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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Matt's Messages - Fear God?

"Fear God?"
May 29, 2005
Exodus 20:18-21

Exodus chapters 19 and 20 tell the story of the giving of the Law–the giving of the Ten Commandments. As we’ve seen, in chapter 19, the LORD (YHWH) descended upon Mount Sinai in the sight of the people of Israel who were camped at the base of the mountain. And He descended in burning holiness!

"[T]here was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him." (Exodus 16-19)

And what the voice of God said was the Ten Commandments. Chapter 20, verses 1 through 17 are the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Words of God. Verse 1 says, "And God spoke all these words..." And what follows are the Ten Commandments that we have studied together over the last two weeks.

And then what happened? Do you know? Most of the time, we think of this as the end of the story. Moses in the Bullrushes, Burning Bush, Ten Plagues, Passover, Red Sea Rescue, Manna and Quail, Water from the Rock, and the Giving of the Law. End of the story, at least until Exodus chapter 32 and the "golden calf" rebellion. But it’s not the end of the story. What happened immediately after the giving the Ten Commandments? How did the people of Israel respond?

Exodus chapter 20, verses 18 through 21. Today’s verses (18, 19, 20, and 21) tell the story of how the people of Israel responded to the voice of God thundering His words to them from the Mountain on Fire. And it can be summed up in one word–FEAR.

The people of Israel feared God.

And here’s our question for today: Was that fear [of God] a good thing or a bad thing?

Let’s read the Bible and see. Exodus chapter 20, verses 18 through 21.

"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was." (NIV)

The appearance and speaking of God was too much for the people of Israel. V.1

"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear."

They were quaking in their boots. This was like nothing else.

Remember, these people had seen miracles. They had seen the waters of the Nile turned to blood. They had seen plague after plague hit Egypt. Hail-bombing that decimated everything. A darkness that you could feel. They had seen God’s creational warfare at work. They had see a pillar of fire at nighttime. They had seen walls of water stand up like a heap. They had seen an entire army of Egyptians wiped out by a divine tsunami.

And none of that had prepared them for this.

On Thursday night, Heather, her brother and sister-in-law and I went out to eat and went to see the last Star Wars movie. I was pretty impressed, especially with how they tied these last three movies into the originals. And the special effects were pretty amazing. It was pretty gory, though. I could see why it had been given a PG13 rating this time around. I won’t be watching it again any time soon.

At the very end, there is a planet that is almost completely made of burning lava. And sitting in your seat in the theater, you can almost feel how hot it is, and how scarey.

But it’s all pretend. When the credits begin to roll, and John Williams’ familiar theme song comes on again, the lights come up in the theater, and you walk out into the fresh air.

But Exodus chapter 20 really happened. The mountain was on fire! There was an unexplained trumpet sound blaring through the darkness. There was a storm raging away at the top of the mountain, thunder and lightning–literally: flashes or fireballs. And an earthquake. The mountain trembled violently.

And so did the people of Israel. V.18 says "[T]hey trembled with fear."

It was too much for them. Nothing they had seen had prepared them for this. And they were afraid.

They were so afraid that they begged for a mediator. V.18 again.

"They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’"

It was the voice of God that scared them the most.

"Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or [it seems like] we will die."

The people of Israel had a fear of God. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

What do you think the answer is?

Yes, it’s a trick question. The answer, found in verse 20, is both. It is both a good thing and bad thing to fear God.

There is a wrong way to fear God and right way to fear God. And they are both found in verse 20.

"Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’"

Do not be afraid. God has come...so that the fear of God will be with you.
Do Not Fear God. And Fear God.

Point #1. DO NOT FEAR GOD.

Moses says, "Do not be afraid." And he means it.

"Do not be afraid." Do not fear God.

Why?

Let me put it this way. Perfect Love Is Here.

Don’t be afraid because perfect love is here.

The God Who is so scarey, Who is so holy that the mountain burns with His presence, this God, has come out of love for His people.

Moses reassures the people of Israel. He tells them to not be terrorized by God’s presence because God is here for their good.

God has "shown up" out of love for His people.

Perfect love has come onto the scene.

God has not come in wrath against His enemies. God has come to bless His people.

Yes, He is scarey. No, He is not tame. But He is good. And He is loving. And He is here for His people.

Moses says, "Do not be afraid. God has come [...for you, for your benefit, for your good, out of love." Perfect love is here.

The apostle John writes in 1 John 4:18, "[P]erfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment."

God is here. But He is not here to punish. He is here to love. Perfect love is here. And this kind of "terrorized fear" must go.

And more than that: Your Mediator Is Here.

They ask for mediator. And they get one in Moses. He will go up again (v.21) into the "thick darkness where God was."

Moses will mediate between Israel and YHWH.

Perfect love is here. And your mediator is here.

Do not be afraid.

And if that was true for Israel, how much more is it true for the New Covenant people of God?!

If Israel was to not be afraid in this way, how much more should we not fear God ourselves?!

Because perfect love and our mediator are the same person!

God the Son is our mediator. And He is here. Do not be afraid.

If you belong to Jesus Christ by faith in Him, you need have no terrorizing fear of God.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is no coming wrath for those who trust to the Savior.
God is not against you, if you are in Christ.

God is for you. He is here for you as perfect love.

There is now one mediator between God and man–the man Christ Jesus.

Do not fear God!

Though you and I are a great sinners and deserve the unbridled wrath of God for our rebellion against His holy name, we need not fear His justice.

His just wrath has fallen on Christ.

Do not fear God!

If you do not belong to Jesus Christ right now, He is inviting you to trust Him today. You need not fear the wrath of God. Perfect love is here. And He can drive out all fear.

Trust in Jesus Christ as your Rescuer and your King today. And you need not fear God.

There is a kind of fear of God that we who are God’s people should not feel. Even in the face of the utter holiness of God, we need not fear.

"‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved."

Don’t be afraid.

Application? Don’t run from God.

There is a kind of fear of God that is unnecessary for those who belong to Jesus. In fact, it is wrong for us to have. It’s the kind of fear that causes us to run from God. To treat Him as if He has not rescued us and does not have our best interests in mind. To run from God like He is some kind of an ogre, a beast, a monster–out to get us. To be scared of Him with a servile, untrusting, terrorized, tormented, scared fear.

We all do it sometimes. Maybe you are doing it today even as you sit in church. Maybe right now you feel like God is against you, just waiting to pounce on you, just wanting to drive you into the ground. You don’t believe that He is for you in Christ. So, you are running. We all know someone who is running from God in fear.

But we who belong to God through Jesus Christ don’t need to run away. We don’t need to even keep our distance. We don’t need to fear God in this way.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t run away.

But, Point #2. FEAR GOD.

There is a wrong kind of fear for God’s people. But there is a right kind of fear, as well.

The Proverbs say, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." (1:7, 9:10)

There is a good kind of fear of God that we need to feel. And it’s also in verse 20.

"Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’"

God has come to test them so that they would have "the fear of God" in them. [Same exact word in Hebrew.]

It is desirable for the fear of God to be with you, in you, characterize you.

God wants "God-fearing people!" It’s His aim.

Fear God.

Why is this kind of fear of God good?

Here are three reasons:

First, this Kind of "Fear of God" Will Keep You from Rebellion. V.20 again.

"Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’"

If you have this good kind of fear in you, it keeps you from sinning. It keeps you from rebelling. It keeps you on the right path.

That’s why the fear of the YHWH is the beginning of wisdom. When you fear God in this way, you want to know and do what is right.

When you have a great and grand vision of God in your heart, you want to know and do what is right. You want to live your life to please Him. When you are awed with God, sin doesn’t hold the attractive lure that it once did.

That’s one reason why God had come down onto the mountain. Moses says, "God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’"

That doesn’t mean to give you a test. It means to prove you, to show something to you, to give you a taste, an experience that will shape you. The New Living Translation paraphrases it like this. Exodus 20:20, "‘Don't be afraid,’ Moses said, ‘for God has come in this way to show you his awesome power. From now on, let your fear of him keep you from sinning!’"

This Kind of "Fear of God" Will Keep You from Rebellion.

Second, this Kind of Fear of God Is Right and Appropriate!

Turn with me to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 5. Pew Bible Page #177. Deuteronomy chapter 5. This is the retelling of this same story at the end of the Wilderness Wanderings.

Moses is telling the story to the children of those who were there at Mount Sinai.

Look down at verse 23. Deuteronomy 5:23:

"When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. And you said, ‘The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.’ [Please be our mediator! V.28] The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good[!]. It is good, and right, and appropriate to fear God this way. V.29] Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! ‘Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.’ So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess."

The LORD proclaimed that "Everything [Israel] said was good[!]" It is good and right and appropriate to fear God this way.

Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear God always!

God is worthy of our fear! God is worthy of our awe. God is worthy of our reverence. God is worthy of our service. God is worthy of our obedience. God is worthy of our trembling in His presence.

He is the God whose theophany–that’s a big word that means appearance of God whose theophany–scorches the mountain with incendiary holiness!

It is good and right and appropriate to fear this God.

And Third, this Kind of "Fear of God" Brings Good to Those Who Practice It.

Listen to this proverb: "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death." That’s Proverbs 14:27. "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death."

A fountain of life. Doesn’t that sound good?

Listen to Psalm 31, verse 19. "How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you."

Stored up goodness for those who fear Him.

Are you still with me at Deuteronomy chapter 5? Keep your Bibles open to Deuteronomy 5. Look at verse 29 again.

"Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!"

The right kind of fear of God brings good to those who practice it.

So, yes, fear God.

What does the right kind of fearing God look like?

I have defined the fear of God before as "a healthy heart before a holy God."
It’s having the right kind of response to the awesome holiness of God. It’s an awe-filled reverence for Who God is and a healthy caution in dealing to o flippantly with Him.

A healthy heart before a holy God.

It is respecting God as the God Who He really is.

It is treating God as God.

It means at least three things.

Application: First, Worship Your God.

Remember Hebrews chapter 12? We keep coming back to it because it is the best passage on the comparison between Mount Sinai and the Old Covenant and the Mount Zion and the New Covenant.

"We have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ But [we] have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. [We] have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. [We] have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." (Hebrews 12:18-24)

And then it ends by saying, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28)

The King James says, "worship God...with reverence and holy fear."

We are not to take God lightly! We are to worship Him with reverence and holy fear.
When you come to church on Sunday, are you coming in the fear of God?

Do you come to meet with the holy God in worship?

Or do you just come to put in your time and make your appearance?

Do you want to worship God in such a way that you are kept from sinful rebellion the rest of the week? Do you want to worship God in such a way that is fitting and proper and in accordance with His awesome power and holiness and glory? Do you want to worship God in such a way that you experience the "fountain of life" and the "storehouse of good" that He has prepared for those who fear Him?

Or do you just go through the motions?

Fear God! Worship Your God.

Secondly, Wash Your Heart.

Listen to 2 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 1.

"Since we have these promises, dear friends, [He’s talking about God’s promise to be our God; Since we have these promises, dear friends,] let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence [literally fear] for God."

Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of the fear of God.

Fearing God means searching our hearts and rooting out all known sin. It means perfecting holiness. It means cooperating with God’s perfection process in us. It means "working out [our] salvation with fear and trembling."

Are you hiding something?

Are you harboring something?

Are you holding something back?

Exodus 20:20, "Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."

Do you want to keep from sinning?

Or are you holding on to some known sin?

Fearing God means rooting out all known sin. Confessing it. Repenting of it. Killing it. No matter how many times it rears its ugly head.

Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of the fear of God.

Fear God! Wash Your Heart.

And thirdly (and last), Walk In His Ways.

Still open at Deuteronomy chapter 5? Look again at v.29.

"Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! ‘Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.’ So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess."

Walk In His Ways.

Fearing God means knowing what God wants and acting on it. It is the beginning of wisdom.

1 Peter 1:17 says, "live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

Live your lives in reverent fear. Walk in God’s ways.

Live your life before God as if God was God!

I remember once a lady who came to the church looking for some financial assistance.

She had a flea-infested mattress and was wondering if we could help her to get a new clean one. I think we did help her, if I remember right.

But while I was talking with her, she was from out near West Decatur somewhere, I asked her if she belonged to a church.

Her answer betrayed the absence of the fear of God. She said to me, "Oh, I worship God in my own way. I read the Bible at home and pray every day. I worship God in my own way."

And I remember saying to her, "Don’t you think that God wants to be worshiped in His own way?"

Don’t we do that, too?

God says to do such and so forth. But we have better ideas, namely our own?

The fear of God leads us to walk in His ways.

What are the ways of God that He is calling you to walk in right now?

Often the way of God is painful but good.

I have a friend right now that is going through a painful ordeal. And the ways of God for him right now mean doing some painful, risk-taking loving things. And it really does hurt.

But I know that God has a storehouse of goodness for him because he is fearing God and walking in God’s way.

I know that there is fountain of life that is gushing goodness for my friend even though it doesn’t feel like it right now.

I know that God is glorified because my friend is walking in God’s ways. He is being a God-fearing man. And I’m proud of him.

Are you walking in God’s ways? Or have you come up with a better idea?

Fear God. Worship Your God. Wash Your Heart. And Walk in His Ways.

No, Do Not Fear God as if He wasn’t for you through Christ.

But Yes, Fear God because it is right and good for you and will keep you from sinful rebellion, and glorify His holy name.

Fear God.

NOTE TO READERS: One of the best books I've read (and re-read) on the subject of the "fear of God" is Jerry Bridge's The Joy of Fearing God. It really makes the concept clear and understandable while also applying it to life with helpful illustrations.

Young 'Un


This is my son Isaac. Posted by Hello

Isaac will be a year old in July. He's into everything he can get his hands on. Not quite crawling, he still gets around the room (and fast!). He looks a lot like me. We love him. We regularly pray that Isaac becomes like the tree in Psalm 1.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Matt's Messages - Love Your Neighbor

"Love Your Neighbor"
Graduate Sunday
May 22, 2005
Exodus 20:13-17

We are in the 10 Commandments together in our study of the Book of Exodus. Last week, we studied the first 4. Two weeks ago, we studied the 5th Commandment. Today, we’re going to study the last 5 commandments, verses 13 through 17.

Now remember, there is a lot that can be said about these 5 verses! We could study them for months or years on end. Back in the year 2000, I preached a single sermon on each commandment. And the notes from those sermons are available on the lansefree.org website. The first 5 sermons up are already. And hopefully, this week, we’ll put up the rest.

I’m not going to say everything there is to say about these last five commandments. In fact, even though there are five commandments, I only have four points for you this morning.

When the Pharisees came to test the Lord Jesus and try to trap Him in a contradiction or a blasphemy, they asked Him, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus knew just what to say (Matthew 22:37), "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [And then He said,] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor. All the Law hangs on these two commandments.

Last week, we saw how the first 4 commandments are a reliable guide towards loving your God. Love God first and foremost, as He really is, with holy reverence, and holy trust.

This week, we’re going to see these last 5 commandments as a reliable guide towards loving our neighbors as ourselves. These last 5 commandments are a reliable guide towards loving our neighbors. Let’s read Exodus 20:13-17 and then pray.

"You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (NIV)

[prayer]

Who Is My Neighbor?

Back when I was a youth pastor, I taught the youth about Jesus’ statement that the Law and the Prophets hang on the twin commands to Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor.

And one of the perky young ladies in the group told me that I shouldn’t tell them to love their neighbors using that word "neighbor" because she and her dad didn’t know their neighbors or like their neighbors. So, I should say something like, "love other people" or "love your friends" not "love your neighbors."

Now, this young lady was making at least three mistakes. First, she was assuming a narrow definition of the word "neighbor" to mean just those who live in the same neighborhood as you do. The Lord Jesus meant something much bigger as the parable of the Good Samaritan proves. Our neighbor is anyone whom God causes to cross our path.

The second mistake that this young lady was making was assuming that Jesus’ command was not very narrow and specific, as well. Those people in our neighborhoods are our neighbors! And we are called to show love to them.

The third mistake was to have a problem with me telling them to love their neighbors. If we have a problem with that command, our problem is with Jesus. He’s the One Who said it.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love Your Neighbor.

What does that mean? What does that look like practically? God told Israel what it looks like in the 10 Commandments. Look at the 6th commandment, verse 13.

"You shall not murder."

That’s pretty simple. Put negatively here (in the strongest possible terms), YHWH commanded the Israelites to not kill with murderous intent. This does not rule out capital punishment or properly constituted warfare or killing animals for protection or meat, but the LORD clearly does not want the Israelites to kill other humans with murderous intent.

"You shall not murder." Instead, put positively, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR BY (#1) UPHOLDING THEIR LIFE.

As we study the rest of the Bible, we see that this command pointed towards much more than not murdering; it pointed to the sanctity, the dignity, of God-given human life.

Your neighbor has a life. Uphold it. Protect it, as it is in your power to do. Care for people. Don’t seek to harm them.

Obviously this command covers the murders we read about in the paper day in and day out. They should not be. Especially the terrorist bombings in Iraq and the Middle East.

Obviously this command includes prohibitions of the many forms of violence that move people closer to death: muggings, beatings, spousal abuse, child abuse. Those are wrong!

Obviously this command prohibits the genocide happening in Sudan, just like it prohobited the the Jews (6 million Jews were murdered just for being Jewish in World War Two). It should have never happened.

But there are also murders going on in this country today that outway those in the staggering numbers. Since 1973, (Roe v. Wade) abortion on demand has been the "law of the land." Killing unborn babies has become routine. A whole generation of children were not given a chance to grow up. Conservative estimates of abortion numbers are 42 million murders of children over the last 32 years.

And God says, "You shall not murder."

Your neighbor has a life. Uphold it. Protect it, as it is in your power to do. Care for people. Don’t seek to harm their life.

If you love your neighbor, you will seek the best for them. And that means upholding the value of their life.

We live in a day and age an and culture where human life is a de-valued commodity. With "physician-assisted suicide" [can you believe that phrase? "physician-assisted suicide"], euthanasia, end-of-life-decisions, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, human life is a de-valued commodity. Or at least, some humans’ lives are de-valued–those who can’t fight back. Those who are deemed to have a quality of life that is simply not worth upholding and can’t talk back.

The last Pope called our culture "The Culture of Death," and he was right. And he said [and our President has used the same words] that we need to embrace and create and develop a "Culture of Life." Where the life of our neighbors are upheld.

Of course, Jesus radically intensifies this command in the Sermon on the Mount. He says that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. Murder starts in our hearts. It’s just as bad to hate as it is to kill. Not just as bad for the victim! But just as bad for the one hating.

Do you love your neighbor? Who have you demonstrated hate towards this week? Is there something you need to repent of? Is there someone that you need to get right with?

Are you in a difficult relationship with someone right now? Are you tempted to hate them? Don’t just not kill them in your mind, in your heart, in your words, in your actions, but love them–and uphold their life.

#2. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR BY UPHOLDING THEIR PURITY. V.14

"You shall not commit adultery."

YHWH thundering the 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai is concerned with what happens in the bedroom.

"You shall not commit adultery."

Don’t break the marriage bond. The New Testament says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrew 13:4)

"You shall not commit adultery."

Of course, the Lord pointing towards more than just adultery here. He’s saying (and the rest of the Bible says), uphold your neighbor’s purity.

Keep yourself pure and guard, protect, sanctify, keep special your neighbor’s purity, too.

Sex is a good thing. God created it. The best book I’ve read in 2005 so far is "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God" by C.J. Mahaney. It’s all about the Song of Songs.

Sex was God’s idea. But He has a certain prescription for it. It’s so powerful that it comes with a prescription by the Maker. You are only to explore sex within the safe confines of the marriage covenant.

As I’ve said before, "Sex belongs in marriage like fire belongs in the fireplace."

That’s how we uphold each other’s purity. The pure fire of sex burns brightly and powerfully within the fireplace of the marriage covenant.

So, this commandment rules out marital infidelity, but it also rules out pre-marital intimacy. Because that woman or that man that you are not married to is not your wife or your husband.

It certainly rules out homosexuality and lesbianism and bestiality and pornography. Those are all perversions of the wonderful gift of sexuality within the marriage covenant.

It also rules out lust. The Lord Jesus intensified this commandment, too, in the Sermon on Mount. He said that whenever a man looks lustfully on a woman (and the same is true the other way), he has committed adultery with her in his heart.

I just finished reading a great book on fighting lust by Joshua Harris called "Not Even a Hint."

If we are going to love each other, we need to uphold each other’s purity. We need to repent of our lingering gazes and lustful fantasies.

Your neighbor (and this includes anyone who comes across your path) needs you to not lust after him or her, not say cruel things or tempting things (!) about their bodies, not to have you dress immodestly in their presence and lure them into sin, not to have you downloading their pictures and using them for your private pleasures.

Your neighbor needs you (and this completely flies against the grain of our culture) to love them by protecting, preserving, lifting up, sanctifying their purity.

If the sixth commandment establishes the sanctity of life, the seventh commandment establishes the sanctity of marital sexuality. It’s a good and holy thing and should be honored by all.

How are you doing at loving your neighbors in this way? Do you have something to repent of? Do you have a safe friend that you can confess your sins to and be held accountable?

Graduates, as some of you go off to college, you are going to be hit with an incredible amount of temptation in this area. I have read several articles this year about the sexual debauchery on college campuses, even Christian ones.

You need to decide now and regularly re-commit yourself to your own purity–saving yourself for marriage. And regularly commit yourself to loving your neighbor the pretty young ladies and handsome young men that will cross your path. Love them by upholding their purity.

And then, if the Lord in His grace, gives you a mate, uphold your particular wife or husband’s purity by enjoying God-given, God-blessed, God-glorifying sex. Enjoy the fire in the fireplace of God’s blessing.

#3. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR BY UPHOLDING THEIR BLESSINGS. V.15

"You shall not steal."

God has given your neighbor (whoever that may be) a certain amount of temporal blessings, that is, blessings within this life. Possessions are a blessing. God has given us our possession to enjoy and to share.

We tell our kids that all of the time. God has given us these toys to enjoy and to share. To enjoy and to show love with.

God has each of us certain blessings. But God has also given our neighbors certain blessings. They are not ours. They are theirs.

And the 8th commandment forbids stealing them.

"You shall not steal." Instead, love your neighbor by upholding their possessions as their possessions. Their property rights as their property rights. Their God-bestowed blessings as their God-bestowed blessings!

They are to enjoy them and share them as God allows.

We are not to take them.

And this is whatever neighbor crosses our path. Neighborhood neighbors. Employer neighbors. A lot of retailers lose more money through employee theft than through shop-lifting! Or stealing time from your employer (elongating coffee breaks or inflating a time-sheet). Or an employer stealing time from an employee, making them work "off of the clock."

Or stealing from a loaning neighbor, not paying your bills. Or a government neighbor, not paying your taxes.

This commandment covers taking anything (any blessing) that is not rightfully yours. It could be a patent or a trade-secret or a customer info database, or some kind of intellectual property.

Or it could be a student cheating on a test or paper. Taking those answers to questions that you did not come up with yourself (even if they give them to you and you have no right to them), that’s stealing. God says, "You shall not steal."

Those blessings are their blessings. Uphold them.

Have you been taking something from someone else? Something that’s not righfully yours? Time, money, information, things, stuff?

We steal because we don’t trust God to provide all of the blessings we need in Christ.

But if we belong to Him, we are promised everything we need. He is sufficient. And He will supply.

Because we have those promises, we can love our neighbors as we would want to be loved. Who wants to be stolen from?

If you have stolen something, give it back. And make restitution. Swallow your pride and return the item with a confession. Take whatever consequences come your way. And trust God to provide all of the blessing that you will ever need.

"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

He’s sufficient for us to love our neighbors and uphold their blessings as their blessings.

#4. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR BY UPHOLDING THEIR REPUTATION.

If the sixth commandment establishes the sanctity of human life, and the seventh commandment establishes the honorability of the marriage bed, and the eighth commandment establishes the dignity of ownership, the ninth commandment establishes the importance of truth. V.16

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

YHWH says from Mount Sinai, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."
Tell the truth about them.

You can see the situation in your mind, can you not? You are in a court of law. Your neighbor, an acquaintance, someone you know, is on trial. And you are a witness. What you say counts. What you say matters in what happens to your neighbor.

Imagine, for a second, that you don’t like this person. This person has always been a thorn in your side. They are a pain the neck. Here’s your chance to get back at them. To get your revenge.

What does that do to your testimony? Do you give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? What if no one in the world, would ever find out if you were telling the truth or lying?

God says, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." It doesn’t matter if you like them, it doesn’t matter if you even know them. No matter what, do not give false testimony. Instead, love that person with the truth because a lie could hurt them.

God uses legal terminology here to highlight the demand for truthfulness because of the obvious painful ramifications of deceit. Don’t lie. Don’t slander. Don’t exaggerate the facts in your favor. Don’t be dishonest. Don’t misrepresent yourself or someone else. Don’t suppress the truth. Don’t deceive. Walk in the truth.

Your neighbor needs you to tell them the truth. And especially here in verse 16, to tell the truth about them.

YHWH said to Israel, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

This is protecting their reputation.

Sometimes, a reputation is all that someone has.

Bearing false-witness steals even that away from them.

How would you like to be treated?

Raise your hand if you like to be lied about!

This is love for your neighbor. But it’s not always easy.

Lying actually comes more naturally. That’s because we are natural-born liars. Until we came to Christ, we acted like the devil. Jesus called the Devil, "The Big Daddy of Deceit." Or His actual words were, that Satan was a liar and the father of lies.

But if we belong to Christ, we belong to the Truth. He is the Truth with a capital T.

And we can learn (in the words of Ephesians 4:25) to "Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [and about! our] neighbor..."

Have you been upholding your neighbor’s reputation? How do you talk about people in your life? Are you full of truth? Or are you walking falsehood?

All four of these commandments (as they are stated in Exodus 20) are about taking something valuable away from someone else.

Taking their life.
Taking their purity.
Taking their blessings.
Taking their reputation away from them.

The last commandment is about WANTING to take things (or possess things) that are rightfully someone else’s. It’s about coveting them. V.17

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

This is the most internal of the 10 Commandments. It’s the most attitudinal. You can’t measure it from the outside. You can’t always detect it from the outside!

While commandments 6, 7, 8, and 9 are about taking things, the 10th commandment is about wanting to take or have those things–especially someone else’s blessings (in the words of Exodus, their house, their wife, or manservant or maidservant, or ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This commandment goes right to the heart.

You might think that these other four commands are pretty do-able on the outside. Don’t murder, don’t adulterize, don’t steal, don’t lie.

But when you get to commandment ten, you realize that you really do need help!

Upholding someone’s life, purity, blessings, and reputation means that I can’t even want them when they aren’t mine?

God cares that much about my desires? And whether or not they are legitimate desires?

Yes.

Because the New Testament makes it clear that coveting is idolatry which is breaking the first commandment.

Colossians 3:5, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed [that’s covetousness, now listen, evil desires and greed], which is idolatry."

Breaking the tenth commandment is breaking the first commandment.

It’s setting up an idol in your heart.

And that’s where, in many ways, these other sins come from!

Matthew 15:19, "[O]ut of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

Sound familiar?

This is why Jesus radically intensifies the 10 Commandments at the Sermon on the Mount. They were always pointing towards internal realities and the need for new hearts.

We can’t just keep these laws.
We can’t just obey them on the outside.

We can’t just love our neighbors on the outside.

We need new hearts.

We need to love our neighbors from the heart.

We need to uphold their lives, purity, blessings, and reputations from our hearts.

And it’s only in Jesus Christ that we can have a new heart.

These commandments, as reliable as they are as guide to loving our neighbors, first and foremost show us our hearts.

And they drive us to the Cross.

I can’t keep these commandments on my own. I have fallen way short of the standard. And I still do.

I need a Savior.

Jesus Christ died to pay for all of the times when I failed to love my neighbor.

He loved His neighbors perfectly. In word, deed, action, and attitude. From the heart.

And at the Cross, He gave me His perfect obedience. My sin on Him, His righteousness on me.

If you are not yet a faith-follower of Jesus Christ, He invites you to come to Him today and receive His gift of forgiveness and righteousness.

He invites you to trust Him to be your own righteousness. His perfect loving of His neighbors can be put on your account.

You have to turn from your reliance on yourself. You have to confess your failure to keep all of His commands. And you have to throw yourself on His mercy, trusting in what He has done for you.

And when you do, you not only get forgiven, but you get His Holy Spirit Who enables us to grow in His image. And to begin to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Cross of Christ is the only way that we can Love Our Neighbors.

When we come through Christ, we can learn to uphold their lives, uphold their purity, uphold their blessings as their blessings, and uphold their reputation.

And yes...even have the right desires. Because the antidote to coveting is contentment in Christ.

And He is sufficient to be content in.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Flower Girl


Robin Joy all ready to be the flower girl on Saturday at my cousin Kathy's wedding. Like her mother, she's a beauty! Posted by Hello

Matt's Messages (Old Ones)

We've posted the sermons I promised on the 10 Commandments on the Lanse Evangelical Free Church Website. The list of 8 Diagnostic Questions for determing what is functioning as "another god" in my life is also up on that page as a separate file.

20/20 Vision

As I've mentioned before in this space, I've been trying to think long term--specifically 20 years from now.

When I first came to Lanse Free Church 7 years ago, I said that my first goal was to stay for 10 years. It wasn't a promise so much as a goal. Pastor Jack Kelly, was the longest English-preaching pastor at LEFC with 9 years of service. If I made it to 10 years, I would be in the lead! (There was an old Swede that holds the record at 11 years).

But now that 10 years is fast approaching, I think it's wise to re-focus my vision and re-set my goals. And I'm thinking 20 years.

What would ministry look like after another 20 years?

Some areas of this vision:

- church planting
Philipsburg and Clearfield EFC???

- several more families and singles launched into world missions

- new leadership structures
biblical, flexible, and effective

- a generation of new "elders"
developing of more qualified and competent men to lead the church

- a systematic discipleship curriculum for the whole church
maybe even the West Branch Bible Institute?

- a rich, robust, theological-thinking community with a good feel for relevant application
pervasive sound & healthy doctrine

- a community-blessing and evangelistically fruitful church family

- God-centered families where biblical manhood, womanhood, and childhood flourishes

- new healthy God-centered, Bible-saturated ministries for all ages/life cycles

- a biblical counseling center
so that our church is seen in the community as possessing and dispensing wisdom

- regional pastors mentored
so that no one comes into a church out here in central PA and has to stand alone (as I sometimes felt at first)


- a wider ministry influence for me
perhaps being used outside of central PA in in preaching, teaching, missions, mentoring, and maybe some writing...but not leaving the auspices and authority and centrality of the local church

In 20 years, all of my own 4 kids will be grown. The youngest will be 21. I will have 27 years of service in (30 years of ministry experience including my days as a seminarian youth pastor), and only be 52 years old myself.

I'm sure that I can't see what will actually happen in 20 years, but peering into the future like that has helped me to see clearer what things I should be doing today.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"The Gift of My Rest" - A Fictional Letter of Sabbath Theology

In the Summer of 2000, when I was first preaching through the 10 Commandments, I really struggled to develop both my theology of the 4th commandment and my sermon once I had come to some conclusions. It had gotten to be Saturday at 2:30 and I had a sermon with 29 points that would have lost everyone!

So, I went for a walk (with my lawnmower), and prayed for help to formulate a message that would honor the Scriptures and help my flock. This fictional letter from God was my answer...

Dear Matt,

I’m glad you asked. Thank you for coming to Me and asking Me what I would like to say to My people through you on Sunday morning. That’s a good question that you should be asking Me each and every week.

Matt, tell My people this: tell them I love them and tell them to accept the gift of My rest. Tell them I love them and tell them to accept the gift of My rest.

Matt, when I created the world: the stars, The Milky Way, your Sun, when I created the Earth, every inch of dirt that you see, and every mountain that you’ll never climb, and every cubic inch of lava inside the Earth, and when I created the sea, every gallon of salty water and every fish and dolphin and algae and whale and shark in it. When I created everything that exists in Creation, I spent 6 days on it. Your ancestors Adam and Eve came on day 6. But on Day 7, I rested.

I didn’t need to rest, Matt. I rested to set aside a special time, a holy, sacred time, to enjoy Myself and all that I had created. I was creating something else by ceasing creating–I was creating the concept of rest. I, who never have to sleep, never grow weary, never have to relax–I’m God! I took a break from creating and rested. That last day I blessed, and made it a special day of enjoyment of Myself and My work.

Why do you think I was doing that, Matt? I was doing it to set out an example, a pattern for My people–to rest. O, I made work, too. And that’s awesome. It’s one of My better creations. My people should all work–put their hands and feet and brains to useful tasks. But I also created REST for them, rest from work and rest for the enjoyment of Me. I’m worth it! And that day that I broke from My creative work stands forever as a testimony of My value–I’m so awesome that I would stop and marvel and enjoy Myself and what I’ve done for a whole day.

Matt, tell My people on Sunday, that I not only created but rested; and therefore consecrated a day as an example of that rest for you to follow. Tell them that this is a gift from the beginning of the world for them to enjoy. (Gen 2:1-3)

Matt, you know that the Hebrew word to cease labor or to rest is “Sabbath.” And because I wanted My people to enjoy My gift of rest, I wrote it into law for the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) They needed a day that would be a marker for them–a weekly, spiritual reminder of My rest. I told them to remember it. To not forget it. To build it into their weeks, 1-2-3-4-5-6-Sabbath. 1-2-3-4-5-6-Sabbath. I wanted them to burn it into their minds and hearts that they need My rest. Rest from work and rest for Me.

That’s why I called it on that day, “a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” TO the LORD your God. This was to be a God-Day. To rest from labor and work and to spend their precious time worshiping Me.

Matt, I know human-beings. I know how forgetful you are in your fallen-state. You need reminders. I made the Sabbath a law for Israel because they could get to thinking that all that they have comes from their work. You do that, too. You think that because you have food in the fridge, it means that you’ve done something to earn it. But, Matt, who made your hands? Who made your feet? Who gave you energy to work? Who got you your job? Who gives you the beating heart and the breathing lung and the loud voice to do your work? Everything you have comes from Me–not from your work! That’s why I told Israel on the day we made our covenant in the wilderness that they should rest once a week–to remind them who really works in this relationship. If I say so, they will not have any more money or food or success even if they work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They need to recognize that ultimately–I provide. Not you. (cf. the spiritual lessons of Exodus 16.) That’s why they need to accept the gift of My rest.

I know you need reminders, Matt. Since the Fall, you always have. That’s why when I re-wrote the 10 Commandments into Deuteronomy, I stressed that the Sabbath exists to remember that Israel was formerly a slave in Egypt and that I, I alone, brought them out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deut. 5:15) The Sabbath existed for Israel as a reminder that I had saved them–and not themselves. Their work did not rescue them from Egypt. I did. And I had them set aside a day to ponder that reality.

Matt, I saved you, too. You could have worked and worked and worked for your salvation forever and ever and never earned it. Your fallen condition was too far gone to restore by your work. You are totally depraved. But, I chose you. And I killed My Son for you. And I got the gospel to you. And I caused you to believe it. And I am sanctifying you and saving you and making you holy, like Me and like My Son. That’s part of the rest here, Matt. Tell My people, that they can cease striving to gain My approval–it will never work. Tell your congregation, that they must accept My gift of rest. Rest from working for their salvation, and rest for finding it in Me and Me ALONE.

This is important, Matt. It’s very, very important. I established the death-penalty for those who broke the Sabbath in Israel under My Old Covenant. (Ex. 31:14) It’s that important. Tell the congregation at Lanse, that My rest is not to be ignored. They need it. They don’t just need physical rest every night and every 7 days; they need spiritual rest. Rest from work and rest for Me.

Tell them to delight in Me, Matt. That’s a large, often forgotten part of what it means to accept My rest. To Sabbathize. That’s what I told the people in Isaiah’s day. They had ignored My Sabbath Day. They were doing whatever they pleased, and not just work, but evil on My day! They were prostituting themselves with pagan idols and searching for happiness and joy in everything else but Me. That’s why I said through My prophet, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight (did you catch that Matt? Resting for Me is a delight!) If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your JOY in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. My mouth has said it!” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Tell them that accepting My rest means enjoying Me. Finding your joy in Me. Ultimate happiness is available to those who rest on Me. That’s what Sabbath is all about.

O, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law got it all mixed up. They focused on the cessation of work, what is work and what isn’t work–the outside of the commandment and missed the gift of rest that I was giving!

Matt, My Son Jesus had to correct them on that. When he would heal someone on the Sabbath, they got all upset (see for example Matt 12, John 5). Upset about nothing! The Sabbath was a gift for mankind. A gift they must not ignore, but a gift nonetheless. The day was supposed to signify rest, rest from work and rest for Me. But they had it turned around. They had made it work to rest! And Jesus had to tell them that it WAS lawful to heal on the Sabbath and to do good works, works of mercy and love. That out of the overflow of your rest in me should come acts of love. Rest from work and rest for Me and rest resulting in acts of love. And My Son should know. After all, He is Lord of the Sabbath, Ruler of Rest.

It’s not about what you can’t do on the Sabbath Day. It’s about what you can! Rest for Me and rest for your fellow man in acts of love. Rest is a gift. That’s the point. I am giving away blessings to those who will trust in Me. Salvation and provision and joy and the ability to love others. But you have to come and accept the gift. It was made for you, not the other way around.

Matt, tell them that’s why My Son issued that precious invitation: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you (trust Me, become related to Me intimately) and learn from Me (join My school of discipleship) for I am gentle and humble of heart (I won’t hurt you), and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29, see also v.30)

My Son was issuing My invitation to accept My gift of rest. Tell the people of the West Branch Area that that Sabbath gift is still available to whoever will receive and follow Him by faith. Accept the gift of My rest. I hold it out to you. Rest from work and rest for Me.

Tell them that My Son is the total embodiment of the Sabbath principle. Now that He’s come and died for the redeemed and been resurrected for My glory and His, now the Sabbath is no longer commanded as a Day. Now it’s a person! The principle of rest from your work and rest for Me continues forever. But the command to hallow one day in seven is no more. It is subsumed, like the ceremonial sacrifices and the clean and unclean food laws into the New Covenant. As I said through My servant Paul, the Sabbath was a shadow of the Rest to come in Jesus. (Col. 2:16-17, see also Galatians 4:10)

Some of My people will want to celebrate My Son’s Resurrection with a whole day given to rest and worship and meditation and prayer and fasting and enjoying Me. That’s a great idea. My holy apostles started that pattern of Sunday worship. Never let My people forget their continued obligation and privilege to meet to worship, receive instruction, fellowship with other believers, eat My memorial meal, and give of their resources in offering (John 20:1, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). But that is not the Sabbath. Every day in Jesus is now the Sabbath. Every day, I call you to accept the gift of my rest. Rest from thinking that you provide for yourself. Rest from thinking that you can save yourself. Rest from striving after other, lesser things to give you true and lasting joy. And rest in Me. Be still and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)

Don’t quibble over days, Matt. And don’t let the congregation do it, either. As I said through Paul to the Roman believers, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind–and do it as to the Lord” (Romans 14:5, see vv.6-8, too)

Don’t get either lazy or legalistic. Lazy in never resting in this way or legalistic in mandating for others how to rest and how not to rest. Tell My people that the point is accepting the gift of my rest and resting in Me.

One more thing, Matt. The fullest enjoyment of My rest is still to come. O, yes, it does get even better–in Me! That’s what I meant when I said in Hebrews, “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9) I wasn’t talking about a specific Day of 24 hours. I meant the full enjoyment of heaven–final salvation, where all striving against evil and striving with tired muscles at work and striving to figure out life and striving to make a living and striving to find joy anywhere else--where all that striving is over...and My rest and refreshment is all that you experience and enjoy forever. The refreshment of heaven! I make all things NEW and refreshing! (Revelation 21:5)

Many will not enjoy that rest, Matt. Many will be disobedient to My Gospel. Many will do nothing to enter into that rest because of the hardness of their unbelieving hearts. Don’t be like those who fell in the wilderness!

Exhort the people gathered at Lanse on Sunday to enter into My rest by FAITH. To put their full confidence in Me and Me alone. To cease their striving after the wind and rest in Me. Because if they live their lives like that now, they will enjoy My rest forever.

The rest that I began after I put you in the cradle of Eden will continue forever and ever and ever and ever if you trust in Me. Hold firmly to that confidence you had at first and you will have an eternal Sabbath. That’s what I want for My people.

Tell them that, Matt. Tell them I love them and to accept and live by the gift of My rest.

Sincerely and for the Glory of My Name,
The Lord Your God

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Matt's Messages - Love Your God

"Love Your God"
May 15, 2005
Exodus 20:1-11


We have reached the 10 Commandments!

In chapter 19, God Himself descended upon Mount Sinai in thunder and lightning and cloud with a loud trumpet blast and holy fire. And from that mountain on fire, God spoke the 10 Commandments.

Now, a very lot could be said about these 10 Commandments (and has, in fact!). I preached an entire sermon on each commandment back in the Summer of 2000 (which we hope to put up on the lansefree.org website this week for anyone interested). We could easily preach a sermon series on each commandment! Christians have seen a LOT here in these 10 Commandments over the last 3000 years.

But this time through the Book of Exodus, I want to cover them in just 2 weeks. We’re going to cover the first 4 this week. We already covered the 5th, really, last week. And we’ll cover the last 5 next week on Graduate Sunday.

And here’s where I get that. Matthew chapter 22. The Pharisees had heard that the Lord Jesus had confounded the Sadducees. So, they sent an expert in the Law of Moses to test Him. They were hoping to trip Jesus up. And the expert in the Law asked him, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Do you see what they wanted to do? They wanted to trap Him. If He said that one commandment was more important than another, perhaps they could catch him in a blasphemy or a contradiction. But Jesus is never caught. He wisely answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [And then He said,] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor.

All of the Law hangs on (is suspended upon) these two commandments.

Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor.
Do you want the Law and the Prophets boiled down?
Do you want to know how to hang the Law and the Prophets in one place?
Do you want to get a handle on (a summary) of what the whole Old Testament demands?

Jesus says, "Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor."

At the risk of much oversimplification, I’d like to study the 10 Commandments with you with the first 4 commandments telling us how to love the Lord our God (this week) and the last 6 commandments telling us how to love our neighbors (next week).

Now, that is an oversimplification. Because obeying all of these commands (including the last 6) amounts to loving God. And there are certainly interpersonal dimensions in the first 4 commandments (loving others). But in general, the first 4 teach us how to love our God and the last 6 teach us how to love our neighbor.

It’s important before we go applying these 10 Commandments to ourselves to remember that they were given in a particular context. Exodus 20 does not address us first and foremost. It addresses Old Testament Israel. Verse 1 says that God spoke all these words to the Israelites camped at the base of the Mountain of God.

These commandments were for them. They were the establishment of Israelite Law for the new nation that had been rescued from Egypt. It’s only after we understand how they were to be followed by Israel and then we think about how they were brought through or changed in the Law of Christ in the New Covenant that we apply them to ourselves.

V.1 "And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’"

This is the first commandment.

It begins with a reminder of Who God is. God is a Rescuer!

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

I am a Rescuer. These commandments that I am giving you today are based on grace. Because I rescued you, I am now giving you my Law.

These laws are not to save you. I have already done that. These laws are here because I have saved you to make you holy like me and so you know how to operate as my people.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."

LOVE YOUR GOD (#1) FIRST AND FOREMOST.

"You shall have no other gods before me."

No competition. No rivals. No one else in the position that rightly belongs to God.

YHWH makes the ultimate claim on Israel’s loyalty. YHWH demands from His people their unyielding faithfulness to Him and to Him alone–the position of preeminence in their hearts and lives.

This is how God feels about Himself as God. Isaiah 42:8 sings the same song, "I am LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another..." No other gods!

And the Lord Jesus says "What is the Greatest Commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

Love God First and Foremost.

To love God means to have Him be first and foremost in our lives.

Now, there are obvious "other gods" like Baal and Molech and Dagon and Ashteroth and Chemosh, and the pantheon of gods the Israelites just left behind in Egypt. Gods of fertility and nature. Gods represented by idols. Gods worshiped by the Canaanites and the Philistines and the Assyrians and the Babylonians. These gods would be a natural target for the LORD's exclusion (because they would be a natural temptation for the LORD's people). And they are ruled out. And therefore, Allah and Buddha and Krishna and Vishnu and all the other named gods of the religions of our world today are ruled out for us, as well.

But there are also other gods that aren’t as obvious. To "have another God" like verse 3 says, means to put something or someone in the place of the true God. That means whether they are an accepted Canaanite god with a name like Baal or Molech or something as trivial as a plate of brownies or a savings account or a favorite sports team or a spouse or a boyfriend or a child or a parent or a home or a job–if these things take the place that God deserves and demands, they have become another god. And the Lord will allow no other gods before Him.

We are called to love God first and foremost.

Here’s a set of questions that I developed several years ago to diagnose whether or not I am loving God or have another god before Him.

#1. Who or what do I want to get most intimate with?
#2. In whom or in what do I find my identity?
#3. Who or what do I run to first in a crisis?
#4. Where do I find my security?
#5. Who or what am I spending the bulk of my time, resources, and energy on?
#6. Where do I find my significance?
#7. Who or what am I primarily rejoicing in?
#8. Where do I find my satisfaction?

The answers to those questions will go a long way to showing me who or what is first and foremost in my heart.

God wants to be.

Gloriously, the opposite of this command–"You shall have no other gods before me."–is "You shall have me (the LORD, YHWH, Jesus) as your God! I will be your main love, your main trust, your main master, your main delight!"

And He is so worth it!

Love Your God First and Foremost.

#2. LOVE YOUR GOD AS HE REALLY IS. V.4

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

This is the second commandment.

Love Your God As He Really Is.

We might think that this command is just a restatement of the first.

And while that is true to some degree, other deities and pagan idols are ruled out by this command, this command is actually not about other gods. But about the LORD Himself, the true God.

While the 1st commandment told us who to worship (the LORD alone!), the 2nd commandment tells us how to worship.

There are two parts to this commandment. (V.4) "You shall not make for yourself an idol" (or a graven image), and (v.5) "You shall not bow down to them or worship them." Don't make an idol, and don't use it in worship!

That's the second commandment.

But, again, this is not just don't make an idol of another god (like Baal, or Ashteroth, or Chemosh, or Dagon), but don't make an image of YHWH, the true God.

The first commandment already rules out images of other gods. If you are to have no other gods ,you definitely aren't supposed to bow to idols of them.
The 2nd commandment is talking about making idols that represent YHWH.

This is really clear in Deuteronomy chapter 4. Moses says, (verse 15):

"You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourself an idol (Do you see the logic? You didn't see a form of the LORD, therefore don't make an idol), (v.16) an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like an animal on earth or a bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the water below."

Deuteronomy 4 explains that this prohibition is against making pictures or statues for worship of the LORD in the form of anything found in the universe (above, on, or below the earth!) because they have never seen the true form of God.

The 1st Commandment told us WHO to worship (Worship the LORD alone and no other!)

The 2nd Commandment tells us HOW to worship the LORD (not with idols or images of the LORD!).

There are dangers in making and using in worship images of the true God.

Here are three:

First, every image of God distorts the glory of God in some way. No image can represent who God really is. He is too great and awesome to be boiled down into an image.

Second, we always begin to treat the image of God as God. We begin to think that God is what we have represented Him to be. And we begin to treat the image as God Himself. We begin to try to access God through the image.

And third, when we make idols we begin to think that we can control God. In the Ancient Middle East, it was often thought that if you made your god out of wood or iron then you had some pull with that god. After all, you made it! If your god is a god of your own making, you can get the idea that you own that god and that it should do what you desire.

The LORD will not allow that! God will not be controlled! He alone is sovereign over His choices. He makes us! He will not allow us to begin to think that we control Him.

The second commandment stands to warn us away from making God to be something that He is not. God wants us to worship Him in reality, not in half-truths or falsehoods.

He won’t allow us to customize Him. He wants us to love Him as He really is.

Have you ever heard someone say, "My God would never do that?" And fill in the blank for something that God is said to do or be in Scripture.

"My God is gracious (not holy), my God is love (not righteousness), my God is forgiving (not angry at sin)."

People want a God of their own making. They want to customize God.

Stuart Briscoe says, "As Christians we may do this by trying to turn God into some kind of celestial Santa Claus. We don't like the God of Scripture and much prefer the one in our fantasy world...whittl[ing] God down, suit[ing] Him to our way of doing things, fit[ting] Him into a ‘comfortable’ pattern that does not harm our own ideas or challenge our way of thinking." (Playing by the Rules, Briscoe, 45-47)

But that is not God! And if we worship the god of our own making, we worship a false-god and are breaking the 1st Commandment, too.

We Need to Love Our God As He Really Is.

I know people who think that God is an ogre, someone to be avoided like the plague. The truth is that we have the plague, and He is the cure. But they have constructed a god in their own minds that is manageable and tame.

I know people who think that God is a grandfather type who loves everybody and just looks the other way when people sin. The truth is that God cannot look upon sin without judging it. But they have constructed a god in their own minds that is manageable and tame.

I know people who say that "their" God would never send someone to Hell or never call them personally to share the gospel, or never care about whom they date or marry. The Bible teaches the truth, but they have constructed a god in their own minds that is manageable and tame.

Are you customizing your own God?

Or are you loving your God as He really is?

Because He really cares about this. He is a "jealous God." V.5

"You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

The LORD is a jealous God.

Now, you may have been taught at some time that jealousy is a bad thing. And sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't!

Jealousy is a passionate desire to possess or enjoy something.

And it’s a good thing to be jealous if you have legitimate rights to that thing you want to possess or enjoy. And it’s a bad thing if you don’t.

Marriage is a great example. Jealousy is not being naturally suspicious or distrustful of your spouse, but passionately desiring that your bond be unbroken by the establishing of any other competing bond. As the vows say, your spouse is for you to have and to hold "forsaking all others."

It is right and good for a husband to be jealous for the affection his wife. It is right and good for a wife to be jealous for the affection of her husband. By marriage, you have a right to one another that gives that righteous jealousy a fitting home.

Now, take that idea of righteous jealousy (sometimes called "Zeal") and stretch it up to fit our God's jealousy for ...what?...His glory! God desires to possess and enjoy His glory at work in the worship of His people so much that He diligently, passionately pursues His own glory.

And customizing God, reducing God to an idol or a graven image vastly negates His glory. So He won’t have it.

How committed is God to His glory? Unswervingly, Unstoppably Committed.

V.5 "Punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

God is so dedicated to His being loved as He really is that He will not stop, He will not swerve until He is known truly.

Now, some have looked at v.5 and proclaimed God as unfair. It looks like God punishes people for something they have not done, (KJV) "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children."

But that's not what it's saying. It's saying that you cannot wear God down with your idol-making, God-hating behavior even if you pass it down from generation to generation. If you lead your family to hate God (notice it says "to those who hate me" and that includes the children who grow to hate God, too), if you lead your family to hate God, God will not back down in opposing you with the consequences. You will not win! Go ahead, bring your whole family (great-grandchild, great-great grandchild) and still God's judgment of your sin will not be stopped. You cannot wear Him down with your iniquity! So don't even think about it!

God is unswervingly opposed to those who oppose Him.

But the flip-side is so much more glorious! V.6 "But [the LORD shows] love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments."

When you love the LORD as He really is, He loves you back and is faithful beyond imaginable measure to you and your family that you teach to love Him!
"[The LORD shows] love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments."

Love Your God As He Really Is. He’s jealous for it.

Do you know Who He is? Knowing that means a lot of Bible reading. And a lot of prayer.

Do you love Him for Who He is? Or are you just customizing a God to your liking?

Love the Real God and He Will Love You Back In Unbelievable Faithfulness

#3. LOVE YOUR GOD IN HOLY REVERENCE. V.7

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

This is the third commandment. It comes with a threat. "The LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

God is holy. And His name is holy. It should be treated reverently.

The name of God stands for the reputation and character of God. His name carries the meaning of Who He is.

And our jealous God cares a lot about Who He is known to be. Therefore, His name must be treated reverently.

If you and I love Him, we will use His name in holy reverence.

At root, this commandment is about valuing the name of the LORD.

The King James translates this, "using the LORD’s name in vain" or emptily without valuing it.

Now, this could mean a lot of things.

The name of the Lord should not be used to curse in profanity.
Using God’s name as profanity is saying, "This name is so worthless that I can use it to mean excrement and make it a filthy thing."

"God will not hold guiltless anyone who misuses his name."

The Name of the Lord should not be used to control God like it’s some kind of magic. Like we can control God by using His name as an incantation. God will not be controlled.

The name of the Lord should not be used casually in carelessness.
God’s name is not revealed for us to take lightly and use as a convenient expression when we are angry, surprised, or scared.

"Oh, my God." should always be a deeply felt prayer directed or it should not exit our lips. God’s name is worth much, much, more than that brothers and sisters! "God will not hold guiltless anyone who misuses his name."

We can get to acting like God is a "light thing." But He is not.

If we love Him, we must love Him in holy reverence.

How do you treat God? How are you using His name?

Elton Trueblood says "the worst [violation of the 3rd Commandment is] not profanity but lip-service."

Love Your God With Holy Reverence.

And #4. LOVE YOUR GOD WITH HOLY TRUST. The Sabbath command. V.8

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

Now, there is a lot in those four verses. And the Sabbath takes a lot of twists and turns as it winds through the pages of Scripture. You notice how it comes from Creation. That YHWH rested, so should they. And it relates to how the Israelites were to treat their slaves and animals and neighbors. Everyone was to rest, not just the wealthy who could afford it. There’s a lot here in these 4 verses, and there is a lot of controversy about how they are to be applied to New Testament Christians like ourselves. I’ll refer you to the website to read my take on that from five years ago.

What I want to point out today is how this 4th commandment is a call to trust YHWH. All commandments are a call to trust God in some ways. You only really keep them if you have faith.

But this is a specific call to faith for people living in an agrarian hand-to-mouth society.

Remember the manna?

For six days they were to collect it, but on the Sabbath there would be none. They had to trust God for His provision. If they didn’t do the work, then God would have to provide. And they would have to trust Him.

This 4th commandment (though it became a burden under the Pharisees) was actually a gift. The gift of God’s rest. And the Israelites, following God’s example of setting aside a day to be holy were to accept God’s gift of rest. And trust Him for it.

And if you and I love our God, we will do the same.

We will love Him with holy trust. With confidence that He has worked so that we can rest in Him.

There is a time to work, for sure. But God, who has brought us out of Egypt (so to speak), out of the land of slavery, has called us to trust Him and accept His gift of rest.

In the New Testament, I believe that the Sabbath is no longer a Day but is now a Person–incarnate in Christ.

And we come to Him for rest. We put our trust in Him.

The One who said, "Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor" also said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

So, stop your striving.

Striving to impress people.
Striving to impress God.
Striving to earn your way into heaven.
Striving to make your life work on your own strength.

Stop your striving.

And come to Him.

That’s what we mean by a love relationship with Jesus Christ.

Love Your God First and Foremost. No other gods before Him.
Love Your God As He Really Is. Don’t customize Him. He’s jealous for His glory.
Love Your God With Holy Reverence. Value His name. Value His glory.
Love Your God With Holy Trust. Stop your striving and come to Him in faith.

Love Your God.

Free (& Excellent) Books

My favorite living Christian author is John Piper. A number of his books are available for free online (need Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Here's the list:
A God-Entranced Vision of All Things
A Compilation on Jonathan Edwards' Legacy Edited With Justin Taylor


A Hunger for God
Fasting

Counted Righteous in Christ
The Imputation of Christ's Righteousness

Don't Waste Your Life
A Call to the Things that Last

Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist
Piper's Foundational Work

God's Passion for His Glory
Meditations on Edwards and an Entire Annotated Edwards Book

Life as a Vapor
Various Meditations on Scripture

The Passion of Jesus Christ
50 Reasons Why Jesus Suffered and Died

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
Meditations on the Person of Christ

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
An Incredible Resource on Biblical Complentarity Between the Sexes Co-Edited with Wayne Grudem

When I Don't Desire God
How to Fight for Joy in the Christian Life

All of these books are given away for free! I have read or am in the process of reading each of these books, and heartily commend them to anyone.

Here's My Girl


Robin Joy, my almost 5 year old wonder! What a sweetheart. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Contender

I'm still thinking about searching for a "historical hero" (see my previous post). But I may have a contender. Yesterday, I listened to John Piper deliver an biographical message on the life of Adoniram Judson. It was so moving that I actually wept in my car. Judson lived a painful missionary life in Burma (present day Myanmar), but God designed and used his sufferings to plant a healthy, fruit-bearing church in what was a godless and hostile soil. Praise Him!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rise Up and Call Her Blessed


My bride, Heather Joy, with her kids and her Mother's Day gift--a flowering crabapple tree. We plan to take this same picture every year on Mother's Day to watch the kids and the tree grow (and my wife bloom in Christ!).Posted by Hello

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:28-30)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Matt's Messages - How to Make a [Godly] Momma Happy

"How to Make A [Godly] Momma Happy"
May 8, 2005
Ephesians 6:1-4

Finish this sentence for me:

"If Momma ain’t happy?..." ["Ain’t...nobody happy!"]

What makes Momma happy?

Well, on this Mother’s day, I can think of all kinds of things that make Mommas happy:

When their kids are happy, when their kids are doing well in school or in their careers or in their relationships. When their kids give them flowers. When their kids give them grandkids. When their whole family gathers around the big table for the big meal.

Lots of things make Mommas happy. And I hope there are lots of happy Mommas here at church this morning!

When I was trying to decide whether or not to just keep going on in Exodus this week or to do a special Mother’s Day message today, my mind did a jump from Exodus 20 and the 5th commandment (which is verse 12) to the way that the Apostle Paul picks up that commandment and uses it in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 1 through 4. That’s where we’re going to be today. I think it really fits Mother’s Day. Paul quotes the 5th commandment (Exodus 20, verse 12) in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 1 through 4. Pew Bible Page #1159.

These are 4 verses on Christian parenting that are a part of the Apostle Paul’s explanation of what the Spirit-filled and submissive life looks like.

And what struck me this week, as I was pondering this [while pushing my lawnmower back and forth and back and forth across the lawn to make Robin’s Momma happy] what struck me was that even though these 4 verses are all about Christian parenting, the focus is not on the Mommas, but on the other members of the family: the kids and the dads.

And it struck me that a Godly Momma would be very happy if the kids and the dads in our Christian families did what God tells them to do right here in Ephesians 6:1-4.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (NIV)

Let’s pray and then talk about how to make a [Godly] Momma happy.

[prayer]

Here’s how to make a [Godly] Momma happy.

Number one. This is for the kids.

#1. KIDS, OBEY AND HONOR YOUR MOM & DAD.

V.1 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

Obey your parents.

Now, let me ask you a trick question. Let’s see how close you are paying attention to the Bible. What do you think are the 3 most important words in v.1? What are the 3 most important words in verse 1? Kids, what do you think?

You might guess that the words, "Obey your parents" are the most important because they tell you WHAT to do and to WHOM. You are to do what Mom and Dad say. When they give you some instructions, you are to carry them out. "Obey your parents." You know what that means. We tell our kids that "to obey means to do what I say right away." And that’s important. But "obey your parents" are NOT the most important words in that sentence.

The three most important words are "in the Lord." Because "in the Lord" tells us WHY and HOW to obey. That’s the most important thing you can know about this command!

Christian children are called to obey their parents IN THE LORD.
Now, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that you are only to obey your parents if they are Christians. Some of your parents are probably not Christians. But "in the Lord" does not mean only if they are "in the Lord."

"In the Lord" means 2 things:

First, obey BECAUSE of the Lord. And second, obey LIKE you would the Lord. Obey because of the Lord and obey like you would the Lord.

Does that make sense? Are you still with me, kids?

"The Lord" is the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants kids to obey their parents. So, if you believe in Jesus BECAUSE of that, you are called to obey your parents.

I can imagine that some of you don’t like to do the dishes or take out the garbage or clean your room or put away your toys or go to bed or limit your phone-time or turn off the television when asked. [Anyone here like that?] But when Mom or Dad says it’s time to do that, God is asking you to remember what He has commanded of you.

If you are "in the Lord," then He wants you to obey them. Don’t give them a hard time about it. Do it. They are in charge. Not because they are bigger and stronger (or better) but because God has placed them in a position of authority over you. So, obey IN THE LORD.

Second, "in the Lord" means LIKE YOU WOULD the Lord. Imagine if Jesus Himself showed up and asked you to take out the garbage. Would you? I sure hope so! If you don’t think you would, then you don’t really know who Jesus is yet!

That’s what it means to obey IN THE LORD. It means to treat your Mom and Dad like you would treat Jesus. Is that always easy? No. But God will help you to do it if you remember that you are IN THE LORD.

Notice the last phrase of this verse. God says, "obey your parents in the Lord for this is right."

To obey is the right thing to do. That’s how God has designed the family.

This week on the National Day of Prayer we prayed again for our military in "harm’s way" around the world. Imagine for a second that the US Marines did not have a design and structure. Imagine if there were no commanding officers. And when the soldiers went running through Iraq with guns nobody was in charge. And one of them yells, "Shoot over there!" And someone else yells back, "No, I don’t want to! Shoot over here!" And somebody else yelled, "No, I don’t want to! Shoot over here!" Do you think they would ever win a battle? Never. They probably wouldn’t even survive!

That’s one of the reasons why God has designed families to work in this in this way. He puts someone in charge of the family so that they can win spiritual battles for Him. And Moms and Dads are the commanding officers of the family.

So, kids, obey your Mom and Dad IN THE LORD (because of the Lord and like you would the Lord), for this is right.

And more than just obey: honor. V.2

"‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’"

Here’s where Paul is quoting Exodus chapter 20. He’s pointint out that obedience to parents is part of a bigger command that God gave way back in the 10 Commandments. Obeying is a part of honoring. And its not just young children who are called to honor. Children who still live at home are called to obey. All children are called to honor.

So, kids (and all of us are kids of one age or another!), obey and HONOR your Mom and Dad.

"`Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–`that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’"

To honor someone means to value, to prize, to make someone big, to enlarge their reputation, to give them respect and appreciation and esteem and dignity and status and consideration.

I like to boil "honor" down into 5 words:

Honor = Obey + Respect + Thank + Love + Care

We already talked about Obey.

"Respect" means to recognize their unique position in your life and treat them with the esteem and value and consideration due them.

It especially comes out in the way that you talk about them to others. Guys, how do you talk about your father to your friends? Are you always complaining? Or talking them up? Young ladies, what are you doing to your Mother’s reputation? Are you enhancing it with your friends or poking fun at her and hurting her in their eyes. Respect.

"Thank" is obvious. But often overlooked. When was the last time you honored your parents with a "Thank-You" for what they’ve done well? And not just on Mother’s Day!

"Love" means to actively seek their best. Show affection for them. Hug your Dad, he’ll love it! Kiss your Mom, she’ll love it! Tell them about your love for them. They will be honored.

"Care" is when it flips over the other way. Maybe now you are stronger, more able to get around, more financially free, but they need you to honor them by taking care of them. Fix what needs done around the house. Yes, mow their lawn! Arrange for hospital visits, nursing care, take them into your homes.

God calls us to honor our Moms and Dads. None of us are excused from this command.

And Paul points out that this commandment came with a promise. I love it when God does this. He calls us to honor and then tells us what things are going to happen when we do. And you can sum it up with one word: blessing.

Expect blessing when you honor your folks.

Look at v.3. It’s the promise:

"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

Now, I admit sometimes when I read this, I think of Bill Cosby’s famous line, "Son, I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" In other words, Paul is saying that your folks won’t kill you if you honor them!

But God isn’t talking so much about how our parents will treat us, as how He will treat us when we obey His commands for us.

God promises quality and (to some extent) quantity of life for those who honor their parents.

Sometimes it’s hard to honor our parents. We all know stories of children from dysfunctional families where alcohol and abuse have reigned that have had to overcome great odds to even admit that someone is their father or mother. Maybe your parents have been a disappointment to you in some major way. But God is bigger than those disappointments. They are holding you back, but God is calling you forward–to honor (obey, respect, thank, love, care for) your parents. And when you do, there is blessing on the way.

Tedd Tripp, in his excellent little book Shepherding a Child’s Heart calls this the "Circle of Blessing."

When we are honoring our parents (and for those of you still young and at home that includes obeying them), we are operating in the Circle of Blessing. And inside that circle is a good and gracious place to live!

It will "go well with you" and you will "enjoy long life on the earth."

But when we disobey, when we dishonoring, we are stepping outside that Circle of Blessing. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us anymore. Or that all is lost. It does mean that we are in danger. It does mean that a loving God and loving parents for children still at home need to discipline us back into the safe circle.

Are you living in the circle of blessing right now? Or are you in danger?

Kids, make your Momma happy, and obey and honor her and your Dad.

Make this practical today. What actions should you be taking to fix disobedience and dishonor in your relationship with your folks? What actions can you take to move towards quick obedience and to honor your Mom and Dad?

Maybe you want to write something down on the back of your bulletin.

If you are a kid still living in your parents’ home right now, maybe you want to focus on some aspect of obedience that you have been falling down on recently. Your Mom or Dad has been asking you to do...what? And you haven’t or you haven’t done it quickly and or you’ve been giving too many questions or objections. Right it down and do something about it.

Or maybe your application is going to be about honoring. Maybe you need to change the way you talk about your Dad or your Mom to your friends. Maybe you need to write a Thank-You note today (or every day this week!) to thank them for a job well done. Or maybe there’s something they need done around their home. Or maybe they need a phone call or a listening ear. Or maybe they are gone and their memory needs to be honored in some way (a journal entry, a story told about them to your children, a phone call to their nearest living relative, something like that). Write it down in your application box with a prayer for God’s help in doing it, and then rejoice in the blessing that God has in store for you. "It will go well with you." ...

And it will make a Godly Momma happy.

Number Two. This is for the Dads.

#2. DADS, LOVINGLY DISCIPLE YOUR KIDS. V.4

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Notice that it says, "Fathers." Not "Mothers." That does NOT mean that Moms are not called to this kind of ministry to their children. They are.

But it does mean that Dads have a special calling to lead spiritually in the home.

God has designed the family in such a way as to place the Father in the position of authority. More than the mother, the family (especially the family’s spiritual condition) is the leadership responsibility of the father.

Dads, did you hear that? God is calling you to lead your family spiritually. No exceptions. Do you see an exception in this verse? No question that moms are important! But, God is looking you in the eye and asking you to take responsibility for the spiritual direction of your kids.

It doesn’t matter if your wife is better at it than you are (mine certainly is!). It doesn’t matter if your mother was the spiritual leader in your family. It doesn’t matter if your wife gets to spend much more time with them than you do. It doesn’t matter if all the other dads you know are trying to get out of it. You have read this verse. You are called to it. It says, "Fathers."

The greatest social crisis of our American culture today is the abandonment of the responsibilities of the family by fathers. We are becoming a father-less society. And it is an abomination to the Lord. Because that’s not how God has designed the family. This is God’s design. And as a nation, we are drifting farther and farther from it. And it’s happened in the church. The church in Central Pennsylvania is full of mother-led families.

And there are families that have to be like that. Single mothers. Divorced situations. Families where the fathers are unbelievers. And God has much grace for you if you are in that situation.

But woe to the men who are abdicating their role!

Dads, let’s take back responsibility for the spiritual leadership of our homes.

I guarantee that a Godly Momma will be happy that we do. It might take them a while to get used to it (!), but they will be happy that you are leading.

I asked my wife yesterday, "Would you be happy if your children obeyed and honored you and I took responsibility to lovingly disciple the kids?"

"Would I ever!"

Dads, we need to get busy. V.4

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children." Stop there.

He starts out negatively: Don’t do this.

Don’t exasperate your children. With the authority and power of leadership comes the responsibility of self-control and reasonableness in its use.

"Exasperate" is a big word that means to bother, to disturb, to annoy, to chafe, to irk, to irritate, to vex. The King James Version had it right, "Provoke not your children to wrath." Don’t parent in such a way that you create an angry child.

Dads, this is just as important as your children learning to obey you.

You need to be the kind of dad worth obeying.

What kind of things create an angry child? Let me give you a quick list:
- Unreasonable demands. Can they do what you are asking?
- Petty rules. Is there really a reason you are asking this of them?
- Favoritism. They will know if you like one better than another.
- Unrighteous Anger. They will learn it from you.
- Unfairness. Did you say one thing and then do another?
- Humiliation. Nothing breaks the spirit as much as public shaming.
- Abuse. The anger will build and build and then you’ve lost them.
- And neglect. You’ve got to pour your time and attention into them so that they won’t grow in anger and resentment.

Does this mean that you are not to cross their will? Does this mean that you are to pussyfoot around your children so that they never get upset with you? No. That would turn the home upside down.

There once was a boy who was running away from home (had his pack over his back and everything), and a policeman drove by and asked him, "Sonny, what are you doing?" The little boy said, "I’m running away from home." "Why are you doing that?" "Because Mother and Dad won’t obey me anymore!" was his reply. Unfortunately, there are too many families like that!

No, this doesn’t mean that you never make them mad. It means that you don’t make them mad for no good reason! It doesn’t mean don’t put your foot down so that they are always happy with you. It means put your foot down in a reasonable place with a view towards their long-term good not your short-term comfort!

One of my favorite authors put it this way, "`Paul says, "Don't provoke your children to anger.’ What does he mean? He doesn't mean don't cross their will. He doesn't mean don't deny their desires. He means don't cross their will for no good purpose. Don't deny their desires without making it a part of some great vision of God's purposes in the world. Show your children something great to live for, so that when you cross their will and deny their desire it's because you are fitting them for some great purpose of God!

Anger comes from feeling that a parent's rules are petty and trivial–that they don't have anything to do with something really great or important. But a child who sees that the rules of the home and their consistent enforcement are connected to some great vision of life and some great cause to live for will not harbor resentment toward their parents. They will be like young soldiers who may complain now and then about the toughness of the training but would die any day with the captain, because the cause he stands for is so great. Parents who don't see discipline as part of some great vision of what their children might become for God will wind up using discipline to increase their own private comfort. And children will see that and eventually become angry." (John Piper, Raising Children Who Hope in the Triumph of God, Morning Sermon, 05/08/88)

Don’t exasperate your children.

Instead, v.4, "Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

The words "Bring them up" means to meet their needs–especially spiritually. Many parents only go so far with this. They meet their children’s needs for food, clothing, shelter, education, and security, but they miss the most important one!

Dads are called by God to bring up their children (nourish their children) in the training of the Lord.

Just like "in the Lord" was the most important three words of v.1, "of the Lord" is the most important words of v.4. "Of the Lord."

This is all about Jesus!

Dads, you are called to bring up your children so that they are trained of the Lord.

The word "trained" in the NIV is the same word used elsewhere for discipline. It means using whatever means are at your disposal to move your children to know, fear, trust, obey, and love Jesus. It includes discipline in the home (spankings!) but it’s more than that, and this points everything toward the Lord. It is discipline or training so that your children come to know, fear, trust, obey, and love Jesus.

It will look different at different ages.

When they are really little, it means praying for them and talk about Jesus with them before they know much about Who He is.

When they get a little older, it means reading them good Christian books. We have a bunch in our children’s library. I could give you a long list of those that we think are really helpful.

It means praying with them. And using teachable moments. And bringing Jesus into everything (because everything is about Him!).

It means the Rod. It means spankings because God has called us to love our children away from the danger of disobedience and into the circle of blessing.

And it means instruction, too. Which is the last word here.

"Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

This is using words: teaching, admonishing, warning, correcting, entreating. Appealing to their conscience. Showing them the way of God.

Instructing them.

Dads, this is your responsibility.

Formally and informally, we are called to instruct our children in the Lord.

In our home, we have just begun a catechism for Robin and Andrew. It has 77 questions with simple age-appropriate answers. I expect that by this time next year, both of them will have all 77 answers memorized.

Question #2 is "Why am I here?" The answer is: "God gave me life to live for Him."

What’s that? "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

It’s my job to teach those things to my children.

Dads, it’s your job, too.

Don’t expect the church to do this for you! The Sunday School and Children’s Church and Kids for Christ and ABC Kids and Uth Group are helpful in coming alongside and enhancing what you are doing at home, but they are woefully inadequate to turn your children into fully loving followers of Jesus like God wants them to be. By God’s grace, that’s your job!

And Moms, that’s your job, too. To follow Dad’s lead in instructing your children in the ways of God. Especially, if there is no Christian father in the picture.

Do it! I’m calling you now to make an application.

Dads, what do you need to put in place so that you are lovingly discipling your kids?

A Bible memory program at home?
Family devotions at the dinner table or at bedtime?
A trip back to the church library to get some good books to feed into your kids?
An attitude adjustment?

Let me tell you what we do at home every night. We could do more and probably need to. You aren’t supposed to just do whatever we do, but maybe this will spark for you some ideas of what to do with your family.

After we get everybody in their pyjamas, we meet in the living room on the couch. That’s one full couch! Actually, right now, Isaac gets his bottle from Mommy in another chair. But everybody else is on the couch.

And we get out the globe and we find a country (of the week) that we can pray for. And normally figure out something about that country that we can learn or remind ourselves of, like who we know that lives there. Missionaries, etc.

And then we go over our catechism question. In the past, Christian children had a wealth of good theology stored up in their hearts and minds by exposure to good catechisms. We go over the question before and the question we are working on.

And we also focus in on some other Bible story or spiritual book.

And then we pray together. I always pray for the children. And then we sing, "Trust and Obey" and we are training and instructing them in how to be happy in Jesus every night when we sing it. And then the kids pile off of the couch and sit in other chairs in the living room (they get to choose) and we sing songs about Jesus four or five of them. And then we have smooches, and we head off to our bedrooms.

But it doesn’t end there. In our bedrooms we have prayers. The boys pray together with Mommy and me. I lead. I ask Drew to pray, and thank Jesus for the good gifts that He has given him today. And both Mommy and I pray for each boy.

And then, Mommy sings with the boys while I go back and read another Bible story to Robin from our special book, just for the two of us. Last night was about King Uzziah. And then after tucking in the boys, Mommy and I kneel with Robin at her bed and pray with her.

But that’s not the end. After I have prayed for Robin, I leave and Heather has one-on-one time with Robin, too. They have been reading stories about great Christians from church history (called Hero Tales), and they sing together, too. It was in one of those times this January that Robin indicated that she had come to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins and eternal life. Robin said that she was now a "found-sheep," no longer lost and wandering from the fold.

And then, Mommy finally closes the door.

That particular bedtime ritual isn’t for everyone. It probably takes us 45 minutes every night to go through that ritual.

But it is time well spent!

We are trying to bring up Robin, Andrew, Peter, and Isaac in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

It’s our calling. It’s God’s command. And we can’t ignore it.

Dads, what do you need to put in place with your kids?

If your kids are older, is it time for a family Bible study?

Maybe you could study together last week’s sermon text and read ahead and talk about the passage that is coming up for the next week’s sermon?

Maybe you could go over the application questions from each week’s message with your kids.

Are you teaching your kids about Christ? About good theology? How to pray? How to serve in church in a ministry? About a Christian world-view? About the evils of abortion and racism? About what it means to be a godly man or a godly woman?

Dads, lovingly disciple your kids.

Don’t exasperate them, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Kids, Obey and Honor Your Mom & Dad.
Dads, Lovingly Disciple Your Kids.

And it will make your [godly] Momma happy.

But more than that, it will please your God.