Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's Not Yours!

Exodus 20:15 “You shall not steal.

Theft, for any reason, is wrong. The motive doesn’t matter. The end results don’t matter. It’s wrong because God says so - we don’t need another reason. It’s sad to see how many people have adopted the “robin hood” mentality. It’s become a heroic thing in our society to take from people who have and give it to those who don’t have. As noble as this might sound, it is no different in God’s eyes than petty thievery or armed robbery. Taking something from someone by force or cheating them out of it by deceit is simply sin.

Do you believe me? Do you believe that you can have the best of motives still not be justified in stealing? Or do you need more proof than the simple, four-word commandment? Listen to what the Proverbs 6:30-31 says, “People don't hate a thief who steals to fill his empty stomach. But when he is caught, he must pay seven times as much as he stole. It may even cost him everything he has.” It doesn’t matter if the thief is stealing to feed himself - it doesn’t matter how noble his motives are - he will be held accountable for what he does.

Why is God so opposed to theft - especially if it’s “for a good cause”? God hates it because He is a Giver, not a taker! The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us that God’s love motivated Him to give. James 1:17 agrees with this concept, it says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” You see, God is love, and love always gives.

Thieves are not on God’s side. It doesn’t matter what the motivation is, when someone takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they are following in the footsteps of Satan himself. John 10:10 shows us this: “The thief (Satan) does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The devil is a thief. He took what didn’t belong to him in the Garden of Eden. He is constantly trying to steal what God gives to His people. He isn’t just a thief, he is the thief. And any time a person takes what doesn’t belong to them, they are following the same path!

When someone takes what doesn’t belong to them, even if they’re taking it for someone else, they are not walking in God’s love. Paul said in Romans 13:9 “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” When you love people with God’s kind of love, you will give like He gives. You won’t want to take from anyone! This is important for God’s people to understand. He is our Father - we should want to be like Him!

So what’s the answer? What if I have stolen something from someone? What if I walked out of a store without paying for something? What if I stole from my employer by goofing off when he was paying me to work? What if I realize now that I need to repent? Can I just ask God for forgiveness and leave it at that? Well, not exactly. You see, it would be silly for a man to rob a bank, move to Mexico, and then ask for forgiveness while he’s still living off of the money he stole. The Bible talks about something called restitution - something every repentant thief needs to know.

Exodus 22:1-4 shows us God’s law for a person who was caught stealing. “Suppose a man steals an ox or a sheep. And suppose he kills it or sells it. Then he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox. Or he must pay back four sheep or goats for the sheep...What if the stolen ox, donkey or sheep is found alive with him? Then the thief must pay back twice as much as he stole...A thief must pay for what he has stolen. But suppose he does not have anything. Then he must be sold to pay for what he has stolen...” Do you see this? It was never God’s will for a thief to be forgiven and then keep what he stole!

Remember the story  of Zacchaeus? Do you remember this tax collector and thief’s response to being accepted and forgiven? He said, “"Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of what I own to those who are poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay it back. I will pay back four times the amount I took." This is a very important point - you can use this to tell if a thief is really repentant or not. Repentant thieves will usually become the most generous people in the world! Ephesians 4:28 backs this up - it says: “Those who have been stealing must never steal again. Instead, they must work. They must do something useful with their own hands. Then they will have something to give to people in need.

Stealing - whether it’s big or small, whether the thief is selfish or “noble”, no matter what the circumstance - is always a sin! Whether it’s an employee that takes a 30-minute lunch when they only get 20. a thief that steals a few thousand dollars from a bank, or a congressman that confiscates millions from the “rich” to give to the “poor” - in God’s eyes, it is all equally wrong. Why? It isn’t wrong because someone gets hurt. It isn’t wrong because someone loses out on what is rightfully theirs. It is wrong simply because...God said so!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Look, Don't Touch!

Exodus 20:14 “You shall not commit adultery.”

This is pretty clear, right? Any married person having sex outside of that marriage covenant is a clear violation of God’s law. Make no mistake about this. It doesn’t matter how your spouse is treating you, it doesn’t matter if you’ve “fallen in love” with someone else, it doesn’t matter what you want or what you feel - any sexual relations outside of your marriage covenant is wrong!

We live in a society that places little to no value on commitment and way too much value on emotions. Your covenant with your husband or wife wasn’t intended to be based on emotions. Your love - and your fidelity - should be based on what you promised, not what you feel at any given moment.

Adultery is serious. It’s devastating. It destroys lives and tears families apart. It carries from one generation to the next like a disease. Many thousands of men and women, even people who were strong in faith and used mightily by God, have fallen to the sin of adultery...and God hates it!

The consequences of adultery are tragic.

Proverbs 6:32 “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own life.” Do you see that? Adultery destroys your life.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers...will inherit the kingdom of God.“ Adultery keeps you out of the kingdom of God.

Proverbs 6:34 “For jealousy is a husband’s fury; Therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” There are always consequences of adultery - In this world (with other people) as well as the next (standing before God).

Listen to what Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” There is no question here, God will judge adulterers. Why does He hate adultery so much? Because He intended marriage to mirror His relationship with the church. You see, marriage isn’t a two-way contract - it has three partners. You, your spouse and God. God is always faithful to us, He never fails us. He keeps His promises and His covenant and He expects us to do the same! This is the type of covenant He created marriage to be, faithful and unconditional!

For most people, it’s obvious that going outside of your marriage covenant for sexual gratification is wrong. We can see that there are drastic consequences for adulterers. But what we don’t seem to realize is that God’s command against adultery doesn’t only apply to our actions - it is also binding on our very thoughts. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.“ Wow...Jesus just told us that a lustful look is going to be judged the same way as a physical act!

God has poured out His grace on us and has empowered us to live a godly life. Because of this, He expects us to go further than mere outward obedience. Now He expects obedience from the heart. He expects us to do more than abstain from illegal relations - now He expects us to guard our hearts and our eyes. Job had insight on this even before Jesus came. This is what he said in Job 31:1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman.

There is one more side to adultery that often goes unspoken. This is the spiritual side of adultery. You see, when we were born again, we committed our lives to God. We entered into a covenant of grace, commitment, and loyalty. When we made Him Lord, we made a promise to serve Him exclusively. But so many of us break this promise and go outside of our covenant with God to find satisfaction. We break our commitment and begin to “cheat” on God for the thrills of sin. Listen to what James tells us in his letter: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.“ Whenever we take God’s plan and passion for our life, and mix it with the way the world does things - we become spiritual adulterers.

While I’m writing this, I know that there will be people who will nod their head and mentally agree with every word - but then go right back to what they were doing before. So listen to this closing statement from Romans 2:22, and take it to heart: “You who say,Do not commit adultery (those of you who agree with everything you’re reading right now),’ do you commit adultery (in action, in thought, or in spirit)?

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Makes A Murderer

Exodus 20:13 KJV “Thou shall not kill.

In light of the things that have happened in recent days, perhaps our society could use a little clarity on this, the sixth commandment. Firstly, this commandment isn’t the complete ban on ending life. The Hebrew word that the King James translates “kill” is ratsach. Its literal meaning is premeditated murder or manslaughter - in other words, it’s the intentional murder of an innocent person. Actually, every other english version carries the literal meaning of ratsach and translates it as “murder”.

You see, we were created in the image of God - the crown of His creation. We’re the only creatures that have a spirit attached to our soul and body. Every human being is a beautiful thing; and our life is precious. It is so precious, that God demands justice for every innocent life that is cut short wrongfully. What is the price that a murderer must pay? Genesis 9:5-6 tells us: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” God was very clear, anyone who purposely cuts an innocent life short will have his own life cut short.

This isn’t barbaric. This isn’t fighting murder with murder. This isn’t “cruel and unusual.” This is justice. To end the life of a murderer is to give value to the life that he took. It’s saying, “we value life so much, that we’re going to demand in from the hand of anyone who steals it from another.

I probably should clarify - this kind of justice doesn’t belong to the individual. We as individuals have no right to take justice into our own hands! This is what Paul said in Romans 13:4, “For he [the government and authorities] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” When God set up earthly governments, He gave them the responsibility of carrying out justice for any civil wrongdoing - including murder. He has entrusted them with the protection of human life under their authority, and He will demand an account one day!

But, what I want you to see is that the sixth commandment becomes significant for a believer in another way. Like all of the commandments, God is just as concerned with the heart as He is with the action. This command is much deeper than a simple prohibition on murder. Listen to what 1 John 3:14-16 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Did you see that? God holds someone who has hatred for his brother equally as guilty as a murderer! Why? Because hatred is murder - in the heart. We are called to love each other, to bear with each other, and to continue in fellowship with each other. When we continue in love for each other, John says we have passed from death to life. So there is a very strong connection between love and life. This same connection exists between the lack of love (hatred) and the lack of life (death). When we step out of love for anyone, we’ve stepped out of life. If we do this, if we begin to hate anyone, the penalty of murder rests on our spirit - death. You see, when we have hatred or bitterness in our heart toward a believing brother or sister, God sees their blood on our hands!

If only more churches realized this! If only this was common knowledge among believers! We would be much more repentant, I’m sure! But instead, we have Christians with murder in their hearts coming and waving their bloody hands in God’s face while they worship! How can we still think that God takes hatred and unforgiveness lightly? Isn’t it clear to us that He views it the same as murdering an innocent life?

Believers step out of love and into hatred for the same reason that most murderers murder - anger. That person did something wrong, hurt us somehow, and instead of pulling a gun and shooting them, we harbor bitterness and unforgiveness in our heart. But in God’s eyes, there’s no difference! Whether you think you have a right to hate them or not is irrelevant. Whether you think they should be forgiven or not is irrelevant! God gave us a very clear command - love them!

Let’s take it one step further. We all know that God is a merciful and forgiving God. His mercy covers all our sin, it’s everlasting, and it’s new every morning! But did you know there is one condition to having your sins forgiven? You can find it in several verses:

Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Matthew 18:35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

Colossians 3:12-13 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Do you realize that God will not forgive your sin when you hold unforgiveness in your heart? Do you realize that, as long as you’re holding that person guilty for the hurt they caused, God holds you accountable for your sin? Don’t you understand that loving and forgiving others are the conditions for receiving any forgiveness from God?

James 2:13 “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” I don’t know about you - but I need mercy! Because I need God’s mercy, I must show mercy to others.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Obedience and Honor

Exodus 20:12  “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

Ephesians 6:1-3 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’”

God is a parent/child kind of person. He is in complete support of the relationship between a child and their mother and father. After all, God is a Father and a Son! Remember? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit - three-in-one? If He is Father and Son, and we are made in His image, what should that say about our own relationships with our parents?

The first thing you should realize is that the fifth commandment doesn’t even mention obedience. It says to honor your father and mother. God is most interested in your attitude towards them. Honor goes much further than mere obedience - it deals with our heart. Honoring your parents means to respect them, to have a high regard for them, and to highly value them. This is the attitude God wants His people to have toward their parents.

Ephesians 6:1 tells christian children to obey their parents in the Lord. This means that as long as their parents aren’t telling them to disobey God’s Word, they should obey. Obedience to parents is required for as long as a child is under their authority. When a child grows up and leaves the home, the command to obey is no longer binding on them. But notice this, the command to honor has no age limit!

Even grown-ups are commanded by God to honor their father and mother. This attitude of respect and esteem should continue from childhood into adult years. Even after one’s parents have passed on, their memory should be honored and respected.

How important is this attitude of honor to God? Extremely! Even though it is the fifth commandment, it is the first to have a promise attached to it. The promise is this: “that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth.” This is a concrete promise from God; if you honor your father and your mother, you will have a long, good life! Count on this: if things aren’t going so well for you - the first thing you should examine is your attitude and respect for your parents!

Now, this gets a little delicate in some situations. What if parents aren’t deserving of honor? What if a parent was abusive, neglectful, or hurtful? What should we do when we’re commanded to give something that isn’t deserved? All too often, adults are still struggling with what their parents did or didn’t do for them as a child. Even after the parents are dead and gone, those wounds can still fester. Surely God doesn’t expect honor in these situations, right?

Wrong. It is true that God’s command to obey our parents has a condition attached (“in the Lord”). But His command to honor our parents has no conditions on it. He told us to honor them, whether they deserve it or not. But when you think about it, this unconditional honor isn’t anything new. After all, God loved us when we didn’t deserve it - right? Doesn’t He command us to love each other - unconditionally? Even His command for us to forgive others has no strings attached to it. We’re just told to do it! So why would it be surprising for God to command honor towards parents, whether it’s deserved or not? You see, God is far more interested in our obedience from the heart than He is about whether someone deserves your honor (or love, or forgiveness).

So how do we honor a parent that doesn’t deserve it? You honor them by releasing the pain they’ve caused. You honor them by giving them the respect of a parent. You honor them by forgiving them of the wrongs they have done. You honor them by letting go of any hurt they may have caused. And you honor them by praying for them.

Of course it’s not easy. Not a single one of the ten commandments are easy. If we could do it on our own, then we wouldn’t have needed salvation! But, through the amazing, empowering grace of God we can receive the strength we need to obey this command from the heart.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One Day A Week!

Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”

When God created the world, He did it in six days and took one day off to rest. Why would an all-powerful, tireless, ever-working God need a day of rest? As a matter of fact, He didn’t. God wasn’t resting because He was tired, He was setting an example for the day old humans that He created. He was showing mankind how their time should be organized. Six days on - one day off - this was the manner of life God intended for His most precious creation.

Our years are governed by the earth’s revolution around the sun. Our months are governed by the cycles of the moon. Our days are governed by the rotation of the earth. But the seven-day week has no external contributing factors. It doesn’t fit evenly into our months or years. Simply put, there is absolutely no explanation for it outside of the Bible!

As a comical side-note, the French Revolutionary government tried to change the number of days in the week from seven to ten. This attempted change started in 1793 and only lasted for ten years. It was a hilarious attempt by radical atheists to remove any religious trace in society. It was a disaster! It seems that humanity has the seven-day week ingrained in our nature!

But the Sabbath was not simply intended to be a day off. God had much more in mind for this one day a week; this is obvious from His statement, “...the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” When you read through the law (the first five books of the Bible), you will see that it is always described as “holy.” Clearly God meant for it to be more than a day off. In fact, this was God’s standing appointment to gather His people together and meet with them.

Listen to what Leviticus 19:30 says, “Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord.” Apparently, God wanted His people to be connected with His sanctuary - His place of meeting - on the Sabbath day. But this principle is stated even more clearly in Leviticus 23:3, “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.” God’s plan was to meet with His people when they gathered together once a week.

Let’s be clear, God wants visit us at any time and in any place. There’s no limit to His relationship with you! So don’t think I’m limiting God to one day a week. But there is a set time when He wants His kids to gather together in His name. And from what we see in scripture, He wants this once a week.

You may say, “That’s in the Old Testament, we’re not bound to that anymore!” Well, that’s true - we aren’t bound to the Old Testament law. But would you agree with me that we need to follow Jesus’ own example? What did He do when He walked on this earth? Luke 4:16 shows us, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” Did you see that? Jesus’ custom was to attend the synagogue (church) once a week!

So Jesus followed the Jewish custom of gathering in the synagogue on the last day of the week, the sabbath. But Jesus was soon to set up another custom for His church to follow. Mark 16:9 shows us the beginning of this custom, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.” Later on, in the same day, Jesus appeared to His disciples as they were gathered together.

This began the church tradition of meeting on the first day of the week - Sunday, for us. Acts 20:7 shows us that the church continued in this habit long after Jesus went back to Heaven. “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread...” We know that the early church met together often, even daily - but they made a point to set aside the first day of a week as special.

This is the heart of the fourth command - to have a standing appointment with God and with His people. Of course we’re under grace now - but shouldn’t that motivate us to do more than what we’re commanded?

Why would any believer -saved by God’s grace, washed in Jesus’ own blood, redeemed from their old life - want to meet with God and His people less than they’re commanded? Listen to what Paul says in Hebrews 10:25 “...not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

God wants to meet with us. Not just with you and not just with me; He wants to meet with us! One thing that every believer needs to recognize is this: you aren’t the church, I’m not the church - We become the church when we meet together!

I don’t know about you, but personally, there is no where else I’d rather be than to be assembled with God’s people, seeking God’s face!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Not In Vain

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

Most people think they know everything about this commandment. But the fact is, there is much more to what God was saying than merely cussing. To truly dig through this one verse is to find several different levels to this, the third commandment.

First of all, let’s be clear what name we’re talking about here. In the Old Testament, He revealed Himself as Yahweh - the great I AM THAT I AM. This name was (and still is) so sacred to the Jews that they refused to even spell it out in their scriptures. This name is used inside many other common Jewish names. These include one great Jewish name, Yehoshua - Jesus. His name literally means “Yahweh is Salvation. This name is sacred, powerful, and unparalleled.

This is what Paul has to say about Jesus’ name in Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” You see, it isn’t just the name that carries the power, since Moses gave this name to Joshua, there has been many Yehoshua’s in this world. But it is the person of God Himself that gives the power to His name!

So, if there is one name that deserves our honor, our respect and our immediate attention, it is the name of Jesus. In learning about the third command, we can see three different levels.

One, don’t use His name as a mere exclamation. This is the most commonly known meaning of this commandment. Don’t  use the name of Jesus to simply express wonder, surprise or frustration. To take the name of our Creator and Savior, the name that is higher than any name, and reduce it to mean “that’s amazing” or “that’s awful” is the ultimate insult.

Two, don’t use His name in empty speech.
How often do people, even many believers, use this awesome name to illicit laughter. How many times have you heard Jesus become the butt of a joke? How many Christians repeated the “Dear Baby Jesus” prayer just to be funny? Do they realize who their talking about? Do they understand that He isn’t a baby anymore and that He carefully watches over the use of His name?
Jokes are the only useless ways that Jesus’ name is brought up. All too often, Christians attach Jesus’ name to prayers that they really don’t believe or even mean. How many times is this powerful name invoked in powerless prayers? This is simply an empty repetition; this is taking His name in vain.

Third, don’t carry His name and do nothing. The Hebrew word for “take” in verse 7 literally means “to bear or to carry.” When we were saved, we began to carry Jesus’ name on our lives. We are literally representing Jesus to this world. When you took His name, did you do it in vain? How have you represented Him in your life? This Christian life isn’t meant to be a pleasure cruise. Every one of us has a role to play in the body of Christ. Don’t take Jesus’ name in vain!

Lastly, pay attention to the warning God attaches to this commandment.
Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”