We are a Pilgrim People

We worshipped sat our home congregation at Wembley Uniting Church this morning. We are frequently visiting other congregations on a Sunday but it is always good to get back to “our” people. Its a small congregation of mostly elderly people but they love and serve the Lord. Our minister was late this morning – the car battery was flat – so we sang hymns until she arrived.

Today is the Sunday after the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia (June 22nd). The service didn’t particularly focus on that (I was glad – too many anniversary events this week) but we did use the Statement of Faith from the Uniting in Worship book which is based on the Basis of Union (the founding document of the Uniting Church 40 years ago).

We believe in God,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We proclaim Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, confessing him as Lord
to the glory of God the Father.

In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
we acclaim Jesus as the Lord of the church, the Head over all things,
the beginning of a new creation.

We acknowledge that we live and work between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which he will bring.
We are a pilgrim people,
always on the way towards a promised goal;
on the way Christ feeds us with words and sacraments, and we have the gift of the spirit
in order that we may not lose the way.

We will live and work within the faith and unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, bearing witness to that unity
which is both Christ’s gift and his will.

We affirm that every member of the church
is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified.

Together with all the people of God,
we will serve the world for which Christ died and we await with hope the day of the Lord Jesus.

 

 


A Confession for the UCA

Gathered in Melbourne for a 40 hour prayer meeting with the Moderators and General Secretaries of the Uniting Church In Australia to launch the 40th Anniversary of the UCA.

The UCA was officially launched as the uniting of three denominations in Australia (Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational) on June 22, 1977

I read this as I began to pray. It was a lament, a confession of where we had gone wrong.

Another 20 years on … reflections by Davis McCaughey 20 years ago ..
1. what we may have inadequately appreciated was that the governance by inter-related councils was not intended to be an ecclesiastical expression of populist democracy.
2. We made a mistake in assuming that Minister of the Word, would be recognised as Minister of Word AND Sacrament.
3. We have neglected to recognise that ministers have the leadership responsibility to hold the congregation together in the healthy and obedient ways of the gospel
4. We have not encouraged candidates for ministry to offer when young. We must and should expect great things from them.
5. We must give our ministers time to pray and there needs to be a praying group supporting the minister.
Perhaps prayer alone will be enough, he says.


Sermon: No Love for things

Exodus 20:1-17

We come tonight to the close of our series on the Ten Commandments. This may be the hardest for us to submit to, especially when one lives in a culture and time where “things” are so readily available and have become so important.

But this desire for things is not new at all. Jesus spoke more parables about our attitude to money and things than He did about anything else.

Paul writes to Timothy and says “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (I Timothy 6: 6-10)

God will hold each one of us accountable – not only for the deeds and the actions that are committed by the body, but also for the thoughts and the desires and the wants and the lusts and the attitudes that are working, brewing and churning on the inside of us.

This 10th Commandment is a reminder for us to continuously keep a check into “what” means the most to us. What do we value the most in our life?
Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

A missionary from a poor poverty stricken country was visiting the churches which were contributing to his ministry on a regular basis. During the services he would give reports of the work there and he would show slides and pictures of the conditions that he and his people were forced to endure. Both the minister and the congregation were stirred and wept because of the faithfulness of the people, living for Jesus despite such horrible living conditions of poverty.
At the end of one of these services, the minister walked up to the missionary and said, “My dear Brother, we will be praying for you and your people. It must be so difficult for you and your people to be faithful in living for Jesus when there is such poverty and need all around you. Satan must be working so hard that your people have had to give up so much. Our church will certainly be praying for you.”

However the poor missionary replied, “We do appreciate your prayers but it is you and your people that my dear people pray for a daily basis. when we look at the great abundance of things all about you, we realize just how hard it must be for you to stay faithful in living for Jesus Christ. My church will be praying that you do not yield to the temptation of things.”

This 10th Commandment is different from each of the nine Commandments. When each of these is transgressed or disobeyed, it is done so by the body. The sin and the rebellion can be witnessed by people who may be standing close by. When you see someone disobeying the first nine Commandments then you know they have transgressed.

The transgression of the 10th Commandment is not committed by the body and seen outwardly by others. This transgression happens in the mind, the heart, the soul and only God has the power and ability to look within us and see what is actually taking place.

I Samuel 16:7 “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Disobeying this 10th Commandment is not so much an act as it is a spirit, a processing and developing of thoughts and attitudes about “things”
“Things” can be very dangerous! Before any transgression against the Law of God is committed, it is first committed in the heart, the mind, and the soul. Satan worked this way with Eve in the garden of Eden before she partook of the forbidden fruit. The Scriptures tell us that Eve desired the fruit. The decision was made mentally before she stretched her arm out and grabbed the fruit.

This 10th commandment points to not only the world’s biggest of problems — it also points very directly to the church’s biggest problems today.
Things have become many people’s God. Even many professing Christians are hung up in the curse of the possession and ownership of things. They pay much more attention to things than they do to their souls.

Many churches have faced incredible issues over money and things. What took years and years to build only took just a little while for covetousness to bring down.

Satan knows exactly where each of our personal weakness lies. He cannot read our minds but he has watched the way we behave around certain people and certain things. He patiently follows us and is pretty good at taking notes about our conduct. After he sizes us up, he sends in his army to bombard us, to bring strong temptations our way, wrapped in beautiful alluring packages to tease our vices. That’s why every personal weakness needs to constantly be given over to Jesus.

It is amazing how Satan can place a thought, a desire for things within our mind and our heart. It seems that we think about that thing constantly, all day long we cannot get it out of our head. Our mind is filled with a churning, a gnawing, a burning, until that thing is actually ours. Once we have it we treasure it as a rare diamond but once its disguise is removed we see it for what it really is -a deadly serpent filled with poison. Or, having stood on toes and denied grace all round, we find that it really has no value for us at all and it lies gathering dust and rust.

We live in a gimme, gimme, take, take world. We have more gidgets, gadgets, and whatchamacallits then any people before us. This is the day of the Malls and Supermarkets. Advertising focuses on how we will find happiness and completeness in possessions. Status is the issue of the day and its measured in name brands and company logo’s. Once upon a time a manufacturer’s name was discreetly hidden inside – now its scrawled across your chest, labeled on your wrist because to have something is to be someone.

A.        But coveting destroys relationships:
James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

That’s what coveting does.
It destroys relationships in the home

Many homes have been destroyed because of the burning desire for more and more things.

There is nothing wrong with desiring things like new cars, new houses, new jobs, better education, new furniture, etc. It is not the thing that is wrong, it is the priority we attach to the things.
Satan wants us to get caught up in things and we spend more time and more effort on the house than we do the home.

Peer Pressure is not limited to teenagers. Adults also want
bigger and more expensive toys.
Competing with people at work
Competing with the neighbors
Competing with family members
Competing with the people at church
Just got to have what they have and even bigger and better.

But there is a problem with having to have things.
1. You devote all your time to those things.
They take you away from your family.
Your family soon become strangers to you.
Children grow up without you knowing them.
There is a lack of communication.
Husband and wife pull in different directions.

You end up paying a price for things which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

2. Things get you into debt and damage relationships

I tell every couple who come for premarital counseling that the biggest issue in marriage is not your expectations, or your mother-in-law, or your sex life –its money.

Credit Cards give you credit but they get you into debt. Most are geared for repayments at the minimum rate and the banks make a killing. If you work it out you can end up paying 3 or 4 times the cost for every meal you eat out if you are not careful.

But mostly credit cards are geared for you to buy the things you want but can’t really afford. You see your friend has a new gadget, you don’t have the money, so use your credit card.

Most people with credit cards cannot get out of debt –they have to live with what we called kite-flying when I was in the bank. You rob Peter to pay Paul and your debt spiral just gets deeper and deeper.
And all this financial pressure is hard on marriage and the family.

B         Coveting also destroys our relationship with God.
Things have a tendency to demand all our attention and to take us away from God. I’ve known people who were faithful to God, who were regularly in Church but that “thing” demanded their attention –they had to have the 4X4 that a friend has, a speedboat, a motorbike, a beach cottage. They rationalized and rationalized until they got it. They assured me that this was just a leisure thing and that they would still regularly be in church but not long after the acquisition their attendance began to decline until they didn’t come to church at all.

A similar thing happens with children and sport. Each parent wants their child to be the best, to be in the first team –they fetch and carry them around on Sunday to compete against the children of their friends and their spiritual life dies as they pursue this covetous happiness.
But when we get sick, or our children need prayer, the things and the sports awards will not help us. When we need salvation the things of this world are no good at all.

Jesus’ advice was : “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousnes and all these things shall be added unto you.”
God is not against things — He loves to bless His people… But things become sin when we value them more than we value God and His word.
Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

I Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Verse 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Someone once said that “Eternal life is one thing you don’t want to leave home without.” One day we will leave everything else behind. Only what has been done for Christ will matter.

Matthew 6:19-24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

WHAT TREASURES ARE YOU LAYING UP IN HEAVEN?


Sermon: Sanctified Reputation

Exodus 20:1-17

I want to begin with three famous quotes. They are all from American President’s and I am sure that you have heard them before, but I want you to think about what they all have in common.

“Read My Lips, No New Taxes.” – George Bush

“I do not know that woman.” – Bill Clinton.

“The American people have a right to know that their president is not a crook. And I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon

What do they have in common?

They are lies. Each one breaks the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The word translated as “False witness” or “false testimony” refers to all kinds of false speech – perjury, innuendo, lies, deceit, falsehood and gossip.

We read in Proverbs 6:16 – 19 a list of seven things which God hates. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Virtually all of them touch on some aspect of false speech.

And our never changing God carried that thought over into the New Testament when He led Paul to write in Ephesians 4:20 25 the implications of living as children of light. Listen to how much of this passage is devoted to truth and to avoiding deceit.

” But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

25          What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” THE MESSAGE

I doubt that there is another commandment, other than the first, which is so routinely violated in our culture these days. And it’s not just these days. You probably can’t find another topic so thoroughly covered in the Bible. Scripture’s prohibitions against lying, and its commandments to tell the truth, are found in both Testaments and in almost every book. Clearly, human beings have had a problem with telling lies when the truth would have done better since the very beginning.

The most direct application of the ninth commandment involves perjury in a formal judicial hearing. And the Law of Moses took perjury very seriously.

Listen to Deuteronomy 19:15 – 21.

15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, 17 the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

God knew that when testimony is given in a court of law, more than fortunes are at stake. Lives may be on the line. But we must not limit this law to legal proceedings. It covers far more than the testimony people give under oath. This commandment seeks to protect the sanctity of a person’s reputation.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we falsely accuse someone of something, we have taken from them something that cannot be returned. Ask anyone whose ever been accused of dishonest business practices if they’ve ever lived down the false charge? Or of those falsely accused of sexual crimes.

And its not just false testimony about someone’s character that robs them of their reputation. Anytime we gossip about someone, even if it what we say is true, we are violating at the very least the spirit of the 9th commandment, if not the letter. Gossip is simply the vice of confessing someone else’s sins.
Let me suggest something you can do to stop gossip. The next time someone sidles up to you and says, “Hey, did you hear about …. “, say this; “No and I don’t think I want to hear about it. I’m sure you’ve carefully researched all the facts, but in the unlikely event that you are wrong, what you are about to tell me will forever change how I feel about this person. And even if it is true, I don’t need to hear it. You need to speak directly to the person concerned.”

Or you could simply quote scripture to them. James 4:11 says, “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against or judges his brother or sister, speaks against the law and judges it.”

Now I know that’s pretty strong language and we might have a hard time saying that. But I’ve found that you virtually have to hit gossips over the head with a plank to get the point across. And if they talk to you about someone else, you just bet that they are probably talking to someone else about you.

Don’t think you are jeopardizing a healthy relationship by being blunt. In fact, you may be saving their soul by wounding their pride. Remember, one of the things God hates is someone who stirs up dissension among brothers and sisters.

A good rule to deal with issues which we feel are offensive is found in Matthew 18:15-18. “If someone has offended you, tell them privately. If that doesn’t help, take one or two others along as witnesses. And if you are still frustrated, tell it to the church. If even that doesn’t help, then no longer treat him as a brother.”

Perjury and gossip are covered by the 9th commandment and so is good old fashioned lying. There are many different ways to tell a lie. Sometimes we lie by intentionally using inaccurate words.

But there are other ways of lying. Someone once said, “The essence is in deception, not in words. A lie may be told by silence, by hedging, by the accent on a syllable … and all these kinds of lies are worse than a lie plainly told.”

Perhaps a workable definition of what it means to lie would be like this – anything we purposefully say or do that is intended to mislead another person.

So does that mean that not telling everything you know is a lie? Not necessarily. Honesty means that everything you say must be true, not that everything that is true must be said.

If I think your new hairstyle is funny, I’m not going to volunteer an opinion. But if you ask me what I think of your new hairstyle, we both have a problem. I must be quick enough on my feet to give you an honest, but gentle answer and you must be brave enough to accept the answer you asked for.

On the other hand, if you have information that you are morally obligated to share, your silence is a lie.

And let me add this just here. Lies don’t come in colors. There is no such thing as a white lie. What we mean by a “white lie,” is apparently one that doesn’t hurt anybody. One that doesn’t involve important issues. One that simply spares someone hurt feelings or avoids a potential confrontation we have deemed unnecessary. But there is no such thing.
In real life people’s feelings are wounded, their trust in what we say is eroded, our relationship is made cheap.

Jesus said something haunting in Matthew 12:36, 37. “But I tell you that men and women will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”

Dallas Willard writes about a two-year-old girl in the backyard who one day discovered the secret to making mud (which she called “warm chocolate”). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but after cleaning up the mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate and turned her chair around so as to be facing her granddaughter.

The little girl soon resumed her “warm chocolate” routine, with one request posed as sweetly as a two- year-old can make it: “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Nana of course agreed. Larissa continued to manufacture warm chocolate. Three times she said, as she continued her work, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Then Willard writes, “Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is to us that we be unobserved in our wrong.”

Any time we choose to break the 9th Commandment or any of the Commandments in fact, we choose hiddenness as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one-the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making-is simply this: Don’t look at me, God.

It was the very first prayer spoken after the Fall. God came to walk in the garden, to be with the man and the woman, and called, “Where are you?”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, … so I hid.” Don’t look at me, God.

When we cheat on our taxes or deliberately make a coworker look bad, or when a student who looks at somebody else’s paper during an exam. A church member who looks forward to the chance to gossip.

All first must say a little prayer. Don’t look at me, God.

We don’t say it out loud, of course. We probably don’t admit it even to ourselves. But it’s the choice our heart makes: Don’t look at me, God.

After a while this prayer can become so ingrained that we’re not even aware of it.

When we lie, by our silence, by intentionally misleading someone, by outright deceit, we erode the foundation of trust on which community is built, and our prayer becomes Don’t Look At me God.

Lies are the deeply hidden fault lines beneath our lives. Even the slightest movement away from full and total honesty sends a tremor to the surface where we live, shaking everything we have labored to build.

It takes decades to build a citadel of trust. It takes just one lie to tear it down.


Sermon: Trusting Community

Exodus 20:1-17

YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
Beneath these terse words of the eighth commandment, is an ageless principle. God intends for his people to live in trusting, loving community with each other.

To steal is to take something which belongs to another and to claim it for yourself.

It is more than simply taking stuff – it is a violation of trust.

It creates insecurity in the community

And it raise walls between friends,

 

FIVE PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY

First, the right of ownership
If you and I are forbidden to take by stealth or violence the property of another, then God is in fact affirming the right of human beings to own possessions.

All through the Scriptures, the rights of people to own and manage property and possessions are affirmed. In fact, in the Old Testament, restitution is demanded of thieves who steal another’s property.
Exodus 22:3 requires a thief to pay back double what he took.

Why does God seek to protect the right of ownership. Things cannot make us happy, but we do need things – houses, money, food, clothing, and transportation – to live. In protecting ownership, God is protecting life and health.

The second principle is the dignity of work.
There are really only four scriptural ways to gain something; work for them, purchase them, inherit them, and receive them as gifts. Any thing else is sinful.

Virtually every experiment with socialism has failed because people stop working and/or lose any incentive to work well.

Why work when the community will force those who already have the necessities of life to give them to you?

Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:28. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Stealing is often, not always, but often a means of avoiding work. By its very nature it devalues labor and productivity. But it does more than that. It devalues people.

It assumes that other human beings exist as an opportunity for exploitation and gain. They exist to serve the needs or desires of the thief.
Again, the focus is not on possessions, but on people. Paul wanted his readers to work not so that they could amass for themselves limitless possessions, but so that they could help people in need.

A third principle of community is honesty.
Without honesty, community becomes a combat zone where people take advantage of every opportunity to exploit another’s misfortune for their own gain.

Margie and I were driving back from a holiday with my late Dad one time when we came across a truck rollover. A truck was full of liquor – there were up to 40 cars in front and behind the truck and people were carrying box loads of gin bottles from the truck to their cars. At the truck itself, the poor driver was hopelessly trying to stop the looting but people just pushed him out of the way.

It’s pretty easy for us to judge to people who pillage an overturned truck. But what about when the till operator short changes you? What happens when the waitress forgets to include something on your bill?

Insurance claims? Taxes. Expense reports.

Incorrect or falsified billing – charging for 6 hours when you only worked 5. What happens when you find a $10 note on the floor?

We’re tempted to blame the inefficiency of till operators or the gullibility of customers. Or we fall back on that tired old cliché, “Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers.”

But the Bible calls us to a rigorous standard of honesty. Deuteronomy 22:1 says that if you find your brother’s ox you are to return it. And just in case someone tries to get fancy with the definition of “brother,” Exodus 23:4 says that if you find your enemies ox, return it!

Stories like the one about the pillaged liquor truck can be balanced by good stories. A man filled up with petrol, paid the attendant and was preparing to drive away when he realized he’d been given too much change. He went inside and reported the error to the owner of the petrol station. The owner was taken aback by the man’s honesty. He said that in twenty years that had happened only once before. He remembered that a man, somewhat older than this honest customer, had returned for the same reason. “In fact,” the petrol station owner said, “the man was driving a truck with the same logo as the one you have on your van.” There were only two trucks in the whole town with that logo. One owned by this honest customer, and the other by his father. Honesty runs in the family.

The fourth principle of community is the importance of giving.
In Malachi 3:8 – 10, God asked a question. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.”

Israel was stealing from God by failing to give. But pay careful attention to what the next verse says.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

God didn’t want the food for himself. He wanted money in the treasury so that those who needed financial help could find it. God has always wanted his people to give so that those in need could be cared for.

Stealing does more than reduce the victim’s ability to give. It reduces our will to give as well. When something is taken from us, we naturally become more possessive of what is left. The more possessive we become, the less generous we are.

The less generous we are, the poorer the church becomes.

It is rare that you find a victim of theft as eager to give as someone who has never known that fear. And you never find a thief who has a heart to give. The eighth commandment seeks to protect and affirm the value of generosity.

One last community principle is affirmed in this commandment; the inability of possessions to make us happy.
Someone once said that contentment is a virtue to be cultivated not by expanding wealth, but by diminishing desire.

When we keep a $10 note we find on the floor without trying to return it to its owner, when we pocket the incorrect change, when we cheat on our taxes, when we overcharge a client, when we lie about our age to get a discount, we are confessing something. We are confessing that we believe happiness comes from possessions. The more we possess the happier we are.

It’s a slow process so often we don’t notice it. But when we live that way, our community begins to break down. Eventually we begin to see people not as valued creatures made in the image of God, but as something to exploit. Possessions become more important to us than our relationships.

We see people who have more than we do and we envy them. Envy turns to jealousy and our jealousy has the potential to turn to violence. Life together becomes a dangerous, sometimes deadly game, where the one with the most is perceived to be the winner. Ultimately, though we all lose.

But losing touch with each other is not the greatest loss. When we violate the eighth commandment, whether by outright theft, or by other, more socially acceptable forms of dishonesty, we are also violating the first commandment to have no other gods before the one, true God.

Something has become more important to us that the most important Someone … God!

And like we said at the beginning of this series every command follows from the first one of putting God first.

When something is stolen from us it’s fairly easy to replace it.
But when God wanted to replace a stolen relationship, it cost him dearly.

Satan stole our relationship with God by deceiving Adam and Eve. And that’s what’s at stake here.

Not stuff but Souls.

The next time you or I are faced with an opportunity to practice community-building-honesty or community-destroying-dishonesty, we need to remember what price our God had to pay for us to have community in the first place.

The same price He paid for your soul. The price paid on the Cross.


Sermon: Pure Covenant

Exodus 20:1-17

Today we are looking at the 7th commandment – verse 14 of Exodus 20 – “You shall not commit adultery”.

It’s also the sex commandment – and throughout the Bible God we see that God is deeply concerned about sexual relationships.

On the one hand, He blesses and honours sexual relationships – even celebrates it, as in the Song of Songs; while on the other He places severe restrictions and penalties on sexual relationships outside of marriage.

And these sexual relationships are not confined to physical encounters but also to fantasies.

Matthew 5:27          “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And these sexual fantasies are not confined to men.

Isaiah 3:16 speaks of the daughters of Zion who walk around with wanton eyes.

We tend to focus on physical adultery (meaning a sexual relationship with someone who is not your marriage partner) and to some extent on mind adultery – fantasies, such as pornography.

But there is also spiritual adultery!

Ezekiel 16 is a tirade against the spiritual adultery of God’s people. Verse 32           “ ‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors.

In Matthew 12:39 Jesus calls the Pharisees “a wicked and adulterous generation”.

Today I want to look further than sexual adultery – sexual relationships outside of the faithful marriage of one man and one woman.

However, because the Bible uses marriage to help us understand the sanctity of relationships – between husband and wife, friendships and between God and His people, I will use marriage to illustrate the depth of covenant between people and with God.

Our Father in heaven is a covenant making God. He is committed to the relationship with His creation and particularly with the people made in His image.

It begins in Genesis and continues through Revelation …

From the moment God brought the woman to Adam and the man said, “this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” to John’s vision of the Bride coming down from heaven beautifully dressed for her husband – we see God’s intense passion for pure covenant relationships.

The Bible refers to the ritual of covenant making in a number of places, perhaps most explicitly (but not completely) in Genesis 15 where God enters into covenant with Abram.

The ancient covenant making ceremonies involved the relationship between two people in which they gave themselves totally to one another.

  1. They exchanged their outer garments (which represented their status in the world),
  2. They exchanged their belts and weapons (which represented their individual strength),
  3. They incorporated their names into each other (eg Abram became Abra-ha-m, incorporating the “ha” from Yahweh),
  4. They cut their hands or wrists and clasped them together saying, ‘As our blood mingles so may our lives be mingled.’ (This signified the total togetherness of their lives – the subsequent scars were a sign to others that they were in covenant relationship with another person. Circumcision was later to become this sign of the ‘cutting of the flesh’).
  5. They slaughtered an animal and cut it in half down its length, circled them in a figure 8 and vowed before God that He could cut them in two if they failed to keep the covenant.
  6. They then shared a meal together to complete the covenant ceremony. (In Hebrew, the word for “covenant” is “b’rith” which means “to eat together.”)

Of course man can never enter into covenant with God on equal terms, which is why God put both Adam and Abram into a deep sleep when He entered into covenant with them. They were then unable to contribute anything to the covenant terms – it is all God’s grace.

When God made the covenant with Abram, it was choosing him to be the father of nations … that covenant still prevails today. We, as Christians, still worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has been revealed in Jesus; and through Him a new covenant has been made.

We even see the covenant “marks” in what Jesus did for us: He gave us robes of righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags of sin, He, who could have called upon 12 legions of angels took our human weakness. there are the marks of the nails in his hands, He is the Lamb that was slain, the terms of the covenant are set out in Jeremiah 31:33            “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And we have the Communion meal as our b’rith –our eating together.

The covenant that God made with Adam was the forerunner of the marriage covenant and signifies to us that God is very much a part of it.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Gen 2:24

In fact the marriage ceremony still contains many aspects that relate back to the ancient covenant making ceremonies, eg the taking of the right hand, the vows, the ring (symbolising the scar), the change of the wife’s surname, the cutting of the wedding cake (symbolising the slaughtered animal, the cutting of the flesh and the covenant meal).

Covenants are lifelong commitments, our lives become intermingled: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

And God desires us to be faithful to our covenants: in marriage, in our friendships and in our relationship with Him.

And so when He gives us the 7th commandment and says, “You shall not commit adultery” He is calling us into faithful relationship, not only with our spouse, but also with God, and with each other.

Seen in this sense, the 7th commandment may well be the most important of all of these ten words – if it were at all possible to grade them.

By keeping our relationship right with God, our spouse and with each other we will automatically fulfil all of the other commands.

And the enemy understands this much more than we seem to. This is why we face a threat to our understanding of marriage, and the massive decline in sexual morality.

Click for CHART The Mortality Drift

God has set a Way before us in Covenant, in the Law and in Christ Jesus. These are not different ways, but the same Way expressed in different terms and becoming progressively more dependent on the grace of God, which, incidentally, is more than sufficient for us, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s Way is a straight path. In Matthew 7:13 Jesus says, “   “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14           But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Satan does not want us to walk in the Way of Christ and so he entices us into physical, mental and spiritual adultery. Our world is steadily drifting away from the Way of Christ.

And it is happening most obviously in the area of sexual sin – remember though that sex is not sinful, indeed it is wonderful – perhaps the most amazing gift which God has given us. And because of that, the evil one seeks to pervert it.

In the beginning, sexual union was the way in which a husband and wife consummated their covenant relationship. In Genesis 2:23 when it speaks of “a man being united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh” it refers directly to the physical act of sexual union. Today we call it “making love” because we have lost the meaning of love.

Love now becomes an embrace of anyone and anything. It is an acceptance of sin for grace, of evil for good and satisfaction in “whatever floats your boat”.

And in the process satan has quite efficiently destroyed relationships in marriages, relationships and with God.

So back to our chart …

Contraception

Lowering of age of consent

Paedophilia

Sexual intercourse before and outside marriage

Abortion

No fault divorce

De facto legal equality

Legal equality for same sex relationships

Same sex parenting

Gender selection of children

Personal choice for gender identity

Polyamorous marriages

I’m not sure where we go from here: Romans 1:24 onwards tells us that this is nothing new … They turned their hearts to sexual impurity, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones, men committed indecent acts with other men, they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity – they invent ways of doing evil!

But if the world is intent on following this drift, it does not mean that we have to.

I believe that God is calling us back to the Way.

He is challenging us to follow the path of righteousness and to return to Him.

He has given us this Way in Jesus Christ.

And the way of return is repentance.

This doesn’t mean that we go straight from now onwards.

It means that we must return to the Way of Christ.

And by our example in our homes, families, workplace and church we will show the world how it might recover from its foolishness, and find true meaning in the life God has given us, rather than in the relentless pursuit of desires which are never satisfied and which can never bring satisfaction.

Do not commit adultery against your husband or wife

– neither physically, nor in your mind

Do not commit adultery in other relationships

– not against your friends, your family nor your employer

Do not commit adultery against God

  • not in your faith, nor in your practice.

And if you have failed in any of these in the past, remember that we serve a loving Father who looks with grace upon those who return to Him, and will always restore the repentant heart!


Sermon: Valuable Life

Exodus 20:1-17

It was in the Autumn when he brought his gift, when the leaves turn and the days grow shorter and the wind begins to blow just a little colder in the evenings. It was his favorite time of year.

The winter was horrible. Nothing grew. Even if he could have plowed the seeds would be wasted. The frozen ground was unyielding. It refused to receive and if forced to accept, refused to give anything back. In the winter he hated the land.

He welcomed the spring with its promise of new life. In the spring, he fell in love with the land again. It seemed to almost beckon him to begin. He endured the heat and weeds and work of summer with patience since he knew that autumn followed soon. And in the autumn he could reap the fruit of his sweat and labor.

So he brought his gift to the Father; the first fruits of the harvest. The best part. It wasn’t exactly what the Father had asked for, but it was what he loved most. And wouldn’t the Father accept so loved a gift? His brother, too, brought an offering, part of one of the animals from his flock. It was bloody and greasy.

Brown dirt stuck to the red meat and the flies swarmed. It was loathsome to smell. They waited there side by side at the altar for the Father to accept their gifts. Then He came. The Father looked first at both men, then at their gifts. Cain waited for His smile. But His smile did not come. His face was cold as the Winter and Cain hated the Winter. The Father looked at Abel and smiled approvingly.

He took the dirty, red meat and without a word He vanished. Cain’s beautiful gift, the fruit of his sweat and toil, was left on the altar to wither in the sun.
The emotion he felt that day was not a new one. Cain knew anger. He’d been angry at the land, angry at the weeds, angry at the heat. But this anger was different. It was directed not at something, but someone. Cain was angry with his brother Abel. And in a strange way, the anger felt good.

Then the Father spoke. “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

He’d heard of sin. His father and mother had told him of it, warned him about it. As a child he’d been afraid of it. In the field once, he’d seen a serpent slithering among the plants. Out of fear he had crushed its head with a heavy rock. He remembered how the long, slender body had rolled in the dirt, coiling around the rock until all movement stopped. Now, the Father was telling him that sin was crouching at the door. But he felt no fear this time. Only anger.

The Father left and Cain rose to find his brother. “Let’s go out to the field,” he said. Abel, always the compliant one, led the way. As he followed behind him, Cain glared at his brother and felt his anger grow. The wind gusted and he caught the odor of sheep on his brother and the anger turned to hatred. When they walked over the crest of a hill where no one could see, Cain shoved his brother from behind, knocking him to the ground. Before Abel could catch his breath and voice a protest, Cain picked up a large stone and raised it above his head. He had wielded this weapon before out of fear. There was no fear this time. Only anger. Only hatred. With all his might he hurled the stone down upon his brother. Just like the snake, Abel rolled in the dirt for a moment, then was still. The last thing
Cain saw before he turned to walk away was his brother’s blood gathering in a depression in the earth.

The first murder on planet earth might have happened in that way. The sixth commandment may not be the most frequently violated of all the commands, but as we see from the story, when this one is disobeyed, more is broken than the law. From the beginning, human life has been sacred to God.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, ” “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; “

Vs. 27 adds, ” And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them..”

In Genesis 9:5- 6, God told Noah, “And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”

God has valued life from the beginning, but from the beginning human beings have sold it at a bargain price. Besides Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, Genesis records other acts of violence. In one of the earliest poems ever composed, in Genesis 4:23 – 24, Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

Genesis was just the beginning. The Bible records hundreds of murders. And they didn’t stop with Revelation. History records millions. We are a murderous people.

But is there more to the sixth commandment than a way of measuring how far the human race has fallen from the ideal? Isn’t there something we need to hear? None of us is guilty of murder. Probably haven’t even been tempted by it. But that doesn’t mean we can breeze through this commandment as if it has nothing to say to us. As with all of these commandments from God, there is more than first meets the ears.

Before we talk about what some of the implications of this commandment are, I want to mention several things that are not prohibited by this commandment.

First of all, it is significant that the commandment God gave was not “Thou shalt not kill” but rather “Thou shalt not commit murder.”

The Hebrew word that is used here is very specific and refers to murder. And, of course, as we know there’s a big difference between murder and killing.

It’s obvious that God didn’t intend to prohibit all life-taking, because the penalty for murder under the law of Moses was death. So if this commandment meant that you could never take a person’s life, then you couldn’t have someone punished for murder. There is a definite distinction made in the Bible between killing which is lawful and killing which is unlawful. Lets look at some of these…

Justifiable homicide
The law of Moses said there were certain times when a person was justified in killing another person. Suppose, for example, someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night. You wake up and discover him, there is a struggle and the thief is killed. According to the law of Moses, that type of killing didn’t fall under the sixth commandment.

We read in Exodus 22:2 “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.”

War
The Bible is clear also that the same God who told the Hebrews not to murder often sent them into war and told them to kill. And nowhere in Scripture New Testament or Old, are soldiers told to give up their military careers in order to be faithful to God. I would assume, then, that there are at least occasions when a person would be justified in taking a life in times of war.

Capital punishment
The Old Testament not only permitted but required the death penalty for certain crimes.

It’s interesting to me that this is the only law that is repeated in each and every one of the first five books of the Bible. God commanded the death penalty be given for murder, rape, kidnapping, and several other crimes.

When we look to the New Testament, when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, He never challenged the state’s right to execute criminals. Rather, Jesus acknowledged that right and told Pilate that his authority came from God (John 19:10).

In Romans 13:4, Paul makes it clear that the authority of the government to punish wrongdoers comes from God. “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

Well, enough of what the sixth commandment does NOT say. Let’s talk about what it does say and, more importantly, why it says it.

The Reason Behind This Commandment
God says, “You shall not murder.” What is the message or the principle that God is trying to get across to us in this commandment?
Basically, what God is saying is that human life is precious, it is sacred, and we ought to have the utmost respect for all human life.
I believe that there are two reasons.
1. Human life is sacred because we are made in the image of God.
God created all of life, including plants and animals. But if you look at Genesis chapter one, you’ll see that humans were created in a different way than the way all the other things were created. In every other act of creation, God said, “Let there be,” and it was so.

“Let there be light.” “Let there be plants.” Let there be birds and fish.” God spoke and creation occurred. But the creation of human life was different. God said, “Let us make man…” God didn’t just speak us into existence as he did everything else. No, he made us. We are the closest thing in all creation to God. We are the only part of creation made in the image of God.

In Genesis 2:7, “God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” God didn’t “breathe the breath of life” into any other creature, only man.

I like the words of T. S. Eliot who said, “…There’s something in us, in all of us which isn’t just heredity, but something unique. Something we have been from eternity. Something… straight from God.”

2. Human life is valuable because of the price that was paid
I was visiting a member of our congregation a little while back and found that he collected Comics. What’s a Comic worth? Well, I’m sure if you added up the material cost, it might be around a couple of rand. But if you’ve got a rare Comic that everybody wants to buy, it might be worth several hundred rands. You determine the value of something by what someone is willing to pay.

That concept is important, because it tells us exactly what a human life is worth. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

So let’s get practical here. Your next door neighbor – the one whose dog barks all night – The one who plays loud music and refuses to mow the lawn on the pavement – who complains about the trees in your garden. How much is he worth? He’s worth so much that Jesus Christ was willing to give his life so that he might know salvation.

How about the guy who cuts you off in the traffic? Or the driver who just sits there when the light turns green? Guess what, they’re worth that much, too. And so is every man and woman who irritates you, who frustrates you, and even those who may ridicule and abuse you.

You see, ultimately, the sixth commandment is about more than just murder. Which is a shame because I was beginning to feel pretty self-righteous because I’ve never murdered anybody. Ultimately the sixth commandment has to do with the respect I have for people and the value I place on their lives.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ’Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ’You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-23)

I think what Jesus is saying is that when we get this angry with someone then deep down inside we’re thinking that this person doesn’t deserve to be alive. In that instant of anger, we’re saying, “I don’t want to have anything to do with this person….as far as I’m concerned my life would be better if his life would end.” And perhaps we have been at that point more often than we’d like to admit. If we’re not careful, we can live our lives motivated by anger and hatred.

But I would suggest that the principle of the sixth commandment even goes beyond that. It is a call to respect people and care about them.

That means that if we want to see the true value of human beings, we need to see them from God’s perspective. Because the only way to truly cherish the lives of other people is to see each and every person the way God sees them: made in his image, and worth more than the life of his only Son.
Let me give you an example of how we might do this – you might remember the story of Terry Schaivo. This is a quote from Wikipedia..

Theresa Marie Schindler “Terri” Schiavo was an American woman who suffered brain damage and became dependent on a feeding tube. She collapsed in her home on February 25, 1990, and experienced respiratory and cardiac arrest, resulting in extensive brain damage, a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state (PVS) and 15 years of institutionalization. In 1998, Michael Schiavo, her husband and guardian, petitioned the Pinellas County Circuit Court to remove her feeding tube. Robert and Mary Schindler, her parents, opposed this, arguing she was conscious. The court determined that Schiavo would not wish to continue life-prolonging measures. This controversy stretched on for seven years and included involvement by politicians and advocacy groups, notably pro-life and disability rights ones. Before the local court’s decision was carried out, on March 18, 2005, the governments of Florida and the United States had passed laws that sought, unsuccessfully, to prevent removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube. These events resulted in extensive national and international media coverage.

By March 2005, the legal history around the Schiavo case included fourteen appeals and numerous motions, petitions, and hearings in the Florida courts; five suits in Federal District Court; Florida legislation struck down by the Supreme Court of Florida; a subpoena by a congressional committee to qualify Schiavo for witness protection; federal legislation (Palm Sunday Compromise); and four denials of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States.

She died at a Pinellas Park hospice on March 31, 2005, at the age of 41. Some have since maintained that her death constituted judicial murder.

It seems to me that not only physicians but the rest of us are smart enough to know the difference between protecting, enhancing, and empowering a human life with reasonable hope of recovery and merely prolonging the process of dying. Skill and technology that help our recoveries are admirable and ethical; the same skill and technology used to prolong our dying are unnecessary and ill-advised.

Maybe a key issue here is our common insensitivity which fails to see that what is best possible treatment for a person lacking higher brain function is not always the most treatment possible. The idea that an emotional observer’s faint hope of another’s recovery is better than peer-reviewed medical judgment under extensive court scrutiny over several years is simply irresponsible.

Death is sometimes an ally instead of an enemy. Perhaps death itself needs to be reconsidered by all of us. It is not an absolute evil. It is sometimes an instrumental good for those without reasonable hope of recovery. Sometimes the real evil lies in forcing someone to endure existence that is no longer really life.

At the root of the Sixth Commandment is God’s concern for how we treat each other.

And any time we violate the dignity of a human being we are treating that person with contempt
Any time we permit our anger to seethe and boil without resolution, we devalue not on the relationship we share with that person, but also that person’s life.

Any time we dismiss someone out of prejudice, dislike or disrespect, we fall under the condemnation of the sixth commandment.

To Jesus, every human being is a brother and sister. And because we are members of the same family, the human race, we have a responsibility to each other. In Genesis, with the memory of his brother’s blood still fresh in his mind, God confronted Cain. “Where is your brother?”

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked. God said to him, “The blood of your brother cries out to me from the ground.”

 

Yes, Cain, you are your brother’s keeper. And so are all of us. The challenge of the sixth commandment is not simply to avoid the taking of human life, but to value the life that God gave … to treat it with dignity and the deepest respect.