Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Tenth Commandment Throws Our Society Into Chaos -- Exodus 20:17

--> “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 belongs to your neighbor.”
 
Our entire western (and I also believe eastern) economic system is essentially founded on the knowledge that carnal man (and woman) always wants more than he/she has.  That’s human nature.  We have a desire to possess things, especially things that someone else has already.  And as long as there are more of those ‘things’ available for us to acquire without taking them from those that already have them, we are considered to be eager consumers rather than thieves.  And in some cases, depending on what we steal, we are also breakers of other commandments.
In this last commandment, God speaks of ‘coveting’.  The Cambridge dictionary defines the verb ‘to covet’ as: to want to have something very much, especially something that belongs to someone else.  The Oxford dictionary adds the idea of “yearning” for what belongs to others.
God here warns us not to covet what belongs to others.  In particular He first mentions their house as representative of tangible possessions.  Today it may be more than a house – it may be their car, or boat, or vacation home, or smaller items like their latest television or cellular phone, etc.
Then God warns that we are not to covet someone else’s spouse.  This deals with the whole area of our moral life.  It is a commandment to women as well as to men.
Finally God warns us not to covet the means that other people have at their disposal to bring about aspects of their lives that we may be coveting.  We are not to covet the wealth (represented here by the servants – gardener, maid, chauffeur, etc.) someone else may have.  Or the career success they may have (represented by the ox and donkey that may be put to work for them – today, one’s business or enterprise).
Is it possible that God in identifying these particular things or persons we are not to covet is really concerned about our coveting what we do not have period, rather than just what He has mentioned?  In other words, the sin that would be involved here is not being satisfied with what God has given us or allowed us to possess legitimately at this point in our lives.  Our modern definition of coveting in fact speaks of it being something that involves “wanting something very much” or “yearning” for it.  Is God saying, aside from wanting to know Him better, we are not to want anything very much, certainly not to the point of coveting it.
In fact the only thing I can think of we should be coveting is a closer personal relationship with God.  And even that should not be desired in comparison to what someone else may have but rather in comparison to what we presently have.  The old ‘Negro Spiritual’ entitled “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” comes to mind.  It is not about becoming as spiritual as Brother John or Sister Mary, but about us becoming closer to God ourselves.
It goes without saying that we are also not to covet the various spiritual gifts that God has given others and not us.  Our job is to discover the gifts God has blessed us with and then to employ those gifts diligently for His Kingdom.
With His warning to us not to covet, God concludes the Commandments that He gave to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai – commandments that in one way or another have guided the world throughout the ages and still do for millions.  But what matters is not what the world has done with these commandments.  It does not even matter what the Children of Israel did with them.  Or what one’s church, family, or parents did with them.  What really matters is what each one of us individually does with them.  We can follow them and be blessed and perhaps live long (all else being equal) on this earth, or we can ignore them at our own peril.  I pray that our recent look at each of the commandments has helped us in understanding what God may well have had in mind as we consider our response to each one.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Slander, Gossip, and Evil Speech About Others -- Exodus 20:16


 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
 
Many a man (and woman) has had their lives destroyed because of the false witness that someone else has given about them.  Today, men (and women) are so easily falsely accused of sexual abuse.  Individuals end up in jail for years or for life for all sorts of crime they never committed.  Some even face the death penalty proclaiming their innocence right to the end of their lives.  This is often a result of someone bearing “false witness” against them. 
God is not in the business of destroying lives or having them destroyed.  And for that reason, He gave us the ninth commandment, “You are not to bear false witness against your fellow man or woman.” 
It is important again to see what we can learn about the meaning of the phrase from the literature.  Wikipedia has some interesting thoughts on this:
The Hebrew Bible contains a number prohibitions of false witness, lying, spreading false reports, etc.[9] A charge was established only on the evidence of two or three witnesses[10] In cases where false testimony was suspected, the judges were to make a thorough investigation, and if false testimony were proven, the false witness was to receive the punishment he had intended to bring on the person falsely accused.[11] For example, since murder was a capital crime, giving false testimony in a murder case was subject to the death penalty. Those eager to receive or listen to false testimony were also subject to punishment.[12]  False witness is among the six things God hates, king Solomon says.[13] False testimony is among the things that defile a person, Jesus says. [14]

It appears that the people of Israel took God mostly seriously on this matter, much more so than we often do.  When someone is accused of bearing false witness against another person, most of the time we simply “drop the charges” against whom the false testimony was given rather than take any serious action against the false accuser.  [Compare this to what happened in the story of Queen Esther in the Bible to Haman who wanted Mordecai hung and the Jews annihilated.  When these plans were told to the King through his wife, Esther, Haman got his just desserts.  He himself was hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai and then Mordecai was given his high position.]  In Christian circles, we may be even less attentive to God’s command and we simply part ways with the false accusers and often bless them in their new ministry.  I am not sure we are doing them any good.
One can also find some interesting thoughts on the topic from “Yahoo Answers” online including:
·      To bear false witness has two meanings, a tight one and a loose one. The tight meaning is as you say to give false testimony against someone in a trial. The looser meaning is more like saying bad things about someone that aren't true, slandering someone.
·      It means to lie.
·      It means to tell a false story, so that someone else may benefit from it that had no right.
·      When you lie, you are saying, "I witnessed it, and I know what truly happened, and here is what happened." Thus, your witness concerning the "whatever" is false; hence, a false witness.
·      To "witness" means to speak the truth.  To give “false witness” is to speak untruth.
·      It means not to repeat or pass on something someone said as true when you do not personally know it to be true. Gossip is close.
·      It means 'to lie' and even 'to support a lie,' as in being a 'false witness,' where you know it is a lie but you still support it for whatever purpose it may serve your interest.
·      A preacher who did not really believe in what he was preaching, or preached about a Christian way of life, but did not live by it.
And the Free Dictionary by Farlex says, “It is a criminal offense of making false statements under oath.”  Together they cover the gamut of meanings.  Like all the others, there’s no escaping this commandment either.  The bottom line is “do not lie” period. Much has been written about this.  As parents, we often tolerate much misbehavior from our children and grandchildren, but for most of us, we draw the line at lying.  Not just because we want the truth but also because we love our children and know that lying will eventually get them into serious trouble in life.
From the common definitions above, we can see that this commandment is not just about lying with respect to our neighbor; it covers all forms of lying.  Or put another way, especially in this ever-diminishing in size world we live in, where we can have breakfast in New York, lunch in Paris, and be back home for supper the same day, all of mankind is our neighbor.
The pursuit of, and amusement with, gossip (a form of bearing false witness) has become one of the world’s favorite pastimes.  Magazine racks and television schedules are rife with gossip news.  We seem to crave for it.  I continue to be amazed as to how much attention many of us Christians pay to these sources of “false witness”.  [And even if they are not false, who really cares.  Everyday on the social media we are bombarded with opinions of movie stars on various world issues.  Does what they say really matter in the end?  I do not think so.  Why even one of America’s favorite sons, Charleston Heston, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments epic movie, was turned against when society was being steered away from his support of the Second Amendment, an American’s right to own firearms.]
At the other extreme of not “bearing false witness” we have the latest action or edict of the Anglican Church who has taken any mention of the Devil out of their baptismal rite.  You may wish to read the whole the story at Church of England Kicks Out Devil.  I found that quite interesting and I am sure the Devil is rejoicing.  In fact, doing what the Anglicans have done is indeed bearing false witness as to the cause of sin and evil.
Finally, I find it interesting how it is that the world often borrows God’s ideas and uses them in their own way.  I find that happens often with respect to the practice of Human Resources and Labor Relations for afterall, God is the “ultimate employer”.  One such example is that when an employee is let go or dismissed from a company and is given some form of settlement, he or she is often asked to sign a separation release form in which there is a requirement for them not to bear false witness, that is not to speak about the deal or to speak badly of the company, etc.  How much more important is it for us that want to please and obey our God, to do likewise?
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Could Jesus Have Also Said, “Go and Steal No More”? -- Exodus 20:15


“You shall not steal.”
 
We come next to the eighth commandment.  This one is a favorite of mine for two reasons.  First, when one considers the broadest meaning of the word ‘stealing’, one cannot help but realize that the seven commandments that come before it, and the two after it, if broken, do in one sense or another, involve ‘stealing’.  Second, it is a favorite of mine because this commandment can easily deceive us.  We find it easy to say “ah come on, that’s not stealing” when we take certain actions and convince ourselves that we are not hurting anyone.  I experienced that with one of my staff many years ago that was collecting cutlery from various restaurants being convinced that “the restaurant won’t miss this one fork”.  A colleague of mine did the same thing with shot glasses from around the world.
The Cambridge dictionary defines the word as “taking something without the permission or knowledge of the owner and keeping it”.  I would suggest that where younger children are involved (as living with three grandchildren has taught me), even if the owner knows it, but one does not have their permission to take it, it’s “stealing”.  And even if the other child was intending to return it later, it’s still stealing to the child that owns it.  (From my own observation, I can assure you the matter can even get more out of hand if the object in question is an item of clothing and the owner and the taker are sisters.)
The Oxford dictionary adds the element of taking something without “the legal right” to do so, implying that one may in some cases have a legal right to take something that was not his or hers at the time.
It is when we use the Merriam-Webster dictionary that the word ‘stealing’ takes on so many more meanings.  This source adds the possibility of the action being a “habitual or regular” practice or the taking being by force or trickery (which reminds me of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright).
Merriam-Webster also offers some very interesting synonyms for the verb “to steal” such as filch (suggests a quick and surreptitious snatching – I do that with chocolate chip cookies my granddaughters bake), heist, pilfer (implies stealing repeatedly in small amounts – think of white collar theft in office – a pen here, an envelop there, etc.), pinch, pocket, rip off, swipe, and thieve.  And some related words such as burglarize, rob, loot, pillage, plunder, carjack, hijack, poach, rustle, shoplift, abduct, and kidnap.  All of these bring various images to our mind.  And that’s a good thing because when God says “thou shall not steal” – He means you cannot be doing any of those things.
With all those possible definitions for stealing, we can see that each of the commandments that went before or come after this one, when broken, involve stealing:
Commandments 1 and 2: Stealing from God the worship that He alone deserves.
Commandment 3: Stealing from God the honor that He merits.
Commandment 4: Stealing from God the joy of regular celebrating of His work.
Commandment 5: Stealing from our parents the respect they deserve.
Commandment 6: Stealing from someone the dignity they deserve as individuals and stealing from our spouse the commitment they are entitled to from us.
Commandment 7: Stealing someone’s life.
(Commandment 8: Is the one about stealing itself.)
Commandment 9: As we shall soon see, is about stealing another person’s integrity.
Commandment 10: Is all encompassing as it is about stealing anything or anyone that belongs to others.
So what can we do about “stealing”?  Stay away from it.  Instead of stealing, we need to take actions that depict the very opposite of the word’s meaning.  Buy or purchase things for people.  Bestow (provide or give as a gift) things or money to others.  Contribute to their needs.  Donate to the welfare of others from the blessings God has given you.  Get into the habit of making presents to others, and that includes loved ones, friends, and even strangers.
There are no specified consequences for our stealing recorded here in Exodus.  Perhaps God realized how hard it would be for us not to steal in this life.  Or, just maybe, the consequences that He outlined in conjunction with commandments 3 (taking His name in vain) and 5 (not honoring our parents) were really meant to apply to all the commandments.  After all, we saw how all commandments are in one way or another, a form of “stealing”.
What amazes me is that those who have indeed done their best to fully trust God to provide and at the same time that give to others, rather than steal from them – are indeed blessed way beyond their own needs and their own giving.  I have often seen that in my own life.  We cannot out-give our Heavenly Father.
As we close our study on this commandment, having seen its relationship to all the others, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in John chapter 8 when He saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death in accordance with the law.  The story ends with Jesus saying to her, “Woman, go and sin no more.”  Maybe, if Jesus were dealing with you and I in trouble today, and He rescued us from the hands of our enemies, He would say to us, “John (or Mary or Bill or Sue), go and steal no more.”  For in doing so, Jesus would know that if we truly did that, and loved the One who said it, we would be fulfilling the very purpose for which He came to earth.
It is my prayer that we all stop “stealing” from God and from man.


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Forgotten Commandment -- Exodus 20:14


“You shall not commit adultery.”
 
As the dictionaries have been such a useful help to us recently, we best check out the various meanings of the word “adultery” since it is something God says we should have no part of.
Both the Cambridge and the Merriam-Webster dictionaries define it as sex between “a married man or woman” and someone he or she is not married to.  (Notice this is a politically correct definition because it says nothing about two single or unmarried people having sex and by implication condones that possibility.)
The Oxford dictionary acknowledges that adultery can be between two unmarried individuals when it defines the word as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse”.  One would suppose that if it were not ‘voluntary’ it would fall under the definition of rape, but in my books, still a form of adultery.
The more North American Merriam-Webster gives us some more help with this word when it provides for us some synonyms, antonyms, related words, and near antonyms.
Synonyms
Antonyms
Related Words
Near Antonyms

When you look at the synonyms and the related words, one can easily see that adultery need not be physical alone – it may be emotional or strictly in one’s mind.  This fits in well with what Jesus said about it several thousands of years after His Father made His declaration on the topic when God delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in the desert.  In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 28, Jesus says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Looking at the suggested antonyms and near antonyms, one gets an idea of how we are to treat our spouses and avoid the snares of adultery – something that by Christ’s definition many of us are guilty of.  And this is where grace comes in – both God’s and that of our spouse.  As mere natural men and women we talk about “the first look is unavoidable” but it is the “second prolonged look” that starts the sin.  Whereas God can forgive the sin of adultery by a truly contrite heart – David in the Old Testament is a perfect example – He does not condone repeated adulterous behavior.   The American beloved pastor and author Charles Swindoll has a great take on this.  You can see it at Swindoll on Divorce.  I personally believe there are three grounds for separation and divorce of married couples.  These are repeated adultery, repeated physical abuse, and on-going mental debasement.
Adultery is rampant in our society today.  The dating firm Ashley Madison encourages it openly and says it’s good for you and your marriage.  God says, “No it is not”.  The church today seems to accept it taking on new members who have or are committing it.  Presidents and other public officials get away with it and then go on to score the highest public ratings of their life as the most-beloved incumbent in their position.  And too much familiarity among friends leads to adultery with one’s friends or the friends of their spouse.  And then there’s Internet sex that so many men and women have fallen victim to. But God says, “Don’t do it”.
For the long term effects of adultery, I would refer you to the very helpful Carelinks Ministries article on the topic at David's Repentance .  Well worth the read. 
God had a reason for making this commandment one of His ten.  Following it keeps the marriage together which in turn keeps the family together.  And that keeps society together.  If you have had the chance to go with your adulterous heart but chose against it, you have chosen wisely for the long run and for the sake of your children.
If you have chosen to remain on the adulterous path, you can still take your situation to God and see what He would have you do based on your current and complex circumstances that have resulted.  Get in touch with a counselor at your church or a nearby Bible believing church.  God will not abandon you as He did not abandon David, but used Him mightily for His purposes.  That is my prayer for you.
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[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Murder Is One Of The Most Controversial Words In The Bible -- Exodus 20:13


“You shall not murder.”
 
The Oxford Dictionary defines murder as “The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.”  The Merriam-Webster dictionary adds the following interesting synonyms, related words, phrases, and near antonyms, to give us a better understanding.
Phrases: do away with
With those definitions and explanations in mind, we can easily see that the word ‘murder’ does not just relate to one person’s killing of another person for personal reasons.  It includes being hired to kill someone.  It includes the shooting down of a passenger airplane in the air killing all 298 people on board as happened earlier this week to Malaysian Airline flight MH17 over Ukraine.  It includes eliminating or exterminating an entire nation or peoples as some want to do to the Jews and the State of Israel.  And God says “no murder” in any of these circumstances.
So what does this say about “going to war”?  I am not sure, but I know that many Christians argue over this topic incessantly.  I have searched for the answer high and low.  I have not found a definitive one.  But perhaps when we look at the “near antonyms” that are provided above, we may get a clue.  The opposite of murder is to “raise, restore, resurrect, resuscitate, revive” some one or a group or a nation.
My simple take is as follows.  If another body is busy “murdering” or trying to “murder” others as defined above, it is our job to do what we can to raise them up, restore, resurrect them as a people, resuscitate or save them, and revive them.   And if that means going to war against the oppressor, then we do so, but for that purpose and that purpose alone.  I thus cannot agree with my totally pacifist friends.
Not only am I not to murder, but also I am to prevent others, much stronger than their victims, from murdering.
 
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some Christians Would Rather Forget This Verse -- Exodus 20:12


“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
 
The first four commandments that we covered above deal with our relationship with God.  The next six (beginning with this one) deal with our relationship with others and thus breaking one of these, commentator Chuck Smith says, constitutes unrighteousness before God as we would be breaking our fellowship with our fellowmen/women.
In a crazy world like the one we live in where God often does not figure into the equation of life for many, it is not unusual to find Christian sons and daughters, who for one reason or another have broken relationships with one or both of their parents.  And yet, they know the Ten Commandments and they know that the requirement to “honor them” is indeed one of them.
So what does this 5th commandment really mean?  I like what the Cambridge dictionary gives us as the definition of this word as a verb: “to show great respect for someone or something, especially in public”.  And the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “to show appreciation, respect, or affection for (someone) with a public celebration”.
At face value we are to ‘respect’ our parents and to openly demonstrate that respect of them both to them and to others through our various acts of kindness and tribute.  That’s pretty strong medicine for many these days.  We are to ‘appreciate’ them and to show them that appreciation as well as our ‘affection’.  In short, honoring our parents is more than an attitude; it is also a behavior and an act of the will.  It often takes effort, and more and more of it, as they get older.
Much has been written about this topic over the centuries that we will not repeat here.  Suffice it to say that in this 21st century, there is global concern that we are moving towards less and less honoring of our parents.  Some may argue some of it is justified – “they neglected me” or “left me when I was a child”.  Others say, “they can take care of themselves, they don’t need me.”  Or, “I have my own life and so many other responsibilities.”  And then there’s my favorite one, “I didn’t ask them to have me.”  And yet God tells us straight, “Honor your father and your mother.”  And as a commandment, that means no ifs, buts, or whys.
Some commentators (like Chuck Smith) take the approach that a son or daughter does not need to ‘honor his/her parent(s)’ if they are not honorable, that is when they do things that their children cannot respect.  For example, an alcoholic parent, one who lives an ungodly life, one who sexually abuses their child, and so on.  According to Smith, a child of those kinds of parents is not obligated to honor them.  I am not so sure and here is why.
First of all, God (at least at this point in the Bible) does not make any exceptions to his commandment.  Secondly, the whole purpose of the commandments (especially the last six) is not for the beneficiary of the outcome of the command (e.g. the parent get honored), but rather for the benefit of the one following the command.  Honoring our parents is not about our parents; it is about us.   And God even says so in His next statement when He tells us the reason why we are to do so.  He says, that we would be allowed to live longer in the land He gives us, that is for us today, we would be allowed to abound longer in His blessing of us on the earth, in this life.  David Guzik in his commentary on this verse suggests that youth “rebellion is costly, and many have paid a high price personally for their rebellion against their parents.”  On the other hand, God is letting us know here that He looks favorably upon those who keep this commandment.
Admittedly, there is no requirement to condone what our parents may have done in many cases to harm us physically, socially, morally, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  There is no excusing of their behavior.  But still God says, “Honor your mother and your father.”  We need to find a way to be like Jesus when it comes to our fallen parents.  We need to honor them without condoning their mistakes and sins.
David Guzik sees this commandment as an “essential building block for the stability and health of all society.  If the younger generations are constantly at war with older generations, the foundations of society will be destroyed.”
You and I may forget our parents and think nothing of it.  But that is not what God accepts or approves of in our lives.  It is interesting to me that of after the commandments dealing with our relationship with Him, the first one about our relationship with others deals with how we are to behave towards our parents.  Some would say that it is strategically placed there to indicate that our relationship with our parents is not really a relationship between equals as the other commandments that follow may imply, but rather a relationship with those who are our earthly ‘superiors’ in many respects.  That may be, but as a minimum, we know this – God wants us to honor our parents if for no other reason than their positional relationship with us in order that we (more so than them) may be blessed.  How are you doing in that?
 
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[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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