Revering God’s Name – A Reprise


Anne Elisabeth Stengl's rescue dogSome years ago I saw a Facebook ad: “Hit ‘Like’ if you love Jesus.”

Is it wrong or sinful or a bad testimony to join the over 9,000 people who hit “Like”? I’m not ready to go that far, but the first thing I thought when I saw that was, How cheap.

It’s like taking the most valuable human relationship you can imagine and saying, “Show how much you love your spouse or your kids by hitting ‘Like.’ ” Does hitting “Like” really show how much you love them?

It reminds me of an era gone by when there were bumper stickers saying, “Honk if you love Jesus.” Really? Honking or Liking shows you love Jesus?

Honk if you want that driver to wake up and realize the light turned green; honk if a dog is sitting in the road and won’t move, honk if another driver doesn’t see you and starts to swerve into you, but honk if you love Jesus?

Hit “Like” if your friend posts a cute picture of her new puppy, hit “Like” if a commenter says something you agree with, hit “Like” if someone cheers for your same sports team, but hit “Like” if you love Jesus?

These kinds of soundbite responses are typical of our culture, but I’m troubled when we reduce our relationship to our Savior and Lord to a one-second button push or, in the olden days, a tap on the horn.

I’m wondering if such a costless and near anonymous declaration isn’t also meaningless, and maybe worse. When we put Jesus on a par with the thousands of other things people can “Like” on Facebook, aren’t we actually demeaning Him?

Scripture says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of Deity to dwell in [Christ]” (Colossians 1:19). Yet we’re saying, treat Him the way you treat your favorite actress or singer or politician. Or your friend’s real estate business or restaurant or antique shop.

Clearly, not everyone treats God this way–because some never had any reverence for Him and others believe Him to be high and Holy and beyond a gimmicky “Like” button. Sadly, I don’t see the former group taking much notice of God because a group of people are hitting the “Like” button to say they love Jesus.

If we truly love Him, we’ll obey His commandments. That’s what He said. And His commandments were two-fold: love God and love your neighbor.

If we truly revere God and His name, we’d do an act of kindness for our neighbor–something significant that cost us in time or in money. We wouldn’t honk as we drove off for the day, shouting out the window, I just wanted you to know I love you. We wouldn’t flash a “Like” sign when we spotted them walking to their front door.

Those are cheap expressions that might make us feel warm and fuzzy for a few seconds, but they in no way lift up God’s name or show Him as the one we worship as Creator and King.

How can we expect a world in need of our Savior to give Him a second thought when we treat Him in such a cavalier, perfunctory way? How could anyone believe we have a genuine relationship with someone we treat with such disrespect? How can they believe He is God when we so clearly don’t treat Him as a person who is worthy of our highest praise, not our quick hit of the “Like” button.

David said in Psalm 18

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock
And exalted be the God of my salvation.

Declaring God’s greatness and His attributes and His work to rescue us, deliver us, enlarge our steps, and set us on our high places is far removed, in my view, from hitting the “Like” button.

Of course we’re not all poets like King David was, but we can sing out the praises he wrote, and we can scratch out our own praises in our poor prose, we can certainly cry out our thanks to God in prayer.

And we can “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

Hitting the “Like” button . . . may we think better of God than that.

This post first appeared here in October 2013.

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Published in: on January 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Main Thing Should Be The Main Thing


Some time ago, a speaker gave an introduction to his sermon by pointing to Jesus’s statement identifying the two most important commandments. I don’t remember which gospel he preached from, but Matthew says it this way:

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (22:37-40)

The preacher then went on to speak about loving our neighbor and what that entails. Which is fine, but I remember thinking, What about the FIRST commandment? Why does it seem like more and more of our sermons are about the second, about our horizontal relationships, and less about the one that is the main thing, our vertical relationship with God.

Before he became our pastor, Darin McWatters spoke at my church as one of the guest, and he provided, what I think, are some keys to obeying this “love God” part of the instruction.

He spoke from John 3, a passage about John the Baptist and his answer to his disciples who were upset that Jesus seemed to be stealing away their followers. John showed four particular reactions: dependence on God, deflection of attention aimed at him, dedication as a friend of the bridegroom, and a willingness to decrease in importance so that Jesus would increase.

I think all four of these are aspects of loving God.

A couple points stood out to me, but one in particular seems to put the two commands Jesus related in their proper order. People actually need Jesus more than they need us. In other words, if we love them well, we will first want them to meet Jesus. We can still paint their house or hand out sandwiches—all kinds of things that our neighbors need—but our eyes need to be focused on what they need first and foremost.

Which kind of leads to the next point. Drawing people to US is a mistake. If we have a big following, so what? The goal should be to draw people to Christ

Third, like the friend of the bridegroom, we need to remember that we, the Church, don’t exist for our own sake. We are there as servants to attend to the One who ought to be the center of attention. Our desire should be for the advancement of the good name of Christ, not the comfort of His people.

And finally, our culture loves fame, craves the spotlight, and it’s easy for us (me included) to assume that the more famous a Christian becomes, the more attention God will receive. So, our thinking becomes, we must increase so He may increase.

Sadly some congregations fall into false teaching, and they’re formula then becomes, He must increase so that we may increase.

But John didn’t say either of those. He said, I must decrease so that He may increase. Which pretty much rules out “marketing” the gospel. No one wants to buy from you if you say, I don’t have it, but I know who does. It’s not the kind of sales pitch that makes the top ten.

But it’s where God wants us to be. We are, after all, here so we can give Him glory, so we can put Him center stage, so we can turn the spotlights on Him.

I know some people think that’s selfish of Him for “hogging” the attention. But shouldn’t the star get star treatment? Shouldn’t the gold medal winner get the most press coverage? Shouldn’t the King receive the acclaim as head of state? How much more does God deserve our praise?

Published in: on January 9, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Revering God’s Name


Anne Elisabeth Stengl's rescue dogI just saw a Facebook ad: “Hit ‘Like’ if you love Jesus.”

Is it wrong or sinful or a bad testimony to join the over 9,000 people who have hit “Like”? I’m not ready to go that far, but the first thing I thought when I saw that was, How cheap.

It’s like taking the most valuable relationship you can imagine and saying, show how much you love your spouse or your kids by hitting “Like.” Does hitting “Like” really show how much you love them?

It reminds me of an era gone by when there were bumper stickers saying, “Honk if you love Jesus.” Really? Honking or Liking shows you love Jesus?

Honk if you want that driver to wake up and realize the light turned green; honk if a dog is sitting in the road and won’t move, honk if another driver doesn’t see you and starts to swerve into you, but honk if you love Jesus?

Hit “Like” if your friend posts a cute picture of her new puppy, hit “Like” if a commenter says something you agree with, hit “Like” if someone cheers for your same sports team, but hit “Like” if you love Jesus?

These kinds of soundbite responses are typical of our culture, but I’m troubled when we reduce our relationship to our Savior and Lord to a one-second button push or, in the olden days, a tap on the horn.

I’m wondering if such a costless and near anonymous declaration isn’t also meaningless, and maybe worse. When we put Jesus on a par with the thousands of other things people can “Like” on Facebook, aren’t we actually demeaning Him?

Scripture says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of Deity to dwell in [Christ]” (Colossians 1:19). Yet we’re saying, treat Him the way you treat your favorite actress or singer or politician. Or your friend’s real estate business or restaurant or antique shop.

Clearly, not everyone treats God this way–because some never had any reverence for Him and others believe Him to be high and Holy and beyond a gimmicky “Like” button. Sadly, I don’t see the former group taking much notice of God because a group of people are hitting the “Like” button to say they love Jesus.

If we truly love Him, we’ll obey His commandments. That’s what He said. And His commandments were two-fold: love God and love your neighbor.

If we truly revere God and His name, we’d do an act of kindness for our neighbor–something significant that cost us in time or in money. We wouldn’t honk as we drove off for the day, shouting out the window, I just wanted you to know I love you. We wouldn’t flash a “Like” sign when we spotted them walking to their front door.

Those are cheap expressions that might make us feel warm and fuzzy for a few seconds, but they in no way lift up God’s name or show Him as the one we worship as Creator and King.

How can we expect a world in need of our Savior to give Him a second thought when we treat Him in such a cavalier, perfunctory way? How could anyone believe we have a genuine relationship with someone we treat with such disrespect? How can they believe He is God when we so clearly don’t treat Him as a person who is worthy of our highest praise, not our quick hit of the “Like” button.

David said in Psalm 18

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock
And exalted be the God of my salvation.

Declaring God’s greatness and His attributes and His work to rescue us, deliver us, enlarge our steps, and set us on our high places is far removed, in my view, from hitting the “Like” button.

Of course we’re not all poets like King David was, but we can sing out the praises he wrote, and we can scratch out our own praises in our poor prose, we can certainly cry out our thanks to God in prayer.

And we can “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

Hitting the “Like” button . . . may we think better of God than that.

Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Reposted from Nov. 2011

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Upside Down Commands  
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The FIRST Command Is To Love God


I just read a long, rather impassioned post about same-sex marriage from someone who identifies as a Christian, though not as a Christianist, defined as “those on the fringes of the religious right who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression,” but then described as all those who lined up at a Chick-Fil-A to support Mr. Cathy’s right to give charitably as he sees fit without being punished by the government.

Posts like this make me seriously wonder if people know what the US Constitution says and/or if they care a whit whether or not someone else’s rights are being violated–even when they disagree with that person.

But of greater issue is that the blogger said,

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” repeatedly named as the greatest commandment, means that we must imagine ourselves in our neighbors’ positions and treat them as we would treat ourselves.

While making some valid comments about how Christians should treat others, the elephant in the post is that “love your neighbor” is the second greatest command, not the first. What a misstep!

And it is no small thing in elevating our treatment of others over our treatment of God. This is the way false teaching works. God gets relegated to second place, at best.

In truth, God specifically reserved the top spot for Himself. We are to have no other gods before Him.

Jesus spelled it out clearly, a statement repeated in all three of the synoptic gospels, when He was questioned about the greatest command:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. (Matt. 22:35-38, emphasis mine)

But the key point here is that Jesus was quoting the command from Deuteronomy 6:5. A few chapters later, Moses reiterates the point:

Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 10:12)

The command is repeated yet again toward the end of the book:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes (Deut. 30:15-16a)

What’s hard to ignore is the fact that loving God and obeying God are tied together. Someone can give all the human reasoning they want to for doing whatever they wish to do, but the fact is, when that person disobeys God’s law, He’s not loving God.

The potential stumbling block is that one of God’s commands is to love our neighbors. Hence, someone can say, I am obeying God when I advocate for same-sex marriage because I am loving my neighbors who have been denied their rights.

That statement is riddled with problems. First, and really the only point that matters, is this: it is not loving to enable someone to sin.

The problem becomes complicated, as I see it, when people bearing the name of Christ wish to enforce God’s law rather than to love their neighbor by refusing to enable his sin. It’s a difference in attitude and motive, first, but it’s also a difference in conclusion–as if obeying God’s law against same-sex unions will make the individuals in question acceptable in God’s sight.

The truth is, we are separated from God, not because we are immoral, lie, get drunk, gossip, or harbor pride in our hearts. Yes, those things deserved death, but Jesus Christ took on Himself the penalty we should pay because we are bankrupt and incapable of doing enough to even our account. Instead of accepting His free gift, though, some reject Him and remain in their sin. It’s that rejection that leaves them separated from God.

Jesus never said, Clean up so you can come to Me. Rather, His message is, Come to Me, and I’ll clothe you with My righteousness and give you a new life renewed according to My image.

Loving God and obeying His commandments don’t happen because we try harder. Loving God is a response to His first loving us. Obeying God is a demonstration of our love for Him. The elements are entwined, and we confuse the issue when we try to separate one strand from the others.

Or if we forget which is the greatest command.

Published in: on September 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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A Look at the Much Maligned Law of God


I’m reading in the book of Deuteronomy in the morning. This is a book I’ve grown to love, in part because it clarifies an important theme running through the Bible.

Deuteronomy, you may remember, includes (as does Exodus) the Ten Commandments. The much maligned Ten Commandments. On one side, atheists are clamoring for the Ten Commandments to disappear from court houses and statues and cornerstones.

On the other hand, professing Christians are disparaging the Law because it does nothing but induce guilt. From The Shack:

[Jesus talking] “My words [expectancy instead of expectation and respond instead of responsibility] are alive and dynamic—full of life and possibility; yours are dead, full of law and fear and judgment. That is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures.” (p. 205)

Perhaps the character Mack’s words were legalistic, but the passage says “full of law” as if that’s a bad thing. I could point out what Paul says about the Law serving as a tutor, but I want to focus on Deuteronomy today.

Moses is passing on some last words of wisdom to the people of Israel before he dies. As he recounts what they’ve been through and what God has done for them, from time to time he says something like this:

Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deut. 10:12-13)

The key, I believe, is this: Before we are to walk in God’s ways, we are to fear Him (hold Him in awe). Before we are to serve the Lord, we are to love Him. In other words, Law divorced from relationship with God is self-effort and probably selfish, too.

But relationship with God will result in obedience and walking in God’s way—i.e. in His Law.

The last part of the verse above states that the commands are for our good. For Israel, Moses spelled this out as some remarkable, tangible gains—no barren women, an increase in the fruit of the ground, an increase in their herds and flocks, no drought, victory over nations mightier than they, prolonged days in the land, and so on.

For those of us in the Church, God’s good means, above all else, continued fellowship with Him. Sin separates us from God; obedience, in contrast, brings us near, as does repentance.

Throughout Scripture I see these steps:

    -fear God and love Him
    -obey Him
    -receive His blessings or rewards

But look how different that looks if we make some alterations.

    -obey God
    -receive His blessings or rewards

Seems to me, that particular false teaching leads to legalism.

Or how about this:

    -desire God’s blessings or rewards
    -obey Him

That false teaching leads to the health-and-wealth ideas which in turn make people mad at God for “letting them down.”

Moses keeps relationship with God front and center. Here are just a few passages:

    – fear Me and keep all My commandments (5:29)
    – you shall love the Lord your God … these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart (6:5-6)
    – you shall fear only the Lord your God … you should diligently keep the commandments (6:13-17)
    – you shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him (10:20)
    – love the Lord your God, and always keep his charge (11:1)
    – to love the Lord your God and to serve Him (11:13)
    – to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him

Seems clear to me. Relationship first, and from it flows obedience.

Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 2:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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