“You shall have no other gods before me…” Exodus 20:3
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17
God’s plan for growing a people dedicated to Him and blessed by Him has been consistent from the beginning. He created us for relationship with Him, but also for relationship with one another. This is even evident in His bedrock principles, the Ten Commandments. But it may be less evident to those of us whose first language is English than for most others.
English is a bit odd in many ways, with all it’s “rules” for grammar and then the thousands of exceptions to each of those rules. It makes it a difficult language to learn. One of those oddities is that our word, “you” is both singular and plural (The New York version of “Yous” and the Southern version of “Y’all” notwithstanding). So, when we read the Ten Commandments in our English bibles and we see “You shall…”, and we read the context of God speaking from a mountain to some 600,000 Hebrew men (and lots more women and children), it is easy for us to read it as a plural “you”. If there were a Texas version of the Bible, we might be inclined to translate it, “Y’all will have no other gods before me.” But that would be an incorrect translation.
You see, we English speakers are accustomed to living with this ambiguity between the plural you and the singular you…we’re accustomed to just kind of figuring it out in context, leaving much accuracy to be desired. But most other languages (including the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament) treat …
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
I recently read a blog post by a prominent leader in the evangelical world. It was a post about “Rules of Thumb” for healthy churches. The rules were all about the proper acreage for church property, the number of parking spaces per attendance, the maximum occupancy for buildings, maximum debt payment budgeted, and so on. You get the picture. It broke my heart.
I know this leader/blogger to be a godly man and a well-respected leader. I absolutely do not question that. To his credit, his own comments to that post state that he regrets using the words “healthy churches” in his title, as if these various metrics have anything to do with church health. I respect that, and am so glad he made that correction. I had actually written my own comment to the effect that he should have entitled the post “Ten Things You as a Church Leader Should NOT be Obsessing About”. I refrained. Maybe I shouldn’t have refrained.
Two observations here:
1. I believe our pastors and ministers and rectors and priests often do obsess about the wrong things…I believe church leaders today are easily swayed from “setting the Lord always before us”;
2. I believe that is our own fault for allowing them, even encouraging them, to do that.
Don’t you think “I have set the Lord always before me” is a comment about focus? I do. I think it means always, always, always helping us stay focused on the Head of the church (Jesus) and what He desires and what Honors Him and what His kingdom requires. I think it means, when the rest of the world is focused on …
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32
Last year, companies in the Northwest U.S. came out in favor of a same-sex marriage law in Washington state, citing business reasons such as keeping quality employees (who would presumably feel compelled to leave the state, and the company, in order to live somewhere where they could enjoy their same-sex marriage). Those announcements would not ordinarily have made national news, except for the names of some of those companies: Microsoft, Nike, and (alas) Starbucks. Actually, not even Microsoft’s or Nike’s announcements got all that much attention, despite their HUGE place in the homes of Christians all over the world. But Starbucks…well, then the Christian world was in an uproar, to say the least. People were calling for a boycott. Messing with our computers and our $200 tennis shoes was one thing, but then they were messing with our coffee!
And so, the fight within the Christian world was once again fanned into flames with a renewed energy.
IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you believe the Bible and then support gay marriage by purchasing Starbucks coffee?!” And IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you follow Christ and then refuse to associate (like He did) with those with whom you disagree?!” And with those positions, both sides dangerously agree on …
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:8-14 [selections]
John the Baptist was given the assignment of preparing a people to receive a savior. God would use John to help the people see that, beyond a political hero, what they needed most was a spiritual savior. So, in fulfillment of this calling, what do you suppose are the first words out of his mouth in issuance of this “wake-up call”?
“You brood of vipers!”
That’s just mean. Right? Those words are just harsh. But they seem to have gotten the people’s attention. It wasn’t long before they were asking John, “What do we need to do?” He then started rattling off impossibly inflexible rules for them…bad conduct that was the most deeply ingrained in their culture, things it would have been extremely difficult to change. It would have required a huge shift in how they thought about other people. It would have caused them to think, “Wow, that’s nearly impossible!” And that, of course, is exactly the right response. John would have said, “And THAT is why you need a savior!”
So, it got me thinking. If John were to come to the church today in order to get us ready for Jesus to return, what would he say to us? Assuming we too are a “brood of vipers” and …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:20-22
When I work in a church where there has been a moral failure on the part of a leader, especially a pastor, I am always intrigued by the wide variety of responses from the church members. They range from complete denial (pretending it never happened) to cries for the death penalty, and every imaginable consequence in between. But the responses that break my heart the most usually come from some of the teenagers.
Oddly enough, it is often teenagers who are the most troubled by the moral failure and who are the most demanding that there be severe consequences. I believe this is true because of the way they have been taught to think. In many cases, they have been conditioned to believe that, for every good act there must be a visible reward and for every bad act there must be bad consequences. And when either of those things does not happen, their world is turned inside out, creating chaos and confusion. So, in an attempt to maintain some degree of “rightness” in their world, they are often the most vocal proponents of severe consequences in the life of the fallen leader. I can’t blame them for that. It is what their parents taught them.
You see, when we use behavior modification techniques to get our children to make right choices, this is what we get. When our motives have more to do with …