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Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Ten Words (10)

In many ways, this last of the Ten Words (Commandments) may be seen as the most serious!   It reads: "You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's." (Ex 20:17).

Basically, the commandment is instructing us to control our material desires.  There is, I would contend, nothing inherently wrong with admiring that which is possessed by another; or even of wishing that I had such an item myself.  It is, however, when my desire for that item begins to take control; to eat into my being like a cancer; to become my main obsession; that I am breaking this tenth commandment.

Ultimately, to covet that which belongs to someone else is to express dissatisfaction God's provision for myself.  In the modern, materialistic, society in which so many of the world's inhabitants live, this is not a welcome thought.  Surely, if my neighbour (and cf. Luke 10:29ff) has a brand-new, top-of-the-range, car I am entitled to a similar model!  If my neighbour has just purchased a 50" flat-screen television set, am I not entitled to the same level of home entertainment?   My neighbour has a cleaning lady come in, every day, to attend to housework, and cooking.  Why should I not have the same benefit?  That, sadly, is the attitude of so many in the 'civilised', and 'developed' west!

However, I stated, above that, in many ways, this commandment may be seen as the most serious - or, at least, the breaking of it can lead to so much more.  You see, if I covet in this way, I am putting personal greed, lust, and self before God.  That is idolatry, and is the breaking of the second commandment.  However, such covetousness may lead me to break into someone's home and take the item that I desire so obsessively.  That breaks commandment number eight - I have stolen.  Regretfully, in the course of my burglary, my neighbour returns, unexpectedly.  In order to cover my tracks, I hit him with the crowbar that I used to gain entry to his home and, in so doing, I murder him.  I have now added commandment six to my growing list of transgressions! 

Having escaped to my own home without any further 'mishap', I find that, shortly afterwards, the local constabulary are questioning everyone in the street in their search for clues as to the identity of the perpetrator of this double crime.  Well, I am hardly going to confess - so I lie!  That is the breaking of the ninth commandment!   I then decide that I should, at least, put on a show and visit my neighbour's widow in order to express my shock, and offer my sympathy.  She is an attractive woman.  I return more frequently - just to be of assistance! - and, before I know it, I am engaged in an affair.  Down goes commandment number seven.  My agèd parents find out about my misdeeds, and are shocked.  This was not the way in which they had reared their little boy.  That breaks commandment number five.

Have you been counting?  I make it that I have now broken a total of six of the ten commandments - all because I coveted in the first place!

So, is there an answer?  Of course there is.  The same God Who gave us these commandments also assures us that "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (I Cor. 10:13).

Under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Paul also writes: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Gal 5:16-24).

One more post on this subject - but that will have to wait until next month!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Ten Words (9)

The penultimate of the Ten Words (Commandments) gives the instruction: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour." ( Ex 20:16), so has to do, basically, with truth.  This, of course, is no more, or less, than we would expect from the God Who, in His incarnation, stated: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life;" (John 14:6).

Warren Wiersbe (one of my favourite contemporary commentators) writes: "Speaking the truth.and honouring promises, is the cement that holds society together.  To tell lies in court is to undermine the very law itself, which explains why Moses required the witnesses to be the executioners in capital crimes (Deut.17:6-13).  It's one thing to lie; but quite something else to kill in order to protect your lie.  The commandment also prohibits slandering people." (in loc).

Lying, of course, is increasingly common in our contemporary society.  In the UK, a General Election is in the offing, and politicians of every political shade and hue, are making promises galore.  Yet, in so many cases, they already know that what they are saying is a lie.  Mind you, an increasingly sophisticated electorate is increasingly sceptical of promises - especially those made by the 'traditional' parties who have shown, in the past, how little store they put by this commandment!  In spite of the efforts of bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority (in the UK), manufacturers continue to make exaggerated, or misleading, claims about their products.  On the Internet, there are those who lie about their own identity in order to entrap an unsuspecting child for their own paedophile purposes.

Lying has almost become an accepted way of life.  Oh, I know that many of us would only admit to what we, euphemistically, refer to as "little white lies".  However, if truth be told (!), a lie, is a lie, is a lie - regardless of its alleged colour!   Our world is accurately described by Isaiah's description of ancient Israel: "No one enters suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity." (Isa 59:4).

The final point made by Dr Wiersbe, is of great importance.  Sometimes, we do not consider gossip and slander as lying.  After all, we are just passing on what we have been told!  Perhaps that is the problem!  Or we may allow others to make assumptions that are, themselves, untrue.  I confess to that sort of behaviour myself.  I know that I have often been very good at "telling the truth" - but ensuring that it is not "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."!

Is there an answer?  There is.  Paul urged Church members in Ephesus to "... put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." (Eph 4:24-25).

God wants us all to commit ourselves to truth and reflect it in everything we do. That is why He commands us: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour."

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Ten Words (8)

As we draw close to the end of this brief look at each of the Ten Words (Commandments) given by Almighty God to the Children of Israel, but applicable to all of mankind, we reach the eighth one.  As with number six, it is very short: "You shall not steal." (Ex 20:15).

This is, surely, a very simple commandment to understand.   It means that I ought not to rob a bank; mug an old lady and take her handbag; remove goods from a local shop without making the required payment; break into my neighbour's home and help myself to his belongings.

Well, it certainly does mean all of that - but it also means much more!  For example, if my employer pays me to work from 0830 until 0530 (with appropriate breaks!), but I arrive late, or leave early, I have stolen my employer's time.  If I falsify my income tax returns, I am stealing - not from the government (which actually has no money of its own!), but from other taxpayers who will, eventually, be required to make up the shortfall thus caused, or from genuine benefit recipients who will have their benefits cut!   If I am a self-employed workman, and I bill a householder for better materials than the ones I used, I have stolen from that householder.   Politicians who deliberately abuse the expenses system are stealing from those who, in fact, employ them.

As a disciple of Jesus, I may even be guilty of stealing from God!  Speaking through the Old Testament prophet, Malachi, God says: "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.  From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?'  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How are we robbing thee?' In your tithes and offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." (Mal. 3:6-10).

Tithing - the giving to God of one tenth of our material blessings (for the Children of Israel that was, in the main, crops and animals; for us it is more likely to be a wage/salary/pension/benefit) was part of the Old Testament law, and there are Christians who insist that it does not apply to them.  I beg to differ!  Jesus' own words to the scribes and the Pharisees were: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matt. 23:23).  Those words at the end would indicate that He was not condemning the practice of tithing, but telling them that they had even greater responsibilities that they were neglecting, while tithing even garden herbs!  

Then, we read that, speaking to His disciples, He said: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:17-20).  In other words, He was saying that we should give more than the tithe - what many refer to as the 'love-gift'.

I doubt that anyone who reads my blog is guilty of any criminal act that would break this commandment.  However, could it be that all of us need to examine our lives to see if we are stealing from our fellow-man in less obvious ways?  Could it be that we need to examine our lives to see if we are stealing from Father God?  It's worth thinking about!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Ten Words (7)

As we come to the seventh of the Ten Words/Commandments, we come to the second of those to which the Lord Jesus made specific mention in the Sermon on the Mount.  The commandment reads: "You shall not commit adultery." (Ex 20:14).

This, of course, is always the difficult one when teaching children!  Sadly, there are - in my opinion - far too many children who are the product of broken homes because one, or other, of their parents didn't abide by this commandment. 

Putting at its simplest, this commandment is saying that husbands and wives must be faithful to one another - and to the vows they took at their wedding (certainly if it was a Christian wedding service).  And, in spite of what I have stated in the previous paragraph, there are many who can claim, with absolute honesty, to have honoured those vows.  Men and women were designed, by our Creator, to be together, and to need each other. Marriage is a natural union of a man and a woman - and only of a man and a woman - and was divinely ordained and established by God from the very beginning of mankind. His laws, and in particular this Seventh Commandment, authorise the marriage relationship and establish it as the foundation of the family, which in turn stands as both the foundation, and also the most important building block, of human society.

Adultery is the violation of the marriage covenant by wilful participation in sexual activity with someone other than one's spouse.  But, of course, the Lord Jesus took it much further!  His words are "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-29).  That is a whole different story!   Just as I may be able to say that I have never murdered anyone, but cannot say that I have never been angry, and felt like murdering a lot of people; so, although I may be able to claim that I have never committed the act of adultery, there is no way that I can claim never to have looked at another woman with a physical desire in my heart.  Indeed, I have often confessed, from platform and pulpit that, according to Jesus' stricter interpretation, I am a serial murderer and a serial adulterer!

Now, let me make clear that this is not a prohibition on appreciating the physical beauty of a member of the opposite gender.  If that were the case, I wouldn't even be married!  It is the allowing that natural attraction to develop into a desire that is prohibited, that is the problem.

So why would the Creator give this commandment?   Far be it from me to suggest that I 'know the mind of the Lord' (see Rom.11:34).  However, I would suggest that one reason is the sanctity of the family.  I have already referred to the number of broken homes that are the result of an adulterous relationship involving one, or other, of two spouses.  Not only do they suffer, but any children of the marriage suffer also - torn between two people, both of whom they love!

The adulterer him/herself may suffer psychologically.  "He who commits adultery has no sense;
he who does it destroys himself." (Prov 6:32) are words worth pondering (and, of course, they apply to both genders!).

However, I suspect that the main reason why Almighty God gave this commandment is because, as Paul writes: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Saviour.  As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Eph. 5:21-33).  The marriage covenant is a picture of the relationship that the Lord Jesus has with His own people.  We tamper with it at our peril!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Ten Words (6)

The sixth of the Ten Words/Commandments is one of the shortest.  It reads, quite simply: "You shall not kill." (Ex 20:13).  However, it might be, more accurately, translated - as is the case in some of the more modern versions - "You shall not commit murder."  In other words, this commandment has to do with the deliberate, and malicious, taking of the life of another human being.

Life, of course, is a gift from God.  This is why we speak of the process of conceiving children as "procreation" - from the Latin pro =  "in place of, on behalf of" (proconsul, pronoun) + creare  = "to make, bring forth, produce, beget".   In the act of sexual intercourse, a man and a woman are working with Almighty God in the bringing into being of a new human life.  Because life is a gift from God, only He may legitimately take it away.

Of course, this does not include a situation of self-defence; defence of the realm; or the judicial execution of the death penalty.  Indeed, Ex.21:12ff expressly states that there are occasions on which a man must die!   Even before the giving of the Decalogue, we read that God said to Noah that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed ; for God made man in His own image." (Gen 9:6).

This is also one of the commandments specifically referred to by the Lord Jesus.  In that collection of His teaching that we know as The Sermon on the Mount, He says: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire." (Matt 5:21-22).  In other words, although I may be able to say that I have never been responsible for the deliberate taking of the life of a fellow human being, that is not enough.   I would need to be able to claim, with absolute honesty, that I have never (as in 'not ever'!) been angry with anyone!   From a personal point of view, having spent a total of 25 years teaching Secondary School pupils (aged 11-18) I have to confess that, in Jesus' terms, I was a serial killer!

So, where does that leave us?   Well, we are also exhorted, in the New Testament: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:21).  Writing to the Galatian believers, Paul says: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Gal 6:2).     Jesus, again in the Sermon on the Mount, says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt 5:9); and "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, ..." (Matt 5:43-44).

What that would seem to suggest is that Father God wants us to go far beyond not committing murder.  He wants us to actively treat even those who choose to hate us as respectfully as possible, and do all within our power to live in peace and harmony with them.  "Strive for peace with all men , and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb 12:14).

To accomplish this we must respect this wonderful gift of the precious possession of human life.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Ten Words (5)

Whilst it may be argued that each of the Ten Words (Commandments) impinges on our relationship with our Creator God, the first four are specifically so.  The remaining six serve as the standards of conduct in areas of human behaviour that generate the most far reaching consequences on individuals, families, groups and society.  In other words, the first four commandments have to do, primarily, with my relationship God-ward; the following six with my relationship man-ward.

Commandment number 5 deals with the most basic human relationship, and is the second that is framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." (Ex 20:12), and Paul points out that "... this is the first commandment with a promise." (Eph 6:2).

So what does this commandment mean?   In a world in which many who are able to do so spend small fortunes to keep themselves looking as young as possible while, at the same time, seeking (and, in some countries, succeeding) to legalise euthanasia/assisted dying/suicide, these words may sound strange.  Why should one be concerned about parents and, by extension, other elderly folk?  Such a question would not have occurred to the children of Israel.   Alan Cole writes: "This commandment is part of the general attitude of Israel to old age (as symbolising and, ideally, embodying the practical wisdom of life) commended throughout the Old Testament (Lev.19:32), and found in many other ancient peoples, notably the Chinese." (Tyndale O.T. Commentaries; in loc).

We should honour our parents as those responsible for our existence.  We should honour our parents for the care that they gave to us when we were unable to care for ourselves.  We should honour our parents for the good example that they provide for us.  Sadly, we live in a generation, and culture in which not everyone would recognise such reasons for honouring their parents.  There are, in my opinion, far too many who do not have any relationship with one/both of their biological parents.  It is quite tragic when that is the case because the child is an orphan.  It is even worse when the child has been, effectively abandoned by the parents.  Many parents, in our 'advanced', 'civilised', 'developed', western culture do not care adequately for even the youngest of children.  Indeed, there are millions of mothers who, every year, are responsible - with the willing assistance of others - for the deaths of their children by murder in the womb (aka abortion!).   One doesn't have to read too many news reports to discover that there are many parents whose only example to their children is negative. I wonder if this is why we are experiencing an unprecedented breakdown in, not only family life, but also society as a whole? 

So, how do we honour our parents?  May I suggest that we do so by showing them love, and care; by providing for them in their old age; by recognising their continuing contribution to society in general.  When I was sharing these commandments with secondary school pupils in their early teenage years, I would suggest that it might involve such simple act as keeping one's bedroom tidy; offering to wash up after a meal; volunteering to take the dog for a walk.

Of course, there are parents who are extremely difficult.  However, honouring even such should be our default position.  We may then claim the promise that "our days may be long".  For the children of Israel, this would have been understood in straightforward physical terms, and would have been applied to the land of Israel.  Today, I believe, we may rightly spiritualise the promise.  The honouring of parents is a Christian duty (Eph.6:1; cf I Tim.5:3-4, 8), and those who do so may anticipate, not simply length of days in this world, but the eternal day in the next!  It isn't the whole of the Christian life - but it is an important component part.  Jesus, Himself, affirmed the commandment.  "And He said to [the Pharisees and the scribes], 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!  For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; but you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, 'What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) - then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on'." (Mark 7:9-13).

It is also worth remembering that the way in which we treat our own parents, and older folk whom we know, may well be the way in which, if we are spared to old age, we will be treated.  We really do "reap what we sow"!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Ten Words (4)

The fourth of the Ten Words (Commandments) is the first of only two that are framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it." (Ex 20:8-11). It is also the only one of the Ten Words that is not repeated in the New Testament!

The tradition of keeping this one day in seven - Shabbat (= 'rest') - was already established within the nation of Israel, but now it became an integral part of their Law, and of the covenant relationship that they had with YHWH.  It was a reminder of creation as it was "... on the seventh day God [that] finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation." (Gen 2:2-3).

Of course, when the Children of Israel celebrated Shabbat, it was not only a means of honouring YHWH, but was also a witness to their pagan neighbours.  It was also a means by which to demonstrate their different attitude to slaves.   In other nations, people might take tiime to rest, but their slaves and servants were not afforded such an opportunity.  Only in Israel was it made mandatory that the whole family, including the servants, the very animals, and even foreigners who were merely 'passing through' should take time out.

To Gentiles (non-Jews), the Shabbat restrictions often appear to be onerous.  However, to a Jew, Shabbat is a celebration.   YHWH intended that it be a time of joy; an opportunity to draw closer to Him; to study Torah; to be 'recreated'.   Through the prophet Isaiah, YHWH was later to say: "If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of YHWH honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in YHWH, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken." (58:13-14).

So, what are the lessons for the disciple of Jesus, today?  Well, we note that, from the earliest days of the Church, it assembled on the first day of the week - Sunday.  Of course, we read of men like Paul, who made use of the synagogue, and the Shabbat service.  "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'." (Acts 17:1-3).   Some would use such a passage to claim that disciples of Jesus should worship on the seventh day, just like the Children of Israel.  However, such people ignore, for example, Acts 20:7 where we read that "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight."

In passing, let me explain a little about that particular passage.   There are those who assume that Paul commenced his message to these believers in Troas some time in the late morning - maybe about 1100, as is common for many worship services today.  They then marvel that he could speak on until midnight - some thirteen hours!  That would be impressive.  I have spoken for an hour and a quarter, on occasion; but would never even contemplate speaking for such a long time.

The problem is that we forget the way in which the Jewish day is calculated!   It, too, has its basis in the Creation record where we have the refrain: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." (Gen 1:5, inter al).  This led to the Jewish day being calculated from sunset until sunset.  So, when Paul met with these believers "On the first day of the week, ...", they met at sunset on Saturday!  It was still a long message (little wonder that Eutychus fell asleep!), but not the ridiculous length that some would seek to suggest in an attempt to belittle the written Word of God!

So, disciples of Jesus ought to be faithful in their attendance at the worship service(s) of their local congregation/fellowship, remembering the injunction of the writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus: "... not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10:25).   More than that, we should see it as a joyful occasion, not some boring duty!  We are to attend "... with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb 10:22). 

That is, I suspect, a challenge for some - but it is a challenge worth accepting as, in New Testament terms, you keep this important commandment.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Ten Words (3)

The third commandment is simple and straightforward: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Ex 20:7).

The most obvious - and, sadly, frequent - way in which this commandment is broken by so many is in the use of the title 'God' as an expletive, or swear-word.  Of course, there is a tendency at the present time, to think that one is getting around that by using initials.  So I notice, on many social media pages the letters "OMG".  Indeed, I recently noticed those same letters as part of the name of a shop!  I doubt that any reader of this post needs me to 'translate'.

A more recent translation renders this commandment as: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses His name.” (NRSV).  Such a translation emphasises that such thoughtless use of 'God' is unacceptable.  Of course, for the disciple of Jesus, who believes that He is God the Son, it is just as unacceptable to use His name or, indeed, His title (the Christ) in an irreverent manner.

It's all to do with respect!  One modern commentator on these words writes: "If God is the greatest Being in the universe, then His name is the greatest name, and must be honoured (respected)." (Warren Wiersbe).  Respect is the cornerstone of good relationships. The quality of our relationship with God depends on both the love and regard we have for Him; and on the way we express respect for Him in the presence of others. We are expected always to honour Who and What He is. Conversely, the use of God's name in a flippant, degrading or in any way disrespectful manner expresses an attitude of disdaining the relationship we are supposed to have with Him.

Then again, one's name is not only that which is written on one's birth certificate.  We also use the expression to refer to a person's character.  Thus, it may be said of a particular man that "He's got a bad name".  This is not suggesting that John, or Harry, or Timothy, or whatever, is somehow inherently bad.  It is stating that the person in question has a bad reputation.  It is a warning that the person is one who is not to be trusted.  When we use the name of any of the Personae in the Godhead, in an unworthy manner we are, in effect, impugning His character - making Him out to be less than He is!

In the end, it is not enough just to avoid misusing God's name. He wants us to love and respect Him in every way.  Such honouring of Him begins in our thoughts. We must know Who and What He is. We must know what He requires of us and why. We should admire His attributes - His wisdom, love, fairness, and justice. We need to stand in awe of His power and recognise that our very existence depends on His goodness. We should talk with Him in prayer every day, giving Him thanks and praise; openly expressing our appreciation for all that He gives us. We should read His word as a means of getting to know Him better.  We should acknowledge His greatness. We should ask Him to create in us His way of thinking and character. We should request the power of His Spirit to enable us to obey and serve Him "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37)

We honour God most of all by loving Him so much that we desire above all things to be like Him and to accurately represent Him to everyone who sees or knows us. If we have that mind in us, then even the thought of ever misrepresenting or disgracing His name will be repulsive to us. It will then be our strongest resolve to never, but never, take His name in vain!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Who would be a blogger?

Already, I am beginning to almost regret having started my proposed series on The Ten Words (Commandments). Part of the idea was that, for this month, I wouldn't have to think about what to publish.  Little did I know how much would be happening in the first couple of weeks of 2015!

I have already made reference to the murderous activities - in one case, that of the Muslim police officer in Paris, cold-blooded, evil, despicable, murder - of the Islamist thugs at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, and in the Jewish supermarket.  However, the universal, and well-deserved, repulsiveness engendered by those cowardly actions has served to overshadow another news report with an Islamic flavour.

On Friday, in the port-city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia - that bastion of Sunni Islam - Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger convicted of insulting Islam, was brought after Friday prayers to a public square, and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators.  What was his real 'crime'?  He had criticised Saudi Arabia’s powerful clerics on a liberal blog he founded - a blog that has since been shut down. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 1million riyals or about £175,000.  In fact, his original sentence was seven years in prison and 600 lashes (in July last year), but an appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial - which then earned him a more severe sentence of 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison.  The 1,000 lashes will be administered on a weekly basis, fifty at a time,  That means that he will be tortured like that for almost a year.  However, it might not be as long as that.  As he is, reportedly, denied any medical treatment in between lashings, it is unlikely that he will survive for long enough to complete his sentence.

Despite international pleas for his release, Badawi, a father of three, was brought from prison by bus to the public square and flogged, on the back, in front of a crowd that had just finished midday prayers at a nearby mosque.  I really can't imagine a Christian congregation coming out of a worship service and immediately watching a hanging!  But then, I cannot imagine British authorities arresting me for anything that I have published on this blog!

This event, I believe,together with the murder of the Muslim police officer, and the massacre of so many Muslim schoolchildren and some of their teachers, by members of the Pakistan Taliban, in the Peshawar district of Pakistan; shows that these Islamic terrorists are a threat to anyone, and everyone, who criticises them or who does not submit to their own beliefs.  I suppose that I have placed myself in the firing line of any of them who happens upon this blog, and who can find out where I live! 

Thankfully, I am soon to be moving home - mind you, we are going to France! 

Friday, 9 January 2015

The failure of 'multiculturalism'.

Having commenced the mini-series on the Ten Commandments, I had hoped to not have more than one post in between any two of the series.  However, the ongoing situation in France has persuaded me to abandon that idea.

In just two days, about seventeen people have been murdered in Paris, in just three separate, but apparently related, incidents.  These murders, of both civilians and police officers, have all been carried out by Muslims.  The media, of course, insist that these are "extremists", and that real Muslims do not condone such actions. Most of our political leadership in the UK has been quick to criticise the point of view given by Nigel Farage during a brief interview, by confirmed 'leftie', Jon Snow (not 'leftie' enough, of course, to have passed up the chance to get his son into lucrative TV work!) on the Channel 4 News programme, on the evening of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist murders.  However, Mr Farage was only, as he appears frequently to do, telling is "as it is".   So-called 'multiculturalism' has failed.  With Islam, it is almost bound to fail.  Muslims are much less likely to integrate than are other ethnic minorities.   For example:

"It is he (Allah) who has sent his Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), in order for it to be dominant over ALL other religions, even though the Mushrikoon (disbelievers) hate it."  (Qur'an, chap.61, surah 1)Not much encouragement to integration there!

Or, again, "So if you (mushrikoon) repent it is better for you, but if you turn away, then know that you can not escape Allah. And give tidings of a painful torment for those who disbelieve." (chap.9, surah 3).  Not much that is 'peaceful' there!

If people do not embrace Islam and implement the Shari’a (Islamic law) on their own accord, it becomes an obligation upon the Muslims to fight and implement Islam. In countries such as Britain and the USoA, their people have clearly rejected to embrace Islam and will never choose to live by the Shari’a. Therefore, the only two ways in which these countries can become under the domain of Islam is by a group of Muslims rising and overthrowing the government, or an 'Islamic state' (sound familiar?) being established elsewhere and coming to conquer these nations.  

There are, of course, 'moderate' Muslims.  However, as the video clip below demonstrates, they might as well not be there!  The ultimate aim of Islam is the world-wide Caliphate (where Islam dominates all), and there are those who will do whatever it takes to achieve that end.  Thankfully, there will only ever be one world-wide rule - that of the King of kings, and Lord of lords; the Son of God Who loved us, and gave Himself for us. (see Gal.2:20, etc).  Of His Kingdom and rule there will be no end.  Let those of us who look forward, with great anticipation, to that day pray for Muslims - even the most misguided - that their eyes,and hearts, may be open to Him.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Properly dressed!

Because I didn't want to miss out two posts on the Commandments, I held this one over.  It actually happened yesterday.  I was walking down into Motherwell at the time when the secondary schools were disgorging their pupils.  It was raining and, while the wind wasn't very strong, it was bad enough to make me zip up my jacket and keep my hood up.

He was walking towards me.  He looked as if he was about 13 years of age.  He was in the uniform of one of the local schools - grey trousers, white shirt and school tie, school blazer.  He also had what certainly appeared to be a more than adequate coat - hung over his arm!   I found it difficult to believe.  Weather conditions such as there were; the means of protecting himself from them; and he was not making use of that protection. 

Then I started to think, and realised that the boy - upon whom I may never again set eyes - was an illustration of so many who claim to be disciples of Jesus!  We walk through life, suffering all that the enemy throws at us.  We are, spiritually if not physically, bruised and battered.   Yet provision has been made for us; protection is available; if only we will make use of it.

Paul, in his letter to the disciples of Jesus in Ephesus, tells us to "Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." (Eph.6:11).   He then goes on to list each item of that armour (vs.14-17), and encourages us to "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and perseverance." (v.18).  These are verses that are worthy of our meditation, and application!

A young teen may have felt that it was more 'macho' to walk in the rain and the wind with his coat over his arm.  The worst that would happen is that he would take longer to warm up when he reached his home (there may also have been an irate parent somewhere in the picture!).  When you and I fail to use the spiritual armour that the heavenly Father has provided for His children, then our own Christian walk is negatively affected, and our witness is likewise influenced.

Let us be sure that we put on that armour, and that we maintain it on a daily basis.  It will be for our own good, and will bring glory to His Name.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Ten Words (2.2)

In the post before the last one,I made some comments on the 2nd Commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Ex 20:4-6).

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I actually commented only on the first part of that Commandment.  So what has the second part got to say to us, today?  It reads: "for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments."

The first thing that we must notice is the word 'jealous'.  This does not mean that Almighty God is envious of anything, and certainly not of man-made images.  It's a word that expresses, in context, God's deep love for His chosen people.  It doesn't refer as much to an emotion, as to an activity - in this case a zealous activity that "springs from he rupture of a personal bond as exclusive as that of the marriage bond." (Alan Cole).  This phrase is a reminder that God desires, and expects, the exclusive love of His people.

The other phrase that causes difficulty for some people is the one about "... visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, ..."  However, this is merely the usual Semitic manner of expressing continuity.  It is not saying that God punishes my children, grandchildren, etc for my sins.  It is making the point that sin has long-term consequences.  It is a reminder that children suffer because of what their parents, and even earlier generations, have done.  To take a simple example, if a young woman is addicted to hard drugs, and becomes pregnant, then her unborn child may be born with the same addiction.  If that child is a girl, she too may become pregnant, and her child may be born with the same addiction.  

However, we must also note that this is applied only to "... those who hate Me ..." - in other words, those who refuse to live their lives in accordance with His will; those who 'bow down', and 'serve', idols. 

The other side of all of that is the assurance that, while God will punish those who fail to conform to His will; and while such failure will have long-lasting consequences; those who seek to keep His commandments will know His 'steadfast love'. 

So, this commandment reminds us, also, that we have responsibilities - and that God is the Judge of all the earth.   That judgement, of course, is already over for all who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus, the Christ - recognising, and confessing, their own sinfulness, and depending solely upon His perfect sacrifice for their salvation.  I trust that all who read this blog are in that company!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

True blessing!

In my private devotions, this morning, I was reading the Beatitudes - the passage in Matthew 5 that is often referred to as "the Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God"; "the Manifesto of the King"; or "the compendium of Jesus' teaching".  The word that is repeated in those verses, is the word "Blessed".  It's a word that actually means "Happy", and it reminded me of Sunday evening when, in Wishaw Baptist Church, those of us who had gathered were given a warning that the pastor was going to ask for some 'contributions' with regard to that which had blessed us in 2014!  In other words, he was asking us for examples of what had made us happy in the year just ended.

When the appropriate time arrived, a good number of folk shared an experience.  In my own case, as would not have been unexpected, it concerned my younger daughter and the cancer that was diagnosed in May, 2014.  The blessing was not in the cancer, but in the fact that she discovered it at a very early stage; that she was able to have it attended to very quickly, as her employer had taken out private health insurance for all employees - important because it turned out to be the most aggressive grade of cancer; and that she had coped with the course of chemotherapy that followed the operation (the radium treatment commences tomorrow).  However, having been advised that, had she not been treated as quickly as she was, she might not have survived to see Christmas, the real blessing was, and is, that we still have her with us.

Others had their own stories to tell, but the thing that I noticed was that not one shared about some cash windfall; a flashy new car; a spectacular holiday; a bigger house; or any of the 'material' things that would be considered by "the world" to bring happiness.  Of course, those events, and situations, that were shared could not have been purchased by even all of the billionaires in the world pooling their financial resources!  They were events, and situations, that far transcend any material benefits.   They were events, and situations, that brought real happiness - happiness that lasts, and is not affected by the world's financial markets, and currency exchanges.  They were "true blessings"!  

I trust that you experienced something similar in 2014 - and will, again, in 2015.

Back to the Commandments in the next post!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Ten Words (2)

The second of the Ten Words - or Ten Commandments - reads: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Ex 20:4-6).

In the First Commandment we learned that it is wrong to allow any created thing, including a human being, to become more important to us than our Creator. The second, while related to the first, is slightly different.  It explains that, in our worship, we must not reduce God to a likeness of any physical object.  We might say that, in the Second Commandment, God tells mankind: “Don't try to tell Me what I am like. I will tell you what I am like! It is important that you correctly understand that I will accept no representations of Me.

This commandment, then, has to do with idolatry.  It has to do with our attempts to, as it were, change places with Almighty God so that He becomes what we have created!  The prophet Isaiah shows the foolishness of such an attempt when he writes, with reference to both metal and wooden images: "The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains.  He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skilful craftsman to set up an image that will not move." (Isa 40:19-20).

Mankind, alone, has been created with minds that can reason, analyse, plan, and visualise the future. We are capable of creating literature, art, music, and poetry. We are able to design, and build. We can organise, manage, and supervise things, creatures and people. We are, in certain limited ways, much like God - made in His image (see Gen.1:26-27).

However, in other areas we are far from being like Him. Our character tends to weakness. Our relationships with each other leave much to be desired. Our spiritual understanding is limited; and often flawed and distorted. Our perceptions are often inaccurate. We are biased in our opinions. We harbour prejudices and are quick to engage in conflicts. In all these spiritual areas, we fall far short of being like God.

We are incapable of making any image of the creator because, quite frankly, we do not know what He looks like.  "God is Spirit" (John 4:24), and we do not know how to properly represent 'spirit'!  Of course, we do have a perfect pattern of God's character.  Jesus, the Christ, as a human being, so perfectly represented what God is like that He told His disciples, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father…" (John 14:9); while the apostle Paul describes Jesus as "the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature." (Col. 1:15).   He also describes Christians as those who “have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” (Col. 3:9-10).

This Second Commandment reminds us that our Almighty, Creator God, Who dwells "in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes", is far greater than anything we can see, or even imagine. We must never let that knowledge be pushed aside by the use of some image or likeness in our worship of God.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Ten Words (1)

My latest book (currently at the proof-reading stage) has the title "Foundations of the Faith".  It is based on what is known as The Apostles' Creed but, when I started writing it, I planned to add two other sections to it.  One of these was to be on The Beatitudes, and the other on what are usually referred to as The Ten Commandments.  Regretfully, my self-imposed limit of 50,000 words was reached with the Creed, and a couple of appendices!  I may, at some future date, produce a volume on those two important parts of the written Word of God but, for now, they have been placed on the 'back burner' - where a good chef will place something that needs to simmer gently while other culinary preparations are made.

However, at the beginning of a new year, I thought that it might be helpful to look, albeit briefly, at The Ten Commandments or, as they are known in Hebrew, The Ten Words (also known as The Decalogue).  These, as many will be aware, are recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus, in the 20th chapter.   This chapter begins:

"And God spoke all these words, saying,  'I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me'."   

"You shall have no other gods before Me."  I wonder how you understand those words?!   Basically, they are a command to recognise the one true God, and they are a reminder to the Children of Israel of the authority behind these words.  Moses isn't reporting some celestial suggestions, or providing some alternative opinions.  He is is stating ten commands being given - initially to the Children of Israel but, by extension, to all of mankind - by the very Creator and Sustainer of all that is.

This first command has to do with our relationship with Almighty God.  Jesus gave us the same commandment, in slightly different words, when He was asked: "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matt 22:36).  He replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Matt 22:37-38).  In other words, Jesus - Himself, God - is confirming that this command is that nothing, and no-one, else should receive the honour that belongs to God alone.

Some, of course, will claim that they do not believe in the existence of any 'god'.   However, I would contend that all of us have at least one object of our worship.  It may be nature itself; it may be a prized possession; it may even be 'self!   You see, whether we like to admit it, or not, we are 'hard-wired' to be worshipping creatures.  It is, in modern parlance, "in our DNA"!   Romans 1:18ff may have been written almost 2,000 years ago - but it is as up-to-date as tomorrow's newspapers!  A key statement is that people "... exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever!" (Rom 1:25).   That is, quite simply, breaking that first commandment.

So, who or what are you putting before God?  It's not a rhetorical question!  It's a question that each of us must answer - if not now, then later!  If we are breaking that commandment; if we are placing anyone, or anything, before Him in our lives, then we are already guilty in His sight.  James writes: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." (James 2:10).
It's a sobering thought!  

The next post will look at the second commandment.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A new year.

Perhaps you didn't actually notice the "deliberate mistake" in the heading to this first post of 2015!   You have probably looked, now, and realised that I missed out the word 'happy' in the greeting.  This is not because I do not wish all of my readers a happy, peaceful, and prosperous 2015.  I do!  However, I am also something of a realist, and am aware of some of what is happening in the world around me.

As we begin this new year, it is certainly possible - and understandable - that we would do so with a certain trepidation.  Here, in the UK, we face a little over four months of electioneering for the May General Election.  It could be one of the closest-fought, most unpredictable, elections of a generation and, as such, will almost certainly lead to a lot of 'dirty campaigning'.  The economy, in the UK, may be improving (as we are assured by some), but it is still fragile.  Most of the people with whom I associate are still feeling a lot of economic pressure.

Further afield, there is the ongoing threat from Islamic extremists.  The so-called 'Islamic State' has shown itself to be one of the most cruel, and violent, groups since Attila the Hun.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram is not much better; nor is Al Shabbab in Somalia.  Of course, such groups could have been mentioned in the previous paragraph as they have, not just the UK, but the whole of western Europe, in their sights.

One could go on, but anyone treading this is more than capable of adding to the list.

However, stepping into 2015 with anything but confidence is the wrong attitude for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.  Our Lord warned us: "In this world you will have trouble."  We can all instantly relate to that!  However, He continued: "But take heart!  I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).  Hallelujah!  Father God assures us: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10).  The Psalmist testified, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in You." (Psalm 56:3).  Peter invites us to "... cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7).

Why do we fear the future?  Because it is unknown, and the unknown can be frightening.  And because we feel ourselves inadequate to the challenges that may lie ahead.  But, amazingly, the future is known to God (more on that in my first book - Great Words of the Faith, in the chapter on Predestination!).  And God promises to meet all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Even for those who are "in Christ Jesus" (Gal.3:28, inter al), the year ahead may not always work out in the way that we had hoped.  However, we may have the confidence that all is in His will and purpose, and that as we walk with Him, He will continue to lead us - even if it is, as with so many of our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church,through storm and tempest.  

So, "take heart" indeed.  The heavenly Father knows your every need (see Matt.6:32), and He has promised never to leave you,nor forsake you. (Heb.13:5).

Of course, if you are not already His, then you need to make that transition from darkness into light.  There are a number of useful links towards the bottom of this page (right-hand-side) and, of course, I will be delighted to be of whatever assistance I can.  Please feel free to contact me using the e-mail address at the top of the page.

Blessings, and shalom, throughout the coming year.