Grasping for Greener Grass (Ten Commandments Redux part 10)

The final command which God gives the Israelites reads as follows:

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

That word covet means to desire something. Strongly. Its opposite would be something akin to contentment. While both are verbs, it would seem that coveting is something that you do and contentment (a noun) is a state of being. Because if you’re “content with such things as ye have” as it says in Hebrews (13:5), you’ll begin to desire and work for the intangible qualities of the Spirit, such as peace and purpose, instead of hollow objects that promise such but never deliver. That’s one lesson that is tough to learn. It’s human nature to want to keep up with the Joneses, to have a “jones” for something that someone else has. As an aside, nowhere have I been able to find corroboration for my theory that the term “jones” is related to the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”. But I can’t see any other etymology applying. Anyway…

“But covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31) The intangible things that can’t be bought. Because grasping for so-called “greener” grass will only leave you fried and miserable–and the opposite of content.

Think back. Think about the state you were in when God came in and surprised you with something unexpected. I find that it’s when my focus is on God that He’s able to show up and blindside me with a blessing. And when I’m looking to things, coveting that which I think I need, it always seems like they’re just beyond my grasp. And God tells us not to covet that which is someone else’s. Either way, it’s not good. Jesus says some things with reference to possessions that undercut every false notion we have if we’d pay Him heed and take Him at His word.

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s (and woman’s) life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he (and she) possesseth.” (Luke 12:15) When we grasp for more, we’re forgetting how much we’re worth to God. Interesting.

“Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” (Luke 8:18, emphasis mine) Don’t be confused. Jesus isn’t speaking here—with His “haves” and “have nots”—of physical things, possessions. He’s speaking of the aforementioned intangible qualities of the heart. The “things that accompany salvation” (see Hebrews 6:9), etc. Things that can’t be bought and can’t be earned through our own effort. And when someone flaunts possessions in lieu of actual character, what they’re saying is that’s all they are and that’s all they have. Why would you want that?

Much is said in the Bible of relying on God for our needs. But what about our wants? Don’t ever think that God doesn’t want to give you something good. “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24) I suppose it all boils down to wanting God more than anything that He can give. Easy enough, right?

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) And until you get these “things” contentment is where you want to be. It’s the undergirding strength that you need in order to not only obtain, but maintain your own. That and thanksgiving.

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)


The False Witness (Ten Commandments Redux part 9)

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Everyone, that’s who.

God, in the first verse, gives Moses a command against lying that covers so much more than the mere telling of non-truths. To “bear false witness” also refers to the way we represent ourselves to others, and when you hear Jesus say “love thy neighbor as thyself”, it also adds depth to the commandment. It’s one thing to lie to someone else and another thing to lie to yourself. Both instances ultimately harm Jesus because, “as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.” (Proverbs 25:18) Ouch. That’s pretty blunt. When we are dishonest with ourselves, with others and with God, we cause harm. And when we think that no one sees the lies we speak, we are only digging ourselves deeper. Think about the imperative we as Christians have to be up front, honest and transparent to the world that we serve as unto Jesus. If the Gospel we preach isn’t backed up with forthrightness and truth, then those who we’re trying to reach may have no other reason to ever come to God. If you or I represent God and we’re not allowing the Holy Spirit (the “Spirit of truth”, see John 14:17) to shine through us because of our transparency toward God, then I can see how Solomon would refer to the “false witness” as a weapon. Doing more harm than good.

Consider this verse from Psalms (58:3), “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” Nothing to worry about here. Listen: “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9) This is what happens. We get reborn. So even if you were “estranged from the womb…speaking lies”, it has no bearing on who you are now. No pathology can touch you because you have the “mind of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 2:16).

Maybe they need it more than we do? (Ten Commandments Redux part 8)

#8 (Exodus 20:15) “Thou shalt not steal.”

That’s a pretty short verse. Not the shortest in the Bible (“Jesus wept.” John 11:35), but it’s certainly a contender. What do you think of when you hear it? Theft? Fair enough. I won’t take that from you. There are however, some deeper connotations to this commandment than simple petty larceny. And besides, why would God tell His children to do something—much like murder and adultery and lying—that would already be part of the moral law that pervades much of civilization and society, religious and non? Do we need it more than they? Why would God have to tell us not to steal?

I’ll open with a verse from the New Testament. “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.” (1 John 2:26 emphasis mine) Another implication of the Hebrew verb “steal”, is deceive. Or seduce. In other words, it might be obvious and evident why one would not want to steal possessions or allow it. “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine” is an air-tight logical assertion. Societies can’t function or progress without a system of laws to protect individuals’ possessions and property. But what about the intangible things of the heart? Wouldn’t that qualify as theft if you were to deceive (or disabuse) someone out of their belief, their faith, hope, love? To trick them into believing a lie? I’m walking a fine line here, because atheists and non-believers might say that I’m doing that very thing by seeking to substantiate the belief in a supreme deity with no discernible evidence and no “air-tight logical proof”. I digress. We’re talking about theft here, plain and simple. I will say this: there are those in society who would never dream of stealing a physical object but are adept at pickpocketing the emotions of others. Jesus said as much: “and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22) Then again, if someone wants to take my joy, do they need it more than I? Maybe. I, for one, refuse to let anyone affect my life in such a way that they negate the emotions of the Holy Spirit through me by manipulation. This might sound paranoid, but I’m sure you could put it in your own words and relate it to your own life amidst your circle of acquaintances. Consider this verse from Proverbs (4:23): “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (emphasis mine) The issues of life, eh? That which gives life, makes it worth living. Keep it. Don’t let anyone steal it.

Many times in my life growing up, I heard the phrase “maybe they need it more than you” from my dad when I’d leave something or lose something. The possessions in question could easily be replaced (most times anyways, once I left a favorite jacket at a soccer game and came back to find it gone…sad day), but the priceless qualities of God’s Spirit are not so easily acquired. And when someone is not receiving those things from God, they just may try and appropriate them from you. Keep your heart with all diligence.

Martin Luther coined a word in the early 1500s. Its English translation is “Antinomianism”. It essentially means “without law”. But don’t think of it as the law in the modern sense. It’s referring to the moral law that everyone is supposedly bound by. Whereas it seems superfluous or unnecessary to hear this rule from anyone other than our own conscience, namely God, what I believe Luther was saying here is that now—because of Jesus—we have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to help us with our decisions and to realize that we, as Christians, appeal to God for something higher than moral law. Namely holiness.

If you see a quality that others possess, i.e. joy, hope, peace, contentment, et cetera, know that God will give it to you directly. You don’t need to take it from those to whom it belongs. Maybe they need it more than you?

“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine)

First comes lust, then comes adultery (Ten Commandments Redux pt. 7)

The seventh commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 2:14).

If one needs God to tell them this, then their moral compass must be way off. So much goes into the act of breaking the vow of marriage (which, while I’m not familiar with the history of the custom, is something that all cultures do and have done, regardless of belief system, from time immemorial): deceit, betrayal, coveting, discontent, ingratitude. And lust.

And there you have it. All sins of the interior. As hatred is to murder (see 1 John 3:15), so is lust to adultery. This being said, we break God’s heart by turning, from Him, to lust after someone, long before we turn from our spouse to the “other person”. Jesus said as much. “Any man who looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). And this doesn’t just implicate men. Both sexes are guilty.

When a person lusts after something, they wrongfully believe that whatever they desire so strongly, will meet the need that, to their limited perception, is so vital and necessary for their happiness. The corollary is that, lust and adultery are unnecessary–when God says He’ll meet your needs (see Isaiah 26:3). Insert it here, whatever need you have. The classic and oft-repeated story is that of David, who lusted after Bathsheba, spying on her as she bathed on her roof (see 2 Samuel 11:2). Wait. What? What was she doing taking a bath on the roof? And don’t tell me it was local custom. That may be the reason, but it doesn’t speak to the right-ness or wrong-ness of what she did. Of course, he did have an affair. The child from that union ended up dying (see 2 Samuel 12:18). The entirety of Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession and repentance to God. Something I’m sure both he and Bathsheba worked through.

I would say that both men and women are bombarded with lust, more so today than ever before in the history of humanity. Consequently, keeping one’s heart pure in the face of such effrontery has become more and more difficult. But it’s not impossible. Prior to marriage, one is free to serve and love God as he or she chooses. Marriage not only complicates things, but brings with it its own set of exclusive difficulties. So much so that Paul asks: “Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:27). And that he wished that everyone was single (and celibate) “even as I myself.” (1 Corinthians 7:7) He’s not condemning the act of marriage, he’s saying that it’s easier to serve God in a pragmatic and practical way before you meet the person He’s made for you. All the while, busying yourself with the work that He gives you to do, keeping your attention upon Him. Another huge component to this whole thing is the realization that God is greater—in strength (“my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9), beauty (“and let the beauty of our God be upon us…” Psalm 90:17), compassion (“it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed…” Lamentations 3:22), kindness (“Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly…” Psalm 138:6), fulfillment (“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19)–than any human being could (mis)represent themselves as.

God understands our needs. He doesn’t like to see us seeking their fulfillment in any other way than through the channels which he has provided–either through Himself spiritually, or the spouse with whom He’s gifted us.

In closing, I will say this. The dissolution of any marriage involves both spouses, and blame is to be leveled at both. Don’t break God’s heart over lust and don’t break your spouse’s heart either.

“Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled…” (Hebrews 13:4) Keep it that way.

May God help you.

Murder and Misanthropy (Ten Commandments Redux part 6)

“There are all sorts of ways of murdering a person or at least his soul, and that’s something no police in the world can spot.” Max Frisch

Misanthropy means hatred of people.
Misandry is hatred of men.
Misogyny is hatred of women.
And God hates all of it.

But he loves us.

#6 (Exodus 20:13) “Thou shalt not kill.”

The ancient world needed this (the modern world still does). Had not a commandment been issued to curtail murder, the world as we know it may have turned out quite differently. This rudimentary morality, if I may, was coded, if you will, onto everyone’s heart as Paul says in Romans (see 2:14). Even Gentiles (non-Jews), when they obey this moral law (as given by God to the Jews) are fulfilling this commandment as unto the Lord. Their conscience is clear.

Society can’t function or expand without a standard–religious or non–that condemns and outlaws murder.
Yet most members of society have never taken another person’s life. How can this commandment be relevant in an “enlightened” and “postmodern” society?

Jesus, when He came to this earth, took the commandment one step further. He showed us that the law is superseded by His grace, by His example and consequently for us, His ability. He showed us how to love and how to live. As it says in the second letter to the Corinthians (3:6): “the letter kills but the (Holy) spirit gives life.” Jesus effectively shifted the entire dynamic inward. A “ministry of the interior”, as it were (and is).

In referring to the sixth commandment, Jesus says that “whosoever is angry with his brother (or sister) without a cause” is in danger of the same penalty or “judgment” as is a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22). John continues on when he says that “whosoever hateth his brother (or sister) is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Murder is hatred–taken to its (il)logical conclusion.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that I have never taken anyone’s life. But I am guilty of hatred. Whenever someone wrongs you, it’s a double-edged sword. I’ll explain: Yes, it hurts when someone slanders you or disrespects you or even cuts you off in traffic. But if you don’t respond with love and forgiveness, the seeds of hatred toward that person will begin to grow. The slight is engineered to be a lose/lose situation.

The parents, can’t we please think about the parents? (Ten Commandments Redux part 5)

#5 (Exodus 20:12) “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

I hope filial piety in our society is not completely outmoded. Filial piety simply refers to the reverence that children have for their parents.

Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I remember thinking, wondering if my dad was Jesus. And believe it or not, this is not far from how things are really supposed to be in our life (see Ephesians 5:1). Our parents, up to a certain point in our childhood are to represent God for us. A loving authority figure who is at once our provider and protector. Sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it? One of the ways that God will draw us to Him prior to salvation is by laying the groundwork through a parent/child relationship. I am so grateful to Him for the earthly father that He gave me. It’s really not that big of a deal to show honor to my dad because of the love and respect that he gave to me.

But what if our parent(s) have in some way let us down? My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so stellar an example of motherhood. The commandment says to honor your parents, though. Paul takes it one step further in Ephesians (6:1) where he says to obey your parents. He qualifies it by saying “in the Lord”. If a parent is telling you to do something you know would conflict with God’s guidance then you’re off the hook, so to speak. Here you see the distinction between obedience and honor. There are many ways that my Mother subtly neglected me and my emotional and spiritual development. Here’s the rub: She was the woman who God ordained to bring me into this world. This fact is unassailable and irreproachable. And if I’m not willing to forgive her for the mistakes that she carried with her into marriage and motherhood then I will make my own version of the same. The Strong’s definition for “honor” implies that we carry the burden of their legacy. This is a loose translation but if you try it on, it fits. We’re either elevated by their selflessness—as evinced by my dad’s influence—or held back and kept down. The good news is that wherever one or both of your parents let you down, God will be that parent in your life to fulfill whatever the maternal- or paternal-specific qualities that are integral and essential to your life as a man or woman of God.

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” Psalm 27:10

In closing, the parent/child dynamic is so complex as to warrant an exclusive library. Suffice it to say that I am grateful for whatever gifts I inherited from both parents and I do honor to them as I use those gifts to please God and bless humanity.

And I have forgiven my mother.

Remember the Sabbath? (Ten Commandments Redux part 4)

#4 (Exodus 20:8) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

For the Ten Commandments to make any sense and to be taken seriously, we must take them as a complete list. “The Decalogue” implies that they are a cohesive whole.

So what about observing the Sabbath? Secularists and even some Christians don’t even acknowledge the rest of the passage where God says why we should observe it. Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews says it’s because we are to “rest from our works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:10), implying that the work of keeping the law was wrapped up in completion with Jesus’ Atonement. With His death and resurrection, we now see that the emphasis on obedience has shifted more fully to an inward observance as opposed to an outward, dogmatic rule-keeping. And with no belief in God as Creator, let alone His very existence, it’s understandable why this fourth commandment is easily dismissed. Especially in our free-market, capitalistic society. I should point out, however, that businesses still observing the sabbath by closing their doors on Sunday still do quite well for themselves, in spite of the fact that they’re only open six days a week. (The Sabbath by the way, is actually Saturday. This is why Seventh-Day Adventists attend church on that day.)

I don’t mean to dilute the literal meaning of the Commandment, but consider this: Jesus said that He was the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), implying–to my mind–that He is not only fulfilling the commandment, but superseding it. He was censuring the Pharisees when he said this. They had made the Commandment of “none effect because of [their] tradition” (Matthew 15:6, referring to the fifth, yes–same attitude). My opinion is that when we follow a bunch of hard and fast rules, we’re missing the opportunity to follow Him. And should the Holy Spirit lead you to do something on Saturday, or Sunday, or any other day for that matter, that might conflict with the Fourth Commandment, then don’t hesitate! Obey the inner witness of the Spirit. Jesus showed us how. Read Matthew 12:1-8.

“Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9)

Work on that one.

Call and Response (Ten Commandments Redux part 3)

#3 (Exodus 20:7) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

The whole concept of taking God’s name in vain—using it as an epithet or a curse—makes no sense to me from an atheistic point of view. Yet, from a believing point of view, the fact that it happens at all should serve as an indication of the innate hatred toward God that’s ingrained in the fallen, dead human spirit.

I’ve thought a lot about this, really every time I hear someone take the Lord’s name in vain: “Jesus Christ!” I feel like responding with “Seriously? Where?!” For those of you who may not be aware, God is closer than you realize (“though He be not far from every one of us” see Acts 17:27), the slightest whisper of belief and God will open your eyes and save you from an eternal hell. A spirit-thin membrane of unbelief is all that separates us from Him. All of the power and beauty of God is waiting behind His name. When someone uses it disrespectfully and incorrectly they are shaking their fist at the person who thought them up.

God responds when you call out to Him. He asks us to “call unto” Him (see Jeremiah 33:3), to “reason together” with Him (Isaiah 1:18; 41:21) and even to sing to Him (1 Chronicles 16:9). He says that He’ll even answer “before you call” (Isaiah 65:24). In all of our interaction with Him, verbal and non, He says He’ll answer us. It might take some time, maybe even more time than we want, but that’s where the struggle between belief and unbelief comes into focus.

Do you see what I’m getting at? When someone shouts “Jesus Christ!” without any heart intention of meeting or knowing Him, this has to be deeply saddening to Him. To which He may respond something to the effect, After all I’ve done for you…

Or maybe it’s our Judeo-Christian heritage and culture? Perhaps in other cultures and at other times, backslidden practitioners slandered their own patron deities by taking their names in vain: “Ahura Mazda!” “Brahma!” “Jupiter!” Probably not, but I couldn’t say for sure. It just doesn’t have that ring to it…

“I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name. In the day when I cried Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” (Psalm 138:2-3)

Ten Commandments Redux Part 1

Can you name all Ten Commandments? No matter. Let’s take a look at the practicality of the Decalogue for ancient and modern times.

(From Exodus chapter 20)

(verse 7) #1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

Do you find it intriguing that God would place this command at the beginning of the list? God may be a jealous God (Exodus 34:14) but not in the way we think. Any marginal study of ancient Middle and Near East Religion will show that all the indigenous cultures had numerous (and numinous) deities that were vying for…peoples’ spiritual attention (i.e. worship). Not to be flippant, but here you have God’s children, His newly formed nation, just released from their 400 year prison sentence. They had been steeped in Egypt and their pantheon only to be released into an equally pagan Syro-Canaanite atmosphere. God had to (re)establish His preeminence as the one, true God.

Christians and Jews nowadays don’t have to worry about Baal or Isis or Zeus and their adherents as did our spiritual ancestors (1 Corinthians 10:19-21; Acts 14:11-12). But beware of the spiritual influence of the devil in whatever form it takes. Think about the pull and the pressure of these belief systems and their inherent power to distract someone from acknowledging God.

Is there anything in my life that is distracting me from God? What about the god of self? Pride, deified. Anyone who denies God is essentially worshiping themselves.

This question brings the commandment into the modern era with as much intensity and immediacy as it always had.

Aside from being our Creator and Redeemer, God is the only god who truly loves us unconditionally.

Ten Commandments Redux part 2

#2. (Exodus 20:4) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: (It continues)

Tantamount to the First Commandment, what follows is a practical instruction on how not to be tempted to disobey it (see Romans 13:14). Asherah poles, statues of marble and stone, bronze and gold. Unbelievers proceeded to form these with their hands using the gifts of craftsmanship they’d been given by God (see Deuteronomy 27:15). Then, I believe the devil and his angels imbued the peoples’ creations with their presence. Creepy. How else could you be tempted to worship a lifeless statue? Consider the modern impracticality of prostrating yourself before a golden calf. You ask anyone on the street (not Broad Street in New York, that bull’s bronze) to do that and they’d think you’re crazy.

It was against God’s Law to try and form any likeness of Him. Doing so would circumnavigate the vital necessity of seeing Him, knowing Him and worshiping Him with your heart (you may not know it, but you see Him there). This surely would keep out the riffraff. If you found yourself needing an object to venerate in place of God, I hope you’d be wise enough to realize your mistake and repent of your idolatry.

But that’s the point, right? If you needed an object to worship then you obviously weren’t seeing God with your heart, you weren’t walking with Him and you didn’t know Him.

The Apostle Paul was wise enough to use this to his advantage. In Athens, He came upon an altar to THE UNKNOWN GOD. At least the ultra-superstitious Athenians were honest. They didn’t know God and the inscription on the altar admitted as much. I think God could work with that. And He did (see Acts 17:21-34).

In closing, I’ll refer to Paul’s comparison of the believer to a vessel of honor (2 Timothy 2:21-22). The distinction though, is that God is the one who formed us and filled us with His Holy Spirit.

Worship Him!