Sunday, September 29, 2013

The 3rd Commandment - Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

Exodus 20:7 (NKJV)
7 “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.

Commonly the third commandment is taken as a restriction on profane speech – and while it does have implications for our speech, the commandment is much broader. The third commandment is a stirring warning against hypocrisy.

The word translated “take” in the commandment can also mean to bear or bear up. Shortly after its use in the third commandment, the same word is used to describe the high priest “bearing” the names of the sons of Israel upon his shoulders. In other words, he stood as the representative for the tribes of Israel, taking their sins upon himself in the Day of Atonement and lifting up their prayers on the altar of incense.

To “bear the name” is, therefore, to represent another. So when God warns Israel about “taking” or “bearing” the name of the Lord your God in vain, he is warning them against representing him to the world in a way that is unfaithful and slanderous. Even as a wife takes the name of her husband and can no longer act as though unmarried, so those who take the Name of God are to live in light of that identity. This, of course, has application for one’s speech; but it actually addresses everything – starting from the heart and working its way out to the tongue.

When God chose Abraham and gave him the covenant of circumcision, he marked out Abraham and his descendants as His representatives on earth. It was through Abraham and his offspring that all the families of the earth would be blessed. God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and his twelve sons to be His special possession, a people called by His Name and who bore His Name. Israel was the people of God.

In the New Covenant, it is we who have been baptized into Christ who bear the Name of God and whom God now calls to bear His Name in truth. For how are we baptized? We are baptized “into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And having been baptized into the Triune Name, having had the Name of God placed upon us, we are to live lives that represent that God to the world. When we fail to represent Him faithfully – either through the worship of other gods, or through unrighteous living, or through the practice of injustice, or through the misuse of our tongues – then we bear His Name in vain.

We also see in our text that God takes this hypocrisy and deceitful bearing of His Name very seriously – He will not hold Him guiltless that takes His Name in vain. Repeatedly in the history of Israel and in the history of the Church, we see God vindicating His Name in the face of the unfaithfulness of those who bear it. And so this is a reminder to us, an admonition to us to fear the Lord and to serve Him sincerely, free from hypocrisy and double-mindedness. We are to represent God faithfully to the world.

One of the ways we do this is by acknowledging that He alone is holy and exalted and free from sin. The way we demonstrate this, publicly and privately, is by routinely confessing our sins and seeking His forgiveness in the Name of Christ. So this morning let us confess our sins – and in particular, the way in which we are tempted to bear the Name of God in vain and fail to represent Him faithfully to the world. Let us kneel together as we confess.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Why Church Hopping Doesn't Reveal a Love for the Church

Coeur d'Alene is full of folks who don't understand the biblical teaching on the importance and centrality of the church - including the local, visible church. Over the years I've met many people who hop from one spot to another and avoid joining a local church and submitting themselves to a specific group of elders. I've recently been interacting with some folks on the importance of this issue and thought that I would post some words I wrote for them:

Our conviction, based on Paul's admonitions to us in Hebrews, is that membership in a local church and submission to a local group of elders is not an option for us as Christians but is required:
  • “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” (Hebrews 13:7)
  • “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
In the same way in which I demonstrate my respect for women generally by loving one woman, my wife, in particular, so the way that I show my love for the church universal is by loving one church, my local body, in particular. The man who claims he loves women and that's why he won't commit to any one in particular hasn't learned the meaning of biblical love. Likewise with the church - if we claim to love the universal church the way we manifest that is by committing to a local body not by sampling the goods that each has to offer. This conviction is based on the teachings of Scripture and is the position under which we operate.

For those interested, I'd recommend Joshua Harris' little book Stop Dating the Church now repackaged as Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God. Also consider Edmund Clowney's The Church for a more thorough treatment of the issue.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Flamingo Moral

Well my cynical side got the better of me when I read the article in the Coeur d'Alene Press today (see hereabout bullying alongside the announcement that former president H.W. Bush had witnessed a faux marriage of two women in Maine. So I penned an unsubmitted letter to the editor on the "bullying" issue that is all the rage in our media right now:

In Praise of Bullies

It seems the Coeur d’Alene School District is concerned about the presence of bullying in the schools. But I’ve been thinking that we should be more sympathetic toward bullies – that perhaps we should even praise them.

Now lest you dismiss me as a kook, just consider my argument for a moment. Last night my children and I watched an astounding documentary on the types and habits of eagles. We watched with amazement as a fish eagle swooped down on a flamingo, bore it to the ground, stood on its neck and killed it. Survival of the fittest on display. But then an interesting thing happened – a pair of much larger and stronger golden eagles swooped in and drove off the fish eagle, stealing his kill. It seems the golden eagles hadn’t attended the workshops on bullying offered by the school district.

So here we were watching this documentary on eagles when suddenly the thought struck me – hey, I’m just a distant cousin of the eagle! According to the official curriculum of our government educational system, as a human being I am not fundamentally different than an eagle. I too have evolved from that first bit of protoplasm by random processes and natural selection. I’ve gotten to where I am by natural selection and the survival of the fittest. So why shouldn’t stronger humans simply use their strength to take what weaker humans have obtained? Why not imitate the golden eagles?

After all, consider those golden eagles. Big, majestic, strong: they are clearly the evolutionary superiors of the fish eagles; no fish eagle measures up. And with bullies – maybe it’s the same. They’re usually bigger and stronger – okay maybe the majestic part is missing. But, hey, you can’t have everything in one package.

But if it’s true, as the schools teach our kids, that human beings are simply very sophisticated animals, then why not imitate the golden eagles? After all, the macro-evolutionary myth is used to reinforce various other morals. We’re supposed to care for the planet because she’s given us birth. We’re supposed to treat animals nice because they and we are cut of the same cloth. So why choose just these morals? Why not the “bully moral” as well? Bullying is okay because golden eagles push fish eagles out of the way and eat their flamingos. Perhaps we could call it the flamingo moral to avoid the “b” word. After all, if there is no moral standard that stands over and above our eco-system, then it seems that we should be willing to speak in praise of bullies.

Gender Identity Part 1 - Saving the World from Suicide

As promised, the first sermon in the series on Gender Identity is now available online. Go here to listen and obtain an outline.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Human Rights and Wrongs

I submitted a My Turn article to the Coeur d'Alene Press yesterday in response to Tony Stewart's article in the paper last week. My article was published today and is available online here. It is imperative both for the good of our city and the preservation of our integrity, to speak clearly and frankly about the issue of homosexuality and the attempt by the LGBT community to co-opt the language of human rights to sanction their perversion.

If you think that my questions about pedophilia, incest, bestiality, etc. are unnecessary, then please consult the excellent article in The New American by Selwyn Duke. It is entitled, "The Slippery Slope to Pedophilia." He hits the nail on the head. May God have mercy upon our nation and turn us from our folly and from the trajectory on which we are currently headed. I tried to outline that trajectory in my sermon last Sunday entitled, "Saving the World from Suicide." It should be up on the website soon.

For those who prefer, my article is printed below.

During this local political season, it is important that our communication with one another be characterized by a firm allegiance to honesty, integrity, and truth. As a local pastor, I decry sins of the tongue – slander, gossip, lies, outbursts of wrath, false accusations – all dishonor our Creator and defame others who are made in the image of God. It is my desire to speak the truth in love.

To that end I wish to address the misleading way in which the agenda of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community has been linked by some, including Mayoral candidate Steve Widmeyer and homosexual activist Tony Stewart, to the idea of human rights. We need to preserve the “human rights” of those in the LGBT community and not discriminate against them.

It is important that members of our community understand that this linking of the ordinance with human rights is false and destructive. First, it is false. The ordinance is not about the preservation of human rights but about the public sanctioning of immoral and destructive sexual behaviors. Our forefathers never taught that “human rights” include the “right” to do what is wrong. And this ordinance is not about the preservation of human rights but human wrongs. It is the equivalent of passing a law forbidding discrimination against thieves and adulterers – granting public protections to those who engage in particular immoral actions.

Second, it is destructive. It leaves human rights in the hands of human beings. The founders of our great nation were careful to maintain that our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were given to us by the Creator, not by any human agency, whether a vote of the people or a decision of the king. Governments are created to protect and preserve these rights; but the rights exist independent of any government. On this matter, Mr. Stewart is exactly right: every decision of the majority is subject to the moral law.

So where do we find the moral law? Clearly Mr. Stewart believes in it; he appeals to our “moral compass” to oppose discrimination against those in the LGBT community. So how does he identify what is moral or immoral? Shall we soon find him defending the “right” of citizens to practice polygamy, bestiality, incest, or pedophilia? Perhaps murder, rape, thievery? No doubt he opposes such things. But on what basis? Public opinion? Then he undermines his claim that these things exist independent of government decisions and leaves us in the hands of the people. The Creator? Then he needs to explain how we understand and know the mind of the Creator. And if we can only know the mind of God through individual human opinion then we’re back to our first dilemma – we have to take a vote. Vox populi, vox dei: the voice of the people is the voice of God. And in that case whatever the people decide becomes “moral” – it becomes two wolves and a sheep trying to decide what to eat. It leaves us in the hands of the people.

Christianity resolves this dilemma by appealing to an objective moral standard that stands over and above every human society – Christian or non-Christian. We know what is good and right and honorable through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Here God has revealed the moral law – it is summarized in the Ten Commandments and lived out in the life of Jesus Christ. And this law clearly identifies the LGBT lifestyles as perverse and destructive both individually and societally. This law leaves us not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of God. As historian Arnold J. Toynbee remarked, “Sooner or later, man has always had to decide whether he worships his own power or the power of God.” There is no third option.

Contrary to Mr. Stewart’s claim, love and discrimination always go hand in hand. It is the father who loves his daughter who teaches her to discriminate among suitors. It is the mother who loves her son who teaches him to discriminate and choose his friends carefully. It is Jesus who loves the poor who discriminated against the moneychangers and overthrew their tables (see Matthew 21:12-17).

And so I would urge the citizens of our community to use proper discrimination as you approach the polls. Always defend human rights while ardently opposing human wrongs. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Pastor Stuart Bryan

Trinity Church

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The 2nd Commandment - A Jealous God

Exodus 20:4–6 (NKJV)
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Since our rebellion against God in the beginning of human history, it has ever been a strong temptation to fashion God in the image of some creature and fail to maintain the Creator/creature divide. Tragically, in the history of God’s people, the gravitational pull toward some form of idolatry has been strong and persistent. Rachel hid the idols in her tent; Aaron fashioned the golden calf; Jeroboam erected an idol in Bethel; Ezekiel saw the priests bowing before idols in the temple storehouses; and to this day both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy sanction the veneration of images.

Sacred Scripture indicates for us how seriously God takes this matter; how seriously he takes the worship of His Name. He declares to Moses, For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God… God is a Jealous God – he is jealous for His own glory, jealous for the truth, and jealous for the joy and satisfaction of human beings. All this necessitates that God take worship seriously – for in worship we express that which has highest worth, that which brings highest joy, delight, and purpose to us as human beings. Such praise belongs only to God. He will not permit the glory which is his alone to be given to other gods. “I am Yahweh, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor my praise to carved images” (Is 42:8). God’s glory and our good are serious business – hence, worship is serious business.

God likens Himself elsewhere to a jealous husband. He takes the purity of His bride, His Church, seriously. When his bride starts scattering her favors to other gods, he takes this seriously – he begins sending judgments, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. The Lord is the perfect husband and does not simply turn a blind eye when his bride starts taking up with other lovers. He vindicates His honor and glory.

So as we come here to worship, God wishes to awaken you from your slumber, awaken you from your complacency, awaken you from your idolatry. God takes His worship seriously – how seriously are you taking this morning? God takes His Word seriously – how attentive are you this morning? God takes His glory seriously – so whom are you here to worship? If you are not here to hear from the Lord of glory, the Lord of all the earth, the Lord whose glory fills this place, fills heaven and earth, then beware – the Lord is a jealous God. He knows your heart; he knows whom you are really here to serve. So let us seek his face and confess that we find ourselves prone to worship other gods; prone to find our meaning and delight somewhere other than in Him. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 1st Commandment - The Unholy Trinity

Exodus 20:3 (NKJV)
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

We are all religious beings. As creatures made in the image of God, we cannot help but be religious. We all worship or obey someone or something. Some voice is ultimate – and it is this voice, this voice that governs and directs our life, that is our god. And the most popular deity today is the sovereign self. Eugene Peterson explains:

“Here’s how it works. It is important to observe that in the formulation of this new [religion] that defines the self as the sovereign text [or voice] for living, the Bible is neither ignored nor banned; it holds, in fact, an honored place. But the three-personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is replaced by a very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy Wants, my Holy Needs, and my Holy Feelings….

The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings.

My needs are non-negotiable… My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way – all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against [all threats].

My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit.

My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to cast out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent – all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.

In the last two hundered years a huge literature…has developed around this new Holy Trinity of Needs, Wants, and Feelings that make up the sovereign self… The new spiritual masters assure us that all our spiritual needs are included in the new Trinity: our need for meaning and transcendence, our wanting a larger life, our feelings of spiritual significance – and, of course, there is plenty of room for God, as much or as little as you like. The new Trinity doesn’t get rid of God or the Bible, it merely puts them to the service of needs, wants, and feelings. Which is fine with us, for we’ve been trained all our lives to treat everyone and everything that way. It goes with the territory. It’s the prerogative of sovereignty, [the sovereignty of self].

What has become devastatingly clear in our day is that the core reality of the Christian [faith], the sovereignty of God revealing himself in [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit], is contested and undermined by virtually everything we learn in our schooling, everything presented to us in the media, every social, workplace, and political expectation directed our way as the experts assure us of the sovereignty of self. These voices seem so perfectly tuned to us, so authoritatively expressed and custom-designed to show us how to live out our sovereign selves, that we are hardly aware that we have traded in our Holy Bibles for this new text, the Holy Self.” [Eugene Peterson, Eat this Book, pp. 31-34]

So what of you? Are you here today to worship the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? To listen to His voice and be shaped by His Word? Or are you here to worship the unholy trinity of your needs, wants, and feelings? The first commandment strikes our ears, You shall have no other gods before me. Reminded that God is the center of all reality and that we often act as though we are the center instead, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.