Sunday, November 29, 2015
Scratching the Surface
Basic Rules for Good Behavior
(A Brief and Incomplete Guide to the Ten Commandments)
Anyone who says Christianity is complicated is spending too much time in books about the book than in the book itself.
A troubled pastor asked, “Is Christianity as complicated as we are making it? Did Jesus really have all of these theologies and denominations and bulletins and vestments and stained glass windows and ornaments and relics and…in mind?”
“I may be wrong,” I responded, “but I think Christianity is really, really, really quite simple. Love Jesus and know for sure that you’re going to heaven after your last breath. In the meantime, you love Jesus by loving like Jesus because you’re so grateful about going to heaven after you die. As far as I can see, that’s Christianity by the book.”
Let’s spell it out.
It’s so simple.
When Jesus was asked to sum up what it means to be Godly, He explained, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”
Simply, love God and/by be/being kind to one another.
He was summing up the Ten Commandments.
The first half of the big ten is all about loving God: “no other gods…no idols…no messing around with His name by taking it in vain…and not missing worship.”
The second half is all about loving others to prove loving God: “prize your parents…don’t murder…don’t mess around with someone who ain’t your spouse…don’t take what doesn’t belong to you…stop gossiping…and be satisfied with what you’ve got.”
Let’s take a closer look.
1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” If we get this one right, everything else falls into place. If honoring Him above all else is our highest goal, greatest ambition, and most fervent prayer, we are more inclined to follow the rest of His rules for good behavior.
2. “No idols.” That means no one or no thing is allowed to distract us from the attention, allegiance, and affection due God alone.
3. “Don’t take His name in vain.” That means not attaching His name to anyone or anything out of His character or antithetical to His book.
4. “Don’t miss worship. Remember the Sabbath.” People who know who God is (sovereign) and what He has done for them (salvation) worship Him with enthusiasm and without equivocation.
5. “Honor/prize your parents.” Remember what they have done for us and obey them as they obey God.
6. “Don’t murder.” God not you or me or anyone else is the source, starter, sovereign, and savior of life from before the womb to after the tomb.
7. “Don’t commit adultery.” That means not messing around with someone who ain’t your spouse because it is taking the attention, allegiance, and affection due them and giving it to someone else who doesn’t deserve it.
8. “Don’t steal.” If it doesn’t belong to us, it’s not ours to take.
9. “Don’t lie or gossip.” God likes the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
10. “Don’t covet or lust for something that God has not intended for you.” We must be satisfied with what we’ve got because that’s all we’re gonna get.
Again, the first half (1-4) is inextricably woven into the fabric of the second half (5-10): “Love God and/by be/being kind to one another.”
Being Godly is all about loving God and proving that love by loving others; or as Jesus explained, “As you do it to/for others, you do it to/for Me.”
I think of a few lyrics from Stephen Schwartz in Pippin: “I know the parables told in the Holy Book…I keep close on my shelf…God’s wisdom teaches me when I help others…I’m really helping myself…And if we all could spread a little sunshine…All could lend a helping hand…We’d all be a little closer…to the promised land.”
J. Edgar Hoover often said there’d be no need for the FBI if people lived by the Ten Commandments.
And as Jesus said, “Truth makes/keeps us free.”
The Ten Commandments are God’s way of keeping us out of trouble with Him and each other.
Let me put it another way.
These basic rules for good behavior are liberating not limiting; guiding us on the best way(s) to get along with Him and each other.
That’s why they are often referred to as the basic building blocks of civilization and the answer to our prayer, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I guess that’s why they’re commandments not suggestions.
Blessings and Love!
Friday, November 20, 2015
Thanksgiving Day Prayer
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord! Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into His presence with singing!
He is God!
He made us!
We are His!
Come with thanksgiving!
He is good!
His love lasts forever!”
I’ll never forget Tony telling me about the proverbial “church lady” who complained about the earthy language in his prayers. He responded, “Listen, lady, I wasn’t talking to you!”
Indeed, while we are often privileged to pray with others or lead corporate prayers, prayer is very, very, very personal; coming from our hearts to Him.
My home pastor, The Rev. Harold F. Mante (RIP), urged our confirmation class, “Just talk to Him. He doesn’t care about your grammar or language or stammering or stuttering or anything. Just talk to Him.”
I recalled the preceding and experienced the freedom to converse candidly yet respectfully with our Father when I heard Him say to me just before leading a corporate prayer on a Sunday that I had sculpted on a Friday, “Bob. Bob! We went over that on Friday! Don’t you have anything new to talk about with Me today? This is not a show! This is not a religion. This is a relationship. Let’s talk!”
Since then, I find myself sometimes praying corporately, “Well, Lord, I know this is coming through me; and the language and content may not reflect the praise and thanks and confessions and beggings of the folks gathered here. So if it applies, that’s great! If not, do Your thing with them apart from my interference…”
BTW, I often refer to God as Father in “my” prayers with “our” family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois; and when challenged by somebody, you know, caught up in, you know…., I share a little story about a friend who was thusly challenged by an ecclesiastical bureaucrat in Rochester, New York many, many, many years ago during a vetting interview as part of a church’s search for a new pastor. After praying as requested - I guess to grade how he prays rather than actually pray – she said, “I was offended by your use of ‘Father’ for God in your prayer.” My buddy replied kindly yet directly, “Well, if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
So this will be my prayer on Thanksgiving Day; and if the shoe fits…
As I try to count Your blessings to us in time, I can’t improve upon Ralph Waldo Emerson: “For each new morning with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything Your goodness sends.”
Yes, I thank You for everything and everyone that bring pleasure and safety in time.
I know I could never count all of the blessings that You have graced upon us in time; but these come to mind: America with still enough people who really want to be one nation under You, churches like ours that still love You by the book, and the help of Your Holy Spirit to be faithful as true thanksgiving whenever and wherever with whomever.
As we begin this feast, help us not only to remember the hungry but also to embrace ways to feed them.
As we celebrate the safety and security of our homes, help us not only to remember those around the globe who are being persecuted by the accomplices of evil but also to do everything that we can to prevent them from being persecuted.
As we revel in our contented comfort, help us not only to remember the challenged and discomforted but also to labor for their total welfare.
Of course, we give our highest praise and thanks to You for the greatest blessing of all that transcends time and place: eternal life in heaven by grace through faith in Jesus.
Knowing the privileges in time are fixed in time and often forfeited by our mismanagement or stolen by greed and not shared equally by all, we praise You and thank You that peace and joy are infinitely more dependent upon a personal relationship with You than existential circumstances that do not last forever.
Your love – Praise You! Praise You! Praise You! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! – lasts forever!
That’s why we want to live in gratitude as we pray in the name of Jesus.
Blessings and Love!