Archive | May 2023

“You Shall Not Murder”

As the focus of the Ten Commandments turns to how we live out our faith in our daily lives, the first thing we are told is, “You shall not murder.” 

“You shall not murder” is a more accurate translation than “You shall not kill.”  Hebrew scholar S.R. Driver stresses that the Hebrew phrase lo tirtsah implies not simply a prohibition against killing in general but a prohibition against “violent and unauthorized killing.”  William Barclay points out, “Disobedience to this commandment is the sign of a depraved society.”    

I would be proud to declare that I have never broken this commandment, except that Jesus challenges my prideful assumption.  In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” 

Sadly, I have been angry with brothers and sisters, and I have insulted brothers and sisters, and I have called people names.  Sadly, I have committed murder in my heart. 

In John 10:10, Jesus announced, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 

Jesus’ stated purpose is to give life.  The “violent and unauthorized” taking of life is despicable to God.

Murder takes the life not only of the one who is murdered, but murder also strangles the soul of the one who commits the murder.

In the March 14, 1994 issue of Time magazine, Edward Barnes told the story of a Bosnian Serb sniper named Pipo who shot down 325 individuals for the sake of revenge.  Before becoming a sniper, Pipo was a partner in a Sarajevo restaurant with a Muslim man.  The two were friends as well as partners—until Pipo’s mother was jailed and beaten by Muslims.  Pipo recalled, “When she got out, she wouldn’t talk about it.  That’s when I picked up a gun and began shooting Muslims.  I hate them all.”

Killing for revenge changed Pipo.  “All I know how to do is kill,” he said.  “I am not sure I am normal anymore.  I can talk to people, but if someone pushes me, I will kill them…. in the beginning I was able to put my fear aside, and it was good.  Then with the killings I was able to put my emotions aside, and it was good.  But now they are gone.” 

After shooting 325 people, Pipo was left with no more fear, no remorse, and no feelings at all.  He stated, “I have no feelings for what I do.  I went to see my mother in Belgrade, and she hugged me, and I felt nothing.  I have no life anymore.” 

Vengeance consumed and destroyed Pipo.

The reason Jesus warns us so fiercely against committing murder even in our hearts is because Jesus wants us to gain life rather than lose it.  In his autobiography, Martin Luther King, Jr., stressed, “Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated.  Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity.  Many of our inner conflicts are rooted in hate.  This is why the psychiatrists say, ‘Love or perish.’  Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 


It is good….

The opening words of Psalm 92 perk my interest: “It is good.” 

Those of us who would like for life to be good are left with the question: What is good?

Psalm 92:1 goes on to answer the question for us: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  The practice of gratitude and praise make life good.

About the value of gratitude, Joseph Addison points out, “There is no more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude.  It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance.”

Praising God is just as valuable.  Praise is the deliberate act of remembering and declaring the goodness of God regardless of our circumstances.  In the process of doing this, our hearts begin to settle into the truth that God’s goodness withstands all of our hard times.  True praise is not the declaration that your situation makes you happy; true praise is the decision to cast your hope on the goodness of God whether things are going well or poorly for you.  Praise shifts the focus of our soul from the limitedness of our circumstances to the immeasurable love and the unstoppable capabilities of God.  As verse 2 puts it: “To declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.”

As Psalm 92 focuses in on what we can thank God for and what we can praise God for, verse 4 draws our attention to the wonders of creation: “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy!”

There is something about beholding the beauty of creation that fills our souls with joy.  Rachel Carson expresses it well: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

At the close of the psalm, our attention is pointed to another source of beauty—something else for which we can thank and praise God: the beauty of human goodness: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

As much as the beauty of nature thrills our souls, so does the sight of human goodness.  When we see a person engaged in genuine compassion toward another person, it delights our hearts.  More beautiful than the bright dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis or a mountain field of wildflowers, expressions of human goodness are the greatest masterpieces of all.  Mindy Hale puts it this way: “There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High” for the beauty of creation and for the beauty of human kindness.

Abide in the Shelter of the Most High

Psalm 91 is a psalm of comfort, courage and hope amidst the worst that this world can throw at us.  The psalm is set in the midst of “the snare of the fowler” and “deadly pestilence” and “the terror of the night” and “the arrow that flies by day” and “the pestilence that stalks in darkness” and “the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  But in the midst of it all, the psalm speaks of God as our “shelter” and as our “refuge and…fortress.”  It speaks of us finding refuge under the wings of God, and it speaks of God’s faithfulness as “a shield and buckler.”  It is a psalm of comfort, courage and hope amidst the troubles that confront us.

The psalm begins with a call to us to “live in the shelter of the Most High.”  The Hebrew word translated here as “live” is yashav, which carries the sense of staking a claim to a certain place.  It implies that we don’t simply make a short visit to “the shelter o the Most High,” but that we take up residence in God’s shelter.

How do we do this?

A person is described as being able to “live off the land” when that person has learned to live through what the land provides.  A person who can “live off the land” knows how to make a shelter for herself through what the land provides and is able to find his sustenance through gathering and hunting and growing.

Psalm 91 invites us to do something similar.  It invites us to learn how to live off the “refuge” and “fortress” that is God.  It invites us to learn how to find shelter (comfort, hope, protection and strength) in the care of God.  It invites us to learn how to find sustenance in what we can hunt and gather of God’s wisdom, promises, encouragement and blessings.

The Hebrew word for “shelter” in verse 1 is sathar.  It refers to a “cove” or “secret hideaway.”  When gale force winds blow across the sea, a ship longs for the shelter of a protective cove.  When enemies hurl their spears at us, we long for the protection of a secret hideaway.  Psalm 91 tells us that we find such a protective cove or secret hideaway in the person of God.  Frederick Buechner comments, “For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get message through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.”  To live off the “shelter” that is God is to keep finding the miracle of God’s presence in our daily lives. 

Verse 1 concludes with the call to us to “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”  The Hebrew word translated here as “Almighty” is El Shaddai.  About this word, Scofield’s Reference Bible points out, “The qualifying word Shaddai is formed from the Hebrew word ‘shad,’ the ‘breast,’ invariably used in Scripture for a woman’s breast…. Shaddai therefore means primarily ‘the breasted.’  God is ‘Shaddai,’ because God is the Nourisher, the Strength-giver, and so, in a secondary sense, the Satisfier, who pours himself into believing lives.  As a fretful, unsatisfied babe is not only strengthened and nourished from the mother’s breast, but also is quieted, rested, satisfied, so El Shaddai is the name of God which sets Him forth as the Strength-giver and Satisfier of His people.”  To live off the refuge who is El-Shaddai is to gratefully take in the care and nourishment which God loves to give to us.

“Honor your father and your mother”

One of the greatest temptations faced by spiritual people is to separate devotion to God from how we deal with one another.  Sadly, some religious people go to church each Sunday, study the Bible diligently, pray fervently, and contribute generously to the church, but are abusive to family members, tell prejudicial jokes, gossip, and treat others cruelly.  Because of their spiritual devotion, they imagine themselves to be saints, but those who watch how such people live have a very different opinion of them. 

God opposes such a division between spiritual devotion and integrity of behavior.  Therefore the Ten Commandments begin with four commands focused on our devotion to God and quickly move on to six commands that deal with how we interact with others. 

These six relationship-focused commands begin with the most basic of all relationships—the relationship with our parents.  If we cannot act with integrity in this relationship, it is doubtful that we can act with integrity in any other relationship. 

Some Biblical scholars have argued that this may be the most difficult of all the commandments, for this command does not simply tell us what behaviors to avoid.  It is often easier for us when we are told what we must not do: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal.  If I do not do those things, then I know that I have successfully fulfilled those commands.  But this commandment is open-ended and always leaves me wondering whether I have done enough or whether there is something more I should do to honor my father and my mother. 

The Hebrew word translated here as “honor,” kabed, has to do with weight or heaviness.  Mark D. Roberts suggests, “It might be paraphrased here as: ‘Give your father and mother the weight they deserve in life.’  The opposite of this would be treating your parents lightly, ignoring them, minimizing them, or even mistreating them.” 

According to Webster’s Dictionary to honor someone is to esteem that person, to credit value to that person, to treat that person with respect, or to confer distinction upon that person.

This command calls us to look upon our parents as valuable, esteemed and precious—and to treat them that way.  Whether or not they were good parents, Jesus looked upon them as so valuable, esteemed, and precious that he died for them.  We are called to look upon our parents not on the basis of how good they were to us but to look upon them as Jesus looks upon them. 

That which we look upon as valuable, esteemed and precious, we take an interest in.  This command calls us to take an active interest in our parents.  If we take an active interest in our parents, then we should take time to listen to them. 

That which we look upon as valuable, esteemed and precious, we treat in a loving and respectful manner.  This command calls us to interact with our parents in loving and respectful ways.

Many years ago, the newspaper columnist Ann Landers shared this letter: “Yesterday was an old man’s birthday.  He was 91.  He awakened earlier than usual, bathed, shaved and put on his best clothes.  Surely they will come today, he thought.  He didn’t take his daily walk to the gas station to visit with the old-timers of the community, because he wanted to be right there when they came.  He sat on the front porch with a clear view of the road so he could see them coming.  Surely they would come today.  He decided to skip his noon nap because he wanted to be up when they came.

“He has six children.  Two of his daughters and their married children live within four miles.  They hadn’t been to see him for such a long time.  But today was his birthday.  Surely they would come today.

“At suppertime he refused to cut the cake and asked that the ice cream be left in the freezer.  He wanted to wait and have dessert with THEM when they came.  About 9 o’clock he went to his room and got ready for bed.  His last words before turning out the lights were, ‘Promise to wake me up when they come.’

“It was his birthday, and he was 91.”

Lord, teach us to count our days

Psalm 90 is identified as “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God,” making Psalm 90 the oldest psalm in Scripture, written by the oldest author in Scripture. Though the psalm was written by Moses when he was over a hundred years of age, the psalm confronts us with the reality of our short span of life on earth: “You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’ For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers…. For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (verses 3-6 & 9-10).

Moses tells us that if we lived for a thousand years, it would still feel like our life sped away as fast as a watch in the night—a four hour span of time. If we live 70 or 80 years, or even if we make it to 100 years, our span of time on earth is but a fraction of a watch in the night. Our years “are soon gone, and we fly away.”

The premise of this psalm is that we are mortal, that our time on earth is limited. 

At one time it was common for churches to have a graveyard beside the church building—not just for convenience but as a reminder to worshipers every Sunday morning that we are here for but a short time before moving on to the next life. It would do us well, to walk through our church’s Memorial Garden from time to time to remind ourselves of our mortality.

The story is told of an ancient king who summoned his army generals to his death bed and asked them to fulfil his final three wishes:

  1. The best doctors should carry his coffin.
  2. The wealth he had accumulated should be scattered along the way on the procession to the cemetery.
  3. His hands should be let loose so that they could hang outside the coffin for all to see.

Surprised by these unusual requests, one of his generals asked for an explanation. The king replied,

  1. I want the best doctors to carry my coffin to demonstrated that in the face of death, even the best doctors in the world have no power to prevent death.
  2. I want the road to be covered with my treasure so that everybody sees that material wealth acquired on earth will stay on earth.
  3. I want my hands to swing in the wind so that people understand that we come into this world emptyhanded and we leave this world emptyhanded after the most precious treasure of all is exhausted. That treasure is Time.

It is this treasure of Time that Moses had in mind as he composed this psalm, so in verse 12 Moses prays, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

How do we “count our days” well? How do we make best use of this treasure of Time in the short span of our life on earth?

Billy Graham once remarked, “We take excellent care of our bodies, which we have for only a lifetime; yet we let shrivel our souls, which we will have for eternity.” Invest time in nourishing and building up your soul.

Father Alfred Delp advised, “If through one person’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, then he/she will not have lived in vain.” Invest time in adding love and kindness and light and truth to the world around you.

And keep in mind that we have life beyond this world to look forward to. After receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer, James Gordon Gilkey shares, “I walked out to my home five miles from the center of the city. There I looked at the river and the mountain that I loved, and then—as the twilight deepened—at the stars glimmering in the sky. I said to them, ‘I may not see you many times more. But, river, I shall be alive when you have ceased your running to the sea. Mountain, I shall be alive when you have sunk down into the plain. Stars, I shall be alive when you have fallen to the sea.’”

Lord, “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

“Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy”

The fourth commandment, the command to keep the Sabbath day, is a threefold gift to us from God.  Sabbath is a gift of refreshment from the weariness of life, and a gift of liberation from the taskmaster of busyness, and a gift of connection with God. 

A gift of refreshment: Gary Yates points out that the most notorious technological accidents happened because of exhaustion.  “When the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian A300 airbus killing all 290 people aboard, fatigue-stressed operators in the high tech Combat Information Center on the carrier misinterpreted radar data and repeatedly told their captain that the jet was descending as if to attack when in fact the airliner remained on a normal flight path.  In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two to three hours of sleep the night before.  Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program.  We ignore our need for rest and renewal at the peril of others and ourselves. 

Warren Wiersbe remarks, “The ability to calm your soul and wait before God is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life.  Our old nature is restless…the world around us is frantically in a hurry.  But a restless heart usually leads to a reckless life.”

God designed us in such a way that we operate on full capacity only when we get consistent rest.  When the command for Sabbath is presented in Exodus 20, the focus is on our nature as created beings and our need for rest: “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.” 

A gift of liberation: When the command for Sabbath is presented in Deuteronomy 5, the emphasis is on liberation: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” 

Mark Buchanan suggests that this command is like God saying to the Jewish people, “There was once a day you were denied any choice in this matter.  Rest?  Work?  There was no option.  The choice was made for you, day in, and day out.  The point was reinforced with bullwhips, in case you missed it or were the least inclined to ignore it.  The point was, you worked.  Period.  Rest was for other people.  Rest was for Pharaoh.  But Pharaoh couldn’t rest if you didn’t work—he had such overlarge ambitions, so many things he wanted to accomplish, so many tall, pointy monuments he wanted to be remember by—somebody had to do it.  That somebody, that nobody, was you.  And to make sure you did it, and didn’t ever, ever, ever slack off, he placed taskmasters over you.”

And Buchanan suggests that when we are so driven by busyness that we fail to incorporate rest into our lives it is as though we are “living as though the taskmasters still glower, ever ready to thrash us for the smallest sign of slowing down.  It is to strive and toil as though we have no choice, as if we’ll be punished otherwise.  To refuse Sabath is in effect to spurn the gift of freedom.  It is to resume willingly what we once cried out for God to deliver us from.  It is choosing what once we shunned.  Slaves don’t rest.  Slaves can’t rest.  Slaves, by definition, have no freedom to rest.  Rest, it turns out is a condition of liberty.  God calls us to live in the freedom that he won for us with his own outstretched arm.” (The Rest of God, p. 89 & 90)

A gift of connection: One of the most common words for “worship” in the Hebrew Bible is the word yadah.  Literally, yadah means to “throw the hand” or to “extend the hand.”  My favorite image of yadah is when my daughter was a little girl, and she would lift up her arms in front of me and beg, “Pick me up.”  It delighted me to pick her up and to hold her close to my heart.

Sabbath is God’s gift to us of yadah.  Sabbath provides us the opportunity to throw up our arms before God and to cry out, “Pick me up and hold me close to your heart.”  Sabbath is the opportunity for intimate connection with God.