Thursday, October 26, 2006

Be Careful Little Lips...

"Be careful little lips what you say,
Be careful little lips what you say.
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Be careful little lips what you say."

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

In this day and age, most people look at words as either good or bad. "That's a bad word" they'll say. But what is it about a word that makes it bad?

In preparing for this post, I listened to a message by Al Mohler on The Third Commandment.

Al Mohler says, "Words are among the most powerful of the potent tools at our finite disposal."

Words are powerful.

Proverbs 10:11 "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence." and verses 19-20: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking,but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;the heart of the wicked is of little worth."

Al Mohler also makes this statement: "This is perhaps the commandment most routinely broken by evangelicals. Broken in our discourse with each other, broken in our piety, and broken in our worship."

One of the distinctives about Israel, and the children of God is to be their speech about God. His name must be spoken and heard with reference.

I am that I AM. God reveals His name to us. Our Father in Heaven reveals this to us, not flesh and blood. It is a name about which God Himself is jealous. He just finished telling us that He is a Jealous God.

Exodus 20:5 "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God"

It is no small thing that we should know His name. In giving to us His name, the Father has given Himself to us.

That is why we must honor His name. In honoring His name, we honor Him.

He is The Almighty, The Amen, The Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Eternal, Faithful, The Holy One, The Just One, The King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, The Light, The Judge, The Word, The Creator, Lord of Glory, Lord of Kings, Lord of lords, Lord of Peace, King of Heaven, God Alone, El Shaddai, Jehovah-Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts), Rock of Ages, Yahweh, and The Majesty on High.

He is filled with zeal for His name -> Ezek. 36:22-23 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

He has allowed His name to be spoken and manipulated and even maligned by sinful creatures. Soon after He gave us His name, it was violated. Sin is a blight upon the name of God. He will not allow His name to be blasphemed without vindication (vs 23 above).

Al Mohler says, "What if the Third Commandment isn't as simple as we thought it was? Maybe there is a hidden danger here that would endanger our very souls, and endanger the very reputation of God; a reputation which He sill vindicate."

He then goes on to explain how this is true.

To understand the name of God is to understand the power of the name. It is a revelation of His character, His Holiness. God has the sole right to define and to name Himself. Taking His name in vain treats Him like an idol.

We often take His name in vain in our piety. We often take God as trite, and don't honor Him as we should. God wants us rich in the knowledge of His name.

We often take His name in vain by superficial worship. We can think that worship must be happy, fun, or creative. He points out that worship demonstrates what we genuinely believe. We do not take His name seriously if we think worship is about anything other than God and God alone.

We take His name in vain by our manipulative God talk. We have no right to speak where God has not spoken. His name is taken in vain when we speak in His stead.

**This is where I would like to jump in to clarify the point he is making. Many people think that you are only taking His name in vain if you actually say His name. This is not true. You are taking His name in vain when you even say something that should only be said by God. For instance, only God can punish and damn the wicked. It is not our place to do that. When we use that word in any given situation, we are using His name in vain because we are taking His place. I will comment on this further later on.**

Al Mohler concludes by saying that this commandment extends "to everything we touch, and everything we think that is even remotely theological or spiritual. It extends to the totality of our lives because God makes total claim upon us by His name. We should be zealous and careful to honor His name with Godly reverence. There will come that day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."


Alright. I agree with everything he said, but I would like to clarify a few things, and add a few things...

A) First, like I said earlier, taking God's name in vain does not just mean that we are actually saying His name. If we say something that is reserved for God, and God alone to say, we are actually using His name in vain. In a sense, we are saying that we are on the same level with God, and therefore qualify to make the same statement that God would. Most curse words fall into this category.

I have had people say this: "Saying 'Oh my God' isn't saying His name in vain." I don't understand how they could say this. It is very clear. When you say that, you are using His name. He has declared His name as Holy. When you say that, you are not using His name in reverence. defines vain as:
1. Without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless
2. Without effect or avail; to no purpose
3. In an improper or irreverent manner

When you say, "Oh my God", are you saying His name with significance, value, or importance? Are you using His name for a purpose? Are you using it properly or in a reverent manner? I doubt you can answer yes to those questions, and therefore, it is taking His name in vain.

B) There are some words that are called "bad words" that don't really fall into either of these two categories though: They aren't God's name, and they aren't something reserved for God alone to say. Now, I am going to assume you have an idea about what words I'm using, because I'm not going to put them up here.

Ephesians 4:29-30 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. "

There are words that fall into the category of corrupt talk. We are clearly told by Scripture to not use those words either. I believe that most of you understand this.

C) However, I present to you a possibly new proposition. Before I tell you what it is, I want you to know that I am the worst offender of this. That however, does not make it right.

I would submit to you that even substitutionary words would be using the name of the Lord in vain, or would be corrupt talk. Words such as "gosh, flippin', darn, dang, and others..." Why do I believe that these words are wrong to use?

Matthew 12:34 "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Matthew 12:36-37 "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

We are going to give an account for every careless word that we speak. And, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Why are you using those words? It is generally because you want to say something similar, but don't want to say a bad word. God looks at the hearts of men.

Luke 16:15 "And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts."

God doesn't look only at what you say; He looks at why you're saying it. When you are asked to give an account for those words, what are you going to say?

Just because we choose to use substitutionary words on the outside does not change our hearts.

And even if you don't agree with my arguments against substitutionary words, think of it this way: When you use them, you are using them in a complaining way almost every time.

Philippians 2:14-15 "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world"

Scripture is clear. We are to do ALL things without grumbling or questioning.

Substitutionary words are words that I know that I use a lot. But that does not justify them. I am sobered when I realize that I will one day give an account for every careless word, and every substitutionary word.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Icons and Idol Factories

This year, our youth ministry is putting on the musical Godspell. We do this musical every few years, and of course one of the biggest questions is always “Who’s going to be playing Jesus?” The role obviously requires good acting skills, but more importantly, the actor himself must live a life in private—as in, when he’s not on stage portraying Jesus—that is worthy of the gospel. The build-up to the announcement, however, has sparked some other discussion as well: is it sinful to portray Christ in a physical form at all? One very good friend of mine has come to the conclusion that it is, and if he had been asked to be Jesus in the show, he would have declined. I, on the other hand, think that in certain cases it is okay. One of the key texts in examining this issue is Exodus 20:4-6, also known as the second commandment:

Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Some people make the comment that this particular commandment seems to be almost a repeat of the first commandment. I listened to Al Mohler’s fabulous sermon on this topic a few weeks ago (you can listen to it here, and find a very helpful summary here), and he made some very helpful distinctions between the two commandments: the first tells us that we are to worship only God, and the second tells us that he will be worshipped as he wants. The first speaks to the identity and exclusivity of God, and the second shows us how we are to rightly worship him.

In his last post on the first commandment (if you haven’t read it yet, click here), Josh dealt with a lot of the problems of idols. Some will say, “Sam, he already addressed your topic. This post is just going to be redundant.” But Josh was dealing only with one aspect of idols: what we identify with and spend our time doing. But there is another, more obvious kind of idol, the kind that instantly pops to mind when someone says the word “idol”: a little golden statue of a cow or Buddha or Apollo or something like that that people bow down to worship. “Exactly, Sam,” some will say, “This isn’t applicable to us. People don’t do that anymore, at least not in the civilized world.” But they do, and they do it every day, and in Christian churches across America. They are known as “icons.”

Now, I have heard several very strong arguments for the use of icons in worship, and all the arguments hinge on one thing: the icons themselves are not worshipped, but they merely provide visual aids to help us worship God. I can understand those arguments, and they have a lot of merit. However, I still don’t believe they address all the issues, and I think that the basic argument against the use of icons comes down to what Dr. Mohler said in his sermon: the second commandment shows us how we are to rightly worship God, how he chooses to be worshipped. And the way we are to rightly worship God is not through the use of icons.

I have heard it said that one of the reasons for the decline of American culture is the rise of the visual over the verbal. Our culture has become so infatuated with visual media (i.e. television and movies) that it has lost its ability to value verbal media (i.e. newspapers and books). The problem is that God has chosen to reveal himself through verbal, not visual means. In fact, he places an extremely high value on the verbal.

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God identifies himself as the Word. Not as an image, but as an inherently verbal being. And that’s how he chooses to be worshipped. He doesn’t want to be worshipped “through” something like a crucifix, he wants to be worshipped for who he is. Verbally. Worshipping him through visuals dishonors him.

Why is this important? Dr. Mohler made the point that “to worship the right God in the wrong way is not honoring to him.” As the Westminster Catechism states, the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” When we worship through icons, we are not worshipping him as he demands to be worshipped, so we are not glorifying or honoring him.

Another significant problem with worshipping through icons is that our hearts are, in an illustration that C.J. Mahaney once used, idol factories. Humans have to worship something, and thus we are churning out idols left and right. Even good things (such as relationships, computers, or music) can be turned into idols by our sinful hearts. And one of the easiest things to do when worshipping through icons is to subtly transition to actually worshipping the icons. This can be viewed in its extremes in the Catholic Church, where crucifixes are treasured and prayed to without any thought being given to Christ himself. Other denominations have similar problems as well. The majority of people in these denominations have forgotten that the icons are meant to spur on worship of Christ, and they merely worship the icon. Our hearts do this easily and naturally, perhaps too easily and naturally for it to be safe to use icons.

“Okay Sam, I agree with everything you’ve said so far,” you might be saying at this point, “but it seems like you’re destroying your own position here. Didn’t you say at the beginning of this essay that you believed it was okay to portray Jesus in a physical form?” Ah, now that is where a distinction shows up. Al Mohler made the statement that “Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, is our only icon.” What he meant is that the actual person of Jesus Christ is what we should worship, not any images of Christ, but himself as a person and as God.

However, are we worshipping the portrayal of Jesus in Godspell? Is that Jesus an image that we’re worshipping? I don’t believe it is, and here’s why: we are not worshipping the image of Jesus as portrayed by James Maresco (who got the part in this production). This image of Jesus is merely meant to tell a story, to illustrate a point. If anyone began worshipping James/Jesus, then that would be a sin. They would be breaking the second commandment. However, if people merely view James/Jesus as a vehicle for portraying a truth from God’s Word, I don’t believe this is in violation of the second commandment. The same goes for pictures of Jesus in Bible storybooks. I don’t think that anyone, even a little kid, would look at a picture of Jesus found in The Beginner’s Bible and start to worship that picture of Jesus. The pictures are merely a vehicle, a means to tell a story. The purpose is not to worship them. So I don’t believe that such portrayals are sinful.

In conclusion, the best application of all that I’ve discussed in this post here is to recognize, as Dr. Mohler said, that we all are natural-born idolaters. We are constantly looking for something to worship, and our sinful hearts loves to grab even things that are gifts from God and turn them into idols. So our first instinct must be to distrust our hearts, and constantly be examining ourselves to determine whether or not we are turning this thing into an idol. We must ensure that we are, at all times, worshipping only the true and living God, and that we are worshipping him as he wants to be worshipped.

Friday, October 13, 2006

We're sorry, we're sorry

Yes, we are sorry. Life has been so crazy and hectic that I have not had time to write the next post. But, this Sunday I should be able to get it written, so look here on Monday and hopefully you'll be able to read something worthwhile. If I don't, feel free to heckle me until I do.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sam is a Little Busy...

Sam's a little busy, and can't update right now, so we'll continue on the Ten Commandments later...

For now,

James 5:15-18
"And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit."

Over the past few months, God has shown me time and time again the power of prayer.

Early on this year, I found out that the nephew of some of my closest friends had a tumor in his brain. Things didn't really look too good, but we prayed for him in faith. Through many different surgeries, and through miracles, the tumor is gone last I heard, and he is continuing chemotherapy in order to make sure it stays away.

At the beginning of this past summer, I was talking with a close friend, JD. I told him that one of my prayer requests for the summer was to be filled anew with the Holy Spirit, and to receive the gift of tongues. Nearly three weeks later, while in Mexico, another friend was taken to the hospital. A bunch of us were shaken up, and I went to go pray with three dear friends of mine. As we were praying, God filled me with His Holy Spirit, and a peace filled me inside. Suddenly, I started praying very quietly in tongues. My faith was immediately strengthened.

As the summer continued, I began feeling a burden to pray for the upcoming youth retreat. I felt like He wanted me to pray for the salvation of certain friends. I got a small group together, and we prayed for the retreat. During that week, God was obviously working. I know of five different people who gave their lives to the Lord that week. I also, as an answer to my last request, received many different gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 21:22
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith

John 15:7
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Romans 8:34
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Why can we come to God in prayer? We can come because Jesus Christ died, and is now interceding for us at the throne of God. God hears our prayers, and answers our prayers.

There is power in prayer. Prayer is a way of fellowshiping with God. I encourage each of you to spend much time every day praying, seeking, asking, and praising God. Ask for strength. Ask for healing. Ask for salvation for friends or family. Ask for miracles. Ask for boldness. Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Prayer has Power

Philippians 4:6-7

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Soon to come...

Sorry everybody, but college application essays come before this blog, I must say. I'm slowly working on the next post, which will cover the second commandment and graven images. I'll post it as soon as I can finish it, so please bear with me. Until then, let me encourage you to read Tim Challies' liveblogging of the Desiring God conference last weekend (there's a link on the sidebar); it's well worth the time.