Monthly archives "December 2013"

The Lure of the Forbidden

You shall not covet. (Exodus 20:17) 

In some ways the 10th Commandment is the most profound.   It includes what may have been omitted in all the others.   This Commandment goes to the disposition of the heart.  It is the most comprehensive of all the commandments which is probably why it comes last.   This is the only Commandment that zeroes in on a forbidden attitude rather than an act.

It is coveting that caused King David to steal another man’s beautiful wife, to commit adultery with her and to have Uriah, her husband, killed. (2 Samuel 11)   Coveting led to stealing, adultery, and murder.  It still does.  

The 10th Commandment is difficult to explain as covet is a hard word to define.   Does covet mean to desire something.   Certainly not.  Life is made up of desires and would stop without desire.  We desire food and eat to maintain our bodies.   We desire a mate and children and a home of our own.   These are natural God given desires and allow for the perpetuation of our race.

We have a desire for approval.   A desire for respect.  That is what makes us wash our face and comb our hair and dress appropriately  in clean clothing before leaving home.   Life is based on desire.  Without the basic desires and hungers we would not have life.

Then does covet mean to desire something we do not have?   Not really.   A good student desires an education which is why one goes to school.   Desire leads to creativity.   Most everything we call improvement comes because of some type of desire. 

It is true also in matters of the spirit.   Paul says “Covet the best gifts.”  (I Corinthians 12:31)   Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”   (Matthew 5:6)   That’s desire.   Coveting is not just desiring something.  Buddha said that desire was the source of all the evil in the world.   Christ didn’t say anything like that.  Buddha said eliminate desire and you eliminate evil–sort of a glorified nothingness.  But the Lord did not come to bring us nothingness but to give us abundant life. 

Covetousness is a bit like the word love or personality.   We know it when we see it.  It is hard to define but easy to identify.   Covet is from a Greek word pleonexia  meaning basically the desire to have what belongs to another.   It is not wrong to want a home, a wife, a car.   But to covet the home, the wife, the car of another adds a new element.   It is the lure of the forbidden.   In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a popular program on television titled “90210.”    Jim Walsh, father of teens, Brandon and Brenda, told an old beau of his wife who showed up in Beverly Hills, “Stop coveting my family and go out and establish your own.”   Good advice and good protection of one’s home and family.

Covetousness is a very basic part of the Fall of Man.   It is the perversion of God given desires and throws the human spirit off balance.  Covetousness is part of the carnal mind and at the heart of the inner principle of sin.  It is an off centeredness of man’s power steering and pulls in the wrong direction.  It is a spirit that says I will gain what I want no matter the cost.  

There is a centrality to covetousness–a universality.  That is another reason this Commandment comes last.  It is a universal sin.   We find references to covetousness in nearly all the proverbs of the world–whatever the culture or language.   In English we say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  Aesop’s fables tell the story of the man who killed the goose that laid the golden egg.   It closes with this moral, “Much wants more and loses all.”
The covetous man never has enough.

When Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 Gerald Ford became President.   He tapped Nelson Rockefeller, former Governor of New York, to be his Vice-President.   At the Senate confirmation hearings a Senator asked Rockefeller how much wealth was enough to satisfy a man.   Rockefeller’s reply is a classic.   One of the wealthiest men from one of the wealthiest American families answered the question, “How much wealth is enough to satisfy a man” thus:  “Just a little more.”   Just a little more.   And there it is.  No matter how much we have, we desire more.

One day Abraham Lincoln was walking down the street in Washington D.C. with his two sons.  The boys were arguing.   A passerby inquired, “What is wrong, Mr. President?”   Lincoln answered, “The same thing that is wrong with the whole world.  I have three walnuts and each son wants two of them.”    

Lord Congledon overheard his cook say to his assistant, “If I just had a 5 pound note I would be perfectly happy.”   Never having seen anyone perfectly happy Congledon handed him 5 pounds and then waited behind the kitchen door to hear the cook say, “Why in the world didn’t I say 10.”
This is covetousness and it has smashed every dream of man from Plato’s Republic to moral Utopia’s to Marxist Communism.  

If our Republic survives (and I pray it will) it will be because of the brilliance of our Founders in recognizing this flaw in the human heart.   They were not naïve like Thoreau or Emerson who believed that humans are basically good and virtuous.   No, they knew that no one can be trusted with too much power, that we are covetous beings.   So they set up a system of checks and balances.   Our Founders were not all evangelical Christians but they were students of Scripture and history and understood the problem of sin and idolatry and coveting to the point of limiting the power entrusted to any one individual.

The 10th Commandment, do not covet, may seem like an add-on compared to such big ticket items as murder, stealing, lying and adultery.   But it is foundational to all the other Commandments and ensures peace and contentment.   As noted above it is the only Commandment that addresses  a forbidden attitude rather than an action.  It is a safeguard against the temptation to break the other nine Commandments.

Our children learned a song a number of years ago by Arne Hoglund titled  Why Complain.   “Why complain about your shoes?   Why complain about your teacher and her rules?    Why complain when so many have no home?   Why complain when you have one of your own?   Just be thankful for the good things you’ve got.   Oh, be thankful for the good things that you’ve got.  The good things that you’ve got are for many just a dream.   So be thankful for the good things that you’ve got.”

Is this just a song for children?   Oh no!   It is wisdom for all of us.  How do we find this contentment in what we have?   The only answer to covetousness, this basic sin of the human heart, is a total surrender to the Lord so that He becomes our joy, our life, our all.   Be content in Jesus Christ.    

Merry Christmas!


The Truth About Lying

Many of us can remember a day when we trusted the word of the President and other leaders.  Even the Press, while rightly skeptical, gave the benefit of the doubt to leaders like President Kennedy when he asked The New York Times and other papers to hold back as they learned something major was happening during the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962.  This was a time when leaders seemed more cognizant of Scripture including the 9th Commandment, “Do not bear false witness.”

But then came Viet Nam which we were ever assured was winding down in our favor.   This was followed by Watergate and a President telling us he was not a crook.    The first baby boomer President, Bill Clinton, looked into a camera and said, “I did not have sex with that woman. . .”  A few months later on August 17, 1998 he addressed the nation and said he did indeed have relations with that woman, that he had a  “lapse in judgment and a personal failure for which I am solely and completely responsible.”    USA Today,  not exactly a right wing publication, said this was followed by the President devoting half his speech to attacking his accusers, Ken Starr and Linda Tripp, who had just been proven to be exactly right.

Now another baby boomer President, Barack Obama, is said by Politico to have told the lie of the year with his 30 times repeated,  “If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your insurance plan–period.   If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor–period.”   What a whopper.   And the American people are more and more distrustful of government and feel we are on the wrong track as a nation. 

When Joseph McCarthy was causing so much trouble for Harry Truman and smearing the reputations of many in the 1950’s, Truman aides dug up dirt on McCarthy and asked the President for permission to leak it to the Press.   Harry Truman would not stand for it.  He said, “Gentlemen, I am just a man holding this office.  If I soil it the dirt does not leave with me.  It stays in the Oval Office for the next man.  The only answer to a lie is the whole truth”   Oh, for a man of this character to occupy the Oval Office once again!

What happens when a President lies to the people as Clinton and Obama have?    As Richard Nixon’s cover up of Watergate was fully exposed someone said, “When a President lies he should resign because his ability to lead is gone.”   Those words were spoken in August 1974 by a young law professor in Little Rock, Arkansas by the name of William Jefferson Clinton.  

Young Clinton said a lying President like Nixon should resign.  A greater man than Bill Clinton, Alexander Hamilton in Federalist # 70 wrote of impeachment, when an officeholder “acts in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted.”    Nixon did resign;  Clinton did not.  What did President Clinton do instead?  Like Harry Truman did he say, “The buck stops here?”  He did not.  During his first term Barack Obama never tired of saying, “I inherited this mess.  It is Bush’s fault”   He blamed his predecessor.  Bill Clinton blamed his accusers.

There was a popular song in the 1960’s called the “Psychiatric Folk Song” that went like this:
            At 3 I had a feeling of ambivalence toward my brothers,
            So it followed naturally that I poisoned all my lovers;
            But now I’m happy, this is taught,
            Everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.
Blaming others is as old as the Garden of Eden.   Adam said to God after falling into sin:  “The woman You gave me deceived me.”  (Genesis 3:12)  It is her fault and Your fault.  And we have been blaming others ever since.

The character of a leader effects an entire nation.  When King David was living right Israel was blessed.  When he was living in adultery the national spirit sagged.  Leaders like Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan inspire and nation soars.   Other leaders oppress the spirit.   John Adams said, “There never was yet a people who must not have somebody or something to represent the state.”    George Will said of Bill Clinton, his “little legacy will be a quickened understanding of the indispensable nature of the sort of dignity from which he has been such a tawdry subtraction.”  Obama is more dangerous but the same can be said of him.

What to do?   First, let us see again the timelessness and importance of the Ten Commandments.   We are here looking at the 9th Commandment, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”   But every Commandment is important and the basis of a Godly society.

Second, let us be in prayer for our leaders including those with whom we disagree.  When Ronald Reagan was elected I felt led to pray for him every day.  Ronald Reagan is the only President who ever took a bullet and lived through it.   Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy all died of their wounds.  Ronald Reagan lived.   Does prayer matter?  I believe it does;  otherwise why does the Lord call us to pray in the Sermon on the Mount and why teach us the Lord’s Prayer?

There is a beloved hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”   The first verse closes with “O what peace we often forfeit.  O what needless pain we bear.   All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Third, let us recognize we all fall short and God knows it and loves us just the same.  
            I am evil born in sin,
            Thou desirest truth within
            Gracious God my heart renew
            Make my spirit right and true.
God knows all about us and offers us renewal as individuals and as a nation.  Praise God!

And finally, God is still in charge, come what may.  He is never taken by surprise.  And whatever the difficulties, detours and delays, He is never ultimately defeated.  As His followers, He renews our hope and in Him we are on the winning team.  Praise be to God!




Man, Woman, God & The 7th Commandment

Back in the 1980’s Christianity Today had an article on the fact that the more a society turns from the  sanctity of sex in marriage to the immorality we see in our society today the less productive is that nation.  Even in the prosperous 80’s we saw our nation slipping behind China and Japan in terms of the quality of our goods.   We are more a sex saturated nation now than then–and a less productive one. 

Pastor John Stroman in his book Thunder From The Mountain on the 10 Commandments quotes Frederick Buechner from his work, Wishful Thinking.  Buechner declared, “Contrary to the prudish, sex is not sin.  Contrary to Hugh Hefner it is not salvation either.  Like nitroglycerin sex can be employed to blow up bridges or, in marriage, to fulfill hearts.” 

There have always been people who jump the moral fences.  This was true in the 1950’s when we led the world in most every good thing and our President was a man tempered by leading the greatest military force ever put together in the greatest war the world has ever seen.  The difference then was that people knew where the fences were and had a sense that going over their borders had consequences.   But in the radical 60’s and still today too many want no fences.
But they cannot escape the consequences as we are not made to live this way.

In addition to the Viet Nam War, riots in the streets, assassination of political and moral leaders, the 60’s brought the so called Sexual Revolution.   In reality, this revolution was more a return to the forces that helped destroy the empires of ancient Greece and Rome.  And the terrible consequences in terms of human carnage bring us back to why God gave us the 10 Commandments.   Our moral values today also break the first and second Commandments as for some sex has become their god and an idol.   And the 7th Commandment might now read, “Thou shall lust.”

One also sees the wisdom of God in Romans 1:18-32 which describes the downward descent of a sick society.   It ends with not only do they do these things but others approve of the behavior–every form of sexual immorality including same-sex relations.  And the result is the destruction of that society as surely as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

How far the anarchy of our morals has slithered into our society is seen in the White House of Bill Clinton.   He was involved in a relationship with an intern not much older than his own daughter.   He knew this was wrong so he lied about it as the blue dress came to light.   Such relations drive the one who practices them to the shadows.  

My greatest concern about this is not Bill Clinton.   Other Presidents like JFK and FDR were involved with women not their wives.    How far we have moved away from Biblical standards, however,  is seen in the response of the American public.   Today Bill Clinton is the most popular of politicians–far more than Barack Obama or Bill’s wronged wife, Hillary.   

Harry Truman who was President 50 years before Clinton told his staff and cabinet officers that if any of them were sexually involved with persons outside their marriage partners, and he found out about it,  they would be fired.   Why?   Because said Mr. Truman, “If you are not keeping the most sacred of vows, the marriage vows, I cannot trust you to keep the promises you have made to the nation and to me.”   Ah, for a President like that again.   In the words of the old Virginia Slims commercial, “You’ve come along way, baby.”   A long way down the road of Romans 1, a long way down the road of our own destruction.

But there is hope!   God remains our great ally, and the 7th Commandment, like every other Commandment, comes out of the holy nature and character of God Himself.   And we are made in the image of God.   These truths are written into our personality physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.    And all the resources of God are available to us to help us keep the 7th Commandment and all the others as well.

There are signs some are turning back to Biblical standards.   In some cases this is out of fear of sexually transmitted diseases.   And that is acceptable even if fear can be a negative reason, but for others it is a real positive change of heart. 

To make it personal, two weeks ago I lost a close friend from high school.   Like many he had lived a rather wild life as a youth.    The pastor brought this out some at this funeral.   But most of the service was a celebration of his turning to God, living for Him and his inheritance of life eternal authored by Christ our King whose physical birth we celebrate again this month.    What changed him?   A beautiful Christian woman to whom he was faithfully married for 43 years.   Her faith became his and he became a leader in his church and community.   And his funeral became a celebration of that.  God’s way works;  Man’s way does not.

I close with a quote from Richard Foster in Money, Sex and Power:
        Sex is like a great river that is rich and deep and good as long as it stays within its proper
        channel.  The moment a river overflows it banks it becomes destructive, and the moment
        sex overflows its God given banks, it too becomes destructive.  Our task is to define as
        clearly as possible the boundaries placed upon our sexuality and to do all within our 
        power to direct our sexual responses into that deep, rich current. 

The 7th Commandments helps us to keep the river within the boundaries God has set forth.  God’s way works.   Praise be to God.



You Shall Not Murder, The Value of Human Life

Where the 4th Commandment on a day of rest is 94 words, the 6th and 8th Commandments are four words each.   Older versions of the Bible such as the King James and the Revised Standard Version render this Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”   More modern versions including the New International read prohibiting murder.

This helps us as we discuss killing in war time and capital punishment.  Many Christians believe that there are “just wars” with World War II being an example.   I have spoken to members of our churches who had to take a human life in war.   A good friend and a good man in our church in Central Illinois told me he had to kill a Japanese sniper in WWII.  Their captain was leading their company.  My friend was slightly behind the group when a Japanese soldier rose out of a fox hole and aimed at their officer.   My friend had to kill the man to save the life of his captain.   He had no choice but he still regrets this seventy years later and would have extended mercy if he could.  

However we approach this dilemma of life, all Christians agree that we are not to hate our enemies.   The Lord teaches in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies. . .”   If a Christian concludes that war is sometimes justified, it is with agony of spirit.  Often those who most detest war are military leaders like Dwight Eisenhower who later became Commander in Chief.

Exodus 20:13 is based on the divine fact that human life is God’s gift.   Abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide must all be viewed in the light of the preciousness of this gift of God–the gift of life.   Unfortunately we have a President who believes, not just in abortion, but in infanticide.

We lived in a suburb of Springfield, IL from 1999-2005.    During those years we observed Barack Obama as a State Senator from Chicago and as an absentee U.S. Senator.   I have heard former Vice President Dick Cheney say he swore Obama in as a Senator and never saw him again.   Why not?   Because he was too busy out blasting Bill and Hill as he ran for the Democrat nomination for President to show up for work.   He still would rather campaign than do the hard work of governing.   In contrast, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, said Bill Clinton would get right in the middle of the huddle as they negotiated thorny issues.   I never thought I would wish Bill Clinton back as President but now I do.

When he was a State Senator a bill came up that would spare the life of a baby that survived an attempted abortion.   Such survival does happen.   Barack Obama voted against this right to life and for the taking of the life of this child.   Why?  Because he does not value life.   The disaster that is Obamacare and the suffering it is causing and will also demonstrates this.   Obama believed that if the intent was to abort that baby then let that baby who survived an attempted abortion die.   It makes the blood run cold that a man like this has ascended to the highest office in the land.  

Barack Obama thinks of himself as always the smartest man in any room.  George Will, in a November 24, 2013,  column notes that long time and close adviser, Valerie Jarrett, sees her boss as so amazing “that he has never been challenged intellectually. . .he is bored because he is so talented.”   What sycophantic nonsense.   What obsequious foolishness.  As George Will asks, “Why should a man so gifted need an adviser?”

But we will all some day stand before the Lord, including this man who said in 2008 his campaign had “visited 57 states so far,” implying they would get to the rest before the election; including this man who indicated he was the one we had all been waiting for.   And what does the Lord say about harming a little child:  “”It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied about his neck.”  (Luke 17:2)

Which is one of the most hated institutions in our nation today?   I would submit it is the Roman Catholic Church.  Why?   In part because they stand for life which is to stand against Barack Obama and the Democrat Party.   Francis Schaeffer, late, great Christian writer and commentator, said there are times we need be co-belligerents with another whether we agree with them on every issue or not.  He said the last thing we need is a Civil War within the Christian faith.  Amen!  I am a Protestant and on abortion stand as a co-belligerent with the Roman Catholics. 

May we Protestant Christians show the courage of our convictions that our Roman brothers and sisters do.   And may we love God, and, in Him, value life, protect life , enrich life and stand up for life as a gift from God.