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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Peace and Joy

Merry Christmas Eve! and Merry Christmas!

These are words that have been progressively pushed out of our culture. How sad it is that in a land in which so many have lost their lives to purchase the right to speak openly and freely, that the words merry Christmas have become such words of disdain.

The truth is, there would be no holidays if there had not been Holy Days. Our civil calendars have borrowed from the ancient Church calendar celebrating the Christ, Jesus our Lord. The yearly cycles tell the gospel story from a humble birth to a glorious crowning as King of kings and Lord of lords. The world views dominating culture today all take from the truth of Christ and use it for their own ends.

Those who embrace their Creator, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension are, by their faith, declared righteous and promised everlasting life. Why? So the glory of God shines forth as he determined it should through his creation. We human beings are the highest of that creation. This is not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because God ordained it. All who reject their ordained purpose make God a liar and a fraud. He is neither of these things.

Christmas should be merry, full of celebration, and joy. The coming of Christ in the flesh is a momentous event, one that has forever changed the world. To us the change is new. To God it is a change back to the original. However you look at it, giving gifts, eating banquets, decorating festively, and worshipping Christ with joy, music, and laughter are all appropriate for the season. We can be merry because of Christ. If anyone doesn’t like it, they have made their choice. Part of our Christmas celebration should and must be to pray for them. We must seek God’s mercy for them and his judgment upon their rejecting hearts.

The church has been doing things differently for three quarters of 2020 due to a pandemic. Some have rebelled against shut-downs and limitations. Others have remained closed and tried to worship through videos, podcasts, of vlogs. The difficulty for me is that the church is much more than mere communication. Liturgy requires real presence, not electronic connections. A good, short introduction to the concept of Christian Liturgy can be found in Liturgy and Psalter from the Theopolis Institute. In any case, churches, families, and individuals will be celebrating Christmas in disparate ways. The hinderance to celebrations should not stop us from observing the Holy Day.

My church is very small. We do gather on Sundays to worship, but we have been careful to follow the mandates of the state of Washington. Though the people may be limited in number, it is not limited in heart, faith, and creativity. One of the members created a video by going to various members’ homes and filming decorations, carols, and Scripture readings. I recorded a short Christmas Eve message at the end. I invite anyone interested in viewing this video to go here. This was our attempt to gather the family together as best as we can. In the church, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, for a few minutes this Christmas Eve, we will make the best connection we can.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Christmas, do so with a heart of joy and gratitude. Don’t prevent the celebration just because you cannot gather in large groups. Don’t allow football, basketball, or any non-Christmassy activity to hinder your celebration. May the Spirit of Christ be with you all this Christmas Eve bringing peace and quiet anticipation. May he be with you Christmas Day with the joy of the promise fulfilled. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the gospel’s realization of all God’s promises to his people. The coming of Christ Jesus to us is the assurance of the ultimate perfection of God’s ordained creation marked by the New Jerusalem.

Merry, merry Christmas!

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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 5 of 10

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12, ESV

The fifth commandment is well known. However, calling for us to honor our parents is not for their sake, but for God’s. The word used for “honor” is the word often connected with God. In many places it is translated “glory,” though its most basic understanding is “heavy.”

This somewhat unusual verb conveys a dual sense of becoming “heavier” negatively (in sin or opposition) or positively (in honor or glory).[1]

If we break this down, it appears that the fifth commandment is about 1) family structure, 2) submission to ordained authority, and 3) submission to the Lord God Almighty.

Honoring father and mother does not mean to always agree with them. One response to this commandment I have often heard is that no one should be expected to “honor” someone who is abusing them. To this I reply, “Correct. And if we take seriously the study of God’s word, we would know of the exceptions to the rule accounted for in God’s Law.” Too often when we think of law, we think of things in stark contrasts: right and wrong; black and white; this is the only way, etc. Thankfully, God is wiser than man and accounts for all things in his law.

Leviticus 18:21 prevents a parent from offering their children to Molech. No one would say that since Molech is the god mentioned that child sacrifice was ok in other circumstances. I don’t think it means that other forms of physical abuse are allowed either. But this is not the main problem we face today, though it is a significant one.

The main issue is the destruction of the family as the fundamental structure of social order. It is easy to say that marriage and family don’t matter. Many say that to be legally married is nothing more than adding a piece of paper to a relationship. But is that really the case? I find it interesting that people spend thousands of dollars to create contracts to buy or sell, to partner or to define a business relationship. Sadly, one argument against marriage is that it is so costly and messy to divorce. Exactly! Marriage is more commitment than anything else. And a commitment made by vows with God as your witness should never be easily broken.

So much more could be said about the family that can be taken up at another time. However, there is one thing I would like to emphasize. We live in a broken world and therefore we should not be too surprised that there is no ideal family. Fathers anger children. Mothers frustrate children. And children drive parents crazy. The ideal family is one that is centered around God and his Law/Word. Some will have a mother and a father. Some will have only one or the other. Some will suffer great tragedy. Others will not. The key is Christ at the center will all members obedient to him.

Second, I have lived my whole life in times of rebellion against authority. I do not think this is unusual. There have always been the rebellious. In the sixties the rebellion was children against parents. Teachers and other educators filled young adults with unbiblical philosophies which led to the desire for autonomy from all authority. The results? Riots, dangerous cults, violence, and death, to name a few. Personally, I think the media overplayed much of what went on making things sound worse than they were. Ratings have always been more important than just reporting the news.

My parents were ashamed with how police officers were treated. Yet they weren’t ashamed of their own attempts at autonomy. We all have a rebellious streak in our natures because all of our natures are sinful. How should sins be handled? Repent and amend.

No one would know their need to repent if there was no standard for moral behavior. Thanks be to God, he is our standard and he has spoken. Any dislike of God’s law is a result of our sin natures. Sound like a catch-22? In a way, but as Paul told the Jews in Rome, they were the receptacle of the Law/Word. Their job was to live by it and pass it on to their children (there’s family again) and the world. How can we know right from wrong if our ability to discern is as broken as everything else in the world?

The preacher in Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Why? Because God does not change and all morality flows from his holy nature. What was true millennia ago is true today. God has given to some the authority to keep order in his world. Those called to this task are held by God to a very high standard. We are too. God declares to us that obedience and disobedience (with some exceptions) of those given over us, such as government, law enforcement, and parents, deserve our respect. To disrespect God’s ministers of order is to defy God and thus we come to the third point.

It all comes down to being obedient to God and his Law. Yet this commandment, it is often pointed out, is one with a promise attached. “So that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you.” Life itself is attached to honoring father and mother. I do not know of anyone who would seriously suggest that we should stone rebellious children. But that penalty does impress upon us the seriousness with which God presents this commandment.

However, he does not state that disobedience will result in death. We already know that because we are already dead. Instead, God emphasizes the positive reward of obedience. To obey God is life. Obedience does not earn life. Obedience is an assurance granted to us that we will live. For who can obey apart from the Spirit of God?

The fifth commandment has been remarked to be a “swing” from our duty to God to our duty to our fellow humans. I prefer to look at it as the reminder that our duty to our fellow humans is encased in our duty to God. Fail in either one, we fail in both.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12–17, ESV

[1]Gregory R. Lanier, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.

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The Law of Laws, part four

“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. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 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.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. ” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, ESV)

I have never received more questions about the Ten Commandments that in this, the fourth commandment.

  • If the Sabbath is the seventh day, why do we worship on Sunday which is the first day?
  • If we go out to lunch on Sunday, is that a violation of the fourth commandment?
  • What all does “rest” mean?
  • My boss requires me to work on Sunday. Does that make me a sinner?

I am sure you can think of some of your own. The reference to the Sabbath day in the Old Testament has been often misunderstood. The seventh day was not Saturday. The calendar of the ancient Hebrews was not like our calendars today. You can get a feeling for the Hebrew calendar here. God gave a reason for making the Sabbath day the seventh day. It all has to do with Creation. If you check out Genesis 1, you will discover that God created everything in the world in six days. Huge scholarly debates surround whether this is true or not. Nevertheless, the seventh day followed the previous six days, each of which God blessed saying his work was good.

Why, then, a seventh day at all? I believe God spoke of a seventh day because he would give the number seven a deeper meaning. For example, a new born child was to be circumcised on the eight day implying that the child was unclean the first seven days. This concept ( clean/unclean, not circumcision) was also applied to animals and various illnesses. In any case, the seventh day marked the completion of God’s week. His work was finished so now he rested.

The word we call sabbath is in Hebrew shabbot. On the Sabbath day today, many Jews greet each other saying, “Shabbot shalom,” peace this sabbath. The concept of rest never meant total inactivity. The cessation of work on the Sabbath was the stopping of a certain kind of work, i.e. work that benefited oneself. The various exceptions in the law of the sabbath related to emergencies and helping others. But the basic law was applied to the Jews gathering manna to each. Each day they could gather only what they could eat in one day. Anything more would rot. However, on the day before the Sabbath, they could gather what would be needed so they could eat on the Sabbath day.

There is a parallel to this in God’s creation. The six days of creation were God’s work for himself. All creation was for the glory of God. God ceased his work on the seventh day because his work was finished. Therefore, since he did not work on the seventh day, he wanted his people to remember the creation, its purpose of glorifying God, and the cessation of work on the seventh day. It must be remembered that all of creation began the fullness of life on the seventh day. We began life within God’s rest. God provides for all our needs and to remember that truth, we were to work six days and rest on the seventh.

There is a different purpose for the sabbath listed in Deuteronomy. The representative of all humanity to come committed a sin resulting in death, humanity’s separation from God’s fellowship. Being apart from God, it was impossible for mankind to glorify God as created. Everything, including life itself became laborious. Yet in the depth of Israel’s labor, slavery in Egypt, God rescued them. God saved them. So, in addition to the memory of God’s rest from creation, now they were to remember his salvation, too.

All of this is important to us because, it was on the seventh day that God saved his people (the day of the observance of the first Passover for all feast days are sabbath days). Another way of looking at it is that God saved Israel from their slavery on the sabbath day. This is the day they stopped working as slaves. The first day of their freedom, then, is the eighth day. Making the connection with all seventh day practices, full life was experienced on the eighth day. The newborn baby was now a member of the people of God. The new born cattle were now ready for service. Those healed from leprosy were rejoined with the community.

The application was not missed by the Apostles, or by the Reformers. Christ died just before the seventh day. His sacrifice was complete but its application was not. During his time in the grave, “he descended to hell,” as the creed says. Paul tells the Ephesians that he led forth a host of captives and gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). The picture is that Jesus Christ paid for sin as the Passover Lamb on the seventh day and we begin to experience our salvation on the eight day. For the Christian, new life becomes for us the eighth day.

This is why we gather for worship on Sunday. This is why we celebrate life in Christ and our resurrection from the dead on Sunday. This is why we glorify God as a community of his people on Sunday. The reality is that we no longer live on the sabbath day. Every day of our lives as born in Christ Jesus is the eighth day. The sabbath day has been moved by the death and resurrection of Christ to the eight day, and the eighth day begins with Sunday and becomes our whole life in Christ.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV) He did not speak of rest for a day. He spoke of rest for life. He did not refer to labor as working at a job. He spoke of rest for our souls.

Though this has been a long journey, we have come to the end of our labor. Peace and rest be yours in Christ.

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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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Freedom

I know that I should be posting my second installment on the Law of laws, but Jerry Newcombe has written something amazing that I think everyone should read [find it here]. Though I don’t agree that this election is the most important in my lifetime, it is important. Not just for President, but it is important regarding the Senate, the House, State and Local officials. Joel McDurmond wrote, “Restoring America One County at a Time.” In it he believes that local government is the way to change State and Federal government. Why is it that we think it is the President who can make the sweeping changes America needs? If we are America, then we are still people of the Constitution, and no amount of rhetoric can alter that. However, there are many actions being done that is changing the Constitution. We see it before our eyes.

The main reason this article struck me so much is that its theme is congruent with my last post regarding the first commandment. No one can simply forget God. To do so is to replace him with something else. It is like a glass of milk. It is full of milk but as you drink it, the milk leaves the glass. The glass is still full, though. It is not full of milk but it is now full of air. We don’t normally think of drinking from a glass this way. I think that is because air is not visible.

And this is the deception of removing God from life, from education, from government, from church. He gets replaced, but we do not necessarily “see” what replaces him. Nevertheless, he is replaced by one or more other gods. I believe the most common one is self, which is why the traditional Seven Deadly Sins speak to personal human appetites. Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Greed, Lust. I think if you are a careful observer, you will see all of these highly active sins in the protests, riots, campaign speeches and slogans, Congressional hearings, and on, and on.

The point is, as Jerry Newcombe wrote, “We’ve Substituted the True God with a False God.” We have broken the First Commandment. What he has been replaced with is the enticing lie that the seven deadly sins are gratifying, satisfying, and the foundation of life. Ah, the forbidden fruit. This is why the fruit of the Spirit has waned in our lives. The Apostle Paul wrote, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16-26, ESV)

If we break the first commandment, the rest of them have no real bearing on our lives. Then, society will look a lot like it does today. We must turn back to God as our supreme ruler and judge. We must bow down before him and worship him. We must thank him, serve him, live for his glory. Only then will we make America great again.

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