Ex. 20:7-“You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (NLT).
Just for the fun of it, I’ve been reading the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Covenant. I’ve been in Exodus the past few days, zooming right along and having a good time, right up until I got to Ex. 20:7, the third of the Ten Commandments. This one stopped me in my tracks. Like many of us, I’ve memorized this verse from the King James Version, which says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” This commandment extends the idea of the second commandment, for just as God forbids us to show disrespect to Him by making a god out of something that is not God, it is also a disgrace to use His Name for no legitimate or valid reason.
Until now, I’ve mostly thought of taking the Lord’s name is vain as cursing. When I was barely a teenager, I’d often get frustrated and say, “Jeee-sus Chrii-st,” as if it was His fault I wasn’t getting my way. My dad heard me say that once and he shot me a look that has stayed with me for 35 years, and I’ve (mostly) succeeded in not saying it again.
Other times, I’ve heard people vainly use His name to express surprise or disappointment, or even fill in the gaps in prayer. This last one I find especially irritating. Continue Reading
“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” – Mark Twain
Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, c. 1513-14
I’ve been thinking about Luke 5:1-11 for some time now. Jesus has finished teaching and decides to bless Simon, the owner of the boat He’s been using as a platform. Simon puts up a bit of an argument with the Lord but obeys in the end (Simon argues and finally obeys. This is not my point, but it does sound a bit like me!). The result is a tremendous catch of fish that almost swamps his boat – and this after a night in which Simon and his buddies caught nothing.
It is Peter’s response to this is tremendous catch of fish that I find disturbing. “Oh, Lord, please leave me – I’m too much of a sinner to be around you” (NLT). At first, I thought Peter said this because he had never been around a miracle or the power of God before, but this is not true. In Luke 4 Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and prior to that, Jesus cast a demon out of a man, and Simon was more than likely a witness to that miracle, too. Simon was accustomed to seeing the power of God, but still I wondered, Why did Simon react so strangely when God’s power was focused upon him?
I believe the answer is in Peter’s response: “I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” When the power of God is pointed at our neighbor, or even our mother-in-law, we don’t have to react or deal with the results – we just observe. But when God’s power comes into our lives – and in Peter’s case, his business – then we must make a decision: Am I going to continue to allow this power to remain, or am I going to send it away, because if the power stays, then there is no more room for myself.
I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God. Joshua 1:8 says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.
This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? Continue Reading
Presenting My Best
“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8
After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.
Here’s the scene. One day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.
Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if He may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.
As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Continue Reading
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10
A few years back, a popular Christian tee shirt compared Jesus to Coke. It said, “Jesus: He’s the real thing.” It was cute, as far as it goes. Not life changing, but cute.
Then I heard a minister compare the life-giving water of Jesus to a can of Coke, or any soft drink. He said Jesus was a pure relationship with God, while a soft drink was a relationship with man-made additives. One was pure relationship and one was mostly religious. Well, he had my attention.
Water, as opposed to your favorite soft drink, is necessary for life. We must have water in order to live. We drink it and wash with it. Water is a lubricant, dispels heat and sustains life, supports digestion, makes things soft and aids in eliminating waste. All life on this planet needs water to live. Water is indispensable, and the need for water has been the force behind more than one war.
A soft drink, however, with all its fancy ingredients, is necessary for nothing. We cannot bathe in it, use it to brush our teeth or add it to our radiator to displace heat. We can’t water the lawn with it and no one would use it wipe down a dirty table or wash their clothes. A soft drink is mostly water with various additives; and none of these additives is necessary for an efficient and effective life.
Here’s the part that bothers me. Instead of focusing my life on the pure, life-giving living water of Jesus, I’ve often focused too much of my time on the additives. And when we add stuff to Jesus, we limit His effectiveness.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side” — Matthew 14:22
This is a passage that many people have trouble with, because it tells us that God sometimes instigates hard times in our lives. It is important for us to be reconciled with this concept; because if we do not, we may find ourselves forever kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14).
Just after Jesus feeds the five thousand, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John tell us that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and go to the western shore of Galilee. This word “made” may also be translated “compel,” “necessitate” or even “force.” It is a very strong word that leaves little doubt the disciples did not have a choice in the matter.
What we see in these passages is Jesus compelling the disciples into a boat He knew would take them into a storm, find them “straining at the oars” (Mark 6:48) and ultimately blown off their intended course. The disciples, intending to take a short boat ride across the northern tip of a lake that is merely four miles wide, soon find they were still in the middle of the lake (Mark 6:47) after rowing three or three and a half miles. They were in a storm and going nowhere fast. Fortunately, Jesus rescues them by walking across the lake.
At first, this sounds like a heartless thing for Jesus to do. Why would God send us to a place where He knows we will fight, strain and struggle, only to wind up further from our destination than when we started? Continue Reading