Mount Moriah (Church Basement)

“Love.” I’d think we could all agree that “love” is a relatively important topic when it comes to God, right? But do you know where the word “love” first appears in the Bible? Yeah, didn’t think so.

It actually shows up for the first time in Genesis 22, when God says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you LOVE, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…”

So Abraham and Isaac set out for a mountain in the land of Moriah to make this sacrifice. Abraham brings a knife and a fire, while Isaac carries the wood. It’s a three-day journey, and on the third day Isaac looks around and realizes that Abraham forgot to bring a lamb. Apparently Isaac doesn’t know what’s about to happen. So he asks his dad, “Hey, uh… where’s the lamb?”

And Abraham says to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb, my son.” Now there’s two ways to read this: “God will provide the lamb, I say to you, my son.” Or, “God will provide the lamb, and the lamb is my son.” Frankly, either one fits, and both apply, so take it how you want.

Now we all know what happens next: Abraham binds Isaac on the altar—presumably with Isaac’s permission, as Abraham is well over a hundred years old and Isaac is probably around 20.

But before Abraham can lay a hand on the boy, God stops him and tells him, “Because you have not withheld your only son, in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram caught in a bush, and sacrifices the ram instead of his son.

And all of this takes place on a mountain in Moriah. Now the first time I read this story when I was 17, that place stuck out to me. “Mount Moriah.” I had heard of it before. And then I realized: That was the same place… where Gandalf died in Lord of the Rings! He died while fighting the balrog on Mount Moria.

But that got me thinking: Does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else in scripture? And it turns out, it does. The Hebrew word “Moriah”—which means “chosen by Yahweh”— shows up in one other place.

In 2 Chronicles, we are told that “Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.” The temple, of course, was the center of the Jewish faith, and the place where all the sacrifices—including the twice-daily burnt offering—were to be made.

So you have this mountain—Mount Moriah—where Abraham was commanded to make a sacrifice, which resulted in a promise that all of the people of the earth would be blessed by a descendant of Abraham. And a thousand years later, that is the exact location where Solomon—a descendant of Abraham—builds God’s temple, where all of the sacrifices were made on behalf of the people.

That’s cool, right? But does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else? Well we don’t see the word “Moriah” again, but there is a hint in 2 Chronicles. We just read that Solomon “built the house of the LORD on Mount Moriah,” but there’s more to the verse.

“…Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David… on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” So David had been to Moriah too! But what exactly did David do there?

Looking back in 1 Chronicles, we read that David was “moved by satan” to lead the nation in what is described as an “repulsive” sin that brings “guilt upon Israel.” As a result, a plague falls upon the land, which threatens to destroy the people of Jerusalem.

We then read that David “lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.”

And what does David do? He falls to his knees and declares, “Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” David begs for the punishment to fall on him and his descendants, and for the people to be spared.

God then commands David to “erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” Where is Ornan’s threshing floor? On Mount Moriah, in the exact place where Solomon would build the temple a generation later. David buys the place from Ornan, builds an altar, and makes a sacrifice there. Then God answers him “from heaven by fire on the altar,” and the destroying angel “returned his sword to its sheath.”

So in the same place where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his descendant to bring blessings upon the earth, David asks God to forgive the people of the destruction they deserve and punish his descendant instead, and then David makes a sacrifice on the altar. The same place where, a generation later, all of the sacrifices will be made. All of these events take place on Mount Moriah.

So with all of this context in mind, I have a question for you: Where do you think Jesus was crucified? On Mount Moriah. On the same mountain where sacrifices were made for hundreds of years, where Solomon built his temple, where David stood in the gap, where Abraham took his son. All of these events took place in the exact same spot!

Think about all the meaning packed into that location. Abraham had journeyed three days to get to Moriah while his son carried wood on his back, where he declared that God would provide his Son—his only Son, his beloved Son—as a lamb for sacrifice, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed as a result.

Jesus—God’s beloved Son—is also called the Son of Abraham, the Lamb of God, and after He carried a wooden cross and was crucified on Mount Moriah and spent three days in the earth, His resurrection brought the blessing of Abraham upon all who would believe.

David stood on Mount Moriah—between heaven and earth—and implored God that the people should be spared from their justified destruction, and that the punishment for their sins should fall upon David and his descendant instead.

Jesus—the Son of David—was marched to the exact same location—between heaven and earth—and took our collective punishment upon Himself, that we might be spared our deserved wrath of God.

Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah, where his father had assuaged the wrath of God a generation earlier. Literally hundreds of thousands of sacrifices were made there, daily postponing the punishment for the sins of mankind.

And after a thousand years of sacrifices on that same spot, God finally provided His Lamb. The Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God—He carried a wooden cross up that mountain, where they nailed Him to it and raised Him up before heaven and earth. And with His last breath, He declared, “It is finished,” and gave up the spirit.

All that had happened on Mount Moriah before had been leading up to this exact moment. The promise made to Abraham, the forgiveness extended to David, the offering made by Solomon—it was finally finished. Fulfilled in the same place where it started. Through Christ, the seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth would finally be blessed.

And all of this takes place in the very first place where we were introduced to biblical love.

I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. Like, God is so incredibly good in all of this. But stuff like this is so easy to miss. If you don’t pay attention to where these stories take place, you’ll miss all of this meaning and goodness.

I once heard it said, “Geography is theology.” The Bible is 1,189 chapters. God wouldn’t waste His words telling us where these things take place if they weren’t important. The geography of the Bible is there for a reason, and when we make an effort to understand not only what’s happening but where it’s happening, God can show us things we never knew were there.

So next time you’re reading the Bible and God goes out of His way to tell you where the action is happening, take a minute and look it up. You never know what you’ll find.

Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.

Why the Joy of the Lord is your Strength (Church Basement)

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” You’ve all probably heard this verse before. Or maybe you haven’t. I don’t know you. But assuming you have, what does it mean?

A lot of people think this verse means that when we’re upset, we just need to choose to be happy instead. You know, fake it til you make it. Don’t not be happy, just be happy. Simple enough, right? Except… that doesn’t really involve God all that much. I mean, it’s the joy of “the Lord.” The Lord sorta needs to be involved, right?

No, to understand what this actually means, we need to look at this verse in context. So quick history, the people of God have been in slavery in Babylon for seventy years. Then over the next 70 years, they slowly begin to return to Jerusalem. They manage to rebuild the temple and the walls around Jerusalem, but they’re still not living right. They don’t know what the Bible says, they don’t know who God is, so on Rosh Hashanah in 445 BC, Ezra and Nehemiah gather all the people to the city square to have church. Men, women, and children all gather together, and for six hours Ezra just stands there and reads the Bible to them.

Now imagine what these Judeans must’ve experienced in that moment. It’s been years and years since you’ve heard the Word of God. You’re probably an idol-worshipper, married to an idol-worshipper, and raising idol-worshipping children. You have no idea who God is. And then in one day, you discover that you’ve been living wrong your whole life. The Creator of the Universe, the one true God, wants to know you, but you’ve been completely ignoring Him and doing your own thing. Your life is not what it’s supposed to be.

What would be your response? I don’t know about you, but these guys just start weeping in the streets. In a moment they come to the realization that everything they’ve believed is wrong, that everything they’ve been doing is wrong, that they’ve wasted their entire lives.

So there just sobbing and weeping all through the city, and that’s when Ezra stands up and says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But what else does Ezra do? He sends his disciples and the priests throughout the crowd, to help the people understand God’s Word. They clearly explain the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. They basically started small Bible studies with everyone in town, so that they would all be able to understand God’s Word.

And that’s not all. They also started a specific Bible study with the fathers of every household. These men met with Ezra and received the same teaching the priests and Levites received. It was basically a men’s ministry, but all the men were getting ministry-level teaching. That way, they could lead their families to understand God’s Word.

And what was the result of all of these Bible studies? The people “rejoiced greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” What was the source of their joy? Understanding God’s Word!

But there’s more. During their study, they discovered that they hadn’t kept the Feast of Tabernacles properly in almost a thousand years. So they began to act upon God’s Word as they read it. They kept the feast. They weren’t just hearers of God’s Word, but doers also. And what was the result? “They very greatly rejoiced.”

Notice the progression. As they understood God’s Word more and more, as they began to put it into practice, they went from joy to great joy to very great joy. And what was the source of their joy? God’s Word!

Now I want to point something else out here. Whose joy are we talking about? The joy of the… Lord. It’s God’s joy. That means two things: 1) God rejoices when you understand and do His Word; and 2) God is joyful! Think about it. So often, we think of God as being stern and serious, and kind of emo (Do people still say emo?). But we just read that God has so much joy that it can literally give us strength.

Think about Jesus. He was the kind of person that was constantly being invited to parties. You don’t typically invite the weird quiet guy to your party. And kids always wanted to play with Him. Kids don’t like to play with stern grown-ups. Who do they like to play with? Fun people. Joyful people. Dare I say, silly people! That’s the kind of person Jesus was. If you pay attention when reading the gospels, you’ll discover that Jesus is actually pretty funny.

Speaking of Jesus, He teaches the exact same thing we just read in Nehemiah. We just saw that the source of their joy was knowing and doing God’s Word. And during the last supper, Jesus says to His disciples, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love.” Then He adds, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” When we know God’s words and when we keep God’s words, we are filled with God’s joy. And that joy—His joy—is our strength.

So when we say, “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” what we’re really saying is that God’s Word is the source of our strength, that God’s Word is the source of our joy. We should find strength and joy in the Holy Scriptures. And the more we understand God’s Word, the stronger we’ll be. The more we act upon God’s Word, the more joyful we’ll be.

So do not sorrow, do not weep. Go to church. Study the Bible. Be a doer of the Word. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.

If Not (Church Basement)

You’re probably familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These three Hebrew men are brought before the king of Babylon and commanded to worship a giant, golden idol. “Bow down and worship,” they are told, “or you will be thrown into the fiery furnace.” The men courageously respond, “Even if God does not deliver us, we still won’t bow down to the idol.”

It’s a great example of someone not knowing whether God would deliver them, and still fearlessly accepting the possibility of death. Except… that’s not actually what happened. Let’s take another look at the text.

The scripture in question is from Daniel 3. The king orders the three men to worship the golden image or be thrown in the fire. And in verse 16, we read that, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’”

So the question is, what does “if not” refer to?

Well, grammatically, it would be the “if” statement the men made in the previous sentence. They’re saying, “If that is the case, God will deliver us; but if that is NOT the case, we will not bow down.” So, what is “the case”?

We have to go back another verse, to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. It turns out, the king had made an if/if-not statement of his own. In verse 15, he told them, “If you fall down and worship the golden image, we’re good. But if not, you’ll be cast into the fire.” Then the three men respond by saying, “If that is the case—if you throw us in the fire—God is able and willing to deliver us. But if not—if you don’t throw us in—we still won’t worship.”

These men weren’t expressing uncertainty to God’s willingness to deliver them. No, they were expressing indifference to the king’s threat. If he threw them in, God would deliver. If he didn’t throw them in, they still wouldn’t worship the idol. The king didn’t have any power over them—which is exactly what we read in verse 27: “The king’s counselors saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power.” There was nothing that the king could do to turn these men, because they were under the protection of God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would deliver them from danger.

And if you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense to read this as uncertainty about God’s willingness to save. For one, the three Hebrew men had just declared that God was both willing and able to save them in the previous verse: “Our God is able to deliver us… and He will deliver us from your hand.” They literally just said that God WOULD deliver them. It doesn’t make sense for them to immediately backtrack and say, “But actually, maybe He won’t.” No, they knew He would deliver, which is why they “had no need to answer you in this matter.” It was a done deal for them. God was both able and willing to save.

And that’s what we’re talking about, right? God’s ability to save vs. God’s willingness to save. I’d imagine that every Christian watching this video knows that God is able to save. The question is, Is He willing? That was Nebuchadnezzar’s question, too. He tells them, “If you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who WILL deliver you from my hands?” The king is asking the same question: Is God willing?

So with that in mind, it doesn’t make any sense for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to then say, “Well… our God is able to save us, but who knows if He’s willing?” No, they confidently declare, “Who is the God who WILL deliver? The God we serve is the God who WILL deliver.”

This is the God who promised in Psalm 50, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I WILL deliver you,” the God who declared in Psalm 91, “I will be with him in trouble, and I WILL deliver him and honor him,” the God who delivered David from Goliath, the God who delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib, the God who would very soon deliver Daniel from King Darius.

Deliverance is what He does, victory is in His DNA, Salvation is His name. Literally. Jesus in Hebrew is the word Yeshua, which literally means “salvation.” Of course God is willing to save those who call upon His name. Of course He showed up in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Of course the fire and the smoke and the heat and the threats had no power over them. They knew who their God was, and they put their faith entirely in Him.

And that’s exactly what we read in the only New Testament recounting of this story. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called “The Hall of Faith.” It’s all about people who received from God because they placed their faith in Him, because they had unwavering confidence in Him. We read that Noah was saved from the flood by faith, that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Egypt by faith, that Joshua took the Promised Land by faith. We’re told that Gideon and Samson and David were all delivered by faith. The list of men and women who were supernaturally delivered by faith goes on and on and on. Then the list ends with those who “stopped the mouths of lions and quenched the violence of fire.”

Who’s that talking about? Daniel, and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. They were supernaturally delivered from lions and furnaces and kings and death. Why? Because of their faith. Because they were confident in the things not seen. Because they knew who their God was, and knew without a doubt that He was both able and willing to deliver them from whatever threat would come their way.

And we, too, serve that same God, so we should have the same confidence in His ability and willingness to save. Those same promises of deliverance belong to you. So don’t question His willingness to deliver. Don’t doubt it, even for a second. Stand firm in your faith, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did. The devil has no power over you.

Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.

The Great Commission (Church Basement)

Welcome to the Church Basement. My name is Garrett, and today I want to talk about “The Great Commission.”

The Great Commission. You know, that thing your youth pastor is always going on and on about. To refresh your memory, the Great Commission is the last instruction Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection and before ascending into heaven. Recorded in Matthew chapter 28, Jesus said:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the age. Amen.”

Now here’s an easy question: What was the first thing Jesus commanded His disciples to do in the Great Commission?

That’s right, GO… is the wrong answer. I know I know, it says “go” right there at the beginning of the verse. But this wasn’t written in English. It was written in Greek, and if you read it in the original Greek, the word “go” is actually in the passive tense. In fact, if you read this in Young’s Literal Translation (which, as the name suggests, is a literal translation), it actually reads, “Having gone, then, make disciples.” Today we might translate it, “As you go, make disciples.”

You see, Jesus wasn’t telling His disciples to go anywhere… because He already knew they would go to plenty of different places. Jesus probably gave the Great Commission on a mountain (I mean, He did loved preaching on mountains). He didn’t think His disciples were going to live on that mountain forever. No, they would eventually go home.

Same with you. You’re probably watching this video at your house. In your bedroom, in your kitchen, hopefully not in your bathroom. And when this video is over, you’re going to go to school, or go to work, or go to the gym, or go to church. And Jesus tells us that as we go, we are to make disciples.

The problem is that we’ve put so much focus on going that we’ve forgotten to do what Jesus actually told us to do, which is make disciples. We think we have to go somewhere special to fulfill the Great Commission. We need to go to Mexico or Haiti or Africa. We need to go witnessing at the food court or the pier. So we delegate the command to “make disciples” to those special times in those special places, instead of making disciples in our own communities every day.

Jesus wasn’t telling us to go somewhere special and then make disciples. He was telling us to make disciples wherever we go. At school, at work, at home, at church. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are all saving up for mission trips.

Now don’t get me wrong. Going on mission trips and going witnessing is awesome. But if you’re only making disciples one week a year in a foreign country or every other Tuesday at the food court between 6 and 8pm, then you’re not really making disciples. You’re trying to make converts. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not the Great Commission.

Look at Jesus. He had twelve disciples. He didn’t spend a week with them in Egypt and call it discipleship. No, these guys lived in His community, and He saw them on a daily basis for over three years. He prayed with them, ate with them, did Bible studies with them, answered all of their stupid questions. He taught them how to live a Christian life. And after three years, He told them to go make disciples of their own.

So Jesus started with just twelve. Well, eleven, because Judas kind of sucked. And then those eleven went and made disciples. And then those disciples went and made disciples. And then those disciples went and made disciples. They followed this simple pattern that Jesus laid out. They started in their own community first, and then eventually started to branch out.

And after a few generations, half the civilized world had become disciples of Jesus. Who woulda thunk?!? They did what Jesus said, and they transformed the entire world.

But somewhere along the road, we lost sight of what Jesus told us to do. Instead of all of us making disciples wherever we go, we decided that a small number of us should make converts every now and then. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but it’s not really working.

Now again, there’s nothing wrong with street witnessing or mission trips or anything like that. But when you’re not doing those things, I want to challenge you to give the Great Commission a try.

Make just one disciple this year. Pray for him, pray with him, spend time with him, answer his questions, read the Bible together. Show him what a godly life looks like. Teach him everything you know. Teach him how to make disciples of his own. Make this a daily practice. And after a year, send him out to make a disciple of his own.

That’s the Great Commission. So go. And wherever you go, make disciples.

And remember, you’re greater than you realize.

Have a great day.

Reflections on 1-2 Chronicles, Good Kings, and Parenting

josiah

I’m reading through 1 and 2 Chronicles right now, and something stuck out to me that I never noticed before. Most of the names in the lists of kings don’t really stick out, but there are a few that you’ll remember from Sunday School or your children’s bible: Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The “good kings.”

Jehoshaphat sought after God, and his heart took delight in the Lord. Hezekiah did what was good and right and true before the Lord, and cleansed the temple. Josiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and found, read, and reinstituted the Law of God.

They were great guys. Really.

And all three of them lived long, prosperous lives, passed on to the next life, and left their kingdoms to their sons. Their terrible sons. Their obstinate and rebellious and downright evil sons.

And their sons set up altars to false idols. They murdered their subjects and sacrificed their own children to pagan gods. They led their people to rebel against God’s perfect and good and holy commandments. In a word, they undid all the good their fathers had done. And the kingdom never recovered.

Today, many of us men are working hard to build our kingdom. And maybe we’re even doing it biblically. We’re striving to follow God, reading our bibles and saying our prayers and serving in our churches. And while all of that is noble and admirable and good, we must make sure we don’t forget our first ministry: our home.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you’re on the church board if your kids aren’t in the pews. It doesn’t matter how many summer camps you’ve been at if your kids don’t want to be there. It doesn’t matter how much you tithe or how many sermons you’ve preached or how many chapters of Proverbs you’ve read this month if your kids aren’t in love with God.

So men: Rise to the occasion. Teach God’s words diligently to your children (Deut. 6:6-7). Don’t build kingdoms that will crumble in a generation. Build a legacy that lasts. Be a good king who raises up good kings.

As for you, my son, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)

Reflections on Nehemiah

Rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3-4), published in 1886

There is a cool passage from a cool story in a cool book of the bible that probably 95% of Christians have never read.

Here’s the setting: In the 5th century BC, God’s people have been in exile and slavery for over two generations, but finally are permitted to return to their homeland. They return to a destitute Jerusalem and, despite political opposition and threats of violence, rebuild the city and experience revival.

And how did that revival happen?

Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 8: “[The priests] read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.”

Families put their lives and businesses on hold to do in-depth bible studies with their religious leaders. They spent entire days reading, praying, and worshipping (9:3). If they came across a commandment that they weren’t actively living, they immediately implemented it, like, right then and there (8:14-16). Husbands and fathers in particular spent extra time actively learning the same content the priests and Levites were studying (8:13).

And the result? A revival that changed a nation.

Many Christians say they want our nation to turn back to God. They want lives changed, they want people delivered. They want revival. But things like that don’t happen just by wanting them or tweeting them or complaining about them. They come about when people like you and I dedicate ourselves to God and His Word. They come about when we learn what God says, when we care about what God says, and then we do what God says, like, right then and there. They happen when fathers decide to lead their families in worship, instead of being passively present when our wives are reluctantly forced to lead.

Want the world to change? Maybe take a break from binging Netflix tonight, and study Nehemiah with your wife.

Ten Reasons the Ten Commandments are Important (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

ten-commandments-meta-opt

Every few years, the Ten Commandments find themselves embroiled in controversy when some progressive pastor suggests that God doesn’t really like them all that much (a silly supposition, since God never changes and Jesus told us these laws would never fade away). And while I’d’ve hoped that Christians could agree on such basic universal truths as “We should only serve one God” and “Murder is bad,” it’s apparently not so obvious.

So here are ten facts about the Ten Commandments that you may or may not know:

ONE: They were literally written by God.

I know, I know. The whole bible was written by God. But technically, it was ghostwritten by God (or Holy Ghost-written by God, amirite?): God communicated His words through prophets and apostles, but God didn’t actually put pen to paper. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his psalms; Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his gospel; Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his epistles. That’s why the scriptures are called God-breathed, not God-written.

However, the Ten Commandments are different. We are told several times that God literally carved them into stone with His finger.

“…[God] gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)

“Then the Lord delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God…” (Deuteronomy 9:10)

In this way, the Ten Commandments stand apart from the rest of the scriptures, not being transcribed but literally carved by God.

TWO: God spoke them out loud to over two million people.

Many times throughout the Bible, you’ll read phrases like “Thus saith the Lord” or “Command these people, saying…” What that means is God spoke these words to some spiritual leader, who then repeated these words to God’s people.

But again, the Ten Commandments stand apart in that they were spoken directly by God to His people.

“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice…” (Deuteronomy 5:22)

It is estimated that there were somewhere between two and seven million Israelites at the time. And Moses gathered those millions of desert wanderers around Mount Sinai, and God spoke these commandments out loud to them all. There was no denying that these divine laws came from God.

THREE: They are listed not once but twice in the Law.

The first five books of the Bible contain 613 laws (if you think that’s a lot, keep in mind that the United States has over 20,000 laws about guns alone). And in that limited space, God doesn’t repeat many of His commands. For instance, the “greatest commandment”—to love your neighbor as yourself—is only listed once. And yet God presents all Ten Commandments not once but twice (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5).

FOUR: When God created a nation, they were His Bill of Rights.

After over four hundred years in slavery, God fantastically delivered His people from the greatest superpower on earth and led them to form a nation of their own. And the central tenets of this new nation was these Ten Commandments. Of all 613 laws He had given them (or the millions of laws that have been written by countless nations since), God felt these ten were foundational to a successful and free society.

FIVE: They explain Jesus’ commandments to love God and love others.

In one famous exchange, a lawyer asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded that the right answer was:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and [to love] your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

However, it might not always be clear how to love God or love your neighbor. That’s where the Ten Commandments come in handy. The first four provide instruction related to loving God, while the latter six command us how to love others.

SIX: Jesus said the Ten Commandments were the key to eternal life.

In another famous exchange, a rich young ruler asked Jesus for the key to eternal life. Jesus responded,

“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)

The ruler pressed further, asking which ones He should keep. Jesus answered by listing half of the commandments and the command to love your neighbor (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18).

According to Jesus, anyone who wants to enter into life should keep the Ten Commandments.

SEVEN: The Ten Commandments apparently gave the rich young ruler riches and influence.

As mentioned previously, a certain ruler (Luke 18:18) who was rich (Mark 10:22) asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17), specifically citing five of the Ten Commandments. The rich young ruler responded, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Matthew 19:20).

Taking the whole Bible into consideration, it is likely that this young man found financial success and influence because of his obedience to God’s commandments. After all, God told Joshua that if he kept the Book of the Law,

“You will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

Promises of economic success and influence are found throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Proverbs 3:1-4, to name a few). It’s no wonder that this young man, who made keeping God’s laws a priority, found both success and influence.

It’s worth noting that, while this man kept many of the Ten Commandments, he doesn’t claim to have kept all of them. Loving God and not coveting are famously absent from the list, and Jesus asks the young man to give to the poor, trust God fully, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). Jesus later tells His disciples that if the man had obeyed Him—and kept all Ten Commandments—he would have increased his possessions and influence and found eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

EIGHT: Paul quotes them too.

In Romans 13, Paul writes to the Christians of Rome about how to live as members of society. He lays out the role of government and instructs these believers to pay their taxes. Then he tells the Christians to “love one another” (Romans 13:8). To make sure they understand what this looks like practically, He elaborates further, listing the latter six commandments (the love your neighbor commandments).

Paul’s letter reaffirms that the Ten Commandments are central to a biblical understanding of love and that they are integral to loving successfully in society.

NINE: They establish moral absolutes.

In today’s world, most people either have one God or no gods. But that’s not always how it was. For most of human history, people worshiped many gods. There was a god of agriculture, a god of money, a god of weather. These gods didn’t always get along, and usually had competing views of morality.

As a result, it was hard to know what was right and what was wrong. After all, the god of the river might command one thing, but the god of war would command another. And humans were free to pick whatever god or system of morality suited them at any particular moment.

But the Ten Commandments changed all that. God started off these commandments by declaring that He was the absolute and only God, and that these commandments were His perfect standard of living. There could be no debate whether murder was right or wrong, or whether it was sometimes okay to steal. God, the one and only God, the true God, had declared that these were wrong, whether you or the king or the entire nation agreed. Right and wrong existed because they were established by God, and no matter who you were or where you lived, these commandments applied to you.

TEN: There are only ten of them.

Let’s be real. The “Ten Commandments” has a nice ring to it, and they easily fit on two tablets of stone. It’d be much harder to memorize the “Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments,” let alone to fit them on a poster.

Conclusion:

The Ten Commandments are important. They are clearly important to God, they were important to Israel, and they should be important to us as well.

We’ll look more into lessons we can learn from God’s Ten Commandments in the coming months.

What is Love?

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Dictionary.com defines love as “a passionate affection for another person.” But then again, Dictionary.com also believes that boys can turn into girls, so they’re probably not the best source for getting an accurate (let alone biblical) definition of love.

And it’s incredibly important for us to understand what love is. After all, we are repeatedly commanded by Jesus to love:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 25:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)

Jesus reiterates this commandment in His final discourse:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Heck, God goes as far as to say that He is love:

“We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

So, what is love? Is it a feeling? Is it being nice? Is it an open door, or a battlefield, or a drug?

According to the bible, love is obedience to God’s commandments:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in them.” (2 John 6)

In any given situation, the most loving thing you can do is the thing God has told you to do. No wonder God gave us these wonderful commandments. It wasn’t just to keep us in line; it was to keep us in love, and as long as we obey His laws, we can be certain that we will be walking in love*.


Notes:

* Some readers might deny this biblical definition of love, citing the Pharisees as a counter-example. After all, the Pharisees supposedly kept the law, and yet would not be considered very loving by Jesus’ standards. In actuality, the Pharisees didn’t keep the law—at least they didn’t keep the whole law. Sure, they kept some of it, but they also rejected a whole lot of it (Matthew 23:23, Mark 7:8-13). Obeying a few commandments while intentionally ignoring the rest isn’t true obedience, and thus isn’t love.

Encouragement from Genesis

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I recently reread the book of Genesis with several teenagers from the church. While discussing it, the most common thing the students brought up was all the weird and terrible things the main characters kept doing:

  • Abraham lies about his wife being his sister, and she is almost swept into Pharaoh’s harem
  • Lot, while inebriated, impregnates both of his daughters
  • Judah sleeps with (who he assumes is) a prostitute, then tries to have her executed
  • Jacob deceives his father to steal from his brother, then spends twenty years running from God
  • Isaac, like his father, practically sells his wife into an enemy king’s harem to save his own skin

And that’s not the half of it! From cowardice and theft to sexual deviance and murder, they were guilty of it all.

But here’s the beautiful thing… God still blesses them!

Despite their sin, despite their selfishness, despite it all, they are still God’s people.

Why?

Because God made a promise. God promised some idol worshipper named Abram that if he forsook his previous life and followed after the one true God, that God would bless Abram and all his descendants after him (Genesis 12:1-3). And Abram, while certainly not perfect, followed God (Genesis 12:4). Abram, though he occasionally faltered, believed what God had said (Genesis 15:6). And God kept His promise.

And an entire family, an entire people, an entire nation was blessed because of it.

And the Lord said, “I will be with you and bless you. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 26:2-5)

There are two lessons to learn from this:

  1. You are blessed because God made a promise.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not perfect. You make mistakes. You slip up. But guess what? In spite of all that, God will still bless you. Why? Because of someone else’s faithfulness.

If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

  1. The choices you make will bless your family for generations to come.

Over four thousand years ago, some guy in the desert listened to God, and God blessed him. His wife didn’t always listen to God, but God blessed her because anyway. His kids didn’t usually listen to God, but God blessed them anyway. His nephew didn’t listen to God, but God blessed them anyway. His grandkids and great-grandkids ran from God and disobeyed Him, but God blessed them anyway. And four thousand years later, a world that largely ignores God is still being blessed by Him. All because of a promise God made:

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Your obedience affects those around you. Your faithfulness will transcend your short time on earth. So don’t just live for yourself. Live for your family. Live for your community. Live for the generations that are yet to come. They are counting on you.

BIBLICAL ECONOMICS: God Cares about the Poor

There is much conversation today about poverty. From politics to the pulpit, from backyard talks around the barbeque to internet debates on Twitter, everyone has something to say about the poor. But what does God say about the poor?

The bible makes it clear that God cares for the poor. We are told throughout scripture that God:

  • defends the needy (1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 12:5)
  • is a refuge for the poor (Psalm 14:6, Isaiah 25:4)
  • saves and rescues the poor from destruction (Psalm 35:10, Psalm 72:4, 12-13, Psalm 109:31, Jeremiah 20:13)
  • listens to the prayers of the impoverished (Psalm 34:6, Psalm 69:33)
  • promises to help the needy (Psalm 69:32, Isaiah 14:30, Isaiah 41:17)
  • and lifts the poor up close to Himself (Psalm 113:7, Psalm 140:12, Psalm 146:7)

Not only does God care about the poor, but He commands us to care for the poor as well. We are commanded:

  • not to exploit or take advantage of the poor (Deuteronomy 24:14, Proverbs 22:22)
  • not to deny or pervert justice towards the poor (Exodus 23:6, Leviticus 19:15)
  • to be kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 19:17)
  • not to oppress the poor (Proverbs 22:16, Proverbs 28:3, Zechariah 7:10)
  • to share with the poor (Leviticus 19:10, Proverbs 22:9)
  • not to mock the poor (Proverbs 17:5)
  • to speak up for the poor (Proverbs 31:9)
  • to consider the poor (Proverbs 29:7)
  • And to listen to the poor (Proverbs 21:13)

Furthermore, Jesus cared for the poor, and commanded His followers to do the same:

  • Jesus first announced His ministry with the claim that He was anointed to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18)
  • He regularly told His followers to give to the poor (Mark 10:21, Luke 6:38, Luke 12:33)
  • He was so charitable to the poor that when one of His followers left a room, it was assumed they were going to give to the poor (John 13:29)
  • He told His followers to make sure to spend time with the poor and invite them to fellowship together (Luke 14:13)
  • Part of His ministry was preaching the gospel specifically to the poor (Matthew 11:5)
  • Jesus famously told His disciples to feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, and take in the stranger, claiming that caring for the “least of these” was caring for Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:34-40)

Jesus’ followers took these commands to heart:

  • Paul wrote that Christians should be hospitable and charitable to those in need (Romans 12:13, 2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • John wrote that caring for others in need was evidence that a believer was filled with the love of God (1 John 3:17)
  • In their respective ministries, both Peter and Paul were eager to remember the poor, and encouraged each other to do so (Galatians 2:10)

From the Old Testament to the New, it is evident that God cares for and helps the poor, and that He expects His followers to do the same. But a few questions arise:

How are we to help the poor?

What are the causes of poverty?

We will examine these questions related to the biblical view of poverty in a series of future articles, BIBLICAL ECONOMICS.

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