is the antithesis to Jesus’ calling for us to love one another.
Once we see that, we start to read this command a little differently. This command becomes less about us simply not killing someone and more about us loving our neighbour. This new approach has a much more communal feel and far reaching effect.
J.E. Kalas sums this up nicely. He says, “This brief, staccato statement, ‘You shall not murder,’ is intended not only to protect me from the loss of my life; it also protects me from the loss of my neighbor. When my neighbor dies, my life is made smaller. Both my neighbor and I are part of the mainland of life; if my neighbor dies, I am the less, and if I die, my neighbor is, to some degree, impoverished.”
Our Scriptural lens, then, is a communal one. How do we grow closer to one another as image-bearers of God? While the answers to life’s most complex issues are not answered completely by this law of love, this All-Life-is-Sacred-Lens must be used to give us a proper posture when engaging these challenging discussions.
All life is sacred is one absolute truth we must lean into. However, there is a second: God has sovereignty over all. All life is a gift of God, and God has power over all life. That means, while our little minds cannot fully grasp this, God has the ultimate authority over everything, when life starts, when life ends, and everything in between.
Christopher Wright highlights this by saying, “If the [sacredness of life] implies that all life is absolute and inviolable in and of itself, then we will have difficulty with Yahweh’s commands to kill in war or in judicial punishment—as indeed many do. Absolute sanctity would mean it could never be right to take a human life in any circumstances.” He goes on, “Human beings are made in God’s image, an image that no human has the right to destroy without the maker’s authority. But God does have that authority. Human life is a gift from God and belongs to God, and no human has the right to destroy the gift or steal what belongs to God.”
Life is sacred. Life comes from God. We must seek to preserve human life. We also must understand that God has authority over all of it.
And so, sadly this reflection is not long enough to get into every last complex issue that has to do with life and death, or love and hate. But with all of the complexities, we must start with the posture of preserving the sacredness of life, and then go from there.
I originally wanted that to be the end of the reflection. However, it seems a little sheepish for me to hide from some of these complex issues, and it is not my intention to avoid some of those discussions.
In light of this, below I am going to engage some of these bigger topics as best (and succinctly) as I can. If you want to read those, I invite you to do so. If you are happy with landing on the call to remember that all life is sacred and under God’s authority, then feel free to either stop reading or skip to the bottom of this post for some discussion questions.
– – – – –
Using some of the resources at my disposal (with authors like – but not limited to – J.I. Packer, Robert West, Christopher Wright, and J. Ellsworth Kalas), I will happily and succinctly engage some of these ‘hot topic issues.’ Some of my opinions are not fully formed. That’s OK. You may find yourself disagreeing with me on some of my thoughts. That’s also OK. As long as we are looking through the same scriptural lens and using the theological truth that all life is a sacred gift from God to undergird our arguments, there is room for healthy discourse.
With that, here are some thoughts:
Abortion: I believe life starts at conception, and so abortion takes a sacred life away from this earth. I would be what the world calls Pro-Life. However, depending on the extremely low percentage of events where the mother’s life would be lost during pregnancy or delivery, there may be room for a caveat here.
Killing in War: I believe we should always be pushing for peaceful resolution. To preserve the sacredness of life would mean to seek peace. However, as in Deut. 20:10-18, depending what the war is fighting for, like, say, the sacredness of human life, there may be room for a caveat here.
Assisted Suicide: To preserve life would mean to not take one, so I am against assisted suicide. However, at what point do people stop living and machines start doing the living for them? Is mechanically extending life what preserving life means? There may be room for a caveat here.
Death Penalty: To preserve the sacredness of life, I would be against this in principle. Yet, pending the judicial system used, and how in tune with Scripture that system is, there may be room for a caveat here.
Seems like with every case above (and the many I did not get to), I am for preserving life on this earth. But it also seems like there is always a counter point which negates universal conformity to a rule. Granted, I push the bill a little with some of my caveats above, but subjectivity and discernment do not coexist with law very well. Because of the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3, we tend to trust law over people. It’s easier and less messy.
I generally think, though, that Christ followers need to enter into the messiness of individual situations and deal with things case by case rather than broad sweeping absolutes. I think this is especially true in the complex areas of life like the ones listed above.
But hey, I’m only one man. What do you think?
Questions to Ponder:
1) Why do love and hate play such a big role in fully understanding this command?
2) What are some other complex discussions that this command speaks to?
3) How do we include the “image of God” into the beliefs that undergird our worldviews?
Next week, Commandment #7: You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not murder.”
~ Exodus 20:13
The 10 on Tuesdays
Reflections on the 10 Commandments | By Kevin Lobert, Youth Pastor
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
#5 Don’t Dis The ‘Rents
The 5th commandment here is a transitional command. The first four commands have to do with our relationship with the Lord – they are vertical in nature. This is the first one that becomes horizonal and deals with our relationships with each other. And it starts with the family.
It is easy to read this command and think it is for children. Kids: honour your mom and dad! But if you really think about it, this command has a much broader stroke to it. In the time of Israel, households included more than just one or two generations. Entire families lived together. This command was certainly for the 6-year-old, but also the 60-year-old!
As the apostle Paul points out in Ephesians 6:2-3, this is also the first command with a promise. Much like the command itself, this promise is not simply for children, but for all who obey.
The Brothers Grimm, believe it or not, highlight this truth in one of their fairy tales. I shall retell it now:
The Old Man and his Grandson
There once was a little old man whose hands had become frail, eyes had become dim, and ears had become dull. When he sat at the table, he could barely hold a spoon, and the broth which he ate would spill on the tablecloth. His son and his wife eventually got so disgusted by this, that they moved him away from the table, into the corner where he ate from behind the stove. They gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and often not enough to sustain him.
The old man, removed from his place, would look at the table with tears in his eyes each night, until one day his trembling hands could not hold onto the bowl he was given. It fell to the ground and broke. The young wife scolded him, and his son went to the stable and brought back a trough for the old man to eat out of.
Later, the son and the wife were sitting, watching their own boy, just 4 years old, play on the ground, a concentrated look on his face. The young boy was busy gathering bits of wood on the ground. ‘What are you doing there?’ asked the father. ‘I am making a trough,’ answered the child, ‘for you and mother to eat from when I am older.’
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and then began to weep. They took the old grandfather, brought him back to the table, and got him a comfortable chair to sit in. From that day on, he was always allowed at the table with them, and they never said a word if he spilled a little of anything.
As the Brothers Grimm point out, and indeed the promise that goes with this command shows us, by honouring our parents, we possess our future. The way we treat our parents will influence how we will be treated.
As mentioned, this command is for more than just young children. The reality is small children are wired to honour their parents already. Researchers, time and time again, have looked at the primary influence in children’s lives, and the top of that list of influencers is mom and dad. As J.E. Kalas points out, “We shake our heads in despair at the shortage of worthy role models in a society which seems to make so much of entertainers and professional athletes, but when the ballots are finally counted, it appears that young people are still rather old-fashioned: They think well of their mother and dad.”
Now, it is true that in Abraham’s time, if he gave his son Isaac instruction, the only contrary counsel Isaac could have possibly heard would have been from an irresponsible servant, or maybe a passing trader. Abraham did not have to worry about influence from Instagram, internet cookies, tweets from POTUS, or Spotify commercials. Sure, in comparison, it can be difficult for today’s parents to be heard over the noise. Yet, the next generation is still listening. And the next generation, much like every generation before them, still places more weight on a parental statement than to any other kind.
So, to all of us, maybe this command is less about making sure you are being honoured and is more about making sure that we are honouring those whom we are called to honour.
All people are called to honour their parents – no matter how old they are. There are no age restrictions in this command. Also, notice this command does not say honour your parents to the degree with which they deserve. There are no conditional restrictions either. That is because this command is speaking to the welfare of the child, or honour ‘giver,’ not to the parent or honour ‘receiver.’
How the child honours his parents – no matter how old this child is – is how they will honour others as well. Our whole societal structure is built on this premise. If we do not honour our parents, how then will we honour anyone? If we do not honour our parents, how will we honour teachers, police officers, church leaders, employers? … and the list goes on.
In this pandemic season, it is interesting that we are called to isolate from our elders in order to protect them from this virus. Honouring our parents may take that approach. But let us not also forget that while we may have to isolate from them during this season, we should never ignore them. So, how can we honour them while remaining isolated from them?
Remember, this command transitions us from our relationship with God to our relationships with each other. It starts with the family, but its purpose is for everyone. We are to honour our parents, so that we may learn to honour our neighbours, and in turn live long in the land God has given us. This goes beyond the nuclear family and becomes a foundational piece of our society at large.
The best part? The church can be the place where this may be seen most clearly. How beautiful would it be if the church body honoured one another as a community of believers – especially to those living in the individualistic culture we find ourselves planted in today?
A 13th century rabbi, Moses de Leon, once said that to honour your parents is to honour God, because all three have been partners in thy creation. As always, this commandment points us not simply to ourselves, our parents, or even society at large, but to our Creator God who placed us in this world. He is our perfect Father and is worthy of all the honour and glory and praise.
Our earthly parents, like us, are sinful. By all worldly accounts, sometimes they are not worthy of much honour at all. Yet, God calls us to honour them – not for their sake, but for ours. When we take that seriously, we will show honour, not just to them, but to God our heavenly Father, who authored our existence, and has just as much to do with us being here as our parents do.
Questions to Ponder:
1) Why is family life important, both now and in the times of Moses?
2) How does this command transcend the family?
3) What are ways you can honour your parents, especially in this pandemic season?
Next week, Commandment #6: You shall not murder.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
~ Exodus 20:12
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
#4 Is Sunday “Fun”day?
Work has always been a part of the human equation. In all accounts, we have been created to work. In Genesis 2:15-20, the first command God gives Adam is to work the garden and name all the animals. Imagine that, having to name all the animals! Naming your new dog is a lot of work, and naming your kids takes months of work and upwards of 50 vetoes, so can you imagine naming all the animals? This job probably took him months, if not years to finish!
It’s actually impressive Adam didn’t get lazy, really. I mean, it would have been easy for Adam to have named it a tree rat instead of a squirrel or called it a fart squirrel instead of a skunk. Granted, naming the slowest creature alive a sloth is a little on point, but this was a big job, and Adam did it quite well!
Naming the animals was meant to help Adam find a helpmate, but after going through every created being alive, no one was suitable. So, God made Eve. It is interesting to note that Eve’s primary, God-given role was not first social or sexual in nature, but vocational. She was created to work alongside Adam, to work with him.
Work is good. It was created by God. Sadly, the Fall – like it did with everything – made it cursed. Work is still necessary, but now it has become more of a task. For many of us, work lands on a spectrum of enjoyment. On the one end of the spectrum, you have those who detest work and cannot think of a more arduous part of their lives. On the other end, you have those who live to work and whose identities are wrapped up in their job titles. While either end of the spectrum is an unhealthy place to be, most land somewhere in between.
The truth is, work is something we are created to do. However, work is also something we are called to rest from once every seven days. Sabbath rest is a clear command in the Bible, and not just here in Exodus 20, but in Leviticus 26, Ezekiel 20, Isaiah 58, Mark 2, Hebrews 4, as well as other passages throughout the Bible, too.
I once read a story about an Elder who approached his pastor. The Elder knew full well that Sunday was not a Sabbath day or rest for his Pastor, and so he asked him, “What day do you take as a Sabbath?”
“I don’t actually take a day off,” the Pastor replied, a little proudly.
The Elder pressed him and asked, “Why not?”
“The devil doesn’t take a day off, so nor do I.” the Pastor replied.
The Elder took a beat, leaned in a little closer, and said, “Why is the devil your rubric, here? Shouldn’t God be your example?”
Sabbath rest is ordained, and even practiced, by God. No matter our profession, job title, or paygrade, it is something we are all called to do. But what is Sabbath rest, and how do we go about practicing it? Mark Buchanan, in his book The Rest of God, sums up Sabbath rest as this:
Sabbath rest is ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life.
We practice Sabbath by ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life. In light of this, the questions for us all are these:
1) In my day-to-day, what is necessary?
2) What gives me life?
In our culture, there are two things that limit us from practicing Sabbath rest: Legalism and Busyness.
Legalism is the reduction of life to mere technicalities and it takes away from the purpose of Sabbath – something the Pharisees were called out for numerous times in the gospels (See Matthew 12, Mark 5, Luke 13, John 5, etc.). Legalism becomes evident when we put too many rules in place to try to force us to rest. We end up over-policing our lives and removing avenues God has created for us to rest well! We say we cannot ‘do this’ or ‘go here,’ all in the name of rest, but by placing these limitations on our lives, we may be limiting the areas of life God uses to bring us the rest we need.
A gardener by trade probably should not weed their garden on the Sabbath. A janitor by trade should not clean their house. But a gardener may find tranquility in the cleaning of their house, and a janitor serenity in their garden.
The point is, rest looks different for everyone. For some, building, puzzling, going for coffee with friends, enjoying a bike ride, or reading a book, brings them life! For others, any of those things could be a necessary part of their day-to-day, and therefore not life-giving. Ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life is not something we can qualify with regulations.
The other challenge to practicing Sabbath rest is busyness.
Remember 6 weeks ago, when we could still see each other? Those were good times. I can’t wait to see people again, look at them in their actual eyes, and ask “How are you?” After this pandemic is over, I wonder if people will answer that question the same way. Because, for as long as I can remember, whenever I asked someone how they were, the answer everyone would give was ‘busy.’ People were always busy. The problem is, if you are always busy, are you ever really? Seems to me if you are always busy, then you aren’t busy at all. You are normal. Being busy is relative to other times of life when you are not busy. But if you are always busy, I’m sorry, you’re not busy at all – that’s just the normal life you’ve just chosen for yourself.
Before this pandemic hit, busyness cost many people a chance at Sabbath rest. In their minds, sports still needed playing, work still needed doing, to-do lists were still full, Saturday’s chores were not quite finished, and doing what was necessary bled into our Sabbath time. Busyness cannot be a reason to avoid Sabbath rest. If you do not have time to finish all your week’s tasks in 6 days, you need to reduce the number of tasks you do.
If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us is that slowing down life actually has its perks. Many are loving the slower pace to life. Granted, we miss many people we love seeing regularly, but this new pace we love. When this is all over – whenever that will be – if we go right back into a life where the answer to ‘how are you’ is always ‘busy,’ than all of this isolation we’ve just gone through will be for naught.
This is a time we have been given to reprioritize our lives, so when we are able to go back to normal, it won’t be the busy normal we once knew. Let us make a new normal. A slower normal. A normal we can accomplish in 6 days, with more meals together, more time for others, and less busyness everywhere else. Let this new normal be a time where, one day a week, we can cease from doing what is necessary and embrace that which brings us life.
And may we always remember, that nothing has given us more life than God our Loving Father and our Faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What would it mean for you to cease from what is necessary?
2) What does it look like for you to embrace what gives you life?
3) How will Sabbath rest be included in your new normal going forward?
Next week, Commandment #5: Honour your Father and your Mother
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
“Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
~ Exodus 20:8-11
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
#3 God’s Name Is No Three-Letter Word
I read a story once from a Pastor named Alistair Begg. The story was about a lawyer whose name was Odd. Throughout his life, people would tease this lawyer, saying “you’re really odd,” or calling him “Oddball.” Late in Odd’s life, when he was finishing his will and last testament, he gave specific instructions not to put his name on his tombstone. Rather, Odd wanted the inscription to read, “Here lies an honest lawyer.” Now, when people walk through the cemetery and read the inscription, they say, “An honest lawyer? That’s odd!”
This third commandment is about not misusing God’s name. But why did God leave this commandment for us? Why does He care about His name? Is God being defensive? Does God’s title matter to Him as much as His ultimate position in (or rather over) the cosmos? Is God like those people who say “I’m not Bob to you, I’m Dr. Smith”? If God is as insecure as that, the universe has a massive problem on their hands.
No, God is not pompous, and God is not insecure. In fact, God is more secure than that camping equipment your dad strapped in to the back of the van, or your money-under-the-mattress-retirement fund you’ve stashed away, or any other simile you can think of because, honestly, God knows Himself infinity more than any of us will ever be able to understand.
This is not a command about security. This is a command about authority. The fact is, names matter.
In sales, there is one word that is more important than any other: the client’s name. When you get a telemarketer on the phone, one of the first things they do is try to get on a first name basis with you. “Mr. Lobert, can I call you Kevin? Now Kevin, tell me about your refrigeration needs.” They do this so they can move into a new level of intimacy with you. If a company or business reduces you to a number, it causes you to resist. After all, that’s the mark of a convict! As author J.E. Kalas points out, a name has history, heritage, personality, and therefore a measure of dignity.
It is because God’s name matters that we have this commandment. God’s name carries more dignity, authority and power than any other name. There are many names for our God in the Bible:
- Elohim: The Strong and Faithful Creator (Gen. 1:1)
- Cornerstone: The Foundational Piece of Life (Eph. 2:20)
- Yahweh/Jehovah: The Lord over All Things (Ps. 83:18)
- Bread of Life: Our Sustenance (John 6:35)
- Adonai: The Master of All (Deut. 10:17)
- Everlasting Father: He is Infinite and Caring (Is. 9:6)
I could go on and on! God has so many names because not one of them can totally encapsulate the magnitude and sovereignty of God Himself!
The Bible is also full of moments where we are called to lift God’s name high. We worship in God’s name, like in Psalm 103 where the psalmist declares, “All that is within me, Bless His holy name!” We trust in God’s name, like in Psalm 9 where the psalmist points the reader to God, and says, “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You.” We are to pray in Jesus’ authoritative name, as Christ calls us to do in John 16:23-34. And, after Christ’s resurrection – after Jesus reveals himself to his disciples and puts Thomas’ doubts to rest – in John 20:30-31 we are told that by believing in Jesus, we will have life in His name.
That is why Commandment number three is so important. It is in place because God deserves to receive the honor due His name.
Beyond that, it is not simply using His name that matters, but abusing it that needs to be avoided. That means that in our speech, nothing must be said that lowers the divine dignity of our God’s name. Culturally in the west, it is fairly obvious that this is not happening. Our Lord’s name is taken in vain all the time! In fact, we have probably gotten so desensitized to hearing it, we might not even notice!
The Parents Television Council reported in 2007 – which is 13 years ago, but the most recent year I could find this data – 95.9% of uses of the word ‘God’ on primetime network television were used in vain. I suspect that number has only gone up since then, which is preposterous, really. Even now, in the age of texting, the three letter OMG acronym is used with such regularity that most of us may not even bat an eye anymore.
Now, I dare say for most people reading this, we may not be so guilty of using God’s name in the profane way described above. However, we are much more likely to use God’s name in vain in other ways.
When we declare ourselves a Christian, or a disciple of Christ, our actions reflect God’s name. If people know we follow Christ, God’s name is at stake in the actions we do. Therefore, when we act selfishly with our neighbours, deceive those who work with us, gossip to those with whom we socialize, this reflects Christ’s name to those who do not know Him. It abuses the very name we are called to lift up so highly. Our actions must reflect the same God who gives us this life to begin with!
When I was a young, I had very few qualifications for employment. As a thirteen-year-old, my resume was quite short. When I needed a job, there was little I could do to convince people I would be a good employee. However, the greenhouse down the road knew my parents, and because I was Murray and Helen’s son, they thought ‘he must’ve been alright,’ so they hired me. It wasn’t my skills that got me that job, it was my name. The fact that I was a child of Murray and Helen was the determining factor to my original employment.
People should know us as Children of God. We are called, in our comings and goings, to make disciples of all nations and teach people about this amazing God that we serve. That is our calling, our mandate. Within that mandate, we are to reflect the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and remember that our actions either honour God’s name, or abuse it. People should see our actions and know that it is because of our relation to our God – because of His Name – that we act in the loving way we do.
That is the heart of this command. We are to go out and recognize that we reflect God’s name in every aspect of our lives. People should look at us and know that what we do is a reflection of Christ in us. Coming out of this Easter season, we should be even more ready to reflect the truth of the all-loving, death-defying, grace-wielding name of Christ Jesus our Lord; the One that saved us all!
Questions to Ponder:
1) How has your name affected the life you’ve lived?
2) In this season of isolation, how can you go about honouring God’s name in your day-to-day?
3) Other than what was listed, what names for God can you come up with, and what do they mean?
Next week, Commandment #4: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
~ Exodus 20:7
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
#2 God Is Bigger Than Any Idol
There once was a kindergarten teacher who asked a young boy in her class what he was drawing. The boy, completely focused on his work, kept scratching away with his crayons and replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher, now smiling, responded, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The boy stopped mid scribble, put his crayon down, and said, “They will when I’m done!”
Clearly, like so many young children, this boy had no idea what he was talking about (I’m a father of three small kids, I’m allowed to make that joke).
There are no images in this world that can accurately depict the One True God. God is invisible, not visible. He is infinite, not limited. He has a voice and is not speechless. He is incomprehensible, unable to be sketched on a kindergartener’s paper or crafted in the finest kiln you can image.
This 2nd command would have been extremely apropos for the Israelites because every nation that surrounded them at that time had images of gods that demanded to be worshipped. As we’ve advanced in our archeological ways, we’ve uncovered all sorts of images of ancient gods, including gods from the Canaanites, Babylonians, Ammonites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and Moabites, to name a few.
Do you know what we have not unearthed in our archeological quests? Images of Yahweh. That is because God forbid any objects, even objects of Himself, to be worshipped. There is only one God, and no image will suffice to either represent Him or take His place.
God was, and continues to be, His people’s ultimate provider in times of need. The nations that surrounded Israel had their own means of sustenance. They would go to those images of false gods to get what they desired: food, crops, babies, power, comfort. Those images represented a god that they thought would fill a void in their life.
But those images never filled that void. Only God can do that.
So, when there is a void in our life, do we turn to God or to idols? While it is perhaps easy for us to look at our life and think we do not make for ourselves graven images to worship, perhaps there are idols in our lives we are guilty of seeking out in order to fill a sort of emptiness we feel.
Do we spend more time at our favourite coffee shops, watching sports, playing video games, reading comics, shopping for brand-name stuff, fighting in political issues, or even doing good things like cultivating the land, serving our community or even focussing on how we worship rather than actually worshipping God? All of those things can become idols if we aren’t careful.
What’s fascinating right now, in this time of COVID-19, is that we may find many of our idols have been stripped from us. We can’t watch sports, go to our favourite restaurants, or go shopping whenever we want. Perhaps we are finding that these voids in our lives are getting even bigger right now.
May I encourage you that no matter what season we are in, these voids in our lives can only be filled by God our heavenly Father. His calling for us in this 2nd commandment is to do away with all of the things that we may turn to for comfort instead of Him. Maybe this is a season where our idols have been taken away from us for a reason. Maybe this is the perfect time to give back our time to Him.
There are many things in this 2nd commandment we could talk about. We could continue looking at the idols of our culture, how images still play a large role in our modern idol worship, or why God’s jealousy is a beautiful thing. But there is a phrase in this command that calls for more of our attention.
God says that failing to adhere to this second commandment will cause God to punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generation. Generally, people don’t love this. It seems like a harsh and, honestly, a pretty unfair consequence! Why should innocent children be punished for sins committed by their parents or even great grandparents?
There is a logical reason for this statement. Three to four generations equal about one lifetime. If you live to be the cliché three-score-and-ten years (seventy years), then you will likely see a young fourth generation within your life. It also means you will carry some influence over those three to four generations. So, if you lie to your kids, your kids will learn to lie, both to you and their kids. If you gossip with others, they will also gossip. The reality is that your life will be modeled by those who look up to you, and three to four generations could be affected. This happened in Israel too. If you want evidence, just read the book of Judges.
However, that isn’t exactly what God was getting at here. The whole generational statement from God reveals an amazing truth! God says that if we fail to keep this command, He will punish the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation, but show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
A thousand generations of God’s love to those who love Him! A thousand generations! For reference, there’s 61 generations from Adam to Jesus. A quick search online says there’s been between 26 and 101 generations since Jesus. And while that is an enormous spectrum of generations for the internet to throw out at me, at most we’re talking 162 generations from creation until now. Even if you want to double that number, compare it to 1,000!
This is not a statement we are supposed to read literally. It’s symbolic! We are not meant to look at these numbers and calculate how long our punishments will last or when God’s love will kick in. God is not keeping a score of our sin or a record of how many people must be affected because we screwed up. And God is certainly not waiting for the fallout of our sins to reach our great-grand-kids before He shows us His love once again.
No. God is exaggerating here to make a point!
God is saying that our sin will last a moment, but His love will endure forever. This is the gospel message embedded in the second commandment. God loves His people so much, that He redeemed us all from the sin that so easily entangles, and He sent His son to wear our sin on the cross and rise to defeat it all. Only our Loving King would speak of sins in terms of a moment but love in terms of an eternity.
During this season of Lent, especially now during Holy Week, let us remember God’s promises of love and grace to a thousand generations, symbolized for us this week by a cruel cross and an empty tomb. Also, let us think about what idols we may be guilty of going to for comfort, because God loves us more than we will ever know.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What idols creep into your worship life?
2) How does this second commandment resonate with you during this season of Lent?
3) In what ways does God’s love to 1,000 generations affect your life today?
Next week, Commandment #3: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
~ Exodus 20:4-6
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
#1 Get The Order Right!
Schedules. Routines. Lists. The building blocks of our society. Some of us have timetables in place for every day of the week, with the duties and tasks organized in colour-coded fashion, and stickers to highlight the milestone moments. These people know who is in charge of each chore, how long events will take, when food needs to be eaten by, what day of the week is toenail-clipping day, and how to go about your business as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Or you are like me, and not organized at all! You can barely pronounce the word ‘list.’ Routines are constricting and your gut is your schedule. Adaptability is your mantra, and you live your life more fluidly than that stale cup of coffee you forgot on the kitchen counter this morning, which is now colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon.
But, no matter how structured or spontaneous our lives are, all of us are driven by one thing: our priorities.
Whether we plan out every last detail of our lives or take things as they come, we make our decisions based on our priorities. Sometimes we prioritize poorly, but even when we do, we often recognize we have made a mistake.
The truth is, we all prioritize ourselves in many ways! What business deals we make first and what jobs can be held off for later, what shows on Netflix we choose to watch before others, even which treat to eat first out of the variety pack of mini Nestle chocolate bars. Generally speaking, most of us are wired to prioritize our day-to-day decisions fairly well.
But what drives our priorities? How do our priorities line up with God’s commands for us?
Author and preacher George Buttrick recalled a time in which he ran into a farmer. This farmer had just returned from rescuing one of his lost sheep. When Buttrick asked how a sheep could wander away from its flock, the farmer replied, “they just nibble themselves lost.” The sheep go from one tuft of grass to the next, until they’ve simply lost their way.
Isn’t that also true for us? We can find ourselves nibbling at the things in life that just don’t matter that much … until one day, we turn around and ask ourselves, how did I get here? Unless we establish our life’s priorities, any of us can end up like those lost sheep.
The first commandment is about just that – our life’s priorities – specifically, what is at the top of our priority list. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, emphasis added). That’s interesting, isn’t it? God isn’t saying He is the only important thing in our lives. Rather, He comes before all important things. This is a positional command. It’s about loyalty to God first and foremost over the other priorities in your life.
That begs an easy question for us all, then: “What is at the top of your priority list?” Because the top of that list is the god (Big ‘G’ or little ‘g’) that you put your faith in. Whatever is at the top of that list dictates your life’s most important transactions:
– Who do you spend your time with?
– How do you spend the money God’s entrusted to you?
– What do you spend your time doing?
All of our expenditures are linked very closely to what our priorities are. So, what is at the top? God tells us it should be Him.
It is easy to look at things like wealth, or power, or comfort and recognize that they can become a priority in our lives. However, I fear that oftentimes it is the things we are most grateful for, the gifts God has specially given to us, that turn into the gods at the top of our lists.
Perhaps your god is the responsibility you hold to the job He has given you, or the community of people He has blessed you with, or the family He has entrusted into your care. These are certainly gifts from God, and we should absolutely cherish them! But, do they end up becoming more of a priority in our lives than God Himself? Even wonderful blessings in our lives can start taking precedence over the One who provides these gifts for us.
What is dictating the course of your life?
In this weird season of COVID-19, where we all feel more isolated than we’ve perhaps ever been, our priorities are highlighted even more. Where are your priorities right now? Is God at the top, or has He fallen down the ranks?
While it is a season of isolation, it is also the season of Lent! During Lent, we take time to really focus on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We recognize that everything we have, everything we are, is due to His death and resurrection. As 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
We are not called to live for ourselves, but to live for Christ! The truth is, we are all guilty of mistakenly prioritizing our lives without Christ at the top. Something we will learn repeatedly in these reflections is that we will always fall short of His commands! If we could have kept them, Jesus would not have had to come. We cannot keep these commands to be saved. Only Jesus saves. These commands are not our salvation’s checklist. They are here to fulfill us and to draw us closer to Him. They enrich us. They point us towards Christ. They are in place so that we may respond to His grace, and live not for ourselves, but for Christ who saved us.
And in this first command, our response is to remember to put God the Father, Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, first in every aspect our lives.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What is at the top of your priority list?
2) If you look at your life’s transactions, what changes can be made to make God the priority?
3) How can both Lent and this season of isolation help us with keeping this first commandment?
Next week, Commandment #2: You shall not make for yourself an idol.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” ~ Exodus 20:3
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Rules, Rules, Rules
Well, this isn’t how any of us thought 2020 was going to go. Schools are closed, church services have been cancelled, and everything is grinding to a halt. This virus is very inclusive – it doesn’t matter your pay-grade, gender, race or religion, it’s been on the move for a couple months now and is happy to meet anyone. We should all be taking the proper precautions to help our medical professionals out, God Bless them, and keep those who are most vulnerable safe.
But not everything needs to stop.
While we are in a season of self-isolating, we are also in a season of reflection and preparation. I don’t mean a time of reflecting on our own fears and preparing for a world without toilet paper. No, the current season is far more important than that. This season of reflection and preparation is Lent, where we reflect on the salvation we find in Christ Jesus and prepare for both His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
As we are in the midst of both these seasons already, let’s not let our isolation stop us from our Lenten preparation. We can still seek to grow together, learn together, prepare together, even be together (though not physically) as we journey through these turbulent times. I invite all of you, brothers and sisters, to join me as we walk through the 10 commandments, not in a sermon series anymore, but in a weekly reflection though Lent, Easter and beyond. This week, we’re going back to look at the 10 commandments as a whole, and then the following weeks look at each individual command.
A quick snapshot of where these commandments came from: Israel had been in the desert for a while, and they were getting antsy. Moses then disappeared up on a mountain for a while and was clearly up to something important. Finally, Moses came back down the mountain with 10 commandments that Israel was to follow. These commandments were given to them to set them apart from the surrounding nations,
and were exclusively about their relationship to God and to other people. Jesus even sums these commands up later as “Love the Lord your God … and Love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22:37-40.
What’s interesting about these commandments, though, is that they come following Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In fact, in the book of Exodus, there are 19 chapters about Israel’s salvation before there is any mention of the law (found in Exodus 20). While perhaps it is obvious that God saved Israel first and then gave them commands, it is extremely important! There’s a theological point that is often misunderstood: we mistakenly think that in the Old Testament, salvation was achieved by keeping the law, whereas in the New Testament, salvation is by grace through faith.
However, the verse above (Ex. 20:2) highlights that this viewpoint is not true! It is always grace first. God prefaces the 10 commandments to the Israelites by first reminding them of their own salvation! Their salvation from Egypt had nothing to do with what they did or did not do. It had nothing to do with their obedience.
Israel’s salvation from Egypt had everything to do with God’s redemptive plan for them. That means that God’s commandments were given to Israel, not so they could gain salvation by keeping them, but because God had already saved them, and this was how they were to live in the light of that fact.
The same is true for us. We are not saved because of anything we did. Especially during this season of lent, we remember that we are only saved by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! That salvation – that gift – is a pre-requisite to obedience. God directs our attention to the cross, just as He directed Israel’s attention to Egypt, and He says to us all, “you have seen what I have done (Ex. 19:4).” The call to obey these commands, then, is our response to the salvation we have already found in Him.
It’s is our response to grace, our response to salvation, our grateful response for who God is and all God has done, that leads us to a life of obedience. That is our calling.
The questions for us all today, are these: how do we obey these commands in this time of physical distancing? How are you loving God with all your heart from your living room? How can you love your neighbour as yourself without physically seeing them?
There are ways, of course, but they take effort. Read your Bibles. Pray. Start an online devotional with your friends, family, or care groups. Talk to each other. Picking up the phone is almost a lost art in 2020 – maybe it’s time to bring it back? Have fun, draw pictures for people, cook unique meals and challenge your friends to do the same. Pray. Start a photo-contest online. Connect with one person everyday that
you wouldn’t normally talk to. Check in on the seniors and vulnerable in your circles. Worship together over YouTube. Did I mention pray?
There are many ways to follow God’s command to love. We just may have to pivot in the ways we go about doing that.
For the next ten weeks, we will be looking at each one of the 10 commandments. Every Tuesday, I will post a new reflection, along with discussion questions, which we, as one church body, can read and work through together. These link for these reflections will be posted in three places: the Mid-Week Memo, LICRC’s Facebook Page, and LICRC’s website. Engage this material. Comment on it. Text with your
Care Groups. While our ‘going’ may be limited, let our isolation not keep us from ‘gathering and growing’ together.
Questions to Ponder:
1) How do the 10 commandments point to the cross?
2) If Jesus came and fulfilled the law, why do we still have it?
3) How will you show love to both God and your neighbours today?
Next week, Commandment #1: You shall have no other gods before me