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Showing posts with label Father's Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Father's Day. Show all posts

Monday, June 20, 2022

Faith For Our Times - Trusting Biblical Authority to Lead Us Through Troubled Times

Happy Father's Day!  I talked with my Dad recently about his challenges of living in the 60s when there was so much turmoil in our world with politics, the Vietnam war, civil rights, and the cultural revolution.  He was in the Army from 1962-1964, as soldiers were training and ramping up to go over to fight.  

I guess every generation faces challenging times in different ways.  We live in very challenging times today.  You can't help but see all the things happening in the news and be concerned.  Today, I want to share about how the Christian faith can help us through these dark days.  

Paul, a seasoned Christian leader, wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, to give him an important warning and advice to encourage and guide him through the difficulties of his day.  I believe Paul's words to Timothy can guide us too.

2 Timothy 3:1-5
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

[Having warned Timothy what he is facing, Paul now gives his son in the faith some important advice about how to navigate the treacherous dangers of an ungodly world.]

2 Timothy 3:14-17
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Our Times
Is there any doubt we live in crazy times?  On top of the hyperinflation, wars and civil unrest, we are seeing sweeping changes in societies morals and rampant mass shootings in schools, hospitals, and even churches.  What kind of world are we living in.  It sounds so much like the "difficult days" Paul described to Timothy, doesn't it?

As crazy as it may sound, we may not be living in times as crazy as what Paul and Timothy faced.  They were a tiny religious minority living in a overwhelmingly pagan world.  At least most people today (even if they aren't Christian) accept many of the universal values Christianity has instilled in our world over the last 2,000 years.  Paul and Timothy did not have that advantage.  Yet still, our times are crazy enough. How can we get through them?

I believe Paul's words to Timothy give us many clues.

Paul said, "Remain faithful to the things you were taught."
Timothy was raised in a spiritual home. He was taught the Holy Scriptures by trusted family members. Paul says, "You know what they taught you is true. You can trust those who taught you."

Perhaps you grew up in a Christian family.  Perhaps your father or mother or grandparents taught you some important lessons--maybe even the Christian faith.  Or maybe it wasn't your biological family, but a spiritual family.  (Remember, Paul was not Timothy’s biological father, but  a spiritual father to him.)  Have you had someone who was an important Christian mentor for you?  Can you trust what they said?

Our world today is blessed with 2,000 years of Christian heritage--Christians who faithfully followed Christ and helped transform our world for the better.  We have much Christian tradition to draw from to help guide us.  

The most reliable Christian tradition and teachings are firmly founded upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  

The Authority of the Bible
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Scripture is inspired by God.  These aren’t merely human words.  God gave Scripture to His people and preserved them to guide us today.  Scripture corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  

However, to truly be guided by Scripture, we have to humble ourselves under Scripture.  There is a way we sometimes approach the Bible where we have already decided what we believe.  We may come to the Bible merely looking for texts that will prove what we already believe.  So we can say, "Look!  See!  The Bible says this!  That proves my argument!"  That will never do.

We must come to the Scriptures with humiliy, with a heart open to hear what God wants to say and not what we want it to say for us.  We must be willing to obey God’s Word in Scripture, even if it's not what we wanted to hear.  And we must be sure the Church's beliefs and actions are firmly founded upon the Bible.

The Bible Is An Anchor
Just because all faithful Christians base our beliefs and practices on the Bible, doesn't mean all Christians always interpret the Bible the same way.  Honest people can come to different conclusions about non-essential elements of the Christian faith.  That is why we have different denominations--Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians and Pentecostals, etc.

A good analogy of how Scripture works is a ship on the ocean attached to an anchor.  The Bible is an anchor that keeps the ship from floating away.  The Bible doesn't change.  It says what it says and God's Word in it hasn't changed in thousands of years.  However, the Bible allows room for different interpretations. The interpretations are the ship floating on the surface of the water.  The shift may drift this way or that way, but it doesn't drift off into oblivion.  It stays attached to the unmoving anchor even as it may move around a bit.

So, in terms of Biblical Christian churches, Methodists may interpret the Bible one way and Baptists another, but we are attached to the same Holy Book and we do not simply make up our beliefs to be whatever we want.  The Bible keeps us anchored.  And in humility, we recognizes our interpretation of Scripture could be wrong and another's could be right.  So we don't have to fight about it.  Let those who believe the Baptist interpretation be Baptist and let Methodists be Methodists.  There is freedom to allow different interpretations. 

However, what happens if you cut the line to anchor?  If you cut the anchor, the ship will drift off wherever the wind and waves push it or wherever the captain drives the ship.  In terms of the Christian faith, if you cut away your reliance on the Bible then people will  make their religion whatever they want it to be--even if it has no real connection to Christ and His teachings at all.  And unfortunately, the human heart is such that it can and will justify anything it wants--especially without Scripture to restrain it.

Furthermore, there the winds and waves of cultural whims and  evil influences and dark spiritual forces constantly pushing people here and there.  Without the firm foundation of Holy Scripture, people are driven before the storms of their times and may easily have their faith shipwrecked.

The UMC in the News
At annual conference in Georgia this year, 70 United Methodist Churches disaffiliated from the UMC.  News outlets reported these churches disaffiliated over the issue of homosexuality. 
This is misleading and inaccurate.  Secular news doesn't understand or take the time to dig down to the real issues--nor is the general non-Christian, non-Methodist public capable of understanding the deeper roots of the disagreement.  

The real issue is not homosexuality.  The real issue is biblical authority.  Seventy churches broke away from the United Methodist Church because the UMC wants to disregard God’s clear teaching in the Bible.  Seventy churches in our annual conference do not want to be part of a denomination that has cut the anchor to Scripture.  I believe many more churches will disaffiliate from the UMC in the coming year because faithful Christians still believe the Bible is the essential, firm foundation of a true Christian Church.

Homosexuality only enters the current debate in the UMC because the Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is not God’s plan for His people.  The same Scriptures that forbid gay sex also forbid idolatry, stealing, greed, drunkenness, abuse, and cheating.  Progressives in The United Methodist Church have no problem calling out a long list of sins, but it is very unpopular in the world right now to say homosexuality a sin.  Many progressives in the UMC would rather follow the world than follow God’s Word.  So, they say, “Well, Scripture is wrong about homosexuality.” 

You need to understand the division in the UMC is not about homosexuality, it’s about the Bible.  Is the Bible still authoritative for Christians in the 21st century?  This is the real issue at hand.

If you abandon Scripture on the issue of homosexuality (as these progressives in the UMC want to do) then where do you stop?  Why not turn away from Scripture when it teaches Jesus is the Son of God?  That he died and rose again?  Or other essential Christian doctrines.

There are some progressive United Methodist clergy who now teach that Jesus was not really born of a virgin or that he literally rose from the grave.[i]  Other progressive United Methodist pastors are actively denying biblical truths such the reality of sin, the necessity of being born again, salvation through Christ alone, heaven and hell, or an afterlife.[ii]  If you are not anchored to Scripture, then you can drive off (or float off or be driven off) into an oblivion of teachings, beliefs, and actions that have no connection to Christ or the historic Christian faith whatsoever. 

The history of the Church shows again and again that the Church always makes the world a better place when it is faithful to God’s Word in the Bible.  So many of the important values our modern world cherishes as were not always universally appreciated--values even non-Christians see as essential.  For example almost everyone today believes in the sanctity of all human life.  Prior to Christianity, it was not so.  Children, handicapped adults, the elderly or infirm could be and were routinely discarded by society and even their families if they were deemed not valuable or productive.  Christians came along and challenged the pagan world on this issue.  Christians taught that every person is made in the image of God and of sacred worth regardless of their potential or abilities or productivity.  2,000 year ago a pagan world thought those Christians fight for the sanctity of all human life were crazy and their ideas were pure foolishness.  Yet those Christians saints stuck by their beliefs because of what the Bible says and they eventually won the pagan world over. That's why almost all people today agree that every human life is valuable.

The list of virtues and justices Christians brought to the world through their faithful Scriptural Christianity are long and include such things as women’s rights, the abolishment of slavery, civil right, equal opportunities for all people, hospitals, orphanages, etc.  

On the other hand, the church has also done terrible evil in our world whenever it has strayed from the clear teachings of Scripture.  For when you break free from the restraints of the Bible, you can make religion whatever you want and can justify anything.  Thus, unbiblical, counterfeit Christianity has justified the selling of indulgences, the oppressions of the poor, the inquisition, colonialism, and even the killing of Jews in Nazi German.  

Stay Anchored to Jesus in the Bible
It is essential that we stay anchored to Jesus in the Bible.  We must make sure our congregation remains a church firmly faithful to the Scriptures.  As individuals, we must also listen to God’s Word in Scripture.  We must read and study and know our Bible.  We must humble ourselves before it.  We must let it correct us when we are wrong, teach us what is right, and change us to be more like Christ.  We must be faithful to what the Bible teaches—even if it conflicts with the prevailing views of our world.



Monday, June 21, 2021

The Names of God - Abba Father

A few weeks ago, a friend told me a funny story I thought you might like.
God said, it’s not good for man to be alone.  So God brought various animals to Adam to see what he would call them and see if any would be a good companion for man, but none were a good match.  So God made a companion for man.Now, you know God created a woman from Adam’s rib to be his perfect companion. But here’s a funny joke about God’s trial run.

First, God said, “I will create a companion that will reflect My perfect love for you.  Regardless of how
selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this companion will always accept you just as you are and will love you as I do, no matter what.”  
And God built the animal and it came up to Adam wagging it’s tale and licking his face.  And Adam said, “Since you are a reflection of God’s love, I will name you ‘DOG’!” 

Everything was going well, until a Satan complained to God. “Dog loves Adam so much he will become puffed up with pride.  Dog thinks Adam can do no wrong!  Adam needs to learn humility!”  

So God created Cat to be Adam’s companion along with Dog.  And Cat would not obey Adam.  And when Adam gazed into Cat’s slitted eyes, he knew man is not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility.  And God was pleased.  And Adam was pleased. And Dog wagged it's tale.  And Cat didn’t care one way or the other. 

This summer, we are studying the names of God from the Bible to learn what God is really like.  God is infinite, and His character is vast.  I challenge you to expand your thinking about God and consider the many beautiful facets of His character.  Most of all, I want you to follow God as the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose. 

So far, we have learned that God is Elohim—that He is many and one, both plural and singular.  This is something beyond human language and logic.  Thus is the mysterious character of God.

We also learned God is El-Shaddai—that He is Almighty and All-Sufficient; He’s all you need.

Today, for Father’s Day, we consider the name Jesus used for God; a name we can use too—Abba, Father. 

Romans 8:15-16

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Abba Father
According to Dr. Deborah MacNamara: “Cross cultural research on baby’s first words shows that the clear winner is Dada. Tardif and colleagues found in over 900 babies, age 8 to 16 months from English, Cantonese, and Mandarin speaking homes, Dada was the most common first person identified. Mama is not far behind…”[i]  This is surprising because most linguists agree Dada is harder for babies to say than Mama.  MacNamara goes on, “When mothers are the primary attachment, babies are still quite fused to them well into their first year of life. The first separation they see from themself is to their father. Dada is usually the first person they identify outside of the mother and baby bond.” 

Romans 8:15 says that because of what Christ did for us on the cross, we can call God “Abba, Father.”  Abba is the Aramaic word for Father.  Actually, Father may not be the best translation.  Abba is an easy word for babies to pronounce.  Babies don’t say “Father”.  They say, “Dada” or “Papa” or (in Aramaic) “Abba”. 

So in this Scripture, we see that Christians have the right to go before the Infinite, Immortal, Holy, Lord of the Universe, and call Him Abba (or Dada).  That’s an incredible revelation if you think about it.  So many people feel dread in God’s presence or like they have to talk to God with very religious language.  I am always perplexed when I hear someone pray to God using King James type language: “Oh Lord God, we bow before Thee and ask for Thine help!”  Who talks like that?  Why would Christians talk to God like that?  Especially when we understand He is our spiritual Dada! 

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Yes, God is holy and infinite and immortal.  But He is also a loving Father, a perfect Father, who shelters and protects and welcomes his little children into His arms.  If you trust Christ and believe His teaching, come to God like He is your perfect Father, because He is. 

Did you have a good father?  If you did, you know something of God’s character.  No matter how wonderful you father is, he is only an imperfect reflection of the God Christians call Abba.  Not everyone had a great father.  If you had problems with your Dad, I want you to know, Abba Father is the perfect Dad.  He will never let His children down.  Everything you wish you father was for you, God is and more. 

Are You A Child of God?
Now I need to make something clear.  Not everyone is a child of God.  This is something that confuses many people.  It is quite popular these days to say, “We are all God’s children.”  Now that may be true in a general sense because we are all created by God.  And it is true in the sense that no race or nation is more important to God than any other.  We’re all equal before God in this respect.  But Romans 8:15 says, “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” Why would God need to adopt us if we are already His children?  God needs to adopt us because sin has separated us from God.  

Sin is not just a minor separation.  Sin is an absolute separation.  It’s not that God left us.  No. We left God through Sin.  And the separation caused by our sin completely severs our relationship with the Abba Father.  God is not a Father to those who do not follow Christ. 

The Pharisees were surprised to hear this truth from Jesus in the 8th chapter of John.  As biological descendants of Abraham, the Pharisees believed God was their father through Abraham.  Jesus set them straight.  He said their evil actions showed they were not God’s children; the devil was their father.  Being part of the family in the Kingdom of God is not biological.  It’s about faith and choice and action.  It's a choice we make to repent and follow Jesus as Lord. It's a choice God makes to adopt us and save us for eternal life.

Sin separates us from God.  But the Good News is, Jesus we can be adopted into the family of God.  God wants to be your perfect Abba Father.  He wants to love you and nurture you and protect you and bless you, and give you eternal life, but you have to choose Him.  You have to turn to Him through Jesus Christ. 

Now, if you are not a child of God—adopted into God’s family because you turned away from your sins and put your faith in Jesus death for you on the cross—the conviction you feel before God is justified.  It’s no wonder you dread His presence.  You feel guilty in God’s presence because you are guilty.  But when you pray, “God, please forgive my sins!” and you invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life, then you are no longer a fearful slave.  You are adopted as a child of God.  You can call God “Abba Father!” just like Jesus does.  In fact, Jesus is your brother! 

Galatians 4:5-6 it says, “God sent [Jesus] to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 

This tells us that Jesus own spirit comes to live inside a Christian’s heart when they become a Christian by believing in Jesus.  So when God looks at a Christian, He doesn’t see a sinner.  He doesn’t see someone who has hurt Him or rebelled against Him.  He doesn’t see in a Christian anything that would upset or disappoint Him.  If you are a Christian, God sees Jesus in you and God calls you His child and you can call Him “Daddy”.  Isn’t that amazing! 

And so today Jesus pleads with everyone listening.  If you want God to be your Abba Father, you have to make a choice.  Why don’t you make that choice today?

Here's a prayer you can pray that can help you make that choice today.

Abba Father, I'm sorry I've been living my life my own way.  I repent of all that today. Please forgive me.  I want to follow Jesus as my Lord from this day forward.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and show me how.  Surround me with Christians who can help me and hold me accountable.  Cleanse me and and heal me so I can become more and more like Jesus.  For it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2018

When You Are Lonely, God is With You

            As you may have read in my previous blogs, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judea around 600 BC.  They destroyed the capital of Jerusalem and burned their temple to the ground.  All Jews who were not killed in the battle were taken captive back to Babylon.  The best and brightest like the biblical figures Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to serve as advisors in the Babylonian empire.  They were given new Babylonian names and forced to live as Babylonians.  The hope was they would be completely assimilated and forget the homeland ever existed. 
            Daniel and his friends must have felt lonely.  What makes you feel lonely?  Have you lost someone you care about?  Do you feel like no one thinks or believes like you anymore?  Are you facing a battle no one else really understands--even those who try to be kind and support you?  Are you a leader or a parent (which can sometimes be a very a lonely job)?  Today, I want you to know when you are lonely, God is with you.
            King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon when Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity, but his reign did not last forever.  Others succeeded him like King Belshazzar.  (There is a really cool story in Daniel Chapter 5 where Belshazzar literally saw "the writing on the wall" just before his life ended.  It's a great read and it is the story from which we get the expression "Can't you see the writing on the wall?")  As Babylonian power began to wane in the world (all worldly kingdoms come and go), it created a power vacuum where variousl kingdoms and leader vied for power.  Of those clamouring for the top were the Medes and the Persians. 
            Daniel 6 tells of a person called Darius the Mede.  Historians are not sure who he is.  It's possible he was a general of the Mede’s who conquered Belshazzar (or who ruled for a time in the power vacuum after Babylon fell).  He is called King Darius, but we get the sense that his status as "king" is a precarious one.  One thing's for sure.  It’s lonely at the top.  You are responsible for taking care of the kingdom while also fighting off everyone who wants to take your place.
           We also see Daniel in chapter 6.  He is a, a follower of the One True God of the Bible.  Daniel is older now than he was in the previous chapters of the book.  He has survived multiple kings and kingdoms.  Through it all, he has been highly respected by them all for his ability and most of all his integrity.  
 Daniel 6:1-18
1Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

[I’m going to stop the story here.  If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to check back next Sunday.  Today, our task is to wrestle with the lonely night Daniel spent in the lion’s den.  If we jump to the end of the story too quickly, we might miss what God wants to say to us today, which is this:  When you are lonely, God is with you.]

King of the Hill
            When I was a kid, I used to play a game called king of the hill.  There was a dirt mound hill in the play ground and all the kids would scramble and fight their way to the top. Whoever made it to the top first was "king of the hill."  Now the kings job was to stay at the top by fighting off all the challengers.  Everyone else's job was to dethrone the king and take his place. 
            Now, if we'd been smart, we would have built alliances and worked together.  The king could have enlisted a few helpers by giving them some special privileges in return for their helping in fighting off the challengers.  3 or 4 peole working together would have more success than on lone king trying to defend his hilltop.
            It seems that is what Darius decided to do.  He divided his kingdom into 120 provinces with twelve high officials to rule them.  Of course, the problem with this is, who would keep the twelve high officials in line?  Well, Darius had a solution for that too.  He designated three of his best, most trusted administrators to oversee the twelve.  Daniel was one of those administrators and it soon became clear to Darius that Daniel was the most capable and trustworthy of them all.  He egan to elevate Daniel above all the rest and this made everyone else jealous.

Darius’ plan for King of the Hill
            When you’re on top, jealous people will always find something to bring you down (even if they have to make it up).  The other administrators and all the high officials allied together to bring down Daniel, but there they couldn't find anything against Daniel--he was a talented and honest man with great integrity.  The only chink in Daniel's armor was related to his commitment to God. Daniel would not violate his obedience to God, even if ordered by the king.
            So, the administrators and high officials went to the king and stroked his ego and tricked him into making a law where, for thirty days, no one could pray to anyone accept King Darius.  So in essence, the were making him like a god for thirty days.  Now, that was probably pretty appealing to a guy who had such a struggle to hold on to or enforce his authority.  So he feels pretty good about it and agrees and signs it into law, without really thinking about the implications for Daniel.  And so now, Daniel ends up in a quandary, because the Ten Commandments say "Do not worship any god accept the Lord."  So will Daniel maintain his integrity and do what he knows is right or will he bow to the new law, violate his conscious, and disobey the Lord?  He's got a tough decision to make and his life is at stake. 

There’s A Lion Already Outside the Den             The story makes you fearful for poor Daniel because he is facing the lion's den.  But what you might miss is there is already a lion outside the den prowling around.  What I mean is, there is already a dangerous threat to Daniel that I would argue is even more important than the threat to his life from the lion's den.  It's the same threat each one of us faces when it comes to our integrity.  You see, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  The Devil is on the prowl.  He wanted to destroy Daniel witness.  If Daniel caves, the Devil has the ultimate victory.  Daniel integrity and witness and all that is truly important about him is destroyed.
            The Devil is a lion going about ready to tear apart the witness of the faithful today.  He wants to destroy the witness and resolve of God’s faithful children today.  He wants to discredit, remove, silence, and make irrelevant Christ’s followers so no one in this world will listen to us when we speak God’s truth.  We all have a choice to make.  Will we remain true to what we know is right or will we cave to the pressure to go along with the crowd?  How we respond will either show integrity and strengthen our credibility or greatly weaken or destroy our witness.  What will you chose to do?
            Daniel knew exactly what to do.  Verse 10, when he learned of the law saying no one could pray to anyone except King Darius, Daniel went home and got one his knees and prayed—as usual—to the God of heaven.  I want you to notice a few things here.  
           First of all notice that Daniel prayed.   Prayer gives you strength, because it keeps you connected to the One True God, the source of Life.  When you are lonely, prayer reminds you that you are not alone.  God is right there with you. 
            It is precisely in those moments when I have felt the most alone that prayer has helped me recognize the true nature of God the most.  It is precisely in those moments when I felt everyone had abandoned me, or when I felt no one cared, or when I felt I had failed and no one could love me, or when the world was so dark that I didn’t want to be around anyone else that I was able to pray to God and know His eternal, everlasting, ever-loving, all-knowing, all-embracing presence.  Such prayer during the darkest times reminds me at the very depths of my soul that if everything else falls apart or fails—even if the sun and moon themselves were to fall from the skies—it is OK because I am a child of the One True and Living God who made the Heaven and the Earth and He holds me in the palm of His mighty and loving hand.  And it is an experience that chases away all loneliness because I am not alone.  I am a child of God.  He is my Father.  He will never abandon me.  I will never be alone. 
            Second, notice it says Daniel prayed, as usual.  Now here is something you could easily miss.  Daniel prayed as usual.  That means this wasn't something he just started when he found out aout the crazy law or the lion's den.  This was already Daniel's regular daily practice--to pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.  This was what he'd being doing for years.  And he kept doing it and he did it in his open window.  He wasn't hiding anything from anyone.
            Now, there's an important lesson for us in this.  If you are going to take a stand and do the right thing when the challenge comes, you’ve got to be training everyday up to that point through regular, daily spiritual disciplines. 
            The Iron man is a grueling race competition that includes a long distance swim, biking, and then a marathon race.  Just to finish an Iron Man is a great accomplishment.  It takes a lot of training to get ready.  No one just decides to do an Iron Man race on a whim.  They don’t wake up on the day of the race and roll out of bed—without ever having trained—and say, “I think I’ll compete in the Iron Man today…”  That would be ludicrous, I don't care how fit and athletic you are.
            Neither would you want to wait for the day of trials to come before you start praying.  Start praying today.  Build your spiritual muscles now so they will be ready when the troubles come.  Read and study your Bible so you know what to believe.  Pray daily (Daniel prayed three times a day) so you know God with all your heart.  Worship the Lord in private and together with other believers.  Make it your faithful and usual habit.  Troubles come for us all, start training for them to day so you will always be ready. 

            This past Sunday was Father's Day so I want to end with a story about my own father.  On time when I was young, my dad was driving with me and my siblings in the car.  We were on the interstate and there were only two lanes.  Well, two cars were driving side by side very slow and it seemed as if they were doing it on purpose.  We were right behind them and they would not make an opening for cars to get through.  There were 10 or 20 cars stacked up behind them in both lanes.  My dad was really aggravated because it was becoming obvious they were just being jerks.  So, somehow, he managed to get around the cars (I think he did it on the shoulder of the road).  Once around, most people would just drive ahead and leave the situation behind, but not my dad.  He decided he was going to break this traffic jamming pair up so all the other cars could get through.  He got in front of one of them and slowed down to 50 miles per hour.  They still would not separate.  Dad said, "I'm gonna make them separate if I have to slow all the way down to a stop.  So he started slowing down.  45 MPH.  40 MPH.  Still no separation.  35 MPH.  30 MPH.  Finally, one of the cars sped up and went by leaving an opening that cars began to pour through.  One driver, thankful for my father's rebellious act rolled down his window and raised his fist in the air in the salute of defiance!  I have never felt so proud of my dad!
            Fathers are often the ones who teach us to take a stubborn stand for what it right, no matter the cost.  Challenges are coming for us all.  Will you stand up for what’s right?  I encourage you to do the right thing and also to start praying for courage and integrity for the challenge today.  And never forget--because it can be a lonely battle to do the right thing--when you feel lonely, God is with you!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Third Commandment

Copyright June 16, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:7

            This summer, I would like to challenge you to memorize the Ten Commandments.  Then, come to Pleasant Grove UMC each Sunday (or read this blog each week) to learn how the commandments apply to your life.  We will study one commandment each week.
            There are 613 laws in the Old Testament of our Bible.  The Ten Commandments are the essence of them all, distilled down to ten easy to remember commandments that cover every area of life.  We know they are very important because they were written by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18) and Jesus quoted them regularly as he taught.  Unfortunately, most people--even Christians—do not know or understand the Ten commandments.  So…

Let’s recite all Ten Commandments together.  This list is my paraphrase of the Ten Commandments.
  1. Do not worship any God except the Lord.
  2. Do not make idols of any kind.
  3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. Do not murder..
  7. Do not commit adultery
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. Do not covet.
Today we will look at the Third Commandment.  Exodus 20:7
7 “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

This verse makes two main points.  First is the commandment itself: “You must not misuse the name of the Lord.”  Or as a more traditional version puts it, “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  Or as I put it in my own words, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.”  The second part of the verse is pretty clear.  The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.  I think we can understand that.  It means we better not break this commandment or you will be punished.  So, I think it is vital that we understand the commandment so we can avoid breaking it, right?  So what does it mean to misuse or take the Lord’s name in vain?

Three Stories
            Here are three stories of misusing the Lord’s name.  First off, I was watching a show on HGTV where they renovated a family’s home and then brought the family in to surprise them with the results.  The remodeled home was beautiful and the family was thrilled with the results.  As they gave the family the tour, each time they entered a new room, the wife exclaimed in delight, “Oh mu God!”  It was as if she could find no other way to express her surprise.  “Oh my God!” poured out of her mouth over nad over again each time she entered a room.  Saying “Oh God!” in such a way would be considered misusing the Lord’s name.
            My second story took place where I practice jiu-jitsu.  My jiu-jitsu class is a mixture of many different kinds of people—some who are Christians, some who are not, some who attend church regularly and some who never attend church.  Well I was rolling one day (that’s what we call it when we are wrestling or practice fighting with an opponent in class) and I defeated my opponent by twisting his arm until he tapped out (or gave up).  (That’s how you win a jiu-jitsu match.)  My opponent was frustrated and expressed his frustration by cursing, “@#$%!”  Remembering that I was a pastor, he quickly apologized and said that’s what he does when he’s frustrated.  Some people consider cussing a form of misusing the Lord’s name.
             My last story came from a Mary Helen Speights.  She once hired a Christian man to remove a rotten tree from her yard.  He removed the whole tree except for the trunk, which was too large for the chainsaw he had with him.  He promised he would return the next day with a larger saw and remove the trunk.  Donna had already paid him for the work, but this “Christian” man (who readily advertised his business as a Christ-centered business) never returned.  It has been years now and this “Christian” has never returned to finish the work as he promised.  This is also considered misusing the Lord’s name.

The Three Most Common Violations
Each of these stories is an example of what many people would call misusing the Lord’s name.  Let’s look at each one.  First, there is using God’s name in a trivial waysuch as saying “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” or even “Jesus!” to express excitement or exasperation.  This way of using God’s name has become so commonplace that many do not realize it as a problem.  However, in Jesus day, you weren’t even supposed to speak God’s name.  Many people would not even write it—choosing instead to refer to God by the title Lord instead.  The Old Testament Law in Leviticus chapter 24 stipulated that speaking God’s name in the wrong way was punishable by stoning.  In fact, this was the sin for which the religious leaders sentenced Jesus to death on the cross.  If we held to that standard, people in Dalton, GA would be stoned to death every day.  Unfortunately, it is even a bad habit I am guilty of from time to time.  I need to work on this.
Using God’s name in a trivial way is something we should not do.  It is a bad habit that desensitizes us to the Holiness of God.  Instead, we should remember that God is holy and good and we are mere mortals that should hold God in reverence, respecting God and His name.  So if you struggle—as I sometimes do—with this bad habit, I encourage you to do better.  Even so, I don’t think this is the worst way we misuse God’s name.  Let’s look at the second way people are accused of misusing God’s name.
The second way we accuse people of misusing God’s name is when they use profanity (or when they cuss).  Technically, this is not really using God’s name in vain, because you are not usually using God’s name at all (unless you are saying “G-- D---”).  Profanity is really not what the Third Commandment is addressing.  However, there are other places the Bible teaches us not to use profane language.
  • Proverbs 10:32 – The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.
  • Colossians 3:8 – But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
  • Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
            I would add that these verse speak to more than just “curse words.”  God wants us to use wholesome words, and even more important, wholesome ideas that build up and do good.  You might never say an obscene word in your life, but if you express perversion, malice, slander, or words that tear down or lack grace, you are not doing the will of God, regardless of how pretty your words may sound.  An evil tongue sometimes drips with honey, but it is still evil.  So let’s agree not to use profanity or even profane ideas that tear down rather than builld people up in love.  If you struggle with this, ask the Lord to help you break this habit.
            There is a third way we misuse the name of the Lord, and I think it is the worst of all.  It is when we invoke God’s name or reputation for our own selfish purposes.  You see, the term “The Lord’s Name” doesn’t just mean His common name.  The Lord’s name is his reputation.  That’s what we mean when we say the Lord’s prayer.  What do we say, “Our Father, who are in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…  The expression hallowed be thy name means—may your reputation be honored and exalted. 
Quite often in our society, people will affiliate themselves with the Lord’s name (or His reputation.)  For instance, you might see a car mechanic with a fish symbol on the sign of his business.  The implication is, “Look, I’m a Christian mechanic.  You can trust me.  I won’t cheat you.”  And that’s a good thing if you need someone to work on your car, right?  You don’t want to be cheated.  You should be able to trust that guy, because he’s a Christian. 
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if you are going to use God’s name (or reputation) to bolster your own reputation, you better live up to it.  Right?  For if you are using God’s name to bolster your own reputation without living up to it, you are misusing God’s name. 

This happens quite frequently in our society:
  • When a politicians promotes his or her Christianity as a way to garner more votes without intending to put Christian principles first in their career
  • When a business uses their religious affiliation to attract more business
  • When a person seeks to use their religion garner more influence in the community
  • When a person where a cross, or a Christian t-shirt, or a put a Christian bumper sticker on their car, but doesn’t act as a Christian while displaying the Lord’s name.
  • When a person uses their faith to bolster their reputation without living up to the Lord's name.  Isn’t this what the Pharisees did that bothered Jesus so much?  He said they “…love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.”  (Matthew 6:5)
Please hear me.  There is nothing wrong with showing your faith in Christ by wearign a cross or a Christian t-shirt, etc.  However when you do, you should be very conscious of how you behave; is your witness matching up to Christian principles?  These are fine lines, but God knows a person’s heart and if you are using God’s name to commend yourself to others without honestly trying to live up to it, then you are misusing God’s name and you are breaking the Third Commandment in the worst kind of way. 

            The Third Commandment tells us, we will not go unpunished if we’ve misused the name of the Lord.  All of us have done it.  We all deserve to be punished.  Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages for sin is death…”  And Exodus 20:7 tells us, “You will not go unpunished if you misuse the name of the Lord.”  But there is Good News.
The Good News is Jesus has already taken your punishment on himself.  He allowed himself to be whipped and spat upon for your sake.  He wore a crown of thorns for you.  He carried the cross down the road to cruel Golgotha on your behalf.  He was nailed to that same cross so you didn’t have to be.  He spilled his own precious blood so you can keep yours.  He bore the agony of hell, so you could escape.  He did all this and more to save you.
Won’t you thank him today for this priceless gift?  Won’t you ask forgiveness for the way your sin brought suffering to the Son of God?  Won’t you ask him to be your Lord today?  Won’t you commit to follow Him from now on so you can begin to obey the commandments more faithfully?  Then I offer you this prayer to express your desires to God.

"Jesus, thank you for taking my sins to the cross so I don’t have to.  Forgive me for the way my actions have caused you pain.  Help me to live a better life that is worthy of the sacrifice you made.  Today, I choose to follow you.  Jesus, save me and be my Lord and I will serve you for the rest of my life.  Amen.”

Will you do me a favor?  If you have prayed this prayer and decided to let Jesus be your Lord for the first time, will you let me know?  Email me at  I would like to know so I can thank God and keep you in my prayers.