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Posts Tagged ‘the seven deadly sins’

False Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

 Witnesses in Old Testament days, as now, were vitally important. The Jewish Law reads, “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained” (Deuteronomy 19:15). In other words, conviction of a crime based on the account of one witness would not stand. There had to be at least two witnesses to testify against the accused. The Law goes on to deal with a false witness, saying, “If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other” (Deuteronomy 19:18b-19a). As such, a false witness received punishment equal to the consequences for the accused, had the accused been found guilty. If a witness testified falsely against another, and the punishment for the accused behavior was death, the false witness would be killed.

The contemporary term for bearing false witness in a legal proceeding is perjury, which continues to be a very serious offense. The ability to apply justice in a fair and impartial manner is dependent on receiving truthful testimony from witnesses. Although the Old Testament Law is formal and bears resemblance to judicial proceedings today, the ninth of the Ten Commandments has a practical and daily implication – do not lie about others.

Lying goes beyond making a false statement about another in a court of law. It includes making false statements about others in social situations, including implying something untrue about another, such as occurs in gossip. Our legal system assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty, but social situations have no such protection. In Biblical times, two or more witnesses had to agree a person was guilty for a charge to stick. Today, one careless post on the internet, or a few careless words overheard by the wrong ears can tarnish a person’s image for years, even when there is no factual basis for what was written or said. Some people counsel us not to respond to false accusations; but sometimes when a person does not respond to an accusation, others assume the accusation has merit. Being falsely accused causes all sorts of complications. It is like asking a man if he is still beating his wife. There is no good answer, once the charge has been made. Similar to trying to cram toothpaste back into the tube, our words cannot be easily retracted. For these reasons and more, we must speak the truth. Speaking the truth is especially important when we are speaking of others.

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Note to parents: This Life Note contains a frank discussion of sexual topics that may not be appropriate for young children. Please review first, and then use your discretion.

Sex, Lust, and Adultery

“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14

The seventh of the Ten Commandments is short and to the point: You shall not commit adultery. A dictionary definition of adultery is “voluntary sexual relations between a married person and somebody other than his or her spouse.” There are several key elements to adultery. First, it is voluntary—adulterers make a choice. Second, it involves sexual relations. Finally, adultery involves at least one married person and someone other than his or her spouse. Jesus, however, expands the definition of adultery. In Matthew 5:28 he says, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Presumably, the same applies for women. Jesus raises the behavioral standard much, much higher. Adultery is no longer just a physical act, but also a mental one. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus provides additional and difficult commentary on adultery. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus says, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” Between the dictionary and Jesus, adultery can include a broad host of common maladies like gawking, premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, masturbation, and divorce, to name a few.

Sexual attraction, by design, is a powerful force. Like other powerful forces, sex enhances our lives dramatically when enjoyed appropriately. Electricity, heat, and physical strength are also powerful forces that enhance our lives when used appropriately. However, electricity electrocutes, heat burns, and physical strength bruises when used inappropriately. Sex becomes an incubator for sin when used carelessly, sometimes resulting in physical, psychological, or emotional damage. Sin is that which separates us from others and from God. Because sin is harmful to others and ourselves, we strive to eliminate or minimize its presence in our lives.

Sexual freedom allows us to enjoy the amazing gift of sex in all its fullness. All freedoms are subject to abuse, however, and sexual freedom is especially ripe for abuse, as in the case of adultery. Adultery is an act of conscious betrayal—to one’s spouse, to family and friends, to one’s self, and to God. As Christians, we must respond very carefully in the face of adultery. Our responsibility as a faith community is not to cast judgment, but to surround struggling people with love and respect. Unfortunately, some use passages like the ones from Matthew as a hammer to pound guilt into an already troubled soul. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. To judge others by unyielding standards is, at the very least, a violation of Jesus’ command for us to love one another. Consider Jesus’ reaction to the woman at the well in John 4:1-42; or the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:1-11. Jesus met sinners where they were and helped them to a better place. We are to do the same. When faced with the pain of another, our response should offer the type of mercy offered us in response to our own sin. No sin is unforgivable, and no broken life is beyond repair. Jesus came to meet us in our sin and carry us through it, not to shun us because of it. Adultery may separate us from God, but God is always ready to welcome us back.

Come home to church this Sunday.

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Life Worship Notes

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

Do Not Kill

The notes in my Bible state the key word in this sixth of the Ten Commandments translates appropriately as either murder or kill. A quick survey of popular Bible translations shows a slight preference for murder over kill, but both are used. While killing is the taking of another life, murder is the unlawful taking of another life. By earthly law, most killing in war is lawful killing. However, is it appropriate to interpret biblical directives in the context of human definitions of right and wrong? Is it human or divine law that determines when the taking of another life is permissible?

I confess to being a conflicted pacifist. I want to believe killing others is not an effective solution to what ails us. Even in war, the soldiers killing and being killed do not begin, sustain, or end the war. The initiators and controllers of the conflict usually stay safely away from danger. Please understand: the past and present risks taken, and the sacrifices made by military personnel, humble me. I appreciate their selfless dedication and service; and I understand I am able sit at my desk and pontificate because of their willingness to lay down their lives for mine. In spite of my professed pacifism, I imagine scenarios where another person threatens my family. I have no problem visualizing doing whatever is necessary to protect those I love, up to and including killing the person doing the threatening. Is that personal situation significantly different from killing for one’s country? Does this commandment prohibit us from protecting others with all options available? How does Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek inform the discussion?

I turned 18 as the Vietnam War was winding down. When I registered for the military draft, one question asked if I had moral or religious objections to killing others. I thought of this commandment and checked, “Yes.” Subsequently, I received Conscientious Objector status, an interesting designation. Had I been drafted and sent to war, I probably would have served without objection. However, I did not understand how else to reconcile my Christian beliefs with the question about killing. In my mind, I played out a scenario where I had my rifle pointed at an enemy soldier, who was pointing a rifle at me—would I shoot? In John 15:13, Jesus says there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Ultimately, it was not laying down my life that conflicted me, but the taking of the life of another. Is it permissible to kill a person if that act will save others? Certainly, that is one justification for war. The Jewish authorities justified the killing of Jesus as necessary to preserve the way of life for the entire Jewish community. It would be helpful if this commandment contained clarifying commentary. As written, some of us will struggle mightily with its application. In truth, I believe that struggle is exactly what God intends.

Come home to church this Sunday. Join the ranks of the faithfully conflicted.

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Life Worship Notes—February 13, 2104 

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…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.” Exodus 20:8-11

The sabbath is to be a day of rest. Setting aside one day per week for rest goes back to the creation story (Genesis 1:2-3). Following six days of creation work, God rested. Recognizing the sabbath as a day of rest was the source of much tension between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day. Many Gospel stories tell of Jesus healing people on the sabbath, only to be accused of violating the fourth commandment to keep the sabbath holy. For example, John 5:1-18 tells of Jesus healing a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When the Jewish leaders criticize Jesus for “working” on the sabbath, he responds, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” Of course, that comment drew twice the ire, because Jesus not only confessed to working on the sabbath, but also referred to God as his Father, a statement of perceived blasphemy.

If the sabbath was truly intended to be a day of no work, as the religious leaders seemed to believe, then I am guilty of violating this commandment on a weekly basis. I believe Jesus’ words, about he and his Father working on the sabbath, confirm this day of rest was never intended to become a day of nothing. God continues doing the God-things that sustain life in the cosmos. Jesus clearly felt justified in working to meet the needs presented to him on the sabbath. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus points out the hypocrisy of his accusers by noting they would rescue a sheep that fell into a well on the sabbath. It simply makes no sense to turn the sabbath into a day to avoid doing needful activities.

Perhaps, the intent of setting aside one day per week as a day of “rest” is not unlike setting aside the last hours of the day as a time for sleep. Our bodies must have rest to function properly, and our lives need a break from their normal routines for renewal and recharging. When I was a child, Sundays were family days. We would play family games, eat meals together, and attend church together. Sundays were a break from the weekday routines of school and work. We function best when we break from our routines, at least occasionally, allowing us to attack them with renewed vigor and enthusiasm in the new week. To make something holy is to set it apart and treat it differently, with reverent commitment. The fourth commandment calls us to dedicate regular time for renewal and reflection, if not on Sunday, then on one day.

Come home to church this Sunday. Claim your sabbath and make it holy.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—January 30, 2104 

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments”  Exodus 20:4-6

The first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other Gods before our God. Last week I speculated that the wording of that commandment sounds as if there may be more Gods than one. In the second commandment, God admits to being a “jealous God,” and extols us not to make or worship idols. In Old Testament days, it was a common practice to make and worship various idols. Some were made of gold, others of stone, wood or other materials available at the time. The practice always brought the ire of God.

I wonder what God thinks about some of our current religious and spiritual practices. I often worship in the presence of items like crosses, candles, incense, pictures, and other things of spiritual significance to me. Are those idols under the second commandment? How about praying the rosary, or praying to the saints? In my church, there are no prayers or worship directed to beings other than God; but when we kneel at the altar and gaze up at the cross, are we worshipping the object of the cross or acknowledging the God who died there for us?

I suspect violations of the second commandment have more to do with the focus of our worship, instead of the objects used to help focus our worship. The true idols of today are those objects that compete with God for our faith, attention, and devotion. Television, money, work, the desire for advancement—many things can become the primary focus in our lives, thus attaining “idol” status. When we desire anything more than that which enhances our relationship with God, our faith and trust are misplaced. A promotion at work might temporarily boost our ego or our checkbook, but it will do nothing towards spreading God’s good news, or growing closer to the giver of all things in life. God is the source of our being, not our employer. The second commandment says God is a jealous God. While it is difficult for me to picture God succumbing to a human type of jealousy, it is easy for me to believe God wants what is in our best interest. Certainly, it is best for us to focus our worship on the one, true God, from where unfailing love for us flows.

Come home to church this Sunday. Leave your idols at home…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—June 20, 2013 

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.”  2 Peter 1:3-4

When I was a child there was always some toy I simply had to have.  As I entered adolescence my desires became more relational in nature.  I began noticing the various degrees and types of beauty in members of the opposite sex and I desired to have a girlfriend.  It could have been body shape or hair or smile or a mannerism that caught my eye.  And I would believe she was all I needed for contentment.  But as with all types of surface beauty there is always someone or something more beautiful and intriguing.  But my wants found their most lasting manifestation in a desire for musical instruments. I have many interesting and beautiful instruments, most of which collect dust and take up space.  I may become obsessed with a new guitar because of its wood or tone or the way it feels in my hands and I’ll think, “Wow, this is the last guitar I’ll ever need—it’s perfect!”  But of course, it is never perfect forever.  Useful? Yes.  Beautiful? Yes.  Provide lasting contentment? No.  Contentment is not found in the ‘stuff’ of the earth.

Desire and passion are natural and healthy and necessary parts of our lives.  They color and animate everything we do.  But lust takes a natural appreciation for beauty or utility and perverts it into an unhealthy obsession.  Lust is a corrupting influence that knocks our lives out of balance.  It sets us outside the realm of the normal and isolates us from those around us.  It drives us to work too many hours, to betray vital relationships, to hoard things well beyond usefulness.  Lust can lead us to social isolation and even to jail; if not to an actual correctional facility, then to an imprisonment of the mind.

Lust is desire on steroids—intense, relentless and all-consuming. Lust often manifests itself in sexual desires, but it is hardly limited to sex.  Lust also manifests in desires for power or money or fame.  It is a sin of degree, as a desire for enough of life’s blessings is natural and healthy.  It becomes a sin when our lust negatively impacts our relationships and infects important parts of our lives. Lust deceives us into believing a new relationship or job or guitar is what is missing in our life.  And when it causes us to give up on or risk something of true value already present in our life it becomes sinful—a deadly sin because lust leads us into a cycle of insatiable desire for that which is temporal and unhealthy.  Such a cycle can be difficult to break or control, often requiring professional assistance and a great deal of prayer.  As in the scripture above, we are called as “participants of the divine nature.”  We separate ourselves farther from that divine nature when our desires escalate to lustful obsessions.  Next week I will explore the next of the seven deadly sins, gluttony.

Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Our west campus has two worship services at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  If we must lust for something, lust for the Lord.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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