Category Archives: Law of God

To Regulate or Not to Regulate

All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name. Selah

Psalm 66:4, ESV

The last time I wrote, the question I asked related to whether worship services needed to be Liturgical or free flowing. At least part of the answer to that question has to do with how you define the terms “worship” and “liturgical.” There is another question that must be answered as well. It has to do with the Regulative Principle.

The regulative principle simply put says that worshipped must be ordered by the Scriptures and only by them. I don’t really know many Evangelical or even Reformed churches that apply the regulative principle to their worship. It they did, worship services would be much more reflective and probably with no rock ‘n roll.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and I love rock ‘n roll music, at least much of it. However, the use of electric guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards make it more difficult for me to focus on God rather than my own personal likes. The other problem I have with much of the music used in church worship services today are the lyrics. The authors of these songs are generally bad poets and even worse theologians.

I do listen to a lot of Christian rock and pop music and I am sometimes inspired by the music, even to the point of ignoring the poor lyrics. However, the music is designed to “bring people in” rather than to direct hearts upward. Please don’t tell me that music is only a preference and all music can be used rightly or wrongly. My opinion is that anything left in the hands of human desire are bound to lead away from Christ, not to him. Many years ago, my wife and I attended a worship service in a mid-west mega church. When we left the church (by the way, where no one noticed us or recognized we were the strangers their services were geared for), we looked at each other and both said, “When does worship start?”

Feed the flesh and you only get flesh back. Feed the Spirit and you are lifted up while you are bowing down.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5–8, ESV

The benefit of the regulative principle is significant. First, our worship should remind us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” Why should we strive to live biblically driven lives if we don’t even try to worship as God would desire. Second, it keep the focus on worship on God, not on any supposed benefit we would like to get from attending Sunday morning church. Pastors will be grateful for a flock that wants to ask questions of the sermon and not judge whether it kept them awake or not. And church members would not have to look for a new church because there are not enough special programs for every member of the family. Every one in the family should be together throughout the service from infant through teenager. The argument I often hear to challenge that is, “Children can’t follow the message like adults can,” and, “church is not exciting to make Christianity relevant to them, they get bored.”

Third, worship is something learned, not some ecstatic, impromptu response to what God has done for us. Another way of putting it, worship is not about the expression of our feelings. It is an act of obedience to the call of God to “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:5, ESV) I will not suggest that worship does not result in feelings, but it is much like love. To love is to serve; to be loved is to receive. There is no doubt that our obedience in worship often results in God’s blessings, that which St. Ignatius de Loyola called “consolation.”

In our instant scientifically prove it society, I do not doubt that the next question is, “So where does the Bible say how we are to worship?” Not to be flip in my answer, but where does it not say how we are to worship? Return with me to creation and the first humans. Did not God instruct Adam and Eve what to do with that which he created? And did he also tell them what not to do? To listen to the serpent over and above God’s instruction was really placing themselves above God. The worshipped the creation and not the creator, to cite Paul in Romans 1. We can even go to Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel. They both labored hard at their work. The both brought the fruit of their labor as an offering to the Lord.

And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Genesis 4:4–5, ESV

No where are we made privy to any instructions God had given people about worshipping with gifts. He had to sometime and somewhere, because Abel’s offering was regarded and Cain’s was not. Without speculating why this was so, we can safely say that Abel worshipped God as God desired and Cain had not. Abraham was given specific direction how he was to worship God, and how his household was to worship, too. Moses and Aaron were instructed how to build the tabernacle and how to worship. Every time his instructions were not observed, disaster came upon the Israelites. You can even see such self determined worship in the book of Judges for repeatedly,

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

Judges 2:11–13, ESV

The next objection I often hear is, “But we are not under law, but under grace.” This is both right and wrong. According to Matthew, Jesus came to “fulfill” the law. Right! But we cannot define and defend doctrine by a single verse. We can read the whole passage.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17–20, ESV

First, Jesus does not say that he came to end the Law or the Prophets. He speaks of fulfilling them. How are they fulfilled? By Christ’s obedience. However, that he obeyed every law by living a perfect human life, nowhere is it implied that the value of the Law is no more. Instead, he warns against anyone who would “relax” even the least of the Laws, they can expect the same from God. Finally, the lesson is not that the law is no more but that his disciples are called to have a righteousness that exceeds that of those who were the best legalists of his day, the scribes and the Pharisees.

I have not understood the argument that we are not under law but under grace. In the same way as we are today, the Jews of history could claim the same. Why? Because salvation has never been accomplished by obedience to the Law. Salvation has always been according to the grace of God. Some of the Old Testament Laws have been completed once and for all, such as the sacrifice of a lamb for the atonement of sins. To continue the bloody sacrifices is to deny the efficacy of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

Nevertheless, no one has ever been able to claim they were not required to follow God’s law. Even Jesus is reported to have said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) We may not want to call Christ’s commands the Law of God, but since Jesus came to do his Father’s will, I think it is fair to say that the will of God is displayed in his Law.

Returning to the topic at hand, Bible believing Christians stake their lives on the Word of God. Except when it comes down to a conflict with their own will. I cannot dodge the indictment either. Yet, our lives are to be drawing closer to Christ every day. And closer to Christ does not mean to feel closer and more loved by him, we already have the whole love of God. Drawing closer must refer to greater obedience to him, to his commands. And God has given us plenty to study in order to apply all of his commands to life and worship.

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Shepherds and Sheep

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

Ezekiel 34:1–24, ESV

Ezekiel was a Priest in Judah and was carried off into exile by the Babylonians. Let’s clear up something from the start. Prophets spoke the Word of the Lord to the people of God. Sometimes this Word spoke of future things, as is evident in the above passage. But the Word given had to do with present circumstances. The Lord speaks to Judah through Ezekiel explaining why he has allowed the Babylonians to defeat them, destroy the Temple and Jerusalem, and carry them off to a foreign land. The message is clear. Those who were Shepherds over Israel and Judah, those who were leaders of the people, priests and kings, managed things for their own benefit and not for the sake of the people.

Those who are called to lead the people should be considered Shepherds. “Sheep were domesticated in the ancient Near East in 7000 BC. They are mentioned more than any other livestock in the Bible, indicating their economic importance as a source of food, wool, and hide. With the primary responsibilities of leading and protecting their flock, the occupation naturally lent itself as a symbol for those in leadership and God.(Matthew Montonini, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.) This description is important because the role of a shepherd was one of self-sacrifice for the sake of the sheep. The reason the “sheep” of Judah are in exile is because their shepherds failed miserably at their jobs. Furthermore, the job of a shepherd was God ordained. Priests were appointed by God from the time of the Exodus. Aaron was the first and the Levites were appointed for the perpetuation of the office.

The people were not innocent of sin. But the head of the people are those who led them into sin by their own sin. Righteous leaders lead righteously. Sinful leaders lead into unrighteousness. Righteous shepherds lead their sheep to safe and bountiful places. Unrighteous shepherds lead their sheep into unsafe places where the shepherds can feed their gluttony and avarice. Righteous sheep demand righteous shepherds, and when they cannot get them, they have the promise of the Lord that he will be their shepherd.

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  
 He makes me lie down in green pastures.  
 He leads me beside still waters.  
 He restores my soul.  
 He leads me in paths of righteousness  
 for his name’s sake.  
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  
 I will fear no evil,  
 for you are with me;  
 your rod and your staff,  
 they comfort me.  
 You prepare a table before me  
 in the presence of my enemies;  
 you anoint my head with oil;  
 my cup overflows.  
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me  
 all the days of my life,  
 and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord  
 forever.  
 Psalm 23, ESV 
 

The requirements of God have not changed. Neither has the promise. Today, we have shepherds who are ordained by God to lead us, protect us, and ensure that we can live as sheep are called to live. The most obvious shepherds are pastors, which title literally means “a helper, or feeder of sheep.” Pastors today are given this title to remind themselves and the people they lead that their role is to help them spiritually and to feed them the whole counsel of God. Though pastors do not literally prophesy, they do fill the role of the ancient prophets by declaring the will of God revealed to us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There are two major issues relating to pastors that I have seen today. First, there are pastors who sheer the sheep for their own personal gain. Contemporary media has made this easier for them to do, but it has been an issue from the beginning.

Second, there are sheep who resist the leadership of their good pastors. We all, in a sense, are sheep after this description. I don’t believe there is a Christian alive who has not and who does not resist the will of Christ. Paul presents his case plainly in Romans 7 that we are all trapped in this way. The process of sanctification (the process of salvation) is a life-long journey whereby the Spirit of Christ remakes us into people whose primary existence is to glorify God. However, there are sheep who resist on another level. These are the sheep who sit in the pews (or theater seats) demanding to be entertained, uplifted, and basically made to feel good about who they are. This is NOT the purpose or end of the Gospel. The goal of Christ in his work as our Great Shepherd is to make disciples who will obey all that he has commanded. All those things we want, peace, purpose, joy, pleasure, reside in discipleship. All those things are inward developments of disciples and not outward experiences.

Pastors who work for their own glory and ego, who seek to profit from their position, who seek personal gratification or a desire to “climb the ladder of success,” are Ezekiel 34 shepherds. Pastors who yield to the whims of their sheep, who design their services and their sermons to meet the demands of the sheep in order to fill the pews and grow in status are Ezekiel 34 shepherds. May God forgive me for all of these things, and may his forgiveness allow me to continually amend my service until I recognize my sheep are God’s sheep and not my own, but Christ’s, and that I do not determine what is good for Christ’s sheep, nor do the sheep determine what is good for themselves, but Christ alone is the God Shepherd leading his sheep. As a pastor, I have spent decades aware of the traps of ministry and prayed for the Spirit’s direction and help.

There are other shepherds, though. Every elected and non-elected official in government is a shepherd called and ordained by God. In America, our founding fathers wrote a document outlining the purpose of a righteous government. It is to protect the God given inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. None of these rights can be interpreted in the sense of one person’s rights denying another’s. None of these rights are absolute. Rights bestowed by God demand exercise under God’s rule and law. And, in fact, the drafting of the Constitution of the United States took this declaration very seriously.

Unfortunately, Ezekiel’s description describes many of these leaders and many of the people as well. Even though there are people and leaders who do not believe in Christ (though they may say they do), the end is the same. Evil leaders will receive their due from God. So will evil sheep. In the mean while, it is the work of Christ’s disciples to demand righteous leadership and to hold all government officials accountable to the law of God. It is not godly for the Church to avoid politics and it is ungodly for politicians to deny the Church’s involvement yet use the church to advance themselves. I spoke of the latter previously here. Those who think it is somehow dirty or beneath the Church to bring politics into the pulpit know little about the Word of God.

Every aspect of politics is about morality. Every law passed is a moral decision and demands a moral reaction. Abortion, gender reassignment or choice, discontinuance of capital punishment, taxation, debt forgiveness, capitalism or socialism, government “freebies,” and everything else are moral issues and should be topics for instruction in God’s Law. The character of individuals running for office is also a topic for preaching, if it comes from the perspective of God’s Law Word. I believe care should be taken to make sure any information about a policy or individual is correct is essential, for if it is incorrect, the preacher fails to present God’s Word. However, the unwritten rule that you cannot name names when addressing evil is not God’s rule, as evidenced repeatedly by the Apostle Paul. (There are plenty of ministries that should be called out and identified as contrary to Christ.)

My discussion can go on ad infinitum. And frankly, it should be just a beginning to the Church’s wrestling with the issues in which it finds herself. The bottom line, though, is the hope that Ezekiel gave the people of Judah which remains for us today. God is the ultimate Judge and he has given judgment over to Christ. The ungodly should fear this, and because they don’t, they are fools. The godly do fear this for disciples want nothing less that to be obedient to all Christ has commanded us. These two groups are called by Jesus the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the chaff. Where do I fall in relation to Christ? Where do you?

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The Law of Laws, part 10 of 10

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Exodus 20:17, ESV

Webster defines the word covet:

1: to wish for earnestly 〈covet an award〉

2: to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably verb intransitive: to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.

So, the first thing to note concerning the word covet is that it can be a good sense or it can be in an evil sense. In the Creation story we see it in both uses. When Man is placed in the garden, God’s work is described, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9, ESV) The Hebrew word translated covet in the tenth commandment is here translated “pleasant.” The addition of “good for food” makes us aware that the “pleasant” creation of vegetation is to be desired, even strongly desired.

However, once the first couple are in the garden, they are instructed not to eat of a certain tree. Yet, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV) Here, the Hebrew word is translated “to be desired.” The problem is, how did Eve know that the tree would make one wise? Only by listening to the chief of liars, the serpent. And here is the conflict. Eve was told she should desire every other plant and tree. But God said not to eat of this one. Who was right, God or the serpent?

Before we answer too quickly, I present this dilemma to illustrate the difference between good coveting and evil coveting. By listening to the devil, Eve began to desire the forbidden fruit. This desire became so powerful that it drove her into action. She ate the fruit ignoring what God had said. If anyone thinks choosing to listen to any voice opposed to God is good, then they are in serious trouble. Someone may say, “But just listening is not really bad.” It is, though, because listening to falsehood plants a seed of desire in one’s heart that will eventually grow into action. So, God commands us to not covet, and he lists a number of things to not desire: anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We may first note that the forbidden fruit of coveting is property. Everyone has a right to their own property. (Do not be confused in regard to a man’s wife. It is not the woman per se that is property but the love and devotion which was vowed to him in marriage.) Unfortunately, the American culture is deeply rooted in coveting. You may not end up actually stealing from your neighbor, but to “keep up with the Jones'” is to covet a lifestyle based not in what is good, but what is mere appearance. The result is often serious indebtedness from which many cannot recover. Yet we approve of this behavior by giving the person in debt and easy out with bankruptcy.

Now, some may think that this is the fault of Capitalism. I think the fault lies within our sin nature, thanks to Adam and Eve. Socialism is the system based on covetousness and envy. No matter how it is presented, the root of socialism is that it is wrong for people to have too much property because then those who are poor will have less. This, then, is second. The desire to have because others have is erroneous thinking. That some people are extremely wealthy and others are not is not the economic system, but only he envious desire to be like the rich. However, it is far more than that because the desire mutates into thinking that says, “If I can’t have what you have, they you can’t have it either.” This results in theft and harm done to your neighbor.

This is exactly the same as our representative parents faced in the garden. If God has it, so should I. A Socialist economy has failed wherever it has been implemented. So why do politicians play the envy card so often? Because if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe it. When people believe enough, they elect and re-elect people to office. These elected officials work hard to gain control over you and me. An example? Under the guise of helping the poor, they decide to redefine healthcare. Now, in principle, no one should be turned away from the care they need because they don’t have the money to pay the bill. Everyone must have the same access to healthcare. So now, the government controls what healthcare costs and who can receive what care.

Third is that Socialism is founded on a wrong view of wealth in the world. The presupposition is that there is only so much wealth in the world and everyone deserves equal access to that wealth. On the face of it, such an idea seems wrong. How can it be that there is more wealth in America today than there was 100 years ago? In contrast, a free market allows anyone access to wealth and the world will not run out of it. The issue comes when the conditions to gaining wealth in a free market are more stringent than in Socialism. To get rich takes diligence over sloth, work over sitting around in a city park spending the free money that is handed out on liquor, Cigarettes, and drugs.

I do not deny that there are people who have become trapped in the endless cycle of addiction, mental illness, physical limitations, and more. All of these people and more need help, but that is where charity (not charities) comes in. How can real charity be done when one third or more of your income is taken by the government and redistributed to the “needy” without accountability? Giving money is not charity. Giving life is, and that can only be accomplished through building authentic relationships with others. The good Samaritan knew that there was no government program that would take care of the wounded stranger. He knew that he had to act. Nobody forced him into it. And the money the Samaritan used to care for the man was not watered down by government administrative costs, corruption, or just plain waste. All that he gave was useful and effective.

As I mentioned earlier, power and control are the name of the game. The government forces control over you by claiming your property for “the common good.” The government wants control over how much you earn and how much they take from what you earn. The government lays claim to all of your property, all in the name of “the common good.” How does the government create a populace willing to accept this illegitimate right of theirs? Covetousness.

Covet that which is good. What is good? There is only One, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Covet a righteous relationship with him.

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The Law of Laws, part 9 of 10

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16, ESV

The big question I have with this commandment is, what does it mean? Is it only in reference to my neighbor? Or, its it about lying in general? Years ago, when I attended a Christian College, we had a required course where the textbook was “Situation Ethics,” by Joseph Fletcher. It has been a long time since I read the book, but what I remember most is that Fletcher attempted to define ethics in terms of the context and that there are no absolute values.

WEEELLLL – not really. For Fletcher, there is one moral absolute, namely, that of brotherly love. Even my uneducated mind recognized the moral relativism being applied to God and the Bible. However, like all claims to moral relativity, there is still a need for at least one absolute. Fletcher chose for his absolute brotherly love, a very Christian sounding ideal. But what exectly is brotherly love? How do you define brotherly love (yes, I recognize that in today’s language this is misogynistic)? Jesus made very clear who our brother is in the parqable of the good Samaritan. Yet, pinning down a definition for love is much more difficult.

You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the nineth commandment?” I suggest that the greatest violation of this commandment is the way love has been defined as social justice, and that Jesus’ ministry was all about social justice. This interpretation of the gospels is a good example of eisegesis (reading a passage in terms of a preconceived position). And I propose that interpreting Jesus’ ministry this way is bearing false witness against him.

The only one who has a right to interpret Jesus’ ministry on earth is Jesus and the Father. Jesus performed many acts that we might consider as examples of brotherly love. Take healing, there are many who would say this is what Jesus meant by love. Such people carry over that idea to universal healthcare. In other words, if we want to love like Jesus loved, we need to have those who have money use it for those who do not. The same goes for the homeless and hungry poor people. Now, I am NOT suggesting that we don’t have a responsibility to help where we can. But the good Samaritan did not have someone force him to help the injured man. No one said he had to pay for a night’s lodging. The good Samaritan was good because he chose to get involved.

There are other problems with the false rendering of Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus did heal many people. However, he did not heal every sick individual. Nor did he every say that if individuals would not be charitable, that they should be forced to be charitable by taking their money or property to provide for these needy people. In truth, the exact opposite is the case. In Matthew 25, at the end of the chapter, Jesus speaks of the judgment to come. At that time he said he would divide all humanity into two groups, the sheep and the goats. What was the basis of this division and the final estate of each group? The willful choice of the individual to be charitable to those in need.

I do not believe that forcing people to be charitable is real charity. As history has shown, all of the programs the govenment has established to heal the sick, house the homeless, or feed the poor have only created more people who are sick, more people who live on the streets, ans more hungry people. Therefore, to say that Jesus was a social warrior by our terms and definitions results in bearing false withness against him.

How many Evangelical churches have changed the gospel into some kind of justification of forced charity? I will not judge, but Jesus will. And, I can point to a passage that denies that Jesus came to help the poor, etc. John six relates the event where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people by the Sea of Tiberius. After the meal, the people with full stomachs sought to make him king.

So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

John 6:13–15, ESV

To say he was the Prophet was to identify him as the Messiah. In this judgment, they were correct. So why did Jesus depart and go to the mountains by himself? Because he did not come to fill bellies. He came for a very different reason.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16, ESV

Jesus is the Christ. But the role of the Messiah was not to rule by might, but to save by his sacrifice. When the twelve disciples bickered about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus recognizes that they have the wrong idea of his Kingdom. Using a child, he taught that the one who is like a little child shal be the greatest. He was speaking of humility. Before Pilate, Jessus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The issue centers around Christ’s mission to die for the sins of his people and to establish the seeds of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Until we can learn the humility that Jesus spoke of, until we quit trying to define Christ, we will violate the nineth commandment. Situation ethics or not, submission to the truth of Christ and the truth of the Word, do we really need to ask other questions. And, by the way, love is defined in both Old and New Testaments by obedience to the commandments.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

1 John 3:8, 18, 22-24

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The Law of Laws – Thou shalt not steal, reprise

Having spent a week reflecting on the 8th commandment, I think I have more to say. I hope it is not a waste of time.

Many years ago, I would watch “judge” shows. I know, they may be real cases but there is nothing on TV that is not in some way fake. Nevertheless, there is one episode that has stuck in my mind and I cannot let go of it. Judge Joe Brown was explaining ownership to a defendant by saying that you (in the broad sense) don’t own your car. The pink slip is nothing more than permission for you to use that car exclusively. I have some problems with this.

First, if I don’t own my car, why am I paying so much money to the bank every month? Why do I have to have insurance? I pay an annual licensing fee to use the vehicle on public roads, but aren’t those other things the responsibility of the owner?

Second, if I don’t own my car, who does? If anyone has trouble answering this question, let me give you a clue; it is the government. I believe that the changes we are seeing in government these days are because thee governing individuals and groups actually think this way – for us. This is the heart of Socialism. I am not saying that the government does not have the right to levy certain types of taxes. We do have to pay for things we want like police (though it seems that is on the chopping block), fire departments, rescue, and paramedics. However, the thing I want to take issue with is the arrogance of local, regional, state and Federal government all operate on the principal that the government owns everything, and we own nothing.

Think about it. How many people have turned down a pay raise because moving up to the next tax bracket would mean that getting the raise, they take home less than they had been. Who can do remodels on their house without having to get multiple permits from multiple agencies. Where I live now, if you want to build on your land, you have to pay for someone to come out and see if you have a certain bush growing anywhere. Why? Because pocket gophers like those plants and someone decided they were an endangered species. But it is the property that a family purchased. They own it. The true test of ownership is whether you can do what you want with it or not.

This is theft. In these cases, the government steals things you own and holds them for ransom. The list of what we are told we do not own involves land, buildings on the land, income, buying almost anything and again when selling. You get taxed when you live, and heaven help us, you get taxed when you die. Why should anyone benefit from the property someone spent a lifetime to gain other than the heirs? Why does the government think it owns your inheritance? All of this, and more, have been, and continue to be stolen from us. And we have reached a time when at least half of the citizens in the country want the government to take it all because they want the government to take care of them.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

(1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV)

I don’t want to over-generalize things, but I believe most people are willing to work for what they get. And they work hard for themselves and for their families. Children need to be cared for. When to eat, what to eat; when to sleep, how long to sleep, etc. As children grow and mature, they begin to seek more and more independence (however they still want mom and dad to pay for it). Mature women and men eventually leave their homes to make their own way in life. (I am not speaking of going to college because that is quite a sheltered life as well.) This is part of taking responsibility for self, and also for their possessions.

There is a growing desire for the individuals to want the freedom to do what they want, but they want someone else to take the responsibility of taking care of them. We should have seen this coming when we found more and more “kids” living in their parents homes in their twenties and thirties. They are not there to take care of their parents who are by now aging. No, they still want to be taken care of. It’s a scary thought that you need a serious job to pay for your life.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness…If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.

(2 Thessalonians 3:6–11, ESV)

Now is a time that needs mature men and women to stand up and show others how they steal by wanting everything for free. It is time that mature women and men get back to telling our children and our government that there is nothing in this world that is free. Ok, salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ is free to those who are called. Property rights need to be restored so that those who do not work, lose their unpaid for property, but those who do work and pay for their property be allowed to use it in whatever way brings glory and joy to God our Father. It is time that we reclaim the right of our history teaching our children the self-sacrificing act that millions in our country did so we all could claim ownership. Where the commandments are violated, judgment reigns. I think our judgment is that God gives us what we think we want, not what good things he wants for us.

It is a sad state of affairs that so many who recently ran for office sought to win by dividing the people. They won, but we have not lost because Christ is our light, not the government. Change can be accomplished by positive action and loving our neighbor. I may possibly get worse before it gets better, but then that is what todays prophets have been teaching. Poppycock! The Lord God makes things better wherever he reigns. Don’t cry out “Come quickly, Lord” if you cant see that he has come already and he is not coming again until his kingdom is ready to receive him.

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

(2 Thessalonians 3:13–15, ESV)

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The Law of laws, part 8 of 10

“You shall not steal.

(Exodus 20:15, ESV)

If you think about it, theft of some sort is involved in each of the other nine commandments.

  • You shall have no other gods before me. – Theft of God’s place as the only God.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God… – Theft of God’s rightful worship.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Theft of God’s name (identity, character, nature).
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Theft of God’s creation and his rule over it.
  • Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Theft of the respect due to those whom God has given authority over you.
  • You shall not murder. – Theft of life.
  • You shall not commit adultery. – Theft of one’s present or future spouse.
  • You shall not steal. – Theft.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. – Theft of one’s reputation.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. – Theft in the heart.

Granted, this is a broad stroke. Yet it does place theft as greater than simply not swiping pencils from work. Stealing is for everyone a difficult sin to break. At work, without even realizing it, we steal our employer’s time with irrelevant conversations that do not enhance our productivity. Maybe you think that is not theft. Instead, it is enhancing the work environement so production may improve with improved moral. Rationalizations like this infect every sphere of our lives. Moral is not about feeling good about where you are and who you are with. Moral in the workforce resutls from “six days you shall labor.” It comes from “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:17.)

Small rationalizations lead to larger ones. In our country we rationalize killing human beings because the “right to choose” is greater than the gift of God in procreation. We rationalize free and uncommitted sex because our fleshly desires are greater than God’s created order. We irrationally rationalize at the end of our public prayer when we say, “May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace, peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.” (see here)

Sorry to characterize this prayer with words I normally don’t like to use, but, it was foolish and stupid. The government of the House of Representatives allowed this man to publicly denounce God and blaspheme his name calling him the “monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names and many different faiths.” Yes, the is one God. No, he is not Brahma. No, he is not known by many names and many different faiths. The one true God is YHWH. He gave Moses his name to use so that being sent, he was sent with the authority of YHWH. The battle between Moses and Pharaoh was not about the two of them. It was all out war whereby God ridiculed and humiliated the many gods of Egypt, because there is only ONE GOD, the maker of heaven and earth, and ruler of all that is.

Sorry for shouting. I became aware of the prayer’s ending from news outlets criticizing Representative Cleaver’s prayer ending with “Amen, and Awomen.” Ok, that was stupid too. As has been pointed out, the word Amen comes from the Latin? No. It comes from Hebrew:

אָמֵן (ʾāmēn). adv. verily, truly, amen. Used in statements of affirmation in which the speaker accepts the truth of a statement.

Aaron C. Fenlason, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.

It was transliterated in other languages later. Latin came later in history than Hebrew. The issue, though, is not about making a word that has nothing to do with gender into a word that only has to do with gender. Words now do not have meaning. Words mean what we want them to mean when we want them to mean whatever we want them to mean. And if you found that last sentence to be confusing and hard to follow, welcome to America in 2021. You may also reconsider leaving your children in public school.

Theft of a word is embarrassing. Theft of the knowledge of God is damning. I do not really blame our politicians for this hubris. As a pastor, I have lay the blame at the doorstep of the Church. In our culture it is impossible not to hurt someone’s feelings. So we let people believe whatever makes them feel good, and Calling God “Brahma” must feel good. However, no one with any sense or education should be able to see that the God of the Hebrews would have nothing to do with some mythical creature who created Hinduism. I have been to a Hindu Temple and out of respect, I asked the doorkeeper if he objected to a Christian entering the temple. He told me that Hinduism accepts Christianity and that the two are not that different from each other. I wasn’t there to proselytize but to learn, so I let that one go.

Hindus may accept Christians, but only those Christians who are willing to deny their faith and the teaching of Scripture for the sake of getting along and having fellowship. Why has the Church stolen the authority of God’s Word? Words, sentences, paragraphs have been twisted and manipulated the very meaning of God. Culture may change but God does not. He created two genders designed for marriage and procreation. Why is this all of a sudden bad doctrine? Because we don’t want people to leave the church. Parents with openly homosexual children place their need to be loved over and above their call to love.

Many years ago, Keith Green was recorded preaching a sermon. He wanted to illustrate the calling of the Church to evangelize so he asked if anyone present would not stop their child from running onto a busy highway. His point has been lost over the decades. Today, we are telling our children to have fun playing and ignoring the danger to life. If we don’t care, who will?

We are sinners who love to steal. We are sinners who need to repent. There is only one God who is in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You cannot serve him and play with the devil too. The hope our world needs is not feeling better but turning to Christ Jesus. He is not Brahma, and he is not a god known by many names. He is God known to those who bow before his majesty, repent, and seek forgiveness offered through his sacrifice. He may have various names in the Scriptures, but none of them embrace the foolishness we have seen lately.

God, forgive us for trying to steal from you rather than to receive freely what you offer. Amen.

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The Law of Laws – part 7 of 10

“You shall not commit adultery.

Exodus 20:14, ESV

What can one say about the seventh commandment to a world steeped in adultery? The issue goes to the heart of the current view on the law in general. Adultery covers a multitude of sins relating to unfaithfulness. In the Old Testament, God judged Israel for being an adulterous nation.

My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.

Hosea 4:12, ESV

Reading the prophets, there is no shortage of accusations of adultery. The nation was called the “wife of God.” When the leaders and the people strayed from obedience to God and took up idolatry (with all of its resultant sins), God sought to divorce Israel (not every individual Israelite was adulterous; many lived faithfully as servants of God).

Today, the heart of our nation has become unfaithful to Christ. The church is not excluded from this accusation. What has happened? The beliefs of our founding fathers were rooted in God’s morality as given in his Law. However, the morality of our nation, in general, has been eroded by faithlessness. One of the blows to morality came from Darwin. If man came by chance, and if survival is by the fittest, anything that provides for one’s survival is morally right. For this to occur, Godly morality must be eradicated first. This is precisely what occurred in the early 20th century. Two books by Richard Weikart documents this moral journey: From Darwin to Hitler and Hitler’s Religion.

The move away from a Judeo/Christian morality based on the Scriptures was supposed to be preserved, and our fathers attempted to do this in the Constitution. There are two problems with Constitutional law today. First, many (if not most) of the citizens of the United States don’t know anything about it. The public educational system has failed to teach civics and U. S. history. For example, the only history course I remember from High School was Native American history, and the main text was “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” Worse yet was my college U. S. History course, which textbook listed Gerald Ford as the elected President following the single term of Richard Nixon. Either an error or a bold attempt at revisionism, I would say. Nixon was elected twice, first in 1968 and then in 1972. He did not resign until August of 1974, when his then Vice President, Gerald Ford, became the President.

Ford is the only person to have served as both vice president and president without being elected to either office by the Electoral College.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Gerald_Ford

The second problem with Constitutional law comes from the way it is interpreted. The founding fathers made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that there was an objective standard for morality (what the law is always about). “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For them, it was “self-evident” that 1) there was a Creator, and 2) that mankind has been given” “unalienable rights” by the Creator. For them, the government was about preserving those rights for all. This is no longer the case.

Our present legal crisis has its roots in Darwinism’s demolition of natural law. The legal positivists believe that it is impossible to go back to the old eighteenth century belief in Nature as a kind of substitute for God, a Nature with hard and fast laws of its own making. Both reason and experience lead modern thinkers to agree substantially with the present Supreme Court. Law is the developing, intelligent, and reflected experience of the people of the state as expressed through the court.

Rousas John Rushdoony, Law & Liberty, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 31.

This makes law relative to human experience. Because of this shift in understanding, we have seen the erosion of marriage, family, community, sexual standards (which began with the ease of divorce and adultery), church, and more. The people say children should be murdered, and the court agrees permitting abortion. The people say homosexuality is part of a person’s identity, so the courts order same-sex marriages to be performed. I say “order” because, in our new moral system of law, traditional marriage and traditional family values are forced to support “gay” values even to the degree that the new morality replaces the old. The church has been no help here either. The ordination of openly homosexual individuals to the office of the Word and Sacraments supports the popular view at the expense of Biblical truth.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them. They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord; for they have borne alien children. Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields.

Hosea 5:5–7, ESV

It is easy to condemn. It is a part of our sinful nature to dwell on the negative. But there is a positive to which we should turn. This is Jesus Christ. We may turn to him in repentance and follow him in full obedience. The nature of discipleship is to be taught “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:20

Over 50 years ago, Rousas Rushdoony wrote:

Clearly, this is our present direction. The democratic consensus is best known, we are told, by the experts, who can best tell us what we should favor and believe. In short, when we deny God as our God, then we make men gods over us. The answer to natural law and to legal positivism is revelation. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1).

Rousas John Rushdoony, Law & Liberty, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 31. (Originally delivered as a series of radio addresses in 1966 and 1967. from the forward)

Our country is in a tough spot because opposing God is a high-risk business. Whether change comes in the form of judgment or slow internal repentance is anyone’s guess. I lean toward the latter because that is what the Church exists to do. When she succeeds, culture flourishes. And she will succeed, for even the gates of hell cannot stop her. Prayer for our leaders is required by God. Living in obedience to God’s law is also required. Yet to live by faith, we are not left alone. The Spirit of Christ rests upon and within every Christian man, woman, and child.

If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”

Joshua 24:20–24, ESV

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The Law of Laws, part 6 of 10

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, ESV)

The traditional writings simply said “Thou shalt not kil.” (Exodus 20:13, Geneva); “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13, KJV 1900). However, the Hebrew word in this commandment is never used in general killing.

In summary, rṣḥ can be defined as a crime against life and limb of another Israelite. Because the root already includes the notion of a victim (a fellow Israelite, a resident or transient alien [Nu. 35:15], or a Levite’s concubine [Jgs. 20:4ff.])…

F. L. Hossfeld, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 2004, 13, 634.

The studies of the word usage in context gave rise to the current translations like the ESV quoted above. If we believe in the doctrine of inspiration, we take great care in translating the Word of God, for every word is inspired. When we forget the significance of the words used by the inspired authors, we run into many interpretive errors. The sixth commandment has been used to create theologies of pacifism and injustice. Good Christian women and men are swayed into believing heresies such as there is never a just cause for war or legal executions are always wrong.

The 1995 movie Dead Man Walking was based on a book written by Helen Prejean. Sister Prejean makes the mistake by attempting to get the reader to sympathize with those being executed for their crimes. As Hollywood does so often, the man on death row is a blending of the men in the book. Yes, his crime of murder and rape is worthy of the death penalty. Yet with the use of many Christian symbols throughout, we are manipulated toward a thou shalt not kill because such killing does not consider the criminal’s family, nor does it ease the suffering of those who lost their children by the man’s hand. The final scene is most disconcerting. Sean Penn appears remorseful as he is stretched and bound on a table shaped as a cross.

The theological equation is that if God forgives the sinner, should we not also forgive him? However, civil executions do not deny that God can and does forgive sinners who repent. This forgiveness does allow one to enter the Kingdom of God for eternity , vis-à-vis the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Yet the crime has been committed and the civil government, ordained by God for the righteous order of society, must still carry out sentence. Failure to do so leads to the kind of society in which criminals act with impunity and life itself becomes of little value.

Thou shalt not murder. Murder is one of a commonly used triad including stealing and adultery (the next two commandments). Whereas theft can be restored, but life cannot. To say that a life stolen does not require the penalty of a life is to devalue both lives, a sin against the Creator of life and the giver of the law. A life sentence in prison may be a riskier kind of life, but it still falls short of restorative justice. The question we must all ask today is, what is a life worth?

Maybe the question is really, is one life equal to another life? Today there are people who are calling for equality among all people. Do they really want “All men are created equal?” White people are worth less than black people. Born people are worth more than unborn people. Poor people are worth more than rich people. Uneducated people are worth more than educated people. With these and other inequalities it becomes normal to steal from people wealthier than you. It becomes normal for people to kill the unborn. Soon it will become normal to kill the elderly, the infirm, the mentally incapacitated. After all, survival is for the fittest and as Hitler preached, survival requires acts of violence. Ask any Jew how that one turned out.

Thou shalt not kill. Any individual or communal act against another’s life will be judged. Many who have died at the hand of another will live forever. All unreptented murderers will themselves die forever. Is it not more loving and compassionate for the civil government to justly stop and prevent killing through the death penalty? Of course, not all executions are just. In these cases, those who are killed become the murderers. They may not receive righteous judgment in this life, but they will certainly be judged in the next. Governments are not immune to the Law. Those who govern are under the government of Christ the King, who did not come to kill, but to be killed. He did not come to be served, but to serve.

Life is the gift of God. He controls the beginning and the ending of life. Humanity thinks they control life. That is why all humans are dead in their sins and their trespasses. But there is a new life offered because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The commandments are juxtaposed, you shall not commit murder; you must be born again. Jesus gave up his life emphasizing the true value of life. Repent and be saved.

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The Law of Laws, Part Three

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

With apologies for not having written sooner, I will suggest that the third commandment has an important New Testament equivalent.

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9, ESV)

I cannot count the number of times I recited this prayer without any idea what hallowed means. It is a word that, apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I doubt would be used today. This is partly because it is a very old word, but mostly, I think, because the meaning has little intentional use. Hallowed refers to something being set apart from everything else and is sacred.

In a humanist society, there is nothing that is sacred, with a few huge exceptions. The Evangelical Church has worked hard to remove the concept of sacred by taking the holy out of the common things we do as sacred actions. Alters (or Communion Tables) have been removed from the Sanctuary. Even the concept of a Sanctuary, a holy place, has been made a performance stage. Hymn books have been replaced with projectors and the people of God, who used to know music and musicality, sing pop songs that are theologically shallow or down right heretical.

These are just a few examples of my point. We cannot expect a society to know what is hallowed if we do not live hallowed lives and worshiping a Hallowed God instead of a best friend Jesus. Jesus does declare that he now calls his disciples his friends. However, his intent was not to create a familiarity that ignores his holy character. I can’t get out of my mind the picture of George Carlin playing the role of a Catholic Priest trying to instill new life into a boring church. [This is a reference to the movie Dogma.] Carlin’s great reveal is a new statue of Jesus replacing the crucifix which he calls the “Buddy Jesus.”

We don’t need a buddy Jesus. We don’t need to think of prayer as a phone call to God. We don’t need the familiarity with God that is without the fear of God. We need a Savior. We need justice and justification. We need to remember what sin is and what its consequences are. We need a Father who loves his children enough to chastise them when they are wrong.

The chief end of man is to glorify God. [Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1] How is God glorified? By hallowing his name. It grieves God every time one of his children react to something with OMG. It grieves God every time anyone trivializes his name with “Thank God its Friday.” Why not thank God it is Sunday when the church gathers to hallow his name?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Vanity is emptiness. Vanity is useless. God is neither empty nor useless. He is the only true relevance we have in life. He created life, blessed life, and restores life. To empty the name of God is not merely accomplished by swearing or cursing. To take God’s name in vain is accomplished by ignoring him, by ignoring his word, and by ignoring his gifts. Every politician who runs for election to gain power over others or to enrich his or her self takes the name of the Lord in vain. Every aborted fetus takes the name of the Lord in vain. Every refusal to hear and obey the Law of God takes his name in vain.

The Christian religion is not a game. It is not even a life style. It is life itself because God raises the dead and grants them life in Christ Jesus. It is life itself because Christ ours out his Spirit upon his brothers and sisters granting them training in holiness. The third commandment means nothing to most people because it means precious little to the members of the Church. There is only one way to turn the trajectory of our nation around, and that is to faithfully obey God’s law and teach others to obey it in all reverence and holiness.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

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The Law of Laws, part 2 of 10

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

(Exodus 20:4–6, ESV)

There is but one God, YHWH. The implications of this truth are endless. Just to name a few, we are subject to his created order; we are subject to his laws and commands; and we cannot complain about it. Every time one says, or thinks, that God is unfair denies him his rightful place. Every time one says that they don’t like God’s rules denies him his righteousness. Every time one says that they are oriented toward homosexuality, robbery, anger, or any of the other things scientists have tried to tell us we have genetic dispositions for denies the creation of God, and thus denies God.

When God says that he “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27, ESV) He leaves no room for us to choose our own gender or to make up new ones. This is why St. Paul write, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever,” (Romans 1:22–25, ESV) he is speaking of the consequences of a people, culture, civilization, which has denied God.

One of the remarks Paul makes is that foolishness consists in worshiping the creation and not the Creator. The is what God says in the second commandment. He does not command that we are not to make gods. He is saying that when we have made other gods, we are not to worship them. God is a jealous God. His righteous jealousy is not that we have made other gods but that we offer the glory rightfully his to these other gods. The second commandment is about right worship. This is a message desperately needed in the contemporary church.

Over the years, the word contemporary had grown in definition. Originally it was used to say that two or more people live at the same time. Though that use has not been lost, it has been expanded to mean something existing during a certain time. Relationship of person with person has become relationship of a person or group of persons to the age in which they live. This includes the events, knowledge, and pathos of the age. Not to over state this, it is not uncommon for an historian to say, “So and so was a man of his times,” meaning that to understand this person completely, we have to understand the influences surrounding him.

The contemporary church could refer to the church as it exists today. There is nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes it can refer to the church as it has adapted to its times. During most of my lifetime I have heard that the church has to keep up with the times. We have to become relevant in order to communicate the Gospel. We have to cast aside the rich and meaningful language of the past and use contemporary language. We have to cast aside the rich rituals, music, and traditions of the past and become more accessible to our generation.

I recognize that there are arguments for both sides of the question. I am not beginning a debate. I do point out that making the Gospel “relevant” and “accessible” does change the content of the message. Form and function are bound in such a way that changing the form requires a change in the message and vise versa. [Note that the restoration of theology during the Reformation altered the forms of worship at that time.] Not only can we not create other gods but we cannot choose how we worship the one God Almighty. If we are to truly glorify him, we must glorify him as he directs. Worship must be controlled by God through his word.

Our current pandemic situation has forced many churches to close. So, many have created worship to stream on the web. My objection is in calling it worship. How can it be when worship is the gathering of God’s people around the throne? How can it be worship when there is no community to share the Word and the Sacraments?

I have heard many times that churches must have nurseries and children’s churches so that worship is not disrupted. Jesus said that we were to let the children come to him. The lack of family activity during church denies our baptismal promise that the community becomes involved in raising godly children. But pushing them out of church, even if we think we are offering something more relevant to them takes them out of the presence of Christ as his people gather. There needs to be a return to the biblical truth that though baptism does not save one’s soul, it does claim that child as a member of the community. The loss of children in church fractures the unity of the church.

This is only one illustration of the conversations we should be having about worship. My ordination by the church is to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament. This is not the usual way pastors are expected to work. Maybe I should be called a minister of the Word, as long as no one is offended, and the Sacraments considering the Lord’s Supper should only be served once a month, or four to five times a year. Yet the reason ordination is to call one to serving God’s gathered people his Word and his Sacraments defines that which is central to worship.

Often, the second commandment is said to be a commandment against idolatry. True enough. However, idolatry is a gross symptom of a much deeper problem. It is not about cleaning all the symbols, art, and music from our worship times and spaces. It is about committing ourselves to giving God glory and worshiping him as he has directed us to worship. In my opinion, that means that everything done in worship must be intentional with the design of God’s glory.

That means, for instance, that we don’t choose songs because we like them or they have a catchy beat. We choose them because the lyrics are sound in doctrine and work toward enhancing God’s glory. (I recognize that this means throwing much of the “contemporary” music in the trash). That means that we don’t go to church hoping to get a pick-me-up for the coming week, or to be recharged, or to find relief from the past week. We go to church because there, with brothers and sisters in Christ, we come into the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The worship of the church is the worship of God. Individual “worship” is devotion, which is also a good thing to do – – often. But it is not worship on God’s terms and as Christ has designed.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

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