Friday, June 9, 2017

Loving People: Part 6

Commandment 10: "You must not covet your neighbor's house.  You must not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor."

Commandment 10 is great, because it can't be enforced. You can do it, and nobody will ever know!
With murder, there will probably be concrete evidence that it's been done.
With adultery, there will be at least one witness.
Lying is something that is done to another person.
With jealousy, however, people may never know if you've done it.  It goes on in the mind instead of being an action. This commandment is very similar to commandment eight: "Don’t take the things that other people have."  But in this case, it’s not about the act, but about the heart.  God doesn’t only care if you actually take a thing; God’s concerned with your heart. Commandment eight: called people not to violate another person's boundaries; to not hinder their survival.  And now commandment ten calls people to refrain from even desiring the things that others have.
This is interesting, because for the most part in the Old Testament, sin is seen as something that a person does. Sin is not something in the heart, but it’s an impulse that you’ve acted upon. That’s why it’s so shocking when Jesus says that if you think angry thoughts about a person, you’re as subject to judgment as if you killed him. Or when he says that if you think impure thoughts about someone, you’ve already committed adultery with that person in your heart. The people would have thought, “No, no, that’s not true. We never sinned," because in the minds of the people, sin was something that you did. 
But the words of Jesus show us, and this tenth commandment shows us, that God is concerned with what’s in the heart.  God is concerned about your thoughts and your desires.  Are you looking at someone else’s things and thinking how great it would be to have those things for yourself?  Stop it.  Stop it right now.  We all know what jealousy can lead to, and especially if you’re living amongst a group of people in the desert, and everyone’s trying to survive, you need to not have these thoughts.
Jealousy is the catalyst that leads to stealing.  God calls us to remain grateful for what we've been given, and to kill any thoughts of envy for another person's belongings.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Loving People: Part 5

Commandment 9: You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Lying, like the other commandments we've looked at over the past few days, hurts others.  What does lying do to the person lied about? How are they victims? How does it affect others who hear the lie? How does it cause a community of people to make decisions based on untrue statements?

Remember, the Israelites were wandering in the desert.  They were making decisions on how to live as a community.  They were no longer living under the rule of Pharaoh; they were making communal decisions.  If somebody lies, therefore, it causes problems with the whole community.

This is still true today.  Lying affects decisions that are made between people.  Lying affects relationships between two or more persons.

We lie because it's easy.  It's easier in the short-term to lie than to admit a devastating truth.  Lies are things that are hard to detect.  There are people who are pretty good at detecting lies, but ultimately it's hard to know if a person is lying.

The Israelites took lying so seriously, that Israelite law said if a person was convicted of lying, they would receive the punishment the other person would have received if it the lie had been true.

In other words, Let's say that I told people that you stole two oxen from me.  Now let's say that the punishment for stealing two oxen is to pay back five oxen and two chickens.  If it turns out that my accusation about you was untrue, I would have to give you five oxen and two chickens.

The Israelites took lying seriously.  They took it seriously because lying hurts people, relationships, and a community.  We should take lying seriously as well.
Relationships matter.
Community matters.
People matter.
Lying damages these things.  May we be truthful in all of our relationships.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Loving People: Part 4

Commandment 8: You must not steal

Stealing from another person violates their personal boundaries.  For the ancient Israelites, stealing could have even more dire consequences than it does for people today. At the time of Moses, most belongings that a person had would relate to their survival. Remember, God's people are in the desert. They are trying to gather food, have shelter, and keep warm. Their clothing is not for fashion, it's for warmth. Stealing could, and likely would, result in a person having a harder time surviving.  So when we think about stealing today, then yes, stealing personal belongings does violate a person's boundaries. This is against what God would want from his people. But it’s even worse when you consider the perspective of the person being stolen from. What do they lose, and what will be the fallout in their lives because of what you’ve done?  Not only is this commandment saying “Don’t steal;” it’s saying “Don’t hurt another person in order to make your own life better.”

Why were people so up in arms when the Bernie Madoff scandal broke?  Beyond being unbelievable that 65 million dollars could have been lost due to an elaborate and long running Ponzi scheme, people uninvolved were angry.  Individuals were conned.  Charities were conned.  We see things like this happen and we think, “How can someone take from other people that maliciously?”  Okay, so you probably aren’t running a decades-long Ponzi scheme, but even taking something small from someone else can hurt them.  See life from the perspective of the one you’re stealing from.  How are you hurting them?

To repent of our envy and desire to steal learn is to become grateful for what we have, instead of wanting what another has.  We learn to, as Paul puts it, "Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:16-18).
May we rejoice and be grateful for what God's given us.  May we never let our desires cause harm to another.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Loving People: Part 3

Commandment 7: You shall not commit adultery

Like murder, adultery hurts many people.  Adultery hurts the person with whom you cheated.  You and that person are now living a lie and living with guilt.  You are causing strain and, most likely, the eventual end of your and the other person’s marriage.  You are hurting your children; you are hurting the other person’s children.  You are hurting their families.  You are hurting their loved ones.  You are teaching your children that one person does not physically satisfy another person for life.

And again, like the commandment on murder, Jesus goes a step further.  "You have heard the commandment that says, "You must not commit adultery" But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt. 5:27-28).  People don’t cheat out of nowhere.  It comes from the thoughts that we have.  

By the way, it’s funny to me how we hesitate to talk about lust as much as something like anger.  Have you gotten angry?  Of course.  Have you had impure thoughts about another person?  No, of course not.  

To love others, we need to also see them as God’s children, not as objects of desire.
Lust goes on in the mind and in the heart.  To break the power of lustful thoughts is to begin to see all people as the beloved children of God that they are, not as objects of our own desires. Jesus calls us to stop using other people created by God and loved by God in our own impure ways.  Maybe the best way to do this is to tell ourselves whenever we have these thoughts about another person, “This is a beloved child of God.”

This is a child of God.
Created by God.

Loved by God.

Loving People: Part 2

Commandment 6:  "You shall not murder"

Murder hurts people (well, that's obvious).  It doesn't just hurt the person murdered, though, but the family, the loved ones, all of those who have connections with the person murdered, and all of those who have connections with those who have connections with the person murdered.  Haven you ever have a good friend who had a tragedy in their life, and you didn’t know the person involved, but it still affected you deeply, because your friend was in grief?  Murder hurts a multitude of people.  To engage in such an action is to physically harm one, and emotionally damage many.
But Jesus took it farther in the Sermon on the Mount. Mt 5:21-22 - "You have heard that our ancestors were told, "You must not murder. If you commit murder you are subject to judgment."  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!"  

Jesus steps it up, and says, "Don’t even be angry with a person." Why? How is anger on the same level as murder?

As Yoda says, "Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering."

God cares about what’s in your heart just as much as the things that you actually do.  Have you been angry in the past week?  Yeah, God cares about that.  The bad things that you do to others come from the bad things you think about others.
We are a people who like our anger.  We are a people who often hide our anger behind a mask (Fake smiles, passive aggressive behavior). We act like we are not angry, but that anger affects our relationships with other people. Jesus calls us beyond anger. 

Jesus calls us to forgive even our enemies.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

Jesus is so committed to bringing his people past the anger that destroys relationships that he says, "If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

If there's a rift between you and another person, fix it.  Work it out.

Do not murder.

Do not even become angry.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Loving People: Part 1

Commandment #5

The first four of the Ten Commandments all fall under the umbrella of "Loving God."  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  For the past four days, we have looked at the first four commandments, and how following these commandments is an expression of Loving God.
The last six of the Ten Commandments have to do with Loving People.  Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself.  Each of these commandments are expressions of Loving People.
So, on to Commandment 5:

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you."

This commandment needs some preface. It's a tough one for many to read. It's possibly a tough one for you.  You may have had bad relationships with your parents. Perhaps your parent did something awful--seemingly unforgivable--and now you're faced with the commandment to honor them??? This is not something that comes easily.  For some, it doesn't seem doable at all.
Or perhaps you've had a bad relationship with one of your children, and you haven't felt properly honored.
To many, this commandment brings up painful emotions. "How could a loving God command me to honor that man or that woman?" Well, if we look at how this command would have been heard by the Israelites at the time, it may seem much more in line with the heart of God.  
First of all, this is not a commandment that would have been seen as something for parents to use in order to “keep their kids in line.”  Many parents have used this commandment for that purpose?  Kids acting out is tough to deal with.  Nevertheless, that’s not what this text points to.  
For the Israelites, to “honor” someone was to consider them a person of value.  The people have just left Egypt. They were slaves. Now they’re free, and they’re struggling to survive.  The land isn’t easy to live off of, especially in the desert. You have to build shelters, find food without adequate rainfall (again, they are in the desert), and survive in an area that’s not exactly built for survival.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re many people, you realize that selling members of your family into slavery will get you some good money, so that the rest of you will be able to survive.  You’ll also realize that certain people need to have most of the resources: the food, the water. The younger people with the good backs and upper body strength need to be in good health to do the work that helps people survive.  So the temptation, then, is to decide who’s more “worth saving," right? The temptation is to decide who’s helpful to the group, and who’s not.  So in this context, this commandment is about much more than “Children: obey what your parents say to you.”  It calls people to honor their elders; to consider them people of value; of worth.  We’ve seen horrifying examples in history of what can happen when people view certain groups of people as having less value than others. This isn’t an ancient historical event: the Nazi idea of a master race was around in the 1940’s.  Neo-Nazism is still a thing. There are still chapters of the KKK in America.
The idea that some people have more value than others can lead to unbelievable destruction and hurt. This is the basic message of the Harry Potter series. It’s what happens in X-Men.  These are stories about people deciding who has more and less value. Honor your Father and Mother. See others as people who have value.  Whether it’s those with physical or mental limitations, those from different regions, those with different backgrounds, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly--all people have value.  For this group of people, it was the older among them.  For us it may be another group. It could be the mentally ill, the homeless, the drug addicted, or countless other groups.  But the message is still the same: they’re worthy of honor. They’re valued by God, and they’re to be valued by us.
Honor your Father and Mother.  Honor all people, even if conventional wisdom might consider them less worthy of honor.  God values them, and we are to value them as well.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Loving God: Part 4

Commandment 4

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.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  The Ten Commandments say that God’s people are to rest one day a week, in the same way that God rested on the seventh day of creation.  If we look at the Ten Commandments passage from the book of Deuteronomy, we see a slightly different version of this commandment.  It tells the people to remember that YHWH brought them out of captivity in Egypt, and they are therefore to keep the Sabbath day.  In this context, the Sabbath is a day to remember God’s provision.  A day to reflect on God’s protective care for them.  
God rested, and we are to rest.  However, this isn’t just a day to rest from all of the work that we’ve done.  
This is also a day to remember God’s love and provision.  
You'll sometimes hear people say that remembering the Sabbath means to “come to church on Sunday.”  As we look at this text and the one in Deuteronomy, however, we see that it’s actually telling us to rest, and to remember how YHWH cares for his people.  So if your heart’s in the right place, and you come to church with a worshipful, thankful spirit, then yes, that can be part of your Sabbath experience.  If going to church is simply something you do and tell others to do, but your heart’s not in the right place, then you’re Sabbathing wrong.  Sabbath is about rest for your body and soul, and remembrance of God’s provision.  Eugene Peterson says that to Sabbath is to “Pray and Play.” (Working the Angles, 73).
Take a day to rest and to remember God's love and provision.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Loving God: Part 3

Commandment 3:

"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

Okay, this is a little misunderstood, or at least not fully understood by many Christians today. This commandment isn’t saying, “Don’t say ‘Oh my ___”, and it’s not about avoiding using God's name in that way. Those things may feed into what’s really being said in this commandment, but it doesn’t begin and end there.  The main point with commandment 3 is that you are not to distort who God is, or to misrepresent him. YHWH means “The one who is” or “The one who creates.”  In this culture, name and character were intimately connected.  Your name described you; who you were.  You were not to associate YHWH’s name, then, with something that was not in line with who God is.  Do not speak the name of YHWH and associate him with anything other than who he is.  He’s the one who creates.  He’s the one who is.  He’s the one who pulled you out of Egypt.  He’s the one who has made a covenant with Abraham, and now you, making you his people.  Don't. Misrepresent. Him.
This is important for us to remember.  Some Christians get really upset when they hear somebody say “Oh my _____.”  But if the real meaning behind this commandment is that we aren’t to misrepresent God, then we need to be doing a lot more than watching our language.  We need to be regularly in the Word.  We need to be reading those who have committed their lives to studying this Word.  We need to be in discussion with other Christians about what’s going on in the Bible.  If we don’t want to misrepresent God, then we’d better be constantly pursuing the knowledge of who God is.  Are you in the Word on a consistent basis?  Are you familiarizing yourself with who God is?  Why do groups like Westboro Baptist make most of us uncomfortable?  They make us uncomfortable and angry because we've looked at Scripture, and have tried to familiarize ourselves with who God is, and we think pretty strongly that screaming hate at people while they’re grieving and speaking about God’s hate toward certain people groups is not in line with the God of love that we see in scripture.  Televangelists who use the name of God to ask for large sums of money that they then squander have been in the news again lately.  Why does this make us uncomfortable?  Because the God that we see in scripture does not bless those who ask for money in the name of God, and then buy a private jet.  It makes us uncomfortable when people misrepresent God.  Let’s you and I work hard at representing God correctly.  Let’s not take the name of YHWH in vain.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Loving God: Part 2

Commandment 2:

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.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in heaven, on earth, or under the earth.  There is to be no idol made to anything.  This made Israel separate from other nations around them.  Everybody made and worshipped idols.  When Moses was up on the mountain for a long time, what did the people tell Aaron to do?  Make an idol.  And he did it.  Why?  This is what people know.  This is what you did.  People made idols.
But making and worshipping idols replaces the sole worship and devotion to YHWH with devotion to multiple things.  Even if people made an idol to YHWH, that would reduce YHWH to something controlled by humans.  YHWH is supposed to rule the people, not the other way around.  They are to put their whole faith and devotion into their worship of YHWH, and to do so means to quit making idols.  Do not shrink God down to the size of an idol, but worship him as he is.

God is holy, mighty, powerful, and worthy of our praise.  Don't replace your worship of God with worship of something else, and don't shrink God down to the size of an idol.