Saturday, June 28, 2014

Our Jealous God -- Exodus 20:5-6


You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing loving-kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
 
Some have wondered whether it is okay for a creative person to paint or sculpt an image of the things that God spoke about in the previous text (Exodus 20:4) when He said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”  We have a good understanding of what is ‘on the earth below’ and ‘in the water under the earth’.  We have seen or captured these creatures and can easily replicate their image.  I am not so sure we can do that with all of the heavenly beings that are ‘in heaven above’.  But nevertheless, it is possible for us to image what they look like and as long as we understand and convey that what we have drawn or sculpted is only what we imagine them to look like, I see no problem.  We would be using the creative abilities that the Creator Himself has bestowed upon some of us.  For me, it is not a matter of “thou shalt not make art” but that if you make art of such images, “thou shalt not worship or serve them” as our current text that follows Exodus 20:4 says.
It is interesting Exodus 20:5 mentions both ‘worshiping’ and ‘serving’.  What’s the difference when it comes to other gods?  The New Oxford Dictionary defines ‘worship’ pertaining to a deity as follows:
The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.
The acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity.
It is about how we view the object or person of our worship.  The word ‘serve’ on the other hand is defined in terms of what we do for or on behalf of others. 
Many times we are careful not to “worship” anyone but the true God, but do we ‘serve’ other gods in our actions?  Using some of the definitions of the Oxford dictionary for ‘serve’, are we:
1.     Providing something or someone a service or product we should not be providing?
2.     Employed by someone or an organization we should not be employed by?
3.     Apprenticing in something or with someone we should not be?
4.     Imprisoned by someone or something we should not be a prisoner to?
God would have us not worship or serve any other gods, but Him.  We are to act and live our lives for Him and on His behalf.  Once we establish that He is our God, we then also have to accept the fact that He is a jealous God as He states.  And He is the only one who has every right to be.  Not only did He create the universe in which we exist, but also He created us in the way that He did – with our ability to think and act in accordance with our free will (this too being a gift of His).  With that free will our first ‘father’ and ‘mother’ chose to break our relationship with Him through sin.  Still God did not leave us hanging in our sins, but provided a way out for us.  He made it possible for our sinful natures to be reunited with His Holy character through the ultimate Sacrifice, the life of His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  If I accept that this sacrifice was made on my behalf, I can be in full reunion and relationship with this One and Only True God.  And this not only applies to me, but also to every man, woman, and child who does the same.  Based on that, I would say that any jealousy on His part is fully justified, although nothing He chooses to do ever needs justification.  He is Who He is.
Imagine an ant and elephant in the jungle.  If the ant decides to start an argument or quibble over the terms of his relationship with the elephant, what are the ant’s chances of winning?  Zero.  All his hard work and ingenuity amounts to nothing.  Absurd example you say.  Perhaps, but I think it speaks of what happens when we take on our God.
And what will this jealous God do if we worship or serve other Gods?  The sin that is committed in doing so – will be repeated on our children for up to four generations.  The implications of this are staggering.  At approximately twenty-five years to a generation, that could mean that a century from the time of one’s sin, a descendent may well be committing the same sin.  Was that sin drug addiction, the practice of homosexuality, adultery, stealing?  Whatever it was, God says this immorality, this crime, this vice, will be repeated. No wonder society, as a whole, is in the mess it is in.  We are caught in a cycle of iniquity that must be broken.  But can it?
I think this verse gives us enough hope for us to confidently believe it can be.  In it, there is once again one of my favorite words in Scripture, “but”.   God says that decision of His, to keep on allowing the iniquity of one’s ancestors to visit us can be either never applied in the first place or, I believe, be considered null and avoid if either our forbearer or we “love Him and keep His commandments”.  The circle of wickedness can be stopped right now, right here, by us if we choose to love God with all our heart and obey His instructions with all our might.
It is interesting that God refers to a number here – that of “thousands” when He talks about those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Why is that?  Thousands is still a pretty big number and at the time it was uttered to the people of Israel, it represented a quantity that was more than the average person could have fathomed.  I believe God was indicating that His loving-kindness would be bestowed on as many as were willing to love Him and keep His commandments, not all mankind would do so.  Those that would not would remain in sin and suffer the consequences.
And remember that while God in this text relates what He will do to the evildoers to this particular commandment of not worshipping or serving other Gods, it is equally applicable to all of His commands to us.
As we conclude our comments on this commandment, we must not omit mentioning that what God expected of the Israelites (and us) in this passage of the Old Testament, Jesus expected of His followers (and expects of us today).  In Luke 10:25-28, we read an account of a certain lawyer who asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life.  Jesus simply asked him, “What does the law (the Old Testament) say?”  The lawyer quoted the law – “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus approved of his answer.  The lawyer was actually quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.  What God told the Israelites was required of them that day on Mount Sinai has always and will always remain the requirement of us today.
_____________________________________________________________________

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Monday, June 23, 2014

No Graven Images -- Exodus 20:4


You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”
 
This verse speaks for itself.  It’s clear – “no idols”.  An idol is generally defined as an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.  A secondary definition is a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.  Some newer Christians that come from an eastern religious tradition may well still fall within the first definition.  I remember growing up that my parents had lots of friends who had almost all but left their Greek Orthodox faith and moved towards Protestantism but still hung on to their icons of various religious figures and saints.  Most of us, however, who are guilty of having idols, would clearly fall under the secondary definition these days.
But here in this verse, God is focusing on the first and main definition we use to describe the meaning of ‘idol’ today.  The second, He leaves for later in Scripture (the Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) and especially to the New Testament.
One of the issues with us making for ourselves an idol, is that we would fashion it in our own man-limited image that we have in our heads as to what a god or God Himself should be like.  That’s a no starter to begin with in the Great Artist’s school of faith.  God says “don’t go there; you’ll fail”.
God goes on to say we are to have no “images or likenesses” made of anything that we end up worshipping.  That includes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional concrete objects.  It covers pictures of heroes and heroines, lovers and leaders, rebels and revolutionists.  Nada and no one.
But it seems that the all-knowledgeable Creator also knew that some of us would turn to the very ‘nature’ He Himself created for us and look for idols there.  So He said, “no idol likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth”.  To me the reference to the heavens above means no pictures of old Christian saints or even Fathers of the Faith as found in the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11, if the purpose of having them is to worship them.  No pictures of angels or archangels or the earthly mother (or father) of Jesus if their purpose is that we worship them.
And the reference to the earth and the sea means that we are not to make gods of any creature that exists on earth or in the depths of the oceans.  And I believe that includes the elements of nature that God uses to keep His creation in balance – wind, water, fire, and earth (dirt) itself.  Religions of both old global aboriginal traditions before the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of new-age religions that incorporate any of these aspects of worship, are to be avoided.  This is idol worship as clearly identified by God in Exodus 20:4.
So what do you and I have to rethink with respect to any graven images we may be worshipping today?
_____________________________________________________________________

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

No Other Gods -- Exodus 20:3


You shall have no other gods before Me.”
 
Much has already been written over the centuries about the first commandment.  I would like to offer some new thoughts and in doing so, I do not want to suggest for a moment that the commandments have different weights and values.  They do not because a) they come as commandments and b) they come from the Absolute Commander, God Himself.
Humor me for a moment and allow me to draw an analogy between these commandments and the duties of a job description.  In the world of Human Resources that I come from, we are often asked to write Job Descriptions for the various positions that our clients have in their organizations.  I also teach the fundamentals of Job Analysis, Documentation and Evaluation to HR personnel across Canada.  I only tell you this to relate that when writing Job Descriptions, we follow a recommended approach that assists any job evaluation committee rating jobs for pay purposes to get a better handle on the meaning and importance of the various duties and responsibilities.  For example, usually we only cover those duties that take up at least five percent of an incumbent’s work time unless they are very critical.  [An example that comes to mind is that if we were writing the job description of the American President, we would certainly include in there his/her responsibility for delivering the annual “State of the Nation” address to Congress, even though it takes up less than 5% of his annual hours.]
The rules we follow for identifying duties is that they be written in one of three ways – in chronological order if that makes sense, in order of what takes the most amount of time, or (and this is our preferred approach) in the order of importance.  That is, if we kept eliminating duties from the bottom up and we eventually ended up with one duty – which one would that be?  Now God may not have had our standard ideas of how to write a job description in mind when He gave us the Ten Commandments, but as I consider Him to be the Ultimate and Absolute Human Resources expert, He certainly did not give us the commandments in a arbitrary order.
This is indeed the first commandment.  And it is the first one, perhaps for the very reason I suggest.  If God eliminated all other commandments, then this one, if followed well, would be enough to satisfy Him in His desire to have a relationship with us.
But God knew everything there was to know about the men and women He Himself created.  He knew we would want to have other gods.  We would want idols to worship in addition to Him, just in case.  So He is very clear with His first commandment.  It is in a way, an ultimatum, “No other gods, period.”  A successful relationship with God and His full blessings do not come if this commandment is not satisfied.  We cannot insist on His goodness upon our daily lives if we court and woo other gods.
Please note that we are not discussing here whether or not God will save any person from an eternal separation from Him, after death, if he or she does not obey this or any other commandment.  God can, and Scripture teaches us, that He will provided we are His child.  That is not the issue.  We are talking here about enjoying the full blessing of God in this life.  In fact these commandments were given for that purpose and primarily that purpose.
So what does “no other gods” mean in the 21st century.  I do not claim to know.  But I can tell you some things I think it means as I sense them in my own life.  It means that I do what I am prodded to do by the Holy Spirit.  Some examples for me lately range from going to corporate worship when I feel like not going; speaking to some one when I think I do not have time; saying I am sorry when I have erred or sinned against another person even when I feel they won’t accept it; and raising my hands in praise to Him while I worship Him in singing, even though it is against my tradition.
For me it also means that I do not put other things I desire above God – a vacation, fun, my favorite sports team, my chosen causes that I support as good as they may be, my possessions (including my electronics), my clients, my friends, my church, and even my family.  If I have missed anything, please let me know.
These days, for Christian actors it means their careers if the roles are inappropriate; for Christian politicians it means their support of a party’s position when it is against how God would have us vote; for young men and women it means their choice for dates, courtship, engagement, and marriage if they are outside of what God wants for them.  For many, it means choosing God’s way over our desire to live common-law.  And the list goes on.
No other gods.  Period.  What does that mean for you?
_____________________________________________________________________

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prelude To The Ten Commandments -- Exodus 20:1-2


Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
 
There seems to be some time lapse with accompanying activity between the end of Exodus chapter 19 and the beginning of chapter 20.  We do not know exactly how long nor what took place below the mountain in the camp of the Israelites during that time.  We can assume, perhaps, that Moses did go back down and made sure that the people and the priests this time did indeed consecrate themselves and that all were willing to stay behind the barriers that had been constructed and not try to see any more of God than He was readily willing to reveal to them.
As I write this today, I have just completed a very difficult week, in which I clearly felt the presence of God, but at the same time had many questions of Him and why He would allow certain things to happen.  These are the moments when we have to be satisfied to know or see only what He reveals to us, but at the same time to fully grasp the idea that while our understanding of His acts or perception of Him is limited, He Himself is not.  He is still on the scene, fully aware of all that is going on and all that needs to happen.  He is taking care of every detail and ultimately His way and timing will and does reign supreme.
So at the appointed time God, according to our text, “spoke all these words”.  The words that follow from God are what we call “the ten commandments”.  But who heard them?  Was it just Moses or did all the children of Israel hear God speaking these words?  Most of the commentators do not address that question.  However, Robert Jamieson, in his commentary entitled The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus writes the following:
The Divine Being Himself was the speaker, in tones so loud as to be heard--so distinct as to be intelligible by the whole multitude standing in the valleys below, amid the most appalling phenomena of agitated nature. Had He been simply addressing rational and intelligent creatures, He would have spoken with the still small voice of persuasion and love. But He was speaking to those who were at the same time fallen and sinful creatures, and a corresponding change was required in the manner of God's procedure, in order to give a suitable impression of the character and sanctions of the law revealed from heaven.
God’s commandments were for all His children and thus all His children had to first hear them directly from Him.  Too often we seek God’s guidance and direction through other people, especially clergy.  But God is available and willing to speak to us directly and then to verify His advice with His written Word, the Bible, as well god-fearing, faithful men and women He has put in our paths.  I am reminded of the time our pastor told us of a man who came up to him after the service and asked for prayer for an interview that he was going to have so that he could do well and get the job he very much needed.  The pastor asked if he had prayed for that himself.  “No” the man responded.  “I wanted you to because you are the pastor and can do a much better job and be more likely to be heard.”  At that our pastor replied, “I will not pray for something that you yourself cannot or will not pray for.  You are very capable of approaching God for your needs.  I will pray with you for God to give you that confidence and enable you to do so.”  What a lesson.  We can go to God directly and God is quite willing to meet us alone.
And what does God say to His children?  He utters the words of who He is and what He has done for them again.  Not so much to remind them this time, but simply to inform them and to state in a very emphatic way which gives Him the uncontested right to issue the commandments He is about to give them.  Basically, they were destined to die slaves in Egypt and God brought them out of their slavery.  Now, He had some rules, that He wanted them to follow, not so much for His own ego, to which He has every right, but in order for them to live well.  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot expect God to do it all for us and not also give Him the right to be sovereign over us.
It is with that premise that we must approach the commandments that follow.
_____________________________________________________________________

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Lord Visits Sinai -- Exodus 19:20-25


The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.  Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.”  Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.”  So Moses went down to the people and told them.
 
I love the opening sentence of this passage – “The Lord came down, to the top of the mountain, and He called Moses up to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”  What a perfect scene it is.  God comes down to meet man and invites him up to Him.  And notice the text says that God came down to the top of the mountain signifying His position above all the earth.  And Moses accepted the invitation of God.  That is God’s plan for each of us.  That is His heart.  But so many are too busy with things that do not matter as much in the big scheme of things, to accept His invitation.  It takes discipline to ‘put the urgent aside for the important’.
And when man accepts the invitation, God speaks to him.  In the case of Moses here, God tells him to go down again to warn the people not to break though the barriers in order to get a closer look at Him.  God did not want any of the children of Israel to die as a result of disobedience.  Had not God already warned them?  Had He not already given instructions to Moses to give to the people?  Did He not know that Moses had obeyed and had taken the necessary precautions to prevent the people from getting too close to God?  Of course He did.  But is it not like our loving God to give people a second chance, a second warning, to hear His word?  Consider how many warnings you and I have had. 
And there was another reason for God to repeat His instructions.  It appears the priests of Israel thought they were already consecrated enough and did not have to go through it again when God had sent the instruction to do so through Moses, earlier in this chapter (verse 10).  So God says to Moses now, “And also get the priests to consecrate themselves.”  I love that word “also” as if to say, “Who do they think they are, not consecrating themselves?”  The message is very clear to pastors and Christian leaders, when it comes to the instructions of God, no man (or woman) is above them.  No one gets a special pass.  It was not beyond God to “break out against” the priests if they thought that by their position, they were above others and thus God’s instructions did not apply to them.  Woe to spiritual leaders today who think they are.  Not only is God no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but I also believe He is no respecter of titles.
Now something most interesting occurs next.  Moses actually tells God there is no way that the people will come up the mountain because “we heeded your warning and we set bounds as you instructed”.  Instead of the normal immediate obedience that we were getting used to expecting from Moses, we get some push back to God.  What was going on here?  Surely God was aware of all that had been done.  Matthew Henry believes that Moses was pleading that no further action was necessary, as all the God-given instructions had been followed.  To this Henry says, “But God, who knew their willfulness and presumption, and what was now in the hearts of some of them,” hastens Moses down with this charge, that neither the priests nor the people should force the lines that were set to come up to God.
Many a times we feel that we obeyed all of God’s commandments as to how we should live and we still are not being blessed. In fact, sometimes some of us feel we have been abandoned by Him.  We have clung on to God for His blessings rather than for Who He is.  We want to see more from God.  Our text, as Henry implies, suggests that God knows our presumptions and what wrongful attitudes are now in our hearts.  But He does not let go.  He sends the instructions again and warns us.  He is looking for a change in our hearts.  He wants us to love Him for Who He is, not for what he may not allow to happen to us.
So here God tells Moses to “go down and come up again, bring Aaron, but keep the priests and the people away”.  Only Moses and Aaron could come up the mountain for their hearts were right and God was delighted to honor them.
Of interest also is that Moses talks about the mountain being consecrated.  We have no earlier mention in the text of that being part of what God had asked for.  However, with it being part of the inspired Word of God, we must accept its validity.  Moses was basically saying, “Because you God were to come to the mountain, we understand the need to consecrate it.”  Are we asking God to visit us in our places of worship, in our homes, at our workplace? If so, have we consecrated these places in preparation for His presence?
Bible commentator Matthew Henry ponders what God was really forbidding the priests and the people to do.  He suggested it was the ability to ‘gaze’ at Him.  He was willing to let them ‘see’ enough to awaken their consciences, but not enough to allow them to gratify their vain curiosity.  Henry writes:
“They might see, but not gaze. Some of them, probably, were desirous to see some similitude, that they might know how to make an image of God, which he took care to prevent, for they saw no manner of similitude . . . Note, In divine things we must not covet to know more than God would have us know; and He has allowed us as much as is good for us. A desire of forbidden knowledge was the ruin of our first parents. Those that would be wise above what is written, and intrude into those things which they have not seen, need this admonition, that they break not through to gaze.  And Henry continues, “The restraints and warnings of the divine law are all intended for our good, and to keep us out of that danger into which we should otherwise, by our own folly, run ourselves. It is at our peril if we break the bounds that God has set us, and intrude upon that which He has not allowed us; . . . And, even when we are called to approach God, we must remember that He is in heaven and we upon earth, and therefore it behooves us to exercise reverence and godly fear.”
The points are well made.  We need not add anything here with respect to what Henry expounded on.
On a separate note, I did find it interesting that both in verse 21 and again in verse 24 of this chapter, God speaks to Moses about Himself in the third person, “the Lord” and then God adds, “He will break forth”.  It is as if, from our human and limited perspective (our Hellenic minds) there are too entities here – the ‘Lord God’ Who loves and protects and cares and wants none to perish, and the ‘Lord He’ whose judgment may befall us.  However from a divine perspective (and the Judaic mindset), there is no such division – it is One Lord, One God.  It is us that have to get comfortable with that, or at the very least to accept it.
As a result, I have also often wondered about our approach to the Almighty God.  We seem to do it with so little reverence at times.  There is indeed a time for closeness with God, a time of intimacy or even familiarity perhaps through Jesus Christ, our Brother and Best Friend.  I am neither denying nor objecting to that need.  However, when we approach the Almighty God on His Throne of grace and wisdom and judgment and truth, can we give Him any less respect than He seems to give Himself?
The passage ends with Moses, seemingly understanding where God was coming from, obeying and going down and telling the people again what God expected of all of them, including the priests.
_____________________________________________________________________

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

Thanks for dropping by. Sign up to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends. Ken Godevenos, Church and Management Consultant, Accord Consulting.  And while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.  Ken.
________________________________________________________________________

Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.