Advent 2022: Day 5

Isaiah 2:12-22

12 The Lord Almighty has a day in store
for all the proud and lofty,
for all that is exalted
(and they will be humbled),
13 for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty,
and all the oaks of Bashan,
14 for all the towering mountains
and all the high hills,
15 for every lofty tower
and every fortified wall,
16 for every trading ship 
and every stately vessel.
17 The arrogance of man will be brought low
and human pride humbled;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18     and the idols will totally disappear.

19 People will flee to caves in the rocks
and to holes in the ground
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.
20 In that day people will throw away
to the moles and bats
their idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made to worship.
21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks
and to the overhanging crags
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.

22 Stop trusting in mere humans,
who have but a breath in their nostrils.
Why hold them in esteem?


Origen: Not only do human beings “make gods for themselves” from statues, but you will also find them “making gods for themselves” from their imaginations. For such people can imagine another god and creator of the world in a system different from the divine plan of the world recorded by the Spirit, other than the true world. These all have “made gods for themselves,” and they have “worshiped the works of their hands.” So, too, I believe is the case either among the Greeks who generate opinions, so to speak, of this philosophy or that, or among the heretics, the first who generate opinions. These have “made idols for themselves” and figments of the soul, and by turning to them “they worship the works of their hands,” since they accept as truth their own fabrications.


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are the one true God and there is no other. You care deeply that we know this… that we believe this… that we live according to this truth. You built it into the fabric of your people when you taught us that you alone are God and therefore, we must have no other gods in your presence. And yet, O Lord, we are idol factories.

Whether we are cutting down trees and carving idols for our altars with leftover wood, forming and shaping precious metals into images, or bowing before a mirror, our innate need to worship has gone wrong.

In some instances of our idolatry, we turn the good into the enemy of the best. We take your good gifts, such as our health, families, jobs, homes, and other good gifts you have provided, and made them the focus and grand pursuits of our lives. And, at other times, we create fabrications of who you are based on our personal preferences. We turn from your clear commands and go on our own ways because we know better and are more enlightened than the ancient words written by ancient people. For this, Almighty and Only Wise God, we ask for your forgiveness and for the desire and power to repent and seek you only.

The season of Advent reminds us that as you visited us in the flesh the first time, you will once again return. But you will not return as a babe in a manger but as the judging King of kings and Lord of lords. And as our Scripture for today reveals, there will be no place to hide from you. The idols of our hearts will be laid bare before you. Those lesser things in which we placed our adoration and devotion will be exposed. That will not be the time to repent. That opportunity will have passed us by.

O God, today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to meet with you in faith and repentance. Today is the day to humble ourselves before you and recognize you for who you are. Today is the day to bow before you and cry out, “my Lord and my God.” Today is the day to throw our idols into the fire and rejoice in our freedom from them… and to celebrate our true liberation found only in Christ. You alone are God and there is no other. In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.

Ten Commandments, Lesson 7: You Shall Not Murder

From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.


The sixth commandment forbids: taking our own or anyone else’s life, except the pursuit of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; neglecting or withholding the necessary means for the preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, or desire for revenge; all excessive emotions and distracting anxieties; intemperate eating, drinking, working, or playing, speaking in a provocative way, oppressing, quarreling with, hitting, or wounding others, or anything else conducive to the destruction of anyone’s life. (The Westminster Larger Catechism)

I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds – and I am not to be a part to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

By forbidding murder, God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are murder. (The Heidelberg Catechism)

All life belongs to God. Human life is especially sacred because we are created in God’s image, and because Jesus came to give us new and abundant life in him. Christians, therefore should act with reverence toward all living things, and with special regard for the sanctity of human life.

As a witness of the Gospel and a follower of Christ, I can also keep this commandment by forgiving those who wrong me, patiently refraining from ungodly anger and hateful words; defending the unborn, vulnerable, and oppressed; rescuing those who harm themselves; and seeking the well-being of all. (To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism)


Introduction

The following observation may perhaps be an overgeneralization, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. If you asked a group of people to name the Ten Commandments, most could name commandments 6-9,  prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. I’m not sure the other ones would come to mind as easily.

But even with these commandments we find that there is a misunderstanding, or an “incompleteness” to their understanding of what all these commandments are meant to convey. This comprehensive view was evident in the old covenant but became much clearer (and convicting) in the new. For example, Jesus said to his audience in the Sermon on the Mount that they had heard it said they should not murder. “Good,” he said, “you shouldn’t.” “But I tell you, if you have unrighteous anger or hatred in your heart for someone, you have committed murder in your heart against them” (Dale Tedder paraphrase). And the same was true with adultery (lust), stealing (coveting), and lying.

In each case, far more than the mere outward behavior was involved. Jesus cared about the attitude and motive of one’s heart, which Jesus, and the other New Testament authors, assured us was the birthplace for evil and sinful deeds. Therefore, Jesus was very concerned about the condition of one’s heart. Do we love what God loves? Do we desire what God desires? Are we pursuing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right ways? These questions and more are involved when we talk about Christian ethics – about faithfully living the Christian life.

The commandment this lesson focuses upon, the sixth commandment, used to be understood as, “Thou shalt not kill.” But more accurate translations came along and it became clear that what was in mind was murder. And even as our laws represent today, so too the Old Testament had rules about those who murdered others with malice of forethought, those who did so accidentally, and those who did so in self-defense. And, then, of course, this topic of murder opens up into greater societal issues such as capital punishment, abortion, and other politically charged issues of the day.

But what we can all agree on, with regard to this commandment, is that there is a high premium placed on the value and respect for life. Why? Each life is sacred because it has been created in the image of God and has an inherent significance and dignity. Sin has crept in, and our fallen nature has made a mess of things, yet that does not remove God’s image inherent in each person. Therefore, even while we seek to be obedient to God and better understand his will for the issues related to life, we must always treat others with dignity and respect. My hope is that the following questions will guide you in wrestling with these topics, giving you both a better understanding of what the commandment does and does not mean, as well as appreciation for your neighbor, those you know and those you don’t, for they each have a sacredness to them as human beings created in God’s image.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Ten Commandment Study, Lesson 5: Remember the Sabbath

From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.


First, under the repose of the seventh day the heavenly Lawgiver meant to represent to the people of Israel spiritual rest, in which believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them. Secondly, he meant that there was to be a stated day for them to assemble to hear the law and perform the rites, or at least to devote it particularly to meditation upon his works, and thus through this remembrance to be trained in piety. Thirdly, he resolved to give a day of rest to servants and those who are under the authority of others, in order that they should have some respite from toil. (John Calvin)

 Q. 103. What does God require in the fourth Commandment?

A. In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained, and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church to learn the Word of God, to use the holy sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms. In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting sabbath. (The Heidelberg Catechism)

How do we keep the fourth commandment? By worshiping the Lord on his day. To keep something holy in the biblical sense is to dedicate it exclusively for worship. …To keep the Sabbath “to the Lord” is to give the day over to God, setting it apart for him and his glory. …The Sabbath is not only a day for worship, but also a day of rest. It is a day for ceasing from work, and especially from common labor. (Philip Ryken)

Introduction

We have now arrived at the most controversial of the commandments. Throughout church history, there have been a variety of perspectives on what the fourth commandment means and does not mean. What makes this commandment especially difficult to honor today is that our culture largely ignores it. It is merely the second day of the weekend. It’s a day for sleeping in and reading the paper, or it’s the last day of our child’s soccer tournament or our round of golf. It is a day for traveling home from a weekend getaway or vacation. Honoring it as a holy day does not appear to be on the radar screen of the world in which we live. In fact, some treat it as any other day of regular work. But that ought not be the way Christians view the Sabbath. But therein lies the question: How should Christians view this sacred, set-apart day?

A minority view has been that this commandment has been abrogated by virtue that the Sabbath day of the old covenant, Saturday, has been replaced with Sunday as the Lord’s Day, changed because it was the day our Lord rose from the dead. It is functionally the day the church still makes holy through rest and worship, but primarily because it is practical to do so, not because God has commanded it. Christians are called to gather corporately to worship God and since this day has already been set aside, it makes sense to keep it as a special day on the Christian’s weekly calendar.

On the other side of the spectrum, from a Christian perspective on Sabbath-keeping, is that Sunday is indeed the Sabbath of the new covenant. Christians are, therefore, commanded to focus on God in worship, both corporate as well as private, including with one’s family. It is also a day of rest from one’s regular work. This stricter view would prohibit any sports or leisure activities that were not focused upon, and set apart for, worshiping the Lord. This view does not intentionally promote legalism, but does emphasize that Sunday is a day to be made holy unto the Lord and therefore, the Lord’s should be our focus. I even read one proponent of this view that suggested naps would not be considered in keeping with this commandment.

A third option is not quite in the middle of the previous two; it leans closer toward understanding Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day. It is grounded in an understanding that the Sabbath is based in creation, following the example of God who worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Thus, not only does it emphasize resting from regular work on the Sabbath, but like the people of Israel who were called to remember their escape from slavery in Egypt, Christians are called to remember God delivering us from slavery to sin and death through the redemption Christ won for us through his Cross and Resurrection.

In Luke 4 we read that it was our Lord’s custom to worship on the Sabbath, so he clearly did not think it had been abolished. Yet, he did indicate in Mark 7 that all food was now permissible to eat, in the apparent abolishment of the Mosaic dietary restrictions. Furthermore, keeping the Sabbath was included in the decalogue, a summary of the moral law of Israel, which as we saw in an earlier lesson, remains authoritative and required for Christians to obey today. This view would not prohibit doing household chores, enjoying family recreation, and the like. Yet, it might still encourage one to ask: “Am I honoring the Lord on this day?”

Thus, the issue for most Christians today is not whether or not the Sabbath should be kept, but how it should be kept. What does it mean and not mean to keep the Sabbath holy? What is prohibited and what is permissible? Moreover, even if something is not expressly forbidden, what is the best and most integrity-filled way of keeping the spirit of the commandment, without degenerating into legalism? Paul cautioned his readers to beware of doing whatever they desired and hiding behind a claim of grace to cover their licentious decision. That seems an especially apt caution for Christians today when it comes to the fourth commandment. We want to walk the right path that guides us between the ditch of legalism on one side and licentiousness on the other.

Hopefully, the questions below will help you better understand the intentions and requirements of this commandment and enable you to find ways to obey and honor God’s desire for you to set apart the Sabbath as a special day to rest from your labor and to honor God with your worship of him. This lesson will also focus on the nature of work, rest, and time. May God help us employ all these spheres of our life to bring him glory and be a blessing in the lives of others.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

A New Way of Seeing: Viewing Life with an Eternal Perspective

New book and study guide…


We need God’s grace to change our hearts. We need a new way of seeing – a different perspective. God’s eternal perspective. This new way of seeing comes only when we have a new heart, and we receive a new heart only when we trust in Christ alone as our Savior and Lord… only when he comes to dwell in us, by his Spirit. We need his Word to direct us and his grace to enable us to see in this new way, which, in turn, helps us cultivate the character of Christ in our lives.

Each lesson in this study contains a reading and an in-depth Bible study at the end which will help you reflect more deeply on God’s eternal perspective on some of the most important issues of life.

This study is ideal for small groups, larger Bible studies, or for personal study and reflection.

So What?

So What?

Related to the previous post on a person’s worldview, we may well ask, so what? Who needs consistency? Who wants to think that deeply about such things? Seems like an academic exercise in navel gazing.

And yet, to live a life that pleases and glorifies God, the Christian ought to prayerfully and intentionally put together a biblical world and life view. To live a life of love for God and neighbor will require a life that is lived faithfully according to that worldview. Furthermore, a godly person will also want to pass that view of life on to family members, as well as to other disciples.

I once read that a person’s worldview is as practical as potatoes. Far from being purely an academic or philosophical pursuit, a person’s view of life has a “real life” shaping effect. Only as one interprets the world through the lens of a Christian worldview, will that person be better able to see how he or she ought to live and bear a faithful witness to it.

Writer George Barna has written for years on the sad news that there is virtually no difference between Christians and unbelievers in what they believe and how they live their lives. The one exception, he notes, are those believers who consciously hold a biblical worldview. Does that describe you? Do you hold such a worldview? Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll do my best to help you move in that direction.

Walking Points

  • Have you ever thought thoroughly about what you believe as a Christian and how it plays out in your daily life?
  • Of the five elements of a godly person’s worldview, which one are you most familiar with? Least familiar with?
  • Talk with one or two Christian brothers or sisters this week about the five key elements of a worldview to discover more about how you view life.
  • Then, pray about getting together regularly with these folks so you may grow in your understanding and application of God’s Word, for it really does apply to every sphere of life.


Prayer

All-wise and all-knowing God, you are the Lord of heaven and earth. Nothing truly makes sense apart from you. Forgive me when I try to live in your world as though you don’t exist. Whether it’s the way I view the universe and my place in it, the moral decisions I make every day, my values that I pass on to others, how I understand where I came from, why I’m here, and where I’m going after death, please help me have your true and eternal perspective on all such matters and not that of the world around me. Let my thinking, speaking, and living be radically out of step with the prevailing culture that surrounds me, but give me greater love for those who are a part of it, so I may reach them with the grace and truth of your Gospel. And Lord, I pray that the things I believe will make a genuine difference in the way I live my life, so that I may be holy, even as you are holy. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

How Do You See the World?

2 Corinthians 10:5 – We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

Puzzle Pieces and Movie Scripts

Everyone has a worldview. It may be well thought-out, logical and coherent or it may be loosely thrown together and disorganized, but everyone has one. Quite simply, a worldview is your philosophy or view of life – a way of looking at the world around you.

Think of the cover of a puzzle box. If you were to dump all the puzzle pieces on the ground without seeing what the picture on the cover looked like, you would have a pretty hard time putting the puzzle together. Similarly, life presents us with thousands of questions and issues which are like pieces to a puzzle. Without the right worldview to follow, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to know where and how all the pieces fit.

Or, think of a worldview as a movie script. The late Francis Schaeffer said that life is like entering a very long movie that has already started and then learning that you have to leave before it ends. In such a situation we would be significantly lost without some outside help. Schaeffer suggested that the Bible gives us the script of the whole movie. Therefore, even if we have missed the first part of it, and even though we will have to leave before it is over, we can still see how we fit into the big picture. A Christian will want to have a biblical worldview because that will be the view of life that will most closely corresponds to reality.

Elements of a Worldview

What are the key components that comprise a person’s worldview? Let me briefly mention five of the most important elements that ought to shape a Christian’s view of life.

1.) The first aspect of a worldview is your view of God: Does God exist? Is God personal or impersonal? Is there only one God or many? Does God require anything from us? What is the nature of God? It has been rightly observed that a person’s answers to these questions will be the greatest influence on the way a person thinks and lives.

2.) Secondly, a worldview focuses on the issues of purpose, value, and ultimate questions, such as: Are miracles possible? Is the universe all there is? What is the purpose of our existence? Why does something exist rather than nothing? Is there objective meaning to life?

3.) The third area a worldview addresses is the question of knowledge. It seeks to answer how we know what we know. What is the authority upon which a person should base his or her claim to truth or morality? Is each person the measure for right and wrong or is there an objective standard? A person lives each day according to the way he or she views knowledge – whether it is recognized and acknowledged or not.

4.) Fourth is the issue of ethics. How do you make moral decisions? Are you bound by what God has revealed or by cultural convention or laws? Are some acts really wrong or merely inconvenient?

5.) The last major element of a worldview has to do with the nature of humankind. How do you view human beings? Are we basically good? Are we basically sinful? Is there such a thing as sin? Are we grown-up germs caused by evolution or do we have real purpose and design? What happens when we die?

These are the significant elements which make up one’s worldview – and again – we all have a worldview whether or not we are conscious of it.

I’ll ask, and try to answer the question, “so what,” in the follow-up post to this one.