Monthly archives "November 2013"

God’s Family Plan

The Fifth Commandment calls us to “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”    This is the first Commandment with a  promise attached.   To live in peace for generations in the Promised Land the Hebrews would need to respect authority and build strong families.   

The Japanese have a saying:   “When you have children you begin to understand what you owe your parents.”   This can add to our need to honor our parents.

What does it mean to honor our parents?   In part it means speaking well of them and politely to them and to help meet their needs as they age.  Godly parents teach and train us in His ways and we are to pass this on to our children and grandchildren.   The importance of this plan begins several verses earlier in Ex. 20:5:  “I the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the 3rd and 4th generations of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my Commandments.”

Parents have learned some things from experience.   They know that it is a moral universe.   For example, we do not break the law of gravitation.    We can break ourselves on that law but we do not break it.

Many times children rebel against this.  They want to test things out.  To test authority.  And there are times when the need for discipline arises.   Ephesians 6:4 calls us to “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”   The Greek words here are strong indicating training by act and discipline includes not only commands of the mouth but enforcement of those commands by punishment where necessary.

It is interesting that children seem to be instinctively prepared for this discipline.   I recall in school it was the strict teachers who made me feel most secure.   My two favorites were Mrs. Koenig and Ms. Livingston who spared not the rod and we learned.   We knew why we were there and more to the point, so did they.

What happens when a child behaves as if the world revolves around him?   What if parents let him think he is the center of the universe?    That is sowing to the wind which reaps a whirlwind.  
There is a poem by Stephen Crane, A Man Said to the Universe.  “Sir, I exist.”   “However,” replied the Universe, “That fact creates in me no sense of obligation.” 

Godly parents do not operate with this kind of anarchy.   They know they are the windows through which their children get their picture of God.  They also get their picture of themselves and the world into which they are born.  Godly parents follow His family plan.

In our home we had a no T.V. family night.   If that were Monday I learned I could do without Monday Night Football.   On that night we took turns choosing something the family did together.   Sometimes it was a walk around the neighborhood where each family member was to note something they had not seen before.   It cost no money but was priceless in reward.  Other times we got out the family album and relived special family moments.   Sometimes it was a family basketball game.  

We also turned off the television during meals.   Meal time for the family should be sacramental and filled with good conversation.    Our sons have their own families now and each family member take a turn during the evening meal to tell about their day while others listen and learn and catch up one with another.       

Master historian Ruskin says the history of the world is not the history of war and economics.  Rather that history is the history written in our homes day by day with Godly parents raising children for Him.  God’s way works.   And moms and dads who raise their children for God will find that they are honored by their children and blessed by God in the Promised Land.


Rest & Renewal, The 4th Commandment

In January 1974 my wife and I left the community of Monte Vista, CO in the San Luis Valley for Wilmore, KY, just outside Lexington.   Our first Sunday we went to worship and stopped at the local store for milk and bread.  We were surprised to find no stores open.  We learned that if one wished to shop in the Blue Grass state it was to be done Monday through Saturday.   Sunday is the  Lord’s Day and no commerce occurred then in KY.

We had already noticed that the pace there was slower and people seemed to live in a more balanced fashion of work and rest.   This was one of the reasons.   Every merchant knew that the competition was also closed.   Buster Brown shoes knew Kinney’s was closed as was the entire mall.   Each grocery chain knew every other store sold no food nor produce on Sunday.  And all their employees got a day with their families as well.   And we learned we could survive with six days to shop and one to rest.  Kentucky honored the 4th Commandment:  “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

BUT, but there came that Monday in 1976 when I was in a hardware store in Lexington and heard the owner say, “Did you notice our competition was open on Sunday?  I am going to see how this goes.  If he can open so will I.”   And by the time we left in 1977 stately KY had joined the American rat race.

Back in the 1960’s I saw a C.B.S. program with Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid.   Cronkite asked Sevareid what he noticed to be most different in America today as opposed to the past.  I have never forgotten his answer:   “Walter, I have never seen our people with more leisure nor I have ever seen them so worn out.”    Why?   We do not balance work with rest. 

In 1793 with the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, the radical leaders decided there would be a ten day week rather than seven.   So persons were forced to work ten days without rest.   They had to return to a seven day week as even their horses broke down under the load.  God’s ways and God’s rhythm of life works.  Man’s way does not.

A similar thing happened as America made its way west after the Civil War.   Some wagon trains attempted to go seven days/week.   Others stopped early on Saturday, tended to their wagons and gave their teams rest and an extra measure of oats on Sunday.   They also gave time for worship on the Lord’s Day.   The trains in a rush would laugh as they went by saying, “We will be there first and get the best land.”   Those observing God’s Commandments would smile and answer, “We will see.”  Without exception the wagon trains that followed God and His Commandments passed up the broken wagons and worn out teams of those who did not.   God’s way works.   Man’s way does not.   

The 4th Commandment is the longest of the 10.  Where the 6th Commandment is four words, “You shall not kill;”  God employs 94 words to speak about the 4th Commandment.   An important part of this Commandment is sometimes overlooked.   This is God’s instruction to work.   Legitimate work glorifies God and has important significance when balanced with rest. 
In a nation with millions and millions out of work we need reflect on this and seek renewal that the great American labor force can again glorify God through the employment of the gifts He has entrusted to us.

There is also a deeper spiritual significance to observing a day of rest.   We need a regular time to reflect on our relationship with God–a rest for spiritual renewal as well as physical.   We need ponder with thanksgiving all that God has done for us and experience the rest He has granted us as we completely trust in Him.  Working honors God.   So does resting from our labors and worshiping God.  This is all part of our witness.  

In 1924 a young Scotsman named Eric Liddel entered the Olympic Games.  But the race he was favored to win was run on a Sunday.  Liddel, devout Christian, refused to run on Sunday.  There was great furor and he was heavily criticized,  but he held his ground.  He then practiced for a race he had never run before, the 200 meters, and won the Gold for Britain

Another young Scotsman who was searching for meaning and purpose for his life followed the story in the newspapers.   He was so deeply impressed that it became a part of his conversion to Christianity.  His name is Peter Marshall, and he became one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century.   His wife, Catherine Marshall, told his story in A Man Called Peter.   And in 1981 Liddel’s story was made into an Academy Award winning movie, Chariots of Fire.   All this because a man honored God and the 4th Commandment.

God has a claim on our time.   The Lord’s Day is a gracious gift to recreate body and soul through rest and worship and the joy thereof.    A day of rest gives meaning to the rest of the week.  Amen!


The Name Above Every Name

We have been looking at the 10 Commandments beginning with No Other Gods and No Carved Images.   We now turn to the Third Commandment, respecting God’s Name.  The church we attend is in a series on the 10 Commandments (though they began with 10 and are working back to the first) and is noting that these Commandments are Absolute NOT Obsolete.   They are sometimes called God’s Top Ten.   Indeed they are.

We might begin by asking, “What’s in a name?”    Madison Avenue for advertising purposes would say everything is in a name.   Think of some of the names that have become nouns and even verbs in the English language.   We don’t even think about it.   Coke.   I’ll have a Coke synonymous with all the many cola drinks.  Kleenex.   Everyone reaches for Kleenex whatever the brand of tissue.   Xerox.  I am going to Xerox this and as likely as not it is Canon or Savin or some other photocopy machine.

Popular titles for leaders are interesting.   George Washington was Commander of the Continental Army and that is a good description.   First President is important.  But “Father of his Country” captures it all.   Abraham Lincoln, President during the Civil War, is a good historic perspective.   He freed the slaves, but “Honest Abe” instantly tells us one of the things for which he is known. 

But there is a Name above all these.   The Hebrews called Him Elohim–The Almighty.   Adonai, The Sovereign Ruler, The Lord God.   Jehovah, The One Who is Who He is and always has been.  This is not a Name to be taken lightly.  The Third Commandment is that we not misuse the Name of God.   God’s Name filled the Hebrews with awe and they employed His Name often only with pronouns, He or Him, and others could tell of whom they spoke by context and voice.

How far we have sunk in this area.  Until the classic film, “Gone With the Wind” there was no swearing in movies.   Now it is so bad that we notice if it is not there such as the 1990 movie, “Dick Tracy,”  which included no cursing.   Conservative Jewish movie critic Michael Medved has said that he has never left the theater and heard anyone say, “Mabel, that was a good film but it would have been better with a little more cursing.”    Even the most profane do not say that. 

We see it at ball games.   Vin Scully, perhaps the greatest voice in sports said, “The American League now has a designated hitter.   The Yankees have a designated swearer, Lou Pinella.”   The ones most hurt by this are the young as they think it is grown up to swear. 

I have a gifted friend, a man of real wisdom who farms and ranches in the San Luis Valley of South central CO.   He became national head of the potato growers association shortly after his conversion to Christianity.    At his first national meeting as chair he was sensitive to something he had been immune to before.   Member farmers at the meeting would say the G.D. government and the G.D. supermarkets and G.D. weather.   

At the end of the meeting he said, “Men, since you mention God about every other sentence you must wish to speak of Him.  So do I.”    He told them how he had become a follower of Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life.   As one could guess a holy silence fell over the room.  My friend said, “If any of you would like to hear more, I will be available throughout the conference.”   And a new tone was set for their meetings.  Such was this man’s esteem and witness.

In addition to profanity in employing God’s Name there is also frivolity.   Making jokes about God and church and faith.   In reality there should be veneration and maybe some trembling around the Name of God.   We should love God.  We should trust God.  But our reverence might also include some trembling before Him for God is the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, the Hand that moves the world.   Mark Twain said, “Man is the only creature that blushes–or needs to.”  We are made in God’s image.   Twain, though a skeptic, was insightful and his thought here captures some of not being frivolous about God.   We need tremble and blush a bit in His Presence.

And finally, there is hypocrisy.  This is related to the first two.   And it is also an extension of the first 2 Commandments.  We acknowledge there is a God, maybe pray to Him but then deny His existence by the way we live, by failing to practice our faith.   Someone has said:   “Prayer without action is hypocrisy and action without prayer is arrogance.”  

Hypocrisy is belief that is mere lip service.   Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock.”  Matthew 7:24.   To talk about God and not live for Him is also misusing His Name taking His Name in vain.   The late comedian Fred Allen said, “Too many people spend all week sowing wild oats and then come to church on Sunday praying for a crop failure.”

Belief that does not make a real difference in the way we live is a sham.  As Elton Trueblood
put it,  “An empty, meaningless faith can be worse than none.”   E. Stanley Jones said, “Too many Christians have been touched with a mild dose of Christianity and are now immune to the real thing.”

People watch one another.  The world watches Christians.   Who brings dishonor to a family name?   The owner of the garage where we take our car?   No.   The grocer where we buy our sustenance?   No.  Those who do our lawn care?   No.  Who does honor or dishonor the family name?   A member of the family who lives worthy or unworthy of the family name.   We are called by His Name.  Do we bring honor or dishonor to Him by the way we live?

What’s in a name?  A great deal is in a name.   And God’s Name is above every name.  Let us live and speak and practice our faith believing this to be true.   If we care about God, let us handle His Name with care.


No Idols Allowed

Someone has estimated that we have 35 million laws to enforce 10 Commandments.  Why?  Because we do not follow them.  Are they still to be practiced?   The Lord indicated so in the Sermon on the Mount:   Matthew 5:21-30.  In fact, He expanded them.  Keeping the Commandments is not easy but it works.   Man’s way does not which accounts for the 35 million laws.

In the late 1800’s British statesman W. E. Gladstone visited Christ Church College.  He spoke of the betterment of English society with such enthusiasm and was so positive that a student asked him, “Sir, are there no clouds on the horizon?”    Gladstone reflected, “Yes, one thing troubles me–God seems to be dying out of the minds of men.”   That is a real cloud and keeping the First Commandment, worship of the One True God, would prevent this from happening.   Only God Who fills the universe can fill the human heart.

The Second Commandment says we are to make no carved idols of God.  Years ago Life magazine portrayed God as a kindly old man with a long white beard.   Charles Hodge spoke of the danger of this in that “Idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in worship of the true God by images.”

Any visual portrayal of deity can be dangerous.  Nothing created can convey God’s true image.   Such images dishonor God because they distort His glory.    Theologian J.I. Packer suggests the people of Israel intended to worship Jehovah when Aaron made the golden calf.   The bull image was to remind them of the strength of God in delivering them out of Egypt.  But strength is just one aspect of His character.  The calf showed nothing of His holiness.   Thus, the people turned the “feast to the Lord” into a wild, sensual party.  (Exodus 32:5-8)   And this was just after swearing loyalty to His Commandments. 

We say today we are too sophisticated to worship a bull.   I am not so sure.  Why are farmers in CA denied needed water?   It might disturb the snail darters or an endangered mouse.   We should respect nature but worship the Creator rather than the created.   Gen. 1:26 records that man was created in God’s image and would have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and the cattle on the earth.   This would seem to include snail darters (except in CA).  God’s way works;   Man’s way does not.  

Some would make the environment an idol.   So we must destroy the coal industry and move to green energy and we invest billions in Solyndra and in electric cars.  Perhaps it would be well to inform our leaders (who have never run anything but their mouths) that electricity is generated by coal and without it electric cars cannot be charged.   And they are not selling anyway.  Neither have the Solyndras of Obama’s world been successful.   

We all want clean air and water and American ingenuity has given us both.   Perhaps one day we will drive electric cars.  But until that day let us thank God for the coal and oil in our land, take dominion over them and carefully employ both with His blessing.  God’s way works;  Man’s does not. 

There is a story of a husband and wife who were planning a trip to the Holy Land.  He said when they got there he wanted to stand atop Mount Sinai and shout out the 10 Commandments.   His wife said, “Good idea!   But first let’s practice them here at home.”    Exactly right!   “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.   Amen.”   I John 5:21 

God made us in His image.   We cannot make Him in ours.