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Pro-life - Abortion

Can Christians do pro-life undercover work?

Earlier this month pro-life undercover journalist David Daleiden lost a bid to get a $195,000 fine against him overturned when the Ninth Court declined to consider his appeal. The fine was related to the 15 felony charges Daleiden and his investigative partner, Sandra Merrit, were hit with for undercover work exposing how the abortion industry was selling fetal body parts. That work became public on July 14, 2015, when their organization, the pro-life Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released the very first of their secretly record videos. It showed Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Deborah Nucatola, calmly discussing over dinner the prices for harvesting body parts from the unborn children they were killing. For the next three months CMP released more videos, at a rate of about one a week, with each more gruesome than the one before it. Though the mainstream media was slow to cover the videos, the regular ongoing release of new videos made them impossible to ignore. Planned Parenthood’s murderous work became such a huge public political issue that it was discussed in the presidential candidate’s debates. By any measure, the impact of these videos was phenomenal. But some Christians criticized CMP and Daleiden, because their undercover work involved creating fake identities and pretending to be potential “fetal tissue” buyers so they could encourage Planned Parenthood employees to talk about the costs and availability of unborn children's various body parts. In plain speak, Daleiden and Merrit lied to, and deceived Planned Parenthood. And some think that, no matter the good that resulted, Daleiden and Merrit were wrong to do what they did because it is always wrong to lie. So can Christians, in good conscience, do undercover pro-life work like this? In his July 20, 2015, blog post “The Ethics of the Righteous Sting Operations” Douglas Wilson argues that: “Scripture fully allows (indeed requires) deception under certain conditions, while flatly forbidding it in others.” And if we want to discern the one from the other “then we have to do some Bible study.” Wilson takes his reader to Ex. 1:17-20 in which the Hebrew midwives lie to Pharaoh, in order to save Hebrew babies’ lives. Wilson notes there is a pretty direct parallel to the baby-saving activities of the CMP, with one difference. While the midwives were acting on behalf of their own people, the pro-lifers are acting on behalf of babies with no ties to them. “If there is a difference,” Wilson writes, “this video sting was even nobler.” He also references Nathan’s confrontation with David about Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12) describing Nathan’s activities here as “deceiving someone in order to be able to confront them with the truth.” He writes that Nathan’s point was “to deceive and then unveil the deception in such a dramatic way was as to unmask the unrighteousness being confronted….The point is to reveal, not hide.” The parallels to CMP’s activities are clear. We can and should thank God for the astonishing work this group has done on behalf of the unborn. And if you want to encourage CMP to continue those efforts, you can find out how to help on their website....

Assorted

Is it ever permissible to lie?

When Reformed Perspective first started, we had regular contributions from Dutch politician and journalist Piet Jongeling.  In this article, from the October 1985 issue, he writes of his experiences during World War Two, when the Nazis arrested him and sent him  to the Amersfoort concentration camp. ***** People who are in the public eye must be prepared to face the criticism of onlookers and bystanders if they want to stay in business. I have experienced that quite often in my life as journalist, politician, and author. One of those experiences was a letter I received recently and which I would like to share with you. The letter read as follows: Dear Mr. Jongeling: Some time ago I had to do an essay on the topic of "the white lie" for a Reformed young peoples group. I would like to share part of my introduction with you. I wrote:  In a book about Dr. R.J. Dam I read that the question of the “white lie” became a vital issue during the German occupation of the Netherlands, and that Dr. Dam discussed this issue several times, and in great depth. On the one hand, he rejected the easy acceptance of lying that was so often the case during the war. On the other hand he showed a real understanding of the Biblical dilemma Christians faced here: to speak or not to speak lies, and to do so in love for God and for their neighbor. He understood how difficult it would be always to witness to the truth if he were to fall into the hands of the enemy. So as much as he hated the necessity of lying, he maintained that if he were forced to speak, he would never want to put other people's lives in jeopardy. Clear enough. How different is Jongeling! In the booklet "Called and Gone," an interview with Peter Bergwerff and Tjerk de Vries, Jongeling says: “I have lied faster than a horse can trot.” Such a statement forces me to classify Jongeling with the many people who during the war stole like the gypsies. Thus far a part of my introduction. As could be expected, your quote about "lying faster..." was brought up in the question period. I promised the young people at the meeting that I would get in touch with you to ask you to please elaborate further on that statement, preferably in the light of Dr. Dam's position. I will soon be speaking on the same topic at a men's society meeting. I could then include your explanation in my paper. Hoping you will comply with my request, etc... Discussing it in our cell Thus far the letter. Didn't someone once say: "Give me just a single line of your writing, and I'll hang you by it?" Somehow this brother letter-writer manages to use my words "lied faster..." to put me in the lineup with those who, according to him, "stole like the gypsies" during the war. Now, the issue of whether it is ever permissible to lie has been the subject of much public discussion in the past, and it is most certainly a relevant question. So let us consider what was and what was not allowed under God's law during the German occupation. First of all, it is necessary to read my "quote" in the context of the interview in which it was given. In Called and Gone I related the events surrounding my arrest in March 1942 and the interrogations that followed. A member of our resistance group had been arrested and an anti-Nazi pamphlet had been found on him. Under heavy pressure and torture the man finally admitted that he had received the document from me. That was the truth – I worked in the distribution center from which our group spread its literature. After his confession I was promptly picked up. But the search of my house yielded no evidence: everything had been quickly gathered up and hidden somewhere else. In this excerpt from the Called and Gone interview I continue recounting my experience in German custody. We were both questioned for days on end, first in the police office and later in the remand center in Groningen. It still amazes me how wonderfully well it all ended up. We were locked up in separate cells, although in the same block. Between us there was an empty cell. But we soon discovered that with a bit of effort we could talk via the large heating system pipe that ran through the back of all the cells. We were dragged out for questioning one at a time. When he returned – often after being tortured – I asked him what questions they had asked him, and what answers he had given. And later, when I faced the same questions, I made sure that my answers corresponded with his... ...for some time I shared a cell with Rev. J.W. Tunderman. He was minister in Helpman and on January 6, 1942, the Gestapo dragged him out of his home. In December of that same year he died in Dachau. Together with him I have prepared my case as well as possible in the circumstances ... I lied faster than a horse can trot. As was to be expected, the interviewers zeroed in on that last statement. They asked me: "Lied faster than a horse can trot? Did you give that any thought at that moment?" I replied: Yes, I did. But in a way one also acts intuitively in such a situation. Sitting in the cell together, Rev. Tunderman and I, we discussed the issue for hours on end. Tunderman was very straightforward. He said simply: “You must not tell them the truth. If you do, many others will perish.” Of course, one could say, as later Prof. Greijdanus did, that in such a case you should remain silent. But that doesn't work. Those hoodlums use the most inhumane methods to make you talk. Besides, there are situations when silence does not help either. Take as an example, a farmer who is hiding fugitives, as so many did in those days. "Are you hiding anyone?” "I won't tell ... I won't tell...” No, refusing to answer is not a practical solution. That’s why I believed it was my duty to lie. To this day I still believe that. They hit me, they hurt me, but I had built up a watertight story and that is why I could stick to it. There are situations like that in the Bible. Think of Rahab and her lie; think of Gideon with his torches in the empty jars. Those were well-designed ruses with only one intent: to mislead the enemy. Thus far the quotes from the interview. I maintain to this day that I acted, though spontaneously, yet not rashly, when I did not share the truth with those torturers in the Scholtenhuis prison. Had I remained silent, assuming for a moment that I could have kept that up even to death, the result would have been heavier pressure on my fellow inmate. And he had already succumbed once. He would most likely have been forced to mention more names. But now it became possible to communicate via the heating pipe, so that we could make up a story that steered their whole investigation to a dead end, so that further arrests were prevented. On the Ninth Commandment During the war hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people pondered how best to deal with such cloudy ethical dilemmas. Some preachers tried to provide Scriptural leadership on these matters. Rev. Tunderman did that for me in our cell. Rev. B. Holwerda did it in his preaching. In his collection, The Gifts bestowed on us by God, Part IV, we find a sermon on Lord's Day 43 (the Ninth Commandment), held on Sunday, January 24, 1943. That was in the middle of the war, when the matter of “white lies” was extremely relevant. And it was at a time when many ministers of the Gospel had already been dragged away into concentration camps because they had said things on the pulpit which were not to the liking of the occupying forces. This did not deter Rev. Holwerda. He let the light of God's Word shine on those points that, especially amidst the terror of war and the confusion of the occupation, most had to be clarified. Holwerda explains that the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” brings us into the realm of the courts. These courts are in place so that the government may avenge unrighteousness in a righteous manner. To that end, proper order is to be maintained, and everyone is called upon to give his full cooperation with these courts. Therefore, when so requested, one must speak the truth. But it would be another thing altogether if telling the truth would become instrumental in the abuse of justice. Then, according to Holwerda, witnessing to that truth has become senseless. As he puts it: When the Lord asks His children to walk in the truth and to act in truth, there is something more and different at stake than simply providing factually accurate information. Communion with God and our neighbor comes first. Therefore, in the life of obedience to this Ninth Commandment the key question we need to ask is not whether we are at odds with the facts, but rather whether we are shortchanging our neighbor... If I am put under pressure to make a statement which clearly would deliver my neighbor (or myself) up to unrighteousness and render him defenseless against the brutal force of the father of lies, woe then to me if I dare speak the truth! For then I sacrifice my neighbor on the altar of the facts. But the Ninth commandment forbids me to sabotage justice. Therefore, it commands me to sabotage unrighteousness — if need be, through an incorrect declaration. If need be, I must be willing to sacrifice the facts for the sake of the urgent needs of my neighbor... Holwerda continues with examples from the Bible. And he warns against abuse. Let no one say: We may do as we please; the minister has said so... No, you shall love your neighbor, honor his rights, defend his good name and reputation, and so ensure that there is room for him within society. And you shall love him “as yourself.” You shall also protect your own rights. All this is necessary, otherwise society will collapse and sink in the mire of lawlessness. A Reformed thesis In 1979 the Korean minister Bo Min Lee was promoted to doctor of theology at the Kampen seminary. His thesis was entitled: Mendacium officiosum, with this explanation as a subtitle: "A discussion of the so-called white lie, with special emphasis on Augustine's views." Although there is quite a bit of Latin in this dissertation, it is written in a clear and readable manner. A comprehensive critique is not in place here, but a few lines and conclusions may suffice to illustrate the point I am trying to make. The concept mendacium officiosum is usually represented by the English expression "a white lie," but that does not properly express what is contained in the Latin phrase. "Officiosum" means something like: "in the service of..." According to the author, the phrase expresses the service we are sometimes called to deliver to our neighbor or to ourselves through the means of speaking an untruth. But "white lie" also indicates the critical situation in which we find ourselves and which makes the speaking of such an untruth a means of protecting ourselves and our neighbor. Augustine and many theologians after him reject any speaking of untruth, even if it results from the desire to prevent a terrible evil from befalling a neighbor; for instance, murder or rape. Bo Min Lee claims that such a radical rejection by Augustine and his followers results from an erroneous separation of the body as the lower part of man and the soul as the higher part, an idea that has its roots in the Greek world of thought. He also demonstrates that the church father could only maintain that outright rejection by following an incorrect exegesis of all kinds of Scripture passages. The Scriptures The dissertation's third chapter, entitled "Scriptural givens," begins as follows: It is as clear that Holy Writ forbids us to lie. Texts such as “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) and “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9) leave no doubt. And Augustine did not leave any of this open for discussion. But some passages of Scripture create problems and leave us with the question: is every form of lying at all times forbidden? The author then introduces a long list of texts of which the first is Rahab's misleading answer when Jericho's king demanded that she hand over Israel's spies (Joshua 2). The Bible praises Rahab because of her attitude towards the spies and the people of Israel, as we can read in these four passages: Joshua 6:17: And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent (Joshua 6:17). Joshua 6:25: But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho (J Hebrews 11:31: By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. James 2:25: And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? It’s clear that nowhere in the Bible is Rahab’s lying denounced. However, many exegetes hold that Rahab also wasn’t praised for her lying, and that it was Rahab's faith that was praised. They insist that it was still wrong of her to utter lies to save those spies. Bo Min Lee rejects this form of reasoning. In an extensive discussion of the relevant passages he shows that such conclusions are based on a twisted exegesis. Rahab is being praised in the Bible for her "faithful works," and the misleading message she gave is a vital part of those "faithful works." The same holds true for many other cases where the Bible describes how misleading statements were made with a virtuous purpose and were clearly crowned with a blessing. Think of the God-fearing midwives in Egypt (Exodus 1), of Jael and Sisera (Judges 4:18-22), of the woman of the house of Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:17-20), and also of several stratagems which have only one purpose: to impart to the enemy an erroneous image of reality. The author of the dissertation then comes to this conclusion: The Bible does not prohibit what Rahab and others have done, and therefore we have no right to introduce such a prohibition now. We realize that the mendacium officiosum may never become a matter of routine. Such “lies” may only be used in borderline situations. He continues to explain then that such borderline situations are governed not only by the Ninth Commandment, but that the other commandments are often relevant as well. That, too, he illustrates with a number of Scriptural examples. Again, it is impossible in the short space of this article to relate the many arguments Bo Min Lee produces in his thesis. He also gives ample coverage to opposing views, but refutes their ideas in a most convincing manner. A forced choice During those critical days of war and occupation, many Christians were confronted with the problem of what to do if one fell into the hands of the enemy. I was one of them. What do I do if a factually correct answer can cost others their freedom or even their lives? We had no time then to have an interesting theoretical discussion on that matter. It was literally a matter of life and death. Many, and I was one of them, concluded: I must not reveal the facts. And silence, even if I could keep that up, will not help. And just as a ruse aimed at spreading disinformation by fake actions is acceptable during times of war, so misleading the enemy with words is also acceptable — even mandatory. That, in the jail cell, facing death during the torturous interrogations, was not a choice one made rashly. But it was a choice that was suddenly forced upon people, and their correct decision has saved the lives of others. It was a choice for which I in my circumstances have prayed and for the outcome of which I have given thanks to God, the Father of truth. And if someone, like my letter-writer, equates that with the activities of those who in wartime "stole like the gypsies," he should really reflect a bit more deeply on the meaning of the ninth commandment, also as it affects his own speech.  Some readers might know Piet Jongeling better by his pen name, Piet Prins, under which he wrote the children's series "Scout," "Wambu," and "The Four Friends."...

Human Rights

The foundation of Human Rights? God's prohibitions

Human rights. A noble phrase, to be sure. But in a godless world, there are no rights, because a human right, to be a right, must demonstrate an authority greater than the authority of the state. This is why in a fascist state there are no rights, because there is no authority recognized as being superior to the state. Where there are only the edicts of the state, there are no rights, only privileges and crimes: privileges the state grants (and can take away) and crimes it forbids. Rights, privileges and crimes all have similar natures. They all spring from prohibitions. Take the edict “you shall not commit the crime of murder.” The crime is defined by a prohibition on human behavior. Similarly, the right to life springs from the Godly prohibition on human behavior found in the commandment “thou shall not murder.” This is the common nature between crimes, privileges, and rights. However, when the state respects no authority greater than the state (fascism), rights become nothing more than privileges that are granted by the state. Only when the state recognizes Divine Authority is there an opportunity for human rights. On crimes: The state typically defines crimes in two general categories: mala in se, and mala prohibita. Mala in se are crimes that are inherently evil, like murder. Mala prohibita are crimes only because the state says they are, like, for example, going 55 miles/hr in a 40 miles/hr zone. The state which fails to recognize Divine Authority cannot declare crimes mala in se, - inherently evil – because there can be no good and evil without the recognition of a moral order superior to the state. Likewise, a state which fails to recognize Divine Authority can make no claim to the “rule of law” rather than the “rule of edict.” The rule of law implies that members of the ruling class can be held accountable to a standard which has greater authority than the state. When the state recognizes no authority superior to the state, there is no law – there is only tyranny. On privileges: The state typically grants privileges under two general categories: grants based on the pragmatic effect of the privilege (weighing the degree to which the privilege will do the most good for the greatest amount of people), or grants based on feudal relationships. Feudal societies are present now in most western countries, most Marxist countries, and virtually all dictatorships. Under feudalism, your rights are based upon who you know, not on equal status under the rule of law. However, for some unknown reason, the people behind the granting of privileges have a need to establish some basis for each grant, and usually, these bases are set forth within their roster of privileges. By setting forth reasons, the granting of privileges doesn’t appear to be what it actually is: the exercise of naked force. For instance, the Preamble of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the foundations for the “rights” proclaimed therein as: the declaration of the international family of governments (we say it is so) the proclamation of the common people (the common people say it is so, at least so much of their opinion that we were actually willing to listen to) the necessity to create the rule of law in order to stop rebellion (the pragmatic reason) faith in equal human rights and human dignity (patronizing the religious community with a “faith” statement that is otherwise patent nonsense, since there are no human rights or human dignity under secular humanism). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by a mere majority of the general assembly of the United Nations, with the Soviet bloc and Saudi Arabia abstaining. Because the vote was not unanimous, the declaration is not even “global” let alone “universal.” Furthermore, because it makes no claim to Divine Authority, it is setting out only a roster of privileges. Further still, it is non-binding on all of the member states. Consequently, calling the document a Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a patent lie. In reality, it is merely the Advisory Declaration of a Majority of the UN General Assembly as to preferred government-granted privileges. The Canadian Human Rights Act is modeled on this Universal Declaration, adopting similar class distinctions. Initially, the Canadian Human Rights Act did not protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation, while the Universal Declaration did. The CHRA was subsequently amended by judicial fiat to encompass this group. On human rights: As I have said, the commonality among crimes, privileges, and rights, is that they spring from prohibitions on human interaction. Crimes and privileges are proscribed by the actions of the state, although quite often that state will call the privileges they grant “rights” when in fact, the edict itself is a tort or even a crime (anti-discrimination legislation which claims to set forth a “human right” is in fact a civil wrong when the sanction is a fine, and a crime when the sanction includes incarceration). Privileges may approach actual rights only when they correctly (that is to say, rightly) identify the right as pronounced within the Godly order (such as the right to worship freely), but when such “rights” are granted by the state – and therefore subject to revocation – they are not rights; rather, they are state-granted privileges. Consider how far we have strayed from this understanding. In 2006, the governing Socialists in Spain submitted a bill to grant “human rights” to four species of animals. The species were chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans: the so-called “great apes” or “pongids.” The Spanish government sought to attach “human” rights to apes by edict of the state, apparently because they believe that apes are human too. Human rights spring from prohibitions on human behavior. The right to free speech – a trait indigenous only to humans - for instance, springs from the prohibition on the government to act contrary to free speech. God-given rights Now, consider the Godly prohibitions set forth in Exodus 20: I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shall have no other gods before me. Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God gives thee. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. It is from this roster (although this is not an exclusive list) that our “human rights” spring. Let me stress here that we have no “right” as opposed to the will of God – He is the author of our faith, our salvation and our rights. But from this roster, human rights accrue to us because if God has prohibited it, who is man to overrule? We therefore have a right to hold our God as superior to all other proposed gods, including the state, the financial system, the school system, the dollar, consumerism, capitalism, Marxism, fascism, communism, socialism, and so forth. God has commanded us to have no God before him; we therefore have a God-given right to be free from the state placing itself above God. From the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the modern world, there is a failure of certain leaders to recognize that it is God who establishes powers and authorities on earth according to His purpose. As Nebuchadnezzar put it: “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:34-35). By means of the prohibition in the Second Commandment, we obtain the human right to reject idol worship. No state has yet to recognize this right, yet Germans had a God-ordained right not to worship the idol of Nazism. Russians had a God-ordained right not to worship the idol of Vladimir Lenin. Americans have a God-ordained right not to worship pagan idols. Canadians have a God-ordained right not to worship secular humanism. All of us in the modern world have a God-ordained right not to worship the religions of mother earth, the sun, the solstice, science or Darwinism. We have a God-ordained right to reject idols. And so it goes. We have a right to be free from adultery. We have a right to own our property and to be free from theft. How broad is the right to property? The Tenth Commandment declares that we have a right to any thing that is ours. This includes our marriages, our families, our employment relationships, our intellectual property, our real property and our personal property. Thou shall not steal, and thou shall not covet. It is from these prohibitions that we claim God’s ordination of our right to property. Right to life But let us take a moment to discuss the right to life. God says, thou shall not kill. The Hebrew term used in this instance is rashach (to intentionally kill a human being) rather than the term shachat (to take the life of an animal or human). This prohibition creates the right to be free from murder – the right to be free from someone intentionally taking your life. This is the source of our God-ordained right to life. We must obtain the sense of this, because there can be no question that the rising international state is concluding quickly that there are too many people on earth, who are eating too much food, using too much oil and creating too many “greenhouse gases.” Unless the state is reminded that there is an authority to which the state will ultimately answer, their solution, which is almost always death, will soon be upon us, particularly when they conclude that your right to life is merely a state-granted privilege – one that they gave, and one that they can take away. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the July/August 2008 issue....

Theology

#4: the forgotten commandment?

In Celebrating the Sabbath pastor Bruce Ray warns that there are two ways to fall off the horse when it comes to Sunday observance: legalism and lawlessness. LEGALISM 138 pages / 2008 Our churches used to lean in the legalistic direction, turning this gift from God into a day of “don’ts.” Riding a bike, going to the lake after church, or playing some basketball with friends were all things that “we niet doen op Zondag!” ("we do not do on Sunday!") LAWLESSNESS But today the pressure is coming from the lawless side. It seems as if Christians in most other churches don’t have a problem with working on Sunday. Sure, many do take the day off (who doesn’t like weekends off?), but if the boss wants them to come in, they won’t object. And when they get to go to church, they think nothing of going to brunch right afterward and putting cooks, waitstaff, and dishwashers to work on their behalf. The 4thCommandment has become a forgotten commandment. It’s curious. It’s as if the Western Church believes there should now be just the Nine Commandments. It's argued that the 4thCommandment was part of the Old Testament ceremonial law, and that like the rest of the ceremonial law it was fulfilled with Jesus’ coming. But as Pastor Ray points out, the Sabbath rest has a history that extends to long before God gave the Ten Commandments. It begins right in Genesis 1 and 2 with Creation. …the Sabbath was ordained before the Fall, for all people of all time. It cannot be confined to the ceremonial law appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, but was intended to be a celebration of creation for Adam and all his posterity BLESSING So, no we are not down to just Nine Commandments….and that is a very good thing. God knows us, and in this command He gives us what we badly need. In Celebrating the Sabbath Bruce Ray includes a good quote from M. J. Dawn about how the 4thcommandment is a blessing. …it forces us to rely on God for our future. On that day we do nothing to create our own way. We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish, from all the anxieties about how we can be successful in all that we have to do to get ahead. The result is that we can let God be God in our lives. So let’s embrace this commandment as both a rule for our lives and as the gift it is, given by our loving Heavenly Father who knows what we need. **** Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11...

Assorted

God gives rest: On the 4th Commandment

Years ago I blew my first shot at university. I goofed off, got lousy grades, and ending up with a one-year academic suspension. When I came back I didn’t want to mess up my second, and also last, chance. So I studied hard. It wasn’t quite 24/7, but close, and if I had an exam on Monday I would review all my notes the day before. I would be highlighting and cramming into the wee hours of Sunday night. And then my dad found out. I’d really disappointed my dad when I got suspended and didn’t want to disappoint him again. I wasn’t going to no matter how hard I had to push myself! So here’s my dad, popping his head around the corner to wish me “Good night!” and he sees me hard at work. He sees me stressing. He sees a young man in a near constant panic. I was not going to blow this. And here’s what he told me. God gives rest.  He doesn’t expect more Yes, I had to work hard those six other days of the week, but come Sunday, God said I could stop. Instead of work, we can be with our family, together, worshipping our God. Instead of stressing, we can recover. Instead of work we can play, and nap, and go to bed on time. But what if that makes me fail my Monday morning exam? My dad spelled it out very clearly: then I fail. But I fail in a very different sort of way than the first time. The first time I was lazy, and not using my God-given talents. But if I use what He’s given me, and it turns out I simply don’t have what it takes to make it in university while studying only six days a week, then so be it. Then I can fail knowing I do so to God’s glory.  That’s what my dad told me, and I am very grateful he did. It lifted a weight off my shoulders. I could stop clenching my teeth and just breathe again It also turned out that a day off can make you a lot more effective Monday through Saturday, so resting didn’t impact my grades. I did pretty well my second go around. A few years later I was a part of a political campaign that never had enough time to get things done. We worked from 6 AM until midnight every day for 6 weeks, 6 days a week. On Sundays I stopped. And we lost. What might have happened if we had gone just that little bit harder and campaigned on Sunday too? I never wonder. God didn’t require it of me, so I never had to consider it. And when we lost, I knew that this was the very best thing that could have happened. Better to fail God’s way than to succeed any other. We campaigned to God’s glory, rested to the very same end, and in losing, honored Him. Take the gift! We sometimes see the Fourth Commandment as a restriction imposed on us, but Jesus tells us it is a gift: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath rest is for us. We’re allowed to take it. What God is saying here is if the only job you can find requires Sunday work, then you don’t need to do it. You can take your Sunday rest, even if it means being unemployed. You can honor Him in turning to the deacons. If you need to work Sundays to get ahead, God says there is no need to climb the corporate ladder. You can take your rest and honor Him more by staying that one rung further down than you could ever do so by rising higher while rejecting His Sunday gift. And here’s a radical thought for all the procrastinating students out there. If you really should have been working on your project all week, but didn’t, and now it’s Sunday and the project is due the next day* and you’ve barely started,…you know what? You can still take your day of rest. Yes, you need to ask God’s forgiveness for all the laziness of the last week. But you don’t do Him any honor in starting to work hard on the day He’s given to you as rest. Take your day. Fail your project. Understand that the reason you have a lousy mark is because of all the time you wasted during the week, and it has nothing to do with the rest you took on Sunday. Then ask God to help you fight your procrastination so you don’t make this same mistake again. Embrace the gift, not the exception Sometimes there are reasons to work on Sunday. We know there are all sorts of jobs that may require some Sunday hours. We know that Jesus healed on Sunday, and encouraged taking kids and oxen out of pits even if they happen to fall in on the Sabbath (Luke 14). Police officers, farmers, ministers and the odd chemist or two, will need to work on Sunday. But the principle remains the same: God gives us rest. Taking a day off, once per week, is not only a gift from God but also a matter of, in humility, trusting Him. Each week God provides this reminder to make it clear that yes, the world can get by without us. So if your vital job keeps you from the occasional worship service, then you should still take God up on his gift of rest. Take a breather on Monday, or Saturday, and discover how you’re not quite as vital as you thought. Then stop trying to figure out a way to evade God’s generosity. Just enjoy it. In a world filled with endless work – laundry that never ends, homes that don’t repair themselves, and office work that you have to take home with you in the evening – what a wonderful gift it is to be able to stop working. Guilt-free. What a relief! Why would we ever say no? **** * One way Christian schools can encourage students to take Sunday as a day of rest is to ensure that they don't have tests, or big assignments due, on Mondays....

Assorted

The good lie? Calvin vs. Luther

During World War II, when my dad was just three, the Nazis came to his house looking for my grandfather. My grandmother, in a very convincing fashion, told them they had just missed him, and that he had headed out to the next house a quarter mile or so away. Well, my dad knew this simply wasn’t true and so he tried to be helpful and let everyone know where my grandfather really was. All he got for his efforts was a hard cuff to the head from my grandmother who, fortunately, cut him off in time. But that left him confused, as he realized my grandmother wasn’t just mistaken but was actually lying to the Nazis. And as every little kid knows, lying is always wrong. Or is it? Is there ever a time when lying can be the right thing to do? Most people seem to think so, and would, like my grandmother, lie shamelessly in a similar situation. At first glance, Scripture seems to back up this position. Rahab and the midwives In Exodus 1:15-22, for example, Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Israelite babies as they’re being born. The midwives refuse. When Pharaoh asks them why they disobeyed they lie to him and tell him that the Hebrew women were so strong they gave birth before the midwives even got there. The midwives are then rewarded by the Lord with families of their own. Another relevant passage occurs in Joshua 2. Two Israelite spies hide on the roof of Rahab the harlot’s house. When the king of Jericho asks her if she knows where the spies are, Rahab lies to him and tells him that he just missed the spies. She too, is rewarded by the Lord. So the midwives lied, and Rahab lied, and they were both rewarded. Case closed? Not so fast! Calvin vs. Luther In his commentaries, John Calvin writes about both these passages and insists the women were rewarded despite their lies, not for them. As he puts it, “those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God…..God is truth.” While it might seem the women are rewarded for their lies that isn’t actually what the Bible says. In Exodus 1:21 it states that: “because the midwives feared God he gave them families.” Their fear of God was the basis for their reward. In Hebrews 11:31 Rahab is praised for giving “friendly welcome to the spies” and for her faith, but her lie is not mentioned. James 2:25 similarly praises Rahab for receiving the spies and sending them back another way, and again her lie is not mentioned. In fact, nowhere in Scripture does it ever say the women were rewarded for their lies. It’s worth noting, however, that nowhere in Scripture are the women ever admonished for their lies either. And while Calvin thinks lying is always wrong, another Reformation heavyweight disagreed. Martin Luther once told a supporter, “What harm could it do, if a man told a good lusty lie in a worthy cause and for the sake of the Christian Church?” Now, the context of this statement was a messy, complicated situation, and, Luther's political and religious battles also made it pressure-packed. So Luther was dealing with a lot and it might not represent the man at his best. A key supporter had pressed Luther to sanction his bigamous marriage and Luther agreed, justifying it on the basis of there being no explicit condemnation of bigamy in the Bible. But the law of the time made it a capital crime. So when this second marriage was discovered, Luther urged the man, Philip of Hesse, to lie about it...for the sake of the Church. This is quite the contrast to Calvin’s hard-line stance. Two thoughts So can lying ever be good? We can say confidently that 99 percent of the time it will not be. Luther's lying certainly wasn't and got him in a lot of trouble. Though this lie was supposed to do no harm, it cost him supporters and credibility. We can learn from Luther’s life and see his approach to lying is not one we want to imitate. At the same time, I think lying might sometimes be necessary and my grandmother did the right thing. There are two different reasons. First, the Ninth Commandment forbids bearing false witness against our neighbor, and I do wonder if God stated it just so for a reason. My grandmother was lying, yes, but not to the harm of her neighbor – she was, in fact, bearing false witness for her neighbor. This, too, was what the Hebrew midwives and Rahab did. They lied, but in the service of their neighbor. A more current example of this would be the undercover work of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), where they exposed that Planned Parenthood clinics were selling aborted babies' body parts. This undercover work involved CMP members posing as interested buyers and secretly videotaping the conversations. Lying was involved, but this was also done, not against, but for their unborn neighbors. Of course, the Ninth Commandment isn't the only condemnation of lying in the Bible. But if we read the others in the context of the specific wording of the Ninth Commandment, then there is an argument to be made for this type of lying done in service to our neighbor, and, in the case of the CMP, even done in the service of uncovering the truth. (Luther justified his lie as being in the service of something good – the good of the Church. But this was very different; this was only an excuse. Hesse had done wrong and Luther was involved in it. The lying here would be done, not in service of the neighbor, or truth, but simply to cover-up evil done.) Second, I think there is an argument to be made that when my grandmother lied it was the Nazis who were at fault. They put her in a situation in which she had to break one of God’s commands. She had to choose between either her husband’s life or the truth, between God’s command to love her neighbor as herself, or God’s admonishment not to lie. One of God’s laws was going to be broken. And by putting her in that situation, the Nazis were the ones sinning. We said earlier that Rahab and the midwives were never commended for their lies, nor admonished for them. You’d almost expect something to be said, one way or the other, and yet there is nothing. Could that be because the lies weren’t really theirs? Will Pharaoh have to bear the responsibility for the midwives’ lie, and will the King of Jericho pay the penalty for Rahab’s lie? Maybe Calvin was right and lying is always sinful...but God may not always hold the liar responsible for the lie. If there was sin involved when my grandmother misdirected the Nazis, then I think it is these Germans soldiers who will be called to account for the lie....

News

26 richest people own as much as the world's poorest 3.75 billion

The 26 richest people on the planet hold as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population. So says the Oxfam Inequality Report 2019 released this January. That quite the statistic – it’s a disparity that will surprise and stun many. But why is Oxfam sharing it? To foster covetousness. Of course, that’s not how they present their case. They speak of fairness. They think it obviously unfair that the 26 people at the top have as much as the 3.75 billion on the bottom. But what the report doesn’t detail is how these 26 got their wealth. No accusations of theft are made. We know God hates for the powerful to oppress the poor (Prov. 22:16, 22-23) but Oxfam doesn’t even try to make the case that this is how the rich gained their money. The report details the dire circumstances the poor face around the world, but no linkage is made between their poverty and wickedness done by the rich. Still, isn’t it obviously wrong that so few have so much, when so many have so little? To answer that question properly, we need to view things biblically. In Scripture we find God repeatedly calling on us to help the poor (Prov. 28:27, 31:9, etc.). And at the very same time in the 10thCommandment – Do not covet – He makes it clear He doesn’t want us concerned with what the rich have. Poverty is a problem to be tackled, but the God who made Solomon wealthier than any before him nowhere speaks of “fixing” wealth inequality. How can the God who wants us to help the poor also tell us not to concern ourselves with the wealth of the rich? Aren’t the two related? No. That’s the lesson the Oxfam needs to learn. Abraham prospered, but his increased wealth didn’t come at the expense of anyone else (Genesis 14:23). Similarly, a successful businessman doesn't become rich by taking from the poor. Unless he steals, the only way he can become wealthy is by making others wealthier too. He can only sell us his $10 widget if we think he’s delivering more than $10 worth of value. After all, if we don’t think it's worth more than the asking price, why would we trade our money for it? If we do make that exchange, not only is the widget-maker wealthier (he’s up $10!) we're wealthier too because we now own a widget that’s worth much more than $10 to us! The Oxfam Report laments the wealth of the super-rich. They see it as representing good that could be, but isn't being, done – they see it as good withheld. What they don't understand is that this wealth represents enormous good already done – every dollar representing more than a dollar’s worth of wealth given to their customers. (And we haven't even touched on how these 26 people’s wealth is tied up in companies that bring further benefits by employing millions.) There will always be a temptation to look over our back fence at what our rich neighbor has. But when God calls on us to help the poor, He's calling on us to help the poor....

News

A secular defense of the Sabbath, and how it falls short

Fast Company is a secular business magazine, as likely to pass on presentation tips from industry leaders as it is to pass on marketing tips from drag queens. So this isn't the first place you'd look to find a defense of Sabbath rest, but there it was in a Sept. 14 piece titled: "Let's bring back the Sabbath as a radical act against the always-on economy." The author, William Black, overlooks the core of Sabbath rest – that we take our rest in the Lord, coming together to worship Him. But because God's Law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15), even unbelievers can recognize the Law's validity, at least in part. A practical case for the Sabbath Black began his article by pointing to the religious roots of the commandment, but he certainly wasn't making a religiously-based appeal for it. Implicit in his argument was that, despite how "the commandment smacks of obsolete puritanism" there was still something radical and vital about it. "When taken seriously, the Sabbath has the power to restructure not only the calendar but also the entire political economy. In place of an economy built upon the profit motive – the ever-present need for more, in fact the need for there to never be enough – the Sabbath puts forward an economy built upon the belief that there is enough." In a materialistic world, whose gods include "career advancement" and "more take-home pay" there's no end of the work that can be done to earn the gods' favor. Enough is never enough, because extra work can help you advance further and faster, and help you earn more. In that kind of world, the idea of taking one day off every week is not only radical, but downright blasphemous – such a break can only be enjoyed by those who recognize the materialistic gods are not worth giving our full devotion. Black continues by sharing how Sabbath rest was a benefit for the whole community: "The fourth commandment presents a od who, rather than demanding ever more work, insists on rest. The weekly Sabbath placed a hard limit on how much work could be done and suggested that this was perfectly all right; enough work was done on the other six days. And whereas the pharaoh relaxed while his people toiled, Yahweh insisted that the people rest as Yahweh rested: 'For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.' "The Sabbath, as described in Exodus and other passages in the Torah, had a democratizing effect. Yahweh’s example – not forcing others to labor while Yahweh rested – was one anybody in power was to imitate. It was not enough for you to rest; your children, slaves, livestock, and even the 'aliens' in your towns were to rest as well. The Sabbath wasn’t just a time for personal reflection and rejuvenation. It wasn’t self-care. It was for everyone." While Black repeatedly mentions the Jewish origins of Sabbath rest, his is still a secular case for the command - he's touting the practical benefits, and not that this is God's authoritative command. Black may or may not be a Christian himself, but his approach – praising God's Law, without praising the Lawmaker – is one Christians commonly take. Whether it's abortion, sex-ed curriculums, or refusing to bake cakes for same-sex marriages, Christians regularly argue for the godly position while avoiding any mention of our God. We do that for tactical reasons – the world's not interested in God, so they'll just ignore us if we start any argument with His Name, right? Without God the argument fails But the problem is, all of God's Law – every position we're arguing for – stands on Him. Take abortion as an example. Christians will often argue that abortion is wrong because killing babies is wrong. And because God's Law is written on everyone's hearts, that's an argument the other side will concede. But they'll dispute that the unborn are babies and question how something so small and immature can really be of the same worth as much larger, already-born human beings. So the real argument is not, "Is killing wrong?" but "Where does our worth come from?" Only God provides a satisfactory answer to that question: our worth comes not from any abilities we have, but is intrinsic in being made in His Image (Gen. 1:26-27, Gen. 9:6). That's why an unborn baby has value, no matter how small, and doesn't gain worth as it gains in abilities. This intrinsic value is also why a disabled adult isn't of lesser worth even though he can do less, and why an elderly adult doesn't lose their worth as they lose some of their abilities. Our worth comes not from what we can do, but from in Whose Image we are made. Even as the world rejects this explanation, they can offer no viable alternative. Why do they believe we – at least those of us who have already been born – are of equal worth? Where does the basis for equality come from? Some are bigger, or smarter, or faster, or more inventive, or more artistic, and some are less so – in every which way, no two human beings are exactly alike, so on what basis would we ever talk about equality? There is no worldly justification for it. The world holds to equality, but can't offer an explanation for it. But we can. Only God makes sense of the world Isn't that something we should be pointing out? That's God makes the world make sense? It's no different with Sabbath rest – any argument for it needs to be built on God, and if it isn't, the argument will fall short. In his article Black speaks of an economy that embraces Sabbath rest as being one "driven, not by anxiety, but by...enoughness." And he contrasts that with our current 24-7 "anxious striving for more." Black wants our society to make the switch; he wants us to leave the "always-on economy" and start trusting in "enoughness." But what Black can't explain is on what basis his secular audience can confidently make that leap. Is there always going to be enough? Can we really depend on that? His readers will know that in some spots on our planet there isn't enough right now. They'll also know that if our economy takes a downward turn, there might not be enough here too. That's why the secular soul always has a reason to strive for more – so they can build a better cushion against whatever difficulties the future might bring. In short, as much sense as Sabbath rest makes – as great as the practical benefits are for mental, physical, emotional, and even relational, health – it doesn't make near the same sense without the Sabbath Lord. The world always has reason to fear the future, so they always have reason to continue striving anxiously. It is only the Christian, trusting in the Lord, who can not only take a break each week from the constant demands of work, but who can take rest where it can truly be found: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). That the secular argument for the Sabbath doesn't stand up on its own isn't a reason to give up on the practical arguments for obeying God's law. But it is a reason to start with God – to start with Him as our cornerstone – and build up from there....

Theology

#3 - The unknown Commandment

“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.” – Exodus 20:7 ***** It takes just a quick flip through the TV channels to find someone using God’s name in vain. CLICK! An old Friends rerun, and there’s Phoebe using it as a synonym for “okay!” CLICK! A few channels further one of Doctor Who's companions is using God’s name instead of exclaiming “oh no!” CLICK! On the sports channel a commentator decides that “Wow!” just doesn’t suffice. Yes, it’s easy to find people using God’s name in vain, but it’s hard to figure out why they do it. It doesn’t make sense. While TV writers and producers regularly offend viewers, they rarely do so without reason. In a show like Game of Thrones, for example, the producers show a steady diet of sex and violence, knowing it will offend some viewers. But even as Christians are turning off the program, countless others are tuning in for the sex and sleaze. So TV producers are willing to offend, as long as it get them more viewers than it loses. That’s why it’s hard to understand why anyone swears on TV. Using God’s name in vain is sure to offend some viewers, but it’s doubtful anyone out there really watches a show for the swearing. So why do they do it? The same question could be asked in a number of other settings as well. Why is God’s name misused in newspapers, at the office, and in casual conversations? In many of these same settings the dialogue will be remarkably free from crudities – the f-word and others are strictly off limits. But God’s name is still open to abuse. Why? Ignorance isn’t bliss I’m convinced the answer is ignorance. God’s name is abused because Christians don’t object, and because we don’t object, TV scriptwriters, newspaper columnists and even our friends don’t realize that using God’s name in vain is offensive. They’re totally clueless. How clueless? Some years back, when I screwed up the courage to ask a teammate on my rec-league basketball team to stop swearing he was quite willing to oblige. So the next time he missed a shot, instead of stringing God’s name together with the word d--n (as was his usual habit) he restricted himself to just misusing God’s name. He knew d--n was a swear, so he stopped using it, but he continued using God’s name in vain because no one had ever told him it was offensive. Not everyone is this clueless, but it is surprising how many are. It is even more surprising how willing people are to accommodate a request not to swear. When our basketball team’s manager called an impromptu meeting about swearing everyone agreed to try and curtail it. (One player noted that a similar request had been made when he played college ball. Interestingly enough, on that team it wasn’t a Christian who had made the request, but a Mormon.) The non-Christians even had a bunch of questions about which words were more and less offensive. Many of them still swore afterwards, but it was a habit they were trying to break. And all we had to do was ask. How do you ask? The toughest part is the asking. How do you bring it up without sounding holier than thou? The manager on our basketball team took the straightforward approach. He announced that since there were a number of Christians on the team, we would appreciate it if people didn’t swear using God’s name. He said it, everyone agreed, and it was done with. He made it look so very simple. And it should be simple. Not easy, mind you; as simple as it looked, he was the only Christian on the team to actually get up and say what needed to be said. It still takes courage. One of my aunts uses a rather different technique. When someone misuses God’s name while talking with her, she interrupts and asks, “Are you praying?” This generally prompts a very puzzled reply, something to the effect of, “What? Why would you think I was praying?” “Because you just mentioned God’s name, and since we weren’t talking about God, well, why else would you be mentioning God? Or were you just using God’s name for emphasis? Maybe you don’t know, but using God’s name like that is very offensive to Christians, and to God Himself. Please don’t do that.” A friend has written to a popular newspaper columnist who blasphemed. He alerted her to the offensive part of her column and then continued: …many people don't know this, but the way you used God's name there would actually be a violation of the third commandment - You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain. Obviously it would be fine to use God's name if you actually were addressing Him, but in this instance you used it more like an expletive, or as a way to emphasize your point. I know that columnists don't seek to offend without purpose (sometimes they do so with purpose, but that is part of the job) so I thought I would make you aware of this, and ask you to please be careful about it in the future. Thank-you. The columnist never replied but, in the days and weeks that followed, did not abuse God's name again. Conclusion Not everyone is going to honor a request to stop swearing. Some will swear just to tick us off. But our friends and neighbors will care. Employees will listen, if only to cozy up to the boss. Waiters will want nice tips. TV scriptwriters want us to watch their shows. All these people have reasons to listen to what we like and don’t like. We don’t like it when they use God’s name in vain, so let’s let them know....

Theology

On envy and its disguises

A few weeks ago two of my daughters were fighting over a stuffed animal, both insisting it was theirs. I wanted to stop the fight but this struck me as a teachable moment...and I knew I had just the right story to share. “Do you remember when two women came to King Solomon and both said a baby was theirs? King Solomon was going to use a sword to cut the baby in half, so that each woman could have half.” Then came the mike drop moment: “Would that be a good idea to do with your stuffie?” The story didn’t impact my girls like I’d hoped: both agreed that splitting the stuffie lengthwise was the way to go. Hmmmm… I was left wondering what Solomon would have done if both women had said, “Sure, go ahead.” The best I could come up with was to have the toy bear come stay with the “king” for a while – instead of half a stuffie for both, it was no stuffie for either of them. Kids have a hard time seeing it A few days later I came across another illustration, and because of the less than satisfactory conclusion to my earlier conversation with the girls, I wanted to share this with them too. In the June 6 “Nearer to God Devotional” Pastor Mark Stewart shared an old Jewish folktale, in which an angel visits a businessman known for being envious. The angel wants to encourage the shopkeeper to give up his envy so he tells the man that he can have one wish but with one condition: whatever he wishes for, his neighbor will get twice as much of it. The spiteful man considers the offer for a few moments, and then makes his request: “Please make me blind in one eye.” Both my girls were shocked, and then somewhat amused. What a clever, but ever so wicked, man! He would be blind in one eye, but his neighbor would be blind in both. This story reminded me of another, so I shared an old Cold War joke – something Ronald Reagan might have said. One day a genie visited a Russian peasant and told him he could have one wish. The peasant was quite excited and told the genie about how his neighbor had gotten a goat. He shared how the goat provided the neighbor’s whole family with milk, and goat’s hair for clothing, and was also a wonderful pet for that family’s children. “So you want a goat too?” asked the genie. “No,” said the peasant, “I want you to kill my neighbor’s goat.” In the Bible the words covetousness and envy seem to be used interchangeably. But if a distinction were to be made, we might describe envy as taking covetousness one step further. The merely covetous man wants what his neighbor has – he wants to be rich too. But the envious man isn’t as concerned with his own state as that of his neighbor’s. He won’t be satisfied until his rich neighbor is poor. Adult can miss it too I shared these stories with my daughters because there were obvious connections to be made. There are going to be times when one child gets something – whether it’s piano lessons, a new toy, an opportunity to visit a friend’s house, etc. – that the other siblings doesn’t get. And many a time those other children will have a hard time being happy for their sibling’s opportunity. They’d be happier if only their sister’s “goat” was killed. Among adults this destructive envy is harder to spot but that’s only because we’re better at hiding our sins – we’ll even present them as virtues. One example: As I finished sharing the second story my wife noted, “This sounds like the Canadian healthcare system.” In the great white North we aren’t always pleased with our healthcare; wait times can be not simply burdensome, but even deadly. However, one thing Canadians take pride in is how it is the same healthcare for everyone. Politicians and voters stand united against queue-jumping and against a two-tiered healthcare system. Consider though, what we are doing when we try to prevent someone who uses their own money from buying better care than is available to the rest of us. Aren’t we wishing his “goat” was dead? Trying to improve healthcare is a noble desire. But trying to prevent others from seeking better healthcare for themselves is envy disguised as principle. This same “envy as virtue” is behind complaints about income inequality. We live in a time and a place where we are richer than we have ever been – every house has conveniences that even a hundred years ago were luxuries for only the richest of the rich...if they existed at all (running hot and cold water, central heating, phones, computers, TV’s, dishwashers, washing machines, vacuums, etc.). So how can the Devil get us to overlook the many ways we have been materially blessed? By getting us looking over the back fence at the new toys in our neighbor's yard. The 10th commandment (Ex. 20:17) forbids just that, but to obscure that clear commandment the Devil presents this sin as something noble. “This isn’t coveting; this is about equality,” he tells us. “This isn’t coveting; it is about compassion for the poor!” Poverty is a problem. When some don’t have enough to eat, or a place to sleep, that is a real concern, and an evil to be fought. But income inequality is simply envy – anger at how much more someone else has than us. Conclusion Covetousness and envy are sins of ingratitude, of not recognizing how much we’ve been given. Would income inequality be an issue if “poor” protesting college students understood they are richer than 85% of the world? Would my daughters fight over one stuffed animal if I had them first go count their dozens of other stuffies? More to the point, would we envy even Bill Gates if we understood what we’ve been given in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? As Pastor Stewart writes: “Secure in the love of Jesus Christ and our identity as the Father’s children, I have no need to envy my brother or sister. I am a recipient of favor and kindness and grace that I could never earn or pay for. There is no higher or better privilege to reach for…. Content in what the Father has chosen to give to me, I am now freed up to want the best for you....

Economics

The rich get richer by making us all wealthier too

Coveting is not only a sin, it's stupid. It's important we're clear on both points, because the Devil is willing to work any angle. He knows he's not going to fool us on the sin side – many of us hear the Ten Commandments read every Sunday again. But what if he could make the case that, sure, coveting is sinful, but it still makes sense? Oh, yes, looking over the fence at your neighbor's stuff may not be polite...but just look at it all! Does he really need all that stuff? Is it even fair that he has all that? To many, Christians included, this is an appealing pitch – fairness is a good thing, isn't it? Then comes the clincher: we're told all this ogling is okay because our neighbor’s wealth – well, a lot of it anyway – is really ours in the first place. The way the story is told, there's only so much wealth to go around, so our rich neighbor could only become wealthy by taking more than his fair share, leaving poor folk like us with next to nothing. So we're not coveting someone else's stuff – it's really ours. We have a right to it, and it’s about time that the rich starting giving it back! That’s a popular story in the world today. But as you might suspect, folks who tell us it is okay to do what God forbids (Ex. 20:17) don't have their facts straight. The truth of the matter is that, so long as our rich neighbor didn’t get their money from piracy or lobbying the government (did I just stutter?) – so long as he got his money by earning it – his wealth didn't come at our expense at all. In fact, if he got his money by selling something others wanted – whether it's iPads, cows, or his own labor – then this rich neighbor has already given back more than he got. As commentator John Stossel explains: "It is instinctive to think of life as a zero sum game – if I win, you lose. Politicians think that way because that’s how their world works. And lawyers who sue people think that way – you either win or you lose. "But in business, you only win if you give your customers something they want. If you make a big profit, it doesn’t mean you took it from the customer. The customer voluntarily gave you his money. He felt he gained something too. It is why you get the weird double thank you moment when you buy anything. If you bought a cup of coffee this morning, you gave the cashier a buck, and she said, 'Thank you.' She gave you the coffee, and you said, 'Thank you.' "'Thank you.' 'Thank you.' "Why both? Because you both felt you won. The same is true with even the richest people on the planet. We look at a Bill Gates and think that he must owe us something because he has so much. But how did he get his billions? By selling a product – Windows 1.0 – for $99. To Gates, the $99 was worth more to him than his product, and that's why he was happy to make the exchange – it made him wealthier. But here's the thing: his customers were happy to make the exchange too, because his product was worth more to them than holding on to their $99. Afterwards they felt they were better off too – if they didn't, they never would have made the purchase. So today's covetousness is as sinful as ever. But it is more than that: talk of "getting the rich to pay their fair share" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the good the industrious rich have already done. A rich businessman like Gates has made his billions by giving something even more valuable to his customers and in doing so, he is already spreading the wealth – billions and billions of dollars worth....

Theology

Practicing the Sabbath: on living out the 4th Commandment

It is not uncommon. Under pressure at the office or on the job, at school or right at home, vacation can’t come soon enough. “Ah,” we console ourselves, “Three weeks away from it all, filled with hiking, camping, touring, biking, sailing, and maybe even a trip to Disneyland itself.” When it finally arrives, we throw ourselves into our leisure, making the most of every moment, wringing every last drop of excitement out of our all too brief respite from the drag of our daily grind…and come home plumb worn out. We go back to working, lamenting the brevity of our respite, grudgingly facing the unwelcome demands of the job once more, trapped into knowing we have no other choice: it’s the only way to keep the wolf from the door. Whatever happened to real, solid rest, the kind that refreshes our spirits so deeply it reinvigorates us all the way down to the very depths of our beings, or, as Psalm 23 would describe it, “restores our souls”? Vacation is not enough What happened is that we confused rest with respite, as if a 30-second timeout in the fourth quarter makes athletes as full of energy as when the game began. A vacation is merely a respite (which we all need, just like a good night’s sleep); it’s far from the kind of deep rest the Bible calls a “Sabbath.” Vacations don’t cut it; real Sabbaths do. No wonder our Father commanded that we practice Sabbath every week and he used plenty of words to insist upon it. Have you ever noticed that in the NIV, the Exodus 20 version of the 4th commandment is 99 words long? The final five commandments, altogether, take up just 53 words. God has almost twice as much to say about remembering the Sabbath day than He does about murder, theft, adultery, lying, or coveting combined, suggesting to us that one of the most powerful defenses against immorality of all kinds is (did this ever occur to you?) a soul saturated to the full with God’s kind of deep rest. And then, as if to give it even more firepower, would you observe that it’s the only commandment which reinforces its demand by insisting that we face up to the compelling reality that this is what God Himself did, as if to both warn us that we best follow our Creator if we know what’s good for us, and besides, call us to humble ourselves enough to learn just how to do it from His example. If you came home tired from vacation, or, more seriously, if you sense a weariness in your soul so deep that not even a full night of sleep (induced by medication), or a day of surviving demands (eased by your regular dose of Xanax) gives you the kind of relief you crave, perhaps it’s time to seriously reconsider practicing Sabbath as devoutly as you practice your fitness routine. In other words, have you ever considered fitting, into the rhythm of your week, a 24-hour period where you stop living as a human “doing” and actually enjoy living as a human “being”? If you’re even slightly curious enough to keep reading, then let me be audacious enough to prescribe for you the pathway to deep rest: watch how God rested, and then, go and do thou likewise. The commandment makes it as simple as imitating God. Of course, where it gets complicated is trying to figure out just how God did it. But He has not left us without a description: He finished his work: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing (Gen. 2:1-2a). He savored the goodness of his workmanship: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Gen. 1: 31). He ceased from all working: “…so on the seventh day He rested (NIV footnote: “ceased”) from all His work. …because on it He rested (NIV footnote: “ceased”) from all the work of creating He had done (Gen. 2:2b, 3b). Each dimension deserves such careful scrutiny, we’ll ponder them one at a time. Finished work God entered into his Sabbath by first having completely finished the work he set out to do during his “work week.” If we are to enter into deep rest, we simply must get our work done first. The commandment is firm on this: Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Finish your homework, your housework, or your assignments at the office. If you have work that was supposed to have been finished during your six days of labor, and could have been finished, but wasn’t due to your own procrastination, I can virtually guarantee this: that undone work is going to infect any rest you try to find on your “day off.” It will weigh on you. It will preoccupy you. You’re compromised! Now I can just hear it already: “My work is never done.” A mother’s work is never done. A farmer’s work is never done. A teacher’s work is never done. True enough, but then God’s work is never done either. Jesus said that his father was always at his work to that very day (John 5:17). But, what was finished was the work of creating. That was completed. True enough: much remained to be done in this creation. There was no pizza or lasagna. Nobody had written poetry yet, and the only music came from birds because there were no violins. There was so much yet to do, which we call culture. But the work of creation itself was fully completed. Every day has its task; every week, its duties; every meeting, its agenda. You want to know what really kills our rest? Work that should have been finished, and could have been finished, but isn’t finished. Unfinished assignments absolutely bar the way into joyful rest. So, be like your Father. Do it. Get ‘er done, even if you have to work extra hard as your particular work week approaches its final day or hours. Nothing relaxes us more than being able to look back upon a truly finished task, be it anything from a reading assignment, having made the required number of sales calls, or having done our rounds in the hospital. The finest picture of such profound rest in Scripture is the utterly still body of the One who had just said, “It is finished” lying quietly and calmly in a borrowed grave even while His spirit savored the joys of Paradise. Imagine the depth of His holy rest having fully drunk the cup of God’s wrath to the very last drop! Can there be any rest deeper than that? The wonderfully good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus, we are called and welcomed to enter into and savor that finished work. There is no richer Sabbath. Savoring accomplished work When He finished creating, God savored his accomplishment. Scripture puts it like this: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31). That is how He entered into His rest. Now that is something most of us moderns hardly take the time to do. Look back? Savor what you’ve done? Who has time for that? Who even thinks of that? Especially on our days off! We’re just glad to be away from the scene of the grind. I recall a breakfast I had with a friend, a highly paid professional in a tough line of work: lawyering! His iPhone lay next to his plate. His eyes darted toward it frequently as we munched on our muffins. I could tell he was preoccupied. I asked him, “Don’t you ever give yourself a break from that thing?” “I can’t,” he said; “in fact, I can’t afford to.” “When do you ever rest?” I probed. “Well,” he said, “I try to rest on the weekends but….” I waited. “But what?” Then he opened a glimpse into his uptight world I’ve never forgotten. “I never get a full weekend of rest because already on Sunday afternoons, right around 3, every week, it starts,” he continued. “What?” I asked. “This tightness in my gut; I can just feel the pressure rising. The stuff waiting for me in my office on Monday morning starts forcing its way into my mind, and from that point on, I’m toast. I can forget about getting any more rest.” “In other words,” I gently teased, “you actually show up at the office about 17 hours before your body gets there?” “You’re not kidding!!” he moaned. I suspect my friend has plenty of company. Our driven hearts are forever pushing us forward, even to the point that we are so focused on what lies ahead, Monday pushes itself up into our Sundays, as unbidden as acid reflux, and as sour. Not so the Trinity! As God entered into His rest, this is the exercise He went through at the end of the sixth day: He looked backward. He surveyed his workmanship. He paused to delight over it. He admired the beauty of Eve, marveled at the masculinity of Adam. He saw all with His all seeing eye and rejoiced over every one of His works. That’s the exercise God Himself went through as He entered his rest. He studied what He had done, and celebrated it. In fact, He ended every day savoring what He had done on that particular day, but at the end of the sixth day, He savored the whole panorama of His creativity, from the light He created the first day to the light-clothed humans He created on the sixth, and He rejoiced over all his works (Psalm 104: 31). A second key to entering a place of deep rest calls us to imitate God and look back, savoring all that He enabled us to do during the previous six days. The doctor looks back in her imagination upon the faces of the patients she has treated. The waitress, the customers she has served. The trucker, the loads he delivered. The teacher, the lessons his students learned. Looking back moves the soul from anxiety to celebration as it disciplines itself to survey the beauty of a steady stream of accomplishments, each a trophy to the God who was right there empowering us every step of the way. That simple exercise has immense power to lay a soul down into deep rest by stiff-arming the intrusions of future “undones” as it relishes the joys of past “dones.” For what the soul is doing at such moment is supercharging itself with wonder and gratitude at the remarkable faithfulness of God who was right there with us during every moment of those six days past, assuring it that so much went well, once again. I wonder if my neighbors just might think I’m nuts. Like all good Lyndenites, I edge, trim and mow my lawn faithfully every Saturday. It’s a rite around here. When finished, I stow my equipment and then do something which, if they are watching, might suggest to them I’m a little “off.” I take a good ten minutes and just walk around my lawn, and yes, frankly, I admire what I and my equipment have just achieved! I marvel at the sharp edges around the flowerbeds and savor the smells of newly mown turf. Odd? No. Like God? Yes. Now God did something there that is crucial to being able to rest. He affirmed his work as valuable; He gave it worth. He savored its beauty. He celebrated His accomplishment. The three persons of the Trinity rejoiced in what They had made, rejoiced in Their workmanship. They stopped, turned around (unlike the other six days which were all forward looking, this was backward looking; from all the undone work ahead to the finished work behind), looked back, and They delighted in Their finished work. Do you ever do that at the end of your work week? Your day of rest begins by looking back. Let’s say you deliver and pick up mail. Do you ever think back to all the people you serve every week by bringing them their mail? Think of the hundreds of people who every week find something in their mailbox they have just been waiting for – and you brought it to them. Now that is something to savor, to celebrate. Most of us try not to think about our work on our day off. Not God. God entered his Sabbath by ruminating, savoring, delighting in what he had just done. One of the key elements of deep rest is savoring a sense of accomplishment. This is what shelters us from the tyranny of future tasks charging in and infecting our rest. You rest when you learn to resist this “Oh, there is so much I have yet to do” (which is very true for all of us) to “But look at what we have managed to accomplish.” We are so driven by the demands of the future that we have forgotten to pause and take delight in the regular accumulation of the accomplishments of our lives. Ceasing from all work There is a third Sabbath practice to consider, but be forewarned: you may not like this. In fact, you may think I’m just being a fussy old legalist. We cannot truly Sabbath, unless every 7th day we totally cease, as much as is reasonably possible, our daily work for 24 hours and refuse to come anywhere near it. We don’t even check our phones for work-related text messages. Why? Because of the explicit prohibition in the commandment itself: “On it you shall not do any work.” Worship? Yes! Play? Sure. Work? None. Zilch. Nada. When deadlines, demands, homework and duties bear down on us relentlessly this may seem hard. Who can afford this, especially in today’s highly competitive, low profit margin, economy? Close up shop, one day a week? Ridiculous. Students stay away from studies a full day in every seven? Sure way to flunk out! Really? Are you so sure it’s ridiculous? Have you checked that with conservative Southern Baptist Truett Cathy, who, from the beginning in 1946 insisted that his fast food Chick-fil-A restaurants be closed every Sunday? Today there are over 2,200 of them, and they are flourishing. In 2014 the chain was #9 in total profit among all fast food restaurants, but #1, by far, in profitability per store. Each store earned $3.2 million vs. second place McDonalds at $2.6 million. They have been #1 in customer service for years. Rested and cared for employees are much more industrious and compassionate, and the result is customer loyalty that creates long lines in the drive-in lane and tidy profits at the bank. And they are closed everywhere, every Sunday. But perhaps that’s not convincing. Then consider this remarkable story. My town of Lynden, Washington has a mother, Phoebe Judson, who founded our city, arriving here in 1871. She promoted Sunday closure. Here’s why. In May, 1853, Phoebe and her husband Holden joined a covered wagon train near Kansas City hoping to reach Washington Territory by mid-October, a distance of more than 2,000 miles over the rough Oregon Trail. Like all wagon trains, they elected a captain. His word was the law. Well, they chose Rev. Gustavus Hines, only to be surprised one Saturday night when he announced the train would never travel on Sundays. Phoebe was shocked. They had half a continent to cross, at oxen pace (15-20 miles per day on a good trail), with at least four mountain passes and innumerable river crossings ahead of them. She sat in her wagon and just fumed. One family deserted the train and joined another. On their first Sunday, while they stood still, one train after another passed them by. But, being the daughter of a minister herself, Phoebe felt they had no choice but to honor their captain’s scruples. They started out again on Monday, bright and early, only to reach their first river cross on Tuesday evening. A long line of wagons stretched out ahead of them, waiting for the single “ferry” to carry them across. They waited 3 days. On Saturday they resumed the journey, only to be told they would still rest the whole next day. Phoebe was livid. This made absolutely no sense to her. Still, the minister’s daughter obeyed. Then, a few weeks later she began to see scores of dead oxen, mules and horses along the trail. They had been driven so relentlessly, they had collapse and died. She grudgingly admitted that perhaps the animals needed a day of rest. A few weeks later, she ruefully admitted that maybe the men needed it too, since they walked most of the time. Then she slowly began to notice that as they worshipped, ate, rested and even played together on Sundays, it had a remarkably salutary effect upon people’s spirits. There was less grumbling, more cooperation. She even noticed that they seemed to make better time the other six days. Finally, what totally sold her on the value of the Sabbath happened one Sunday evening: the family that had deserted them came limping into their campsite, humbly asking to rejoin them. She had assumed they were at least a week ahead; in fact, they had fallen behind. Their own wagon train had broken down! Of course they welcomed them back. And so it happened that they reached their destination in plenty of time, as friends, and out of the 50 head of cattle with which they began, only two were lost. Conclusion May I be so bold as to caution us about spiritualizing the meaning of the Sabbath commandment so much that we forget its literal and physical side? Bodily stepping entirely away from all work for 24 hours is clearly what is prescribed. Its benefits are enormous. For one day, it moves us from life as a “human doing” to life as a “human being.” For one day, it compels us to recalibrate our hearts back to the stubborn fact that “…God is the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor His gifts can do us any good without His blessing” (L.D. 50, Q&A 125). For one day it allows our souls to catch up with our bodies, or vice versa! For one day it arrests our drive for profits by reminding us that our real wealth is not in what we have but in whom we love and in who loves us. For one day it slows us down enough to ease our anxiety over reaching our destination to actually enjoy the journey. And for one day it brings us back to that Light, in Whose Light, we see the light which brightens every day. Rev. Ken Koeman is a retired pastor living in the quite restful town of Lynden, WA. A version of this article first appeared in Christian Courier and is reprinted with permission....

News

Restaurant chain won't compromise on the 4th Commandment

The Chick-fil-A restaurant in the brand-new stadium of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons is going to be closed on all but one of the team’s home games…because they are played on Sundays. The restaurant chain is known both for their good-guy sense of customer service (one Virginia location recently offered its space to a local church that had been suddenly displaced from its worship location) and conservative stand on social issues. The Christian owners of Chick-fil-A have also held a strict line against doing business on Sunday. ESPN commentators bemoaned the decision in August once it came to light, with Bill Plaschke going so far as to call it a “complete shame and a sham.” With its headquarters in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A has long been a part of the food scene at sports venues in the city. Likewise, the Falcons aren’t the only sports team planning to play games in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was built right next to the soon-to-be-demolished Georgia Dome. However, with the vast majority of NFL games, including the Super Bowl, being played on Sundays, it takes a strong commitment to a principle to leave that much profit on the table in Chick-fil-A’s own hometown. It’s always refreshing to see the Sabbath honored publicly, especially when the day is no longer holy even in the eyes of many believers. Let’s recommit ourselves to being “called out” of the world and use our Sabbaths to look forward to the eternal one. Also, remember the Sabbath has been a blessing to mankind wherever it has been honored -- we love our neighbor best when we encourage a Sabbath rest....

Book Reviews

Honoring God's name in Christian fiction

"I didn't expect the person killing me to yawn with boredom." As opening lines go, this has to be one of the best. It's from Dr. James Dobson's novel, Fatherless and while I hadn't expected much from this psychologist's first try at fiction, after skim-reading the opening chapter in the bookstore I was pleasantly surprised and bought the book. But I soon came across a surprise of a different sort. On page 171 a character used God's name as an expletive. He wasn't talking to God, or talking about God; this was God's name as an exclamation mark. Three replies That wouldn't have been surprising in a secular novel. But why would a Christian author take God's name in vain? While you won't find the F-word in any Christian fiction, it isn't all that rare to find God's name abused. In the past I've run across this with several other Christian novelists. When I asked three of them why they did it, I got three very different responses. 1. Heard My first letter was to an author who has written a couple dozen popular novels. He said no one had ever pointed this out to him before – none of his readers, none of his editors. He promised that, going forward, he would certainly not do it again. An encouraging response...but also an indicting one. Of the thousands of Christians reading his book, none had ever mentioned it? It seemed that a big reason God's name is being dishonored among Christians is because we aren't willing to speak up about it to each other. 2. Wrong I couldn't find contact information for the second author, but an opportunity came up when I attended one of his lectures. At the coffee break I came forward to ask him about it privately. I was as tactful as I could be, but this was an unavoidably confrontational situation: I was telling him he had done something wrong. His response was gracious: "Can you show it to me?" We found the page, and he read it over. The character was a detective who as a young boy had grown up in the church, but who as an adult had abandoned belief in God. And yet here he was, near the end of the novel giving insincere "thanks" to God. The author explained that I had missed some of the subtleties in the story. He showed me that at this point in the book the detective was no longer the agnostic he had been. While there wasn't any big conversion scene, a reader who was paying more attention than me would have realized that the character was genuinely thanking God. It was a great lesson, very kindly delivered: before correcting an author about his mistake, it is important to be sure something really does need correcting. That said, in most cases it is pretty clear. 3. Misunderstood The third author asked if I objected when there were other sins in a story. He said that if a Christian author could only write about nice characters doing nice things there would be no stories to write. Good point, and I wrote back that I had no problem with murders or many others sins taking place in a Christian novel. When a character is murdered, no actual murder takes place, and readers aren't generally left thinking that murder is no big thing. Now, it is possible for characters' fictional sins to become real ones. That's why, while a Christian novel can involve adultery, those scenes must be handled in a very different fashion than they are in a Harlequin romance. There is no place for "steamy" scenes in God-honoring fiction; a Christian writer shouldn't be tempting his readers to covet or lust. Similarly, when a character takes God's name in vain, a sin is happening. As we read these passages, whether in our heads or aloud, God's name is being used as if it were an expletive or maybe a word whisper (just something to say in place of "um" or "ah"). This treatment contributes to the belittling of God's name. These passages contribute to the overall impression that hallowing God's name isn't all that important, that it is only as "holy" as any other swear word. Actually God's Name doesn't even get the same "reverence" as the N-Word – that has to be used with care. The F-word, too, can't just be thrown around in every situation. Maybe if you're a sailor, but not if you're a Christian author. However, God's Name can be interjected in mixed company: sailors or saints, no one objects. To put it another way, I wasn't objecting to the depiction of sin – I was objecting to the committing of it. When a character takes God's name in vain then a commandment really is being broken...and not by the character. It's the author who is using God's name in a way that God never intended: as a substitute for the F-word, or some other swear word. God allows us to use his holy Name to talk to Him, or about Him. But God's name shouldn't be used simply because a story's heroine stubbed her toe and the writer wants the audience to understand that it really really hurt. The author is using God's name in vain when he inserts it simply because he lacks the creativity or patience to think up another interjection. When it is appropriate to abuse God's Name Douglas Wilson has pointed out there are situations in which fictional character can appropriately misuse God's name, so long as the intent is to honor God. And he cites Jesus' storytelling as his example: In the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax man praying the Temple, the Lord said this: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:11). He uses the name of God, but He is clearly not communicating with God. This is not a true prayer. The Lord is explicit – this particular prayer bounced off the ceiling, fell to the floor, and has rolled into the corner. It was a clear breach of the Third Commandment. “The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain . . . superstitious, or wicked mentioning . . .” (Westminster Larger Catechism 113). In short, this fictional depiction is a high violation of the Third Commandment, committed by a character in a bit of prose composed by the Lord Jesus Himself. We therefore have to do more than simply say that the sinful use of God’s name in prose is automatically a violation. ....any sin whatever may lawfully be portrayed by a Christian writer. If his intentions are scripturally healthy (and if he is competent), he is not entailed in the sins he is portraying, because nobody ever heard the Lord’s parable and came away wanting to be more like that Pharisee. The story is devastating, both to the Pharisee and to the sin being committed. While casual abuse is always sinful, there is a deliberate way authors can abuse God's Name that does still honor Him. So, for example, one character might abuse God's name so that another can question or correct him. Of course, not every instance has to be this obvious:  an author might decide that a congressman whose only god is ambition will sign off his speeches with: "May God save America." Like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, the congressman is misusing God's name, but if the author is competent, then the story will be "devastating, both to the and to the sin being committed." God's Name will actually be honored. Competency is key However, as Wilson goes on to note, competency is key. As we learn in Proverbs 27:14, good intentions are not enough – it isn't enough that the author intends to honor God; he actually has to pull it off. That means if a character stubs his toe, and then makes mention of God, it doesn't much matter what the author intends, we know how most of his audience is going to understand this – just another instance of someone calling on God instead of dropping an F-bomb. No matter what the author intends, this type of usage reinforces our culture's casual contempt for what is holy, and it will have the effect of belittling God's Name. This is what the Third Commandment forbids. Conclusion I can't imagine that any Christian writer wants to violate the Third Commandment. That means that many who are dishonoring God's name are doing so for no other reason than no one has explained how wrong it is. That also means there is quite the opportunity for change. If we speak up, reaching these writers through their personal websites or their publisher's sites, there is every reason to believe they'll listen, and even be grateful for the correction...and even if they don't listen, God will be glorified simply by our defense of his Name....