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GIVE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 15

 

“You shall not steal.”
(Exodus 20:15)

I doubt many of us are guilty of violating the letter of the law for many of the 10 Commandments. I would say most of us aren’t murderers or adulterers. And most of us are probably not thieves, either. I’m sure most of us, if we realized the cashier at Walmart forgot to scan an item in our cart, would then turn around and go pay for it as soon as we realized the mistake.

But like the others, if we get to the positive intention behind the prohibition, it might reveal a different story. Let’s think of the command like this:

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
(Matthew 22:21)

When we cheat on our taxes we are stealing from the community. When we withhold our collection from the offering plate we are stealing from the church. When we hold back part of our lives as “off limits” to God we are stealing from God. James reminds us:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
(James 1:17)

Each of us has been entrusted with a certain amount of material wealth. Everything we have is simply on loan. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out. Every blessing if from God and belongs ultimately to him. So what are we doing with our stuff?

Jesus tells a story that puts it all into perspective. If we’re hoarding our stuff, it’s essentially like robbing God. The story, found in Matthew 25, is about a wealthy landowner who goes away on a long journey. He calls his most trusted servants and puts them in charge of some of his wealth. Two of the servants took the wealth and treated it like their master would – putting it to work, investing it, growing it. But the third servant took his master’s money and buried it, keeping it safe, but also keeping it the same. When the master came back he called his servants to account. The servant who buried the money was chastised. The master acted as if his servant has essentially stolen from him.

The US is by far one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Even the poor among us are wealthier than a majority of people around the globe. The question is, what are you doing with the blessings God has given you?

Think back to the story of Abraham. When God first called Abraham he promised to bless him AND that all nations would be blessed because of him. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. I think the same holds true for us.

Like the servants in the story, we should be asking ourselves what Jesus would do with the possessions we have if they were his. What would Jesus do with that extra bedroom in the house? How would Jesus use your car that seats seven? What would Jesus spend his tax return on?

Jesus spent more time talking about money than any other specific topic. Wealth and poverty factor into most of his parables and a large portion of his teachings. Somehow we’ve managed to ignore most of that so we can sit comfortably in our overpriced, oversized homes and criticize the poor who are just too lazy to work for what they want.

In case we miss Jesus’ point about wealth and poverty, James makes it crystal clear:

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
(James 2:5-7)

I don’t want to get political with this one, but if raising my taxes a little means that those who are less well off than me can have more access to basic necessities – food, shelter, medical care – then so be it. We live in a system in which the rich are getting richer and the poor are having a harder and harder time getting on their feet. The gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans is at an all time high. Charitable donations are down, and a large percentage of our nations leaders want to continue to slash Medicaid and Medicare in order to pay for their tax cuts for the rich.

I’m pointing the finger at myself, too, but less than 5% of Christians in America actually tithe. If every Christian around the world gave at a 10% level, then we could eradicate hunger and provide medical care for virtually everyone. The money is there – it’s just sitting in our bank accounts. And if we aren’t using our possessions in the way God would use them, then we are essentially stealing from God and the poor.

Don’t believe me? I again turn to the book of Malachi:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
(Malachi 3:8-12)

When we hoard our resources, our time, our talents, our possessions, we are robbing God and breaking the 8th Commandment. This was the sin of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 8). This was the sin of the Rich Fool (Luke 11). This was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). This is why Paul urges us:

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
(Ephesians 4:28)

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Why do you think Jesus talked so much about money and possessions? Why are we so afraid to talk about this in our churches?

What specific ways do you think Jesus would use your house? your car? your bank account? your free time? your closet? your pantry?

Do you agree that not giving is the same as stealing? Why or why not?

FAITHFUL | 40 Days of Focus, Day 14

 

“You shall not commit adultery.”
(Exodus 20:14)

We’ve all heard the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Actually, that’s a myth. First, in no way does that mean your particular marriage only has a 50% chance of lasting a lifetime. It simply means that at one point in our nation’s history (a couple decades ago now) for every 2 marriages in a given year, there was 1 divorce. The divorce rate was half that of the marriage rate.

This phenomenon occurred on the heels of court rulings that gave women more authority and control in filing for divorce proceedings. When women were given the chance, they were finally able to end a bad marriage. Imagine being stuck in an abusive marriage, or knowing your spouse is sleeping around, and not being able to do anything about it.

In reality, however, the divorce rate has been on the decline – dropping around 18% over the past decade? Why? Because newly married young people are staying together longer. True, fewer young adults are currently married than ever before (functioning under the mindset of ‘if it’s just going to end in divorce, then why bother?’). But those who do choose to get married are remaining more faithful to each other than comparative couples of previous generations.

This may come as no surprise, but infidelity is still listed as the top specific reason for divorce at nearly 30%. Unfortunately those statistics are not much different for couples inside the church.

The positive intention behind the prohibition is to uphold and honor the covenant of marriage. God railed against the apathetic treatment of wedding vows in the prophetic book of Malachi.

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
(Malachi 2:15-16)

Did you catch that line? The man who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect. This is where we need to speak wisdom into the subject of adultery, unfaithfulness, and divorce. Adultery does not JUST mean sexual immorality. Adultery is not JUST about sex. Adultery is about breaking a covenant. Israel was often called an “adulterous” nation for breaking their covenant with God by worshiping other gods, mistreating the poor, abusing the sacrificial system, taking advantage of people through unbalanced weights and measures, etc.

Israel was in a covenant with God. They broke that covenant and were labeled “adulterers.” Marriage is not just a financial or social institution. It’s a covenantal arrangement between a man, a woman, and God. To break that covenant is to commit adultery – by sleeping around, by abusing your spouse, by neglecting them, and by “doing violence against the one you should protect.” Marriage is so much more than sex. So is adultery.

In the days of Jesus there was a great debate on this issue. Some took the side of Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for basically any reason. He emphasized the phrase “who becomes displeasing to him.” Others took the side of Rabbi Shammai who taught that marital unfaithfulness was the only legal grounds for divorce. Whose side did Jesus take?

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
(Matthew 19:3-9)

Even though Jesus wasn’t married, he upheld the importance of marriage. Faithfulness to one’s spouse goes hand in hand with one’s faithfulness to God. That’s why Jesus said such radical things as this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
(Matthew 5:27-30)

In other words, don’t even think about cheating on your wife. Don’t even think about sleeping around with men who aren’t your husband. Because eventually thoughts will become actions. People often leave their partners in the head long before they leave them in the bed.

You can see why these commandments are so important. God wanted to ensure a thriving society for his people. When cultures fail to honor their family commitments, when they treat human life as expendable, and when they cease to uphold their wedding vows, society begins to break down. Life, marriage, family – these things should be honored and kept sacred for our own good and the good of society. This is why I try to live up to Jesus’ standard and put into practice the words of Paul in Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
(Ephesians 5:25-33)

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Have you heard people toss around the “50%” statistic in relation to marriage and divorce? How does it make you feel about marriage? Is it worth fighting for? Or is it not worth bothering?

Do you think that healthy marriages are a vital part of a healthy society? Why or why not?

In what specific ways can you embody Christ’s sacrificial love in your marriage?

LIFE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 13

 

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

I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of us could read this command and think, “Done. Next!”

All in all, it seems pretty easy not to kill people. I personally don’t know any murderers. The overall rate of murder and violent crimes is on the decline throughout most of the country. So…odds are that you will see command number six and think, “I’m good.

But you know it’s not that easy. If it were that easy, Jesus wouldn’t have had to bring it up in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
(Matthew 5:21-22)

I find it helpful to reframe these “you shall not” commands and find the positive intention behind the prohibition. This command, as Jesus points out, is not just about not killing, its intention is the preservation of life. To take another person’s life is to snuff out the most sacred part of creation. We can understand that. But to insult, degrade, and oppress another person is to snuff out the Image of God within them, which, according to Jesus, is just another way of violating the sixth command.

So yes, all Christians should be on the side of life. I don’t want to use the term “pro-life” because that has taken on such a one-dimensional connotation. Abortion is DEFINITELY against the sixth command – but so is racism and prejudice and police brutality and sexual abuse and bombing civilians and torture and hate speech and capital punishment and the military industrial complex.

Think of it this way. Where God is, there is life. Through Jesus’ own death and resurrection, he conquered death. Beyond that, his death revealed the baseless and gratuitous violence of the state for what it was. The Pax Romana offered peace at the edge of a sword – and that’s not true peace. The way of Christ – who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – is the way of the cross. It’s dying to yourself so you can really know what life means.

Jesus tells what I consider to be the scariest story ever in Matthew 25.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:41-46)

It’s not enough to not murder. Just because I don’t kill you doesn’t mean I love you. When I’m willing to lay down my own life for your sake, though, that’s true love. That’s the true heart of the sixth command. You may not go around murdering people, but do you help feed the hungry? Do you help provide water for those who have nothing to drink? Do you help clothe the naked? Are you a loving presence for those who are sick or in prison?

In other words, are you on the side of life or death?

“Jesus in Disguise” statue in Rome
If you search the Bible for the phrase “choose life” you will be directed to a powerful passage in Deuteronomy 30, some of Moses’ last words to the nation of Israel before he died:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess…
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20)

Don’t just not kill people. Choose life.

Don’t just be anti-abortion. Choose life.

Don’t just look out for your own interests. Choose life.

Don’t judge the sick, hungry, and homeless. Choose life.

There’s an amazing story of this in action. In the early days of the church, the Christians were living in a culture that did not value the life of infants. The fathers could make a decision to literally discard a baby for various reasons – maybe it was a deformity, maybe it was a little too small for its age, maybe it was a girl. The father would take this unwanted baby and leave it in the town dump to die from the elements. The Christians took Jesus’ call to choose life seriously. They went out and rescued these babies, adopting them and raising them as their own. The Roman government began to notice that these unwanted babies were growing up to become normal, healthy, functioning members of society and eventually outlawed the practice of infanticide.

When God’s people choose life, we can literally change the world.
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When people talk about being “pro-life” do they only mean in terms of abortion or is it in every aspect of life? What do you think about that?


What do you think of this quote? “If Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, I think he meant we ought not kill them.” Does this mean we all have to be strict pacifists? Why or why not?


If you’re honest with yourself, how often do you find yourself “murdering” someone in the sense that Jesus talks about? What do you think you could do to eliminate those attitudes from your heart?

HONOR | 40 Days of Focus, Day 12

 

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
(Exodus 20:12)

The first four of the 10 Commandments deal with our relationship to God. We have no God but YHWH. We will not craft an image or idol depicting God in order to worship it. We will keep God’s name holy. We will consecrate a time of Sabbath rest to disconnect from the world and reconnect with God and each other.

The fifth commandment turns the focus toward our relationship with others. What is the very first relationship we ever experience? Our parents. Like it or not, you do not get to choose your parents. They are with you for life. Our nuclear family is the primary metaphor for how we understand and relate to God. If we are to think of God as our Father or Mother, like biblical imagery often does, we better take those relationships seriously.

Side note: I find it fascinating that both Father and Mother are mentioned as worthy of honor. Most patriarchal societies only honored the Father as the head of the household. It’s important to remember that the Bible was written in a patriarchal context and was influenced by patriarchy, but that was never the express intention of God – in creation or in his first and most important commands.

This is the first command to have a why to it, or a promise attached to it. “So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” I mean, this makes sense, doesn’t it? We’ve all had moments when we messed up in a big way and it could have all been avoided had we just listened to our parents in the first place. Ugh…don’t we just hate it when our parents were right all along? It’s like they actually knew what they were talking about!

It’s important to learn this lesson as children, but it can be even more important to live it out as adults. It’s not just teenagers who struggle to honor their parents. Grown children can be just as hesitant to listen to feedback, follow advice, or give the honor due their older parents. This is nothing new. In fact, one of the many hypocrisies Jesus pointed out about the Pharisees concerned this very thing:

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
(Mark 7:9-13)

They were using their supposed religious devotion as an excuse for not helping their aging parents. Ouch. Jesus says that our family relations are more important than that. God doesn’t want our stuff. He wants us to take care of each other, especially our family, and honor our commitments.

The family – father, mother, child – reveal something of God’s own character and nature to the world. There is a oneness from this communal bond. The two – mother and father – become one flesh, literally in the child. God’s own nature is a oneness in community – Father, Son, Spirit. Our family structures are not just coincidental byproducts of evolution or the agricultural revolution. Family represents God’s own self to the world. The only thing declared “not good” in creation was that the man was alone. We are created out of community and for community, love, and oneness with the other.

That’s something to be honored.

Again, some people get caught up on the patriarchal structure of the family in the Bible. But in reality, Scriptures fight against the traditional family hierarchy. The Father is not the head of the house – Jesus is. Women do not submit to men – we submit to each other. Children are to honor and obey their parents – but fathers are to be lenient and understanding. The Bible actually subverts the traditional teachings surrounding the family:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
(Ephesians 6:1-4)

Text your parents and tell them you love them. Better yet, call them and talk to them. Show them the honor and respect they are due – not because they deserve it, but because God thinks it’s important enough the make the effort.

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Did you ever have a time when things would have gone better for you if you had listened to your parents? What did you learn from that?


Do you have a father who raised you in the “training and instruction of the Lord?” If so, have you taken time to thank him for that? If not, what would you tell him if you could go back in time and have a do-over?


What are some specific ways you can show honor to your parents this week?

SABBATH | 40 Days of Focus, Day 11

 

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
(Exodus 20:8-11)

Sometimes I think we forget just how revolutionary the Bible is/was. Remember that this was a nation of former slaves. How many holidays do slaves get? Zero. How many days off in a week did they get? Zero. To live was to work.

For God to take this nation of former slaves and then REQUIRE one day of complete rest from work EACH WEEK was truly foundational in granting them a new identity. They aren’t slaves anymore, and to prove it, God says stop working.

The whole notion of Sabbath is closely tied to God’s own rest after his creative work in Genesis.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
(Genesis 2:2-3)

Only recently have a significant number of people around the globe been able to enjoy one or two days off during the week. Some countries and companies are even testing out a four-day work-week model, and it seems to be going well. I think, it turns out, that humans weren’t designed to work nonstop, seven days a week. People need rest. People need a break. God knew this from the beginning, and so he prioritized it for his new nation.

Sabbath is a GOOD thing. The benefits of rest and relaxation are attested to time and time again for increasing productivity and creativity. We are more efficient and effective when we are well rested and not overly burdened.

So why was Jesus always fighting against the Sabbath?

Seven different times in the gospels we find Jesus performing miracles (mostly healings) on the Sabbath. This upset the religious leaders to no end. In fact, this is one of the main reasons they wanted to kill him. I think this one verse reveals a lot about their hearts.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
(Luke 13:14)

Jesus wasn’t against Sabbath as a practice and an idea. In fact, he was very much in favor of finding times of rest and disconnecting from the high-speed demands of life. Over and again we see him slipping away from the crowds to be alone with God. His problem with Sabbath was that the religious leaders were making it more of a burden than a release of burdens. Sabbath was made to be enjoyed, but they were sucking all the joy out of it with their rules.

It’s like taking your kids to the playground and threatening them to have fun or else they’re going to be punished. Or like, this is completely true, the sign I saw at one playground listing a bunch of rules, one of which was “No Running.” Srsly???


Simply put, Jesus didn’t play those games.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28)

We weren’t made to follow an extreme no-work regime, either. Man was not created solely to follow the Sabbath laws. Rather, God created the Sabbath to be a relief to us. The problem came from all the rules and restrictions around the Sabbath, making it more of a burden.

When rest is burdensome, we’ve gotten pretty far offtrack.

Our rest is not found in observing a bunch of rules, regulations, and guidelines. Rest is found in following Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Sabbath can come whenever, wherever while following Jesus. Or as Augustine said:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

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Is the practice of Sabbath important in your life? How do you make rest and time with God a priority in your life?


Why do you think our churches don’t teach and encourage Sabbath that much?


Jesus said the Sabbath was intended to bring life and healing. What steps can you take this week to find times of rest that bring life and healing and joy?

NAME | 40 Days of Focus, Day 10

 

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
(Exodus 20:7)

Your name is the loudest, most important word in your vocabulary. From before you were born, you were probably addressed by name. Your parents chose a name that was important and meaningful to them in some regard. When someone needs you, they call your name. You want people to know your name and call you by name. If they don’t know your name, especially after some time knowing you, or they get your name wrong, it can leave you feeling insulted or demeaned.

It can be frustrating to hear your name too much, however. When someone says your name just to say it, that almost feels like an affront, an abuse of your identity.
“Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. Daniel…” WHAT?!

Or worse, when someone ascribes some actions or beliefs to you, associating your name with something you would never do or think or condone, it can leave you feeling utterly betrayed.
“Daniel thinks it’s no big deal for people to use the express checkout lane with a cart full of groceries.” I NEVER SAID THAT!

Your name is sacred to you. You don’t want people using your name “in vain” or flippantly. You also don’t want people abusing your name by associating it with something without your consent.

So why do we do that with God’s name?

The Jews took this command so seriously that we don’t even know the true covenantal name of God. They chose not to insert the vowels in the name YHWH, so the literal pronunciation is lost to history. They also would replace the name YHWH with Adonai (or LORD) when reading from the sacred texts so as not to misuse God’s name. Even today, many Jews will write G-d so as not to break this third commandment.

And here we are shouting “Oh my God” at every little thing. When your best friend shows up with a new hair cut, “Oh my God! I love it.” When your plastic Walmart bag breaks, “Oh my God.” When someone is driving too slowly in the left lane, “Oh my God, hurry up!” When your boyfriend proposes, “Oh my God!” When your waitress spills the water, “Oh my God.” When the Property Brothers finish their renovation project on your new, overpriced fixer upper, “Oh my God!” When the ref misses an obvious pass interference call that causes your team to lose the game and miss the Super Bowl, “Oh my God!” When you open a container of spoiled mashed potatoes that has spent three weeks in the back of the fridge…

You get the point. Stop using the name of God as an explicit, a curse, or an exclamation. Find something else to say.

But this command goes deeper than that. If this is where we stop, then we miss the more important prohibition in this command. To misuse God’s name also means to use it incorrectly – slapping God’s name on something in order to gain support or power. When we use God’s name to advance our own career, agenda, ideas, or merchandise, we are breaking the third commandment.

There’s a weird story in 1 Kings 13 where God sent a prophet to King Jeroboam and then told him to leave without staying to eat. The prophet left, but while he was on his way another “old prophet” caught up with him and lied to him. “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” The first prophet went home with the guy and later was killed by a lion. Sometimes people use the name of God to add authority to their ideas. We must be discerning and realize when someone is trying to pull one over on us.

There was another time when the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. They decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant out to the battle to prove that God was on their side. They were misusing the name of God. The Philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.

But probably my favorite cautionary tale against breaking this command is in Acts 19. These Jewish guys were going around driving out demons and using the names of Jesus and Paul in order to add some authority to their business. The story that follows is hilarious.

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
(Acts 19:13-16)

The name of God is to be kept holy (see the Lord’s Prayer). That means we should honor and revere the names of God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son, and the Holy Spirit. We should not use them flippantly as expletives or exclamations. And neither should we use them as a way of promoting our own agendas, beliefs, politics, or businesses.

When a band can’t make it in the main stream so they sign with a Christian label just to sell more albums and show tickets, they’re using God’s name in vain.

When a politician has no previous religious affiliation suddenly begins quoting the Bible in order to appeal to his faith-based voters, he’s using God’s name in vain.

When a country claims to be a Christian nation but repeatedly and systemically abuses minorities, immigrants, and the poor, that country is using God’s name in vain.

When a business capitalizes on a Christian market for their t-shirts, hats, bracelets, bumper stickers, coasters, breath mints, and cheesy paintings, they are using God’s name in vain.

When a political party uses religious rhetoric and Scripture to convince people that “real Christians would never vote for those other guys,” then they are using God’s name in vain.

When we allow ourselves to be convinced that God’s will can only be carried out through government intervention, then we are using God’s name in vain.

There is only one name that can save – and it’s not Washington, DC. It’s not Trump or AOC. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s not anything under heaven except one name.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
(Acts 4:12)

_______________________________

Why do you think it’s so easy for us to exclaim “Oh my God” on a regular basis? Does this bother you? Do you even notice it anymore?


What do you think about the lengths the Jews would go in order not to misuse God’s name? What would people think if we showed that same level of respect?


What specific ways do you see people misusing God’s name in business, politics, etc?

IDOLS | 40 Days of Focus, Day 9

 

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
(Exodus 20:4-6)

The second of the 10 Commandments is a prohibition against crafting an image of a created thing in order to bow down to or worship it. Remember, the Hebrew people have just spent many generations in the land of Egypt which was overrun with idols and images. They were everywhere! If you go to Egypt even today and look at the ancient ruins, there are temples and idols and statues and carvings everywhere you look. They depict the pharaohs and the gods, retelling their collective stories in which they found their identity.

Some pharaohs ramped it up to eleven, like Ramses II who loved him some Ramses II. He built statues and shrines to himself right alongside those of Ra and Osiris and Horus.

“Stop doing that,” God says.

The question is, why?


I think there are many reasons God would give this command, but let’s look at two. First, it’s a little ridiculous to worship the Creator by ascribing to him an image of a created thing. Second, we already have an image of God walking around – human beings. We’ll get to that more in a moment.

I mentioned Isaiah yesterday. I want to draw your attention to what he actually says about the lunacy of idol worship. It’s a longer passage, but well worth it.

The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
(Isaiah 44:12-20)

God, the Creator of everything, cannot be contained within or represented by anything we humans can make. God made cows – how are you going to represent him as a cow? God made the sun – how are you going to represent him as the sun? There certainly are things about God’s nature that we can learn from his creation (Romans 1), but any created image will fall short in fully representing God’s power and glory.

But it’s really difficult for us humans to focus on what we can’t see. We often need something on which to fix our gaze. That’s one of the attractions and also the dangers of idol worship. I heard a quote recently, but I cannot remember who originally wrote/said it: “The soul takes the shape of that which has its attention.” We are an increasingly image-based culture. We communicate through emoji, gifs, and memes. We don’t call or send text messages, we SnapChat and post to Instagram Stories. We don’t read books, we wait for the movie. We don’t read magazine articles, we watch YouTube videos.

Gathering around the TV to stream Netflix does not look much different in practice from gathering around the household shrine and telling the stories of the gods. Going to the movies does not look much different in practice than making a pilgrimage to the temple.

Living in an increasingly post-text, more image-based society leads us to think more strongly that “seeing is believing.” You can’t believe or know or experience that which you can’t see. So we create our own gods and form our new religions around celebrities, sports teams, and superheroes.

God says, “Stop it.”

For we live by faith, not by sight.
(2 Corinthians 5:7)

Second, God already has micro-images of himself walking around. Remember on Day Six God created mankind “in his image and likeness.” That makes me think about the time Jesus was at the Temple and some of the religious leaders wanted to trap him. They asked about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus’ response is brilliant.

“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
(Matthew 22:19-21)

First of all, they weren’t supposed to have that kind of coin in the Temple because of this Command Number Two. But then Jesus asked about the image and inscription. If Caesar wants to put his image and inscription on a coin to mark it as his, then give it back to him. But God has placed his image and inscription upon each person. You are not your own. So give the coin to Caesar, but give your life to God.

We don’t need to create images to bow down to and worship as a representation of God. God has already done that work for us! Not that we worship human beings, but we see each other and know God is present among us. John words it WAY better than I can.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
(1 John 4:11-12)

If the soul takes the shape of that which holds its attention, then let us set our attention on love. May the love we have for one another be the image of God among us. And may we together in love fix our eyes on Jesus, the ultimate representation of God with us.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
(Hebrews 1:3)

Do I think it’s wrong to have paintings, sculptures, and images adorning our church buildings? No. Art can certainly direct us toward God and connect with us on an emotional level. But we must always remember that the created thing is not to be worshiped or revered as “divine.”

______________________________________

Why do you think the visual arts are so effective at connecting with us emotionally?


Does your church building utilize art to draw people’s attention to God? Or is your worship space more bland and bare? Why? How effective is it?


Why do you think humans are so prone to worship a created thing rather than their unseen Creator?

ONE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 8

 

And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
(Exodus 20:1-3)

A quick summary of what happened after the creation accounts in Genesis: God made man and woman, placed them in a perfect garden, and gave them one rule – don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A serpent showed up and convinced them otherwise. They ate, they got expelled, their oldest son killed his younger brother – you know…typical family stuff. Things got worse until God sent a flood to wipe the slate clean and begin again with Noah and his family.

Then God called Abraham who would become the father of a great nation and through whom all the peoples of the world would be blessed. Miraculously Abraham and Sarah were able to have a baby boy in their old age. They named him Isaac. Isaac had twin sons named Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricked Esau out of his blessing and birthright – you know…typical family stuff.

Jacob wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel. He also had 12 sons, one of whom was named Joseph. The other brothers hated Joseph and sold him to slave traders going to Egypt. One thing led to another and Joseph found himself as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. When famine struck, the rest of Joseph’s family eventually made the move to Egypt, the only land with any food left. And then they just kind of…stayed. For a long time.

Image result for genesis bible

A new dynasty arose in Egypt who did not appreciate the contribution of this family of outsiders, known now as the Hebrews. The new Pharaoh ended up enslaving the population until God rose up a leader named Moses to free his people and lead them into their own homeland to fulfill a promise God made to Abraham.

Are you with me so far?

By some accounts, the people of Israel had spent nearly 400 years in Egypt, speaking their language, sharing their customs, learning about (and possibly worshiping) their gods. Now God must turn this ragamuffin smattering of tribes into a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. God took Moses up onto Mount Sinai and gave him a set of laws by which to establish these newly freed slaves as one nation under God.

Image result for moses with ten commandments

What’s the absolute most important thing for them to know? What’s number one on the list? What is going to be “pinned” to the top forever? Read it again with their history in mind:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

It’s almost like a formal introduction. “Hello, my name is YHWH. I am your God. Nice to meet you.” But think about it. These people have grown up knowing Ra and Horus and Isis and Osiris and Set and Hathor. Which one of these gods freed us from slavery? None of the above. Odds are they had mostly forgotten the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from their collective memory.

When I was growing up, I learned that the first of the 10 Commandments was “You shall have no other gods before me.” But that’s not what the Jews would say. The first commandment is “I am YHWH your God.” The no other gods clause flows from that declaration.

Also, I find it interesting that God doesn’t say “there are no other gods except me.” That would have been simply unbelievable to these people. Of course there are other gods! YHWH is just one among many. The Egyptians have their gods. We have our God. It’s not until much later that the prophets make the case against the existence of other gods (see Isaiah 44).

Here’s the reality – there are other gods. Anything we place in front of God becomes our god. Anything apart from God to which we cry out “save me!” becomes our idol.

What does that look like for us today? We so easily turn things into modern-day idols – celebrities, government & politicians, bank accounts, stock portfolios, social media profile, academics, sports, food. Our new gods are named “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Jesus put it this way:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
(Matthew 6:33)

We get it wrong when we talk about “priorities.” There can really be only one priority – everything else is secondary or tertiary. If God is not your priority, your number one, then whatever else is in that spot is your idol.

How would you fill in this blank?
“I am the LORD your God who ____________________________.”

The Hebrew people needed to know and remember that it was YHWH who delivered them, not some other god or deity. They did not do it themselves. It wasn’t the Egyptian government’s idea to set all the slaves free. It was only God. He delivered them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt. When they forget that – and how forgetful we humans are! – they always fall into temptation and sin. Always. Remember who God is and what he has done.

May we know God today as our God. May we always remember what God has done for us – life, breath, joy, resilience, health, material blessings, family, friends, forgiveness, salvation, freedom.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
(James 1:17)

And may we never place any other god before God. May nothing in all creation take his place at the top.

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
(Psalm 89:5-8)

___________________________________

What other “gods” feature most prominently in your life? What “gods” are in the most competition with YHWH for priority in your life?

Why is it important to remember what God had done for us? How often do you share those stories with others? What’s your favorite story about what God has done for you?

 What happens when we forget God and what he has done for us? (See Exodus 32)

REST | 40 Days of Focus, Day 7

 

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
(Genesis 2:1-3)

When was the last time you rested? Like, really rested?

I’m sure we’ve all seen the statistics and research about how Americans are among the most overworked people in the world. Americans on average work longer hours per week than their European counterparts, and they receive fewer paid holidays. We have no guaranteed maternity leave, while other countries insist on granting mothers and fathers paid family leave while their children are young.

We go on fewer vacations, take fewer sick and personal days, and we work more overtime than we should. We buy into the lie that busyness equals productivity. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m seeing more and more studies that show the importance of rest, time off, and brain-breaks throughout the day. Something as simple as a 10-15 minute break to walk around the office or around the block can actually help spur creativity and productivity. If we don’t take breaks and if we don’t find time to rest and disconnect, then we are in danger of burnout.

I saw this video the other week on one of the YouTube channels I follow. It speaks to this very idea, but not in a Christian or religious way – so mind some of the language. But his points are spot on.

I think God knew that we needed rest. He created us, after all. I think he would be a pretty good judge of what we need. But here’s the thing about God – he never calls us to do something he is unwilling to do himself. God calls us to rest (as we’ll see in the 10 Commandments), so God sets the precedent by resting.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how good breaks and rest can be for our minds. I’m terrible about this, but when was the last time you did chores without listening to music or a podcast? When was the last time you exercised without your earbuds in? When was the last time you drove somewhere in silence? When was the last time you just let your mind wander freely? For me it’s almost never.

But I want to get better about it.

We are creative beings. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that we carry on his creative work. We can add value and beauty to the world around us unlike any other creature. We care about art and design and color and architecture and texture and lighting and ambience and aesthetic. God does, too. We get to participate in his creativity, but not to the point of losing ourselves in the work.

God rested. Rest does not equal laziness just like busyness does not equal productivity. We think people are either busy or they’re lazy. But so often we end up staying busy with things that don’t matter – and that can be as bad or worse than laziness.

God rested, and it was a holy, intentional rest. The seventh day was set aside, it was different than the other days. Again, we’ll talk more about Sabbath specifically in a few days. But God knows the importance of holy moments, holy spaces, holy days and times. We were not created to go 100% seven days a week. We were created to live in a rhythm of life – evening, morning, work, rest, worship, create, feast, celebrate, get busy, relax.

Don’t buy into the lie that you have to work harder than God. There’s a time for work and a time to rest.

____________________________
Do you think God is still working and creating today? Or did he completely stop after Day Seven?

Have you ever felt burnt out? What was that like? What led to that experience? What did you learn from it?

Why do you think society places such an emphasis on being and staying busy? In what ways might that busyness be hurting our physical health? our families? our churches?

Look at your daily schedule. Mark out some times to rest, to take breaks, to enjoy nature, and to disconnect from social media and the demands of your electronic devices.

IMAGE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 6

 

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
(Genesis 1:24-25)

Day Four (sun, moon, and stars) was about filling Day 1 (light and dark). Day 5 (fish and birds) was about filling Day 2 (waters and sky). Finally, Day 6 (land animals) is about filling Day 3 (land and vegetation).

One thing I find interesting about Days 5 and 6 is that God uses creation to do the creating. “Let the waters teem with life” and “let the land produce living creatures.” Life comes from non-life. That’s a statement that has sparked a lot of scientific debate over the years. Scientists are still trying to discover just how that happened. Why is there life instead of non-life? I have no idea when it comes to the nuts and bolts of it, but it does seem that wherever God is, there is life. Once everything was in place on this planet, life was virtually inevitable.

Or as we see in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”

People often wonder about the seeming conflict between science and faith. Do we take Genesis 1 literally? If so, then what about evolution? What about dinosaurs?

Frankly, that’s not what the creation song is about. It’s not interested in the science of creation. It’s not even written with a scientific worldview in mind. It predates the scientific method. One more time for people in the back: Genesis is not about science. Science is concerned with discovering the how. Genesis is more interested in the who and why. The God of the Bible creates out of love and community, and his creation is imbibed with a sense of purpose and order – and it was good.

The writer of Genesis 1 depicts three basic groups of animals – domesticated livestock, wild untamed beasts, and reptiles. Add those to fish and birds, and that’s basically the way the ancients understood the natural world.

But then…

God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:26-31)

Another question scientists try to answer is What separates humans from animals? Technically, human beings are mammals, and we’re closely related on a DNA level to primates like chimpanzees and bonobos. But as far as we know, human beings are the only sentient, self-aware, conscious beings in the entire universe. Some would say that we’re no different than the non-human animals. I think the fact that we can make those kind of assertions proves that we are different.

Where does consciousness come from? Where does our sense of love and community and justice come from? Where does our morality come from?

I believe it has something to do with the very Image and Likeness of God embedded into each and every homo sapien on the planet. There is a little bit of God’s own nature inside each one of us. Forgetting or ignoring that fact has led to some of the greatest atrocities in history – persecution, genocide, hate crimes, slavery, human trafficking. When we dismiss the Imago Dei inside our brother or sister, we dehumanize them. Only when we dehumanize them in our minds can we justify violent actions against them.

Every living creature has the “breath of life” in it, but only humans bear the likeness of God. Thus we are his ambassadors and co-rulers. We are tasked with the creative process, ruling over and tending to the rest of creation just as God would do.

This is why, I believe, that Jesus says the greatest command in Scripture is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – to love your neighbor as yourself. Or as John would put it:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
(1 John 4:20)

Love for God and love for others cannot be separated because God has created us in his own image. Or as Victor Hugo would write in his famous novel Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

 ________________________________

How would the world be different if we all acknowledged the Image of God in each other human being we encountered every day?

Why is it so difficult to remember that all people are created in God’s likeness?

What are some specific ways we can live out the mission God gave us?