Saturday, April 19, 2008

No other gods!

I've been writing and reflecting some on the 10 Commandments over at Doug Watching. Here is a meditation I wrote trying to explore one aspect of the first word.

No other gods! The command shatters the illusion of our successes, revealing us as enslaved by the idols we worship and serve. Even as I hear the words, I know: I am an idolater.

In my pursuit of God, I’ve often looked to the places of provision as the person of provision. But God alone is the person of our provision. He alone will meet our needs.

I am a needy person. I need more than just food and clothes. I need to feel like I have value. I need to find pleasure. I need peace in my heart. I need answers the questions that plague my mind. I need friendships. I need to opportunity to grow and to explore and to learn and to laugh. Many of these needs are intangible and difficult to define, and yet if the need is not met, I may struggle to even make through the day.

Take peace of mind for instance. When I left college, I entered a dark night of the soul where the peace of God seemed to depart, and I felt alone. My circumstances had not changed. I still had food and clothes and income and family, and yet inwardly I felt like my whole world was crumbling apart.

I’ve come to think that we have far more needs that we can even name. Some needs seem selfish like the need to enjoy. And yet, the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are created for joy. And for much more. For every need we have, He is the one true provider.

He created us and formed us to trust Him to meet all our needs—even our needs to become like Him and to love completely. He is the person of provision for all our needs, and yet He is free to use different people and places as He sees fit.

We could mistake the people or the place as the one actually meeting the meet. Israel did this time and again. In Egypt, they eventually worshipped the gods of the land. Egypt was the place of provision but YHWH was the person of provision. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, God told them that they would enjoy a fruitful, prosperous land much like Eden.

But they must never forget that YHWH is the one who provided their needs in that land, or else they would fall subject to enslavement and judgment. God raised them up to bless them and make them a blessing for the nations, but He warned them not worship any other gods.

No other gods! Violating this command means trusting something other then God and falling prey to the control of something other than god. It makes us less than human. We no longer have the power to bless because we are enslaved. Violating this command begins a cascade of violating other commands.

I know this pattern all to well because of my own tendency to worship other gods. In teaching me to trust, God has often invited me into a season of testing when one or more of my needs seem to be ignored. Instead of crying out to God, I’ve looked to the places or the people where God met my needs in the past. Instead of trusting Him as my Creator, I found myself trusting in His creation or creatures. And they will always fail me.

When I cannot trust God alone as my provider, I may look to the person beside me and wonder why they have what I don’t have. So I fall prey to coveting. Then I may grow bitter toward them and even speak words that are unkind about them: bearing false witness.

One by one I begin violating each command: thoughts of self pity, anger, lust, consume me. Created to be a king and priest in the land, I can no longer serve and bless a world in need. I am now corrupt in my thoughts, bitter in my heart, and violating the command to love God and love man. My only hope is to cry out in repentance and ask God to restore to me that simple trust in His provision.

In his goodness, He does restore. He is teaching and training us to be a people with no other Gods. In the end, this command becomes a great blessing. It is the blessing of being cared for by a Covenant God. It is the blessing of the lilies of the field. I can learn to trust. Simply. Like a child.

And as I child, I can be free. Free from inhibitions caused by fear of embarrassment or failure. I can be free to love, to risk, to play, to try new things. Free to bless the people all around me, sinner and saint alike, pointing them all to the ever-flowing provision of our Covenant God.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Gift with Strings Attached

Meditations on the Ten Commandments

Last weekend, a small group of folks joined me for a retreat about meditating on the Ten Commandments. This retreat started out as a weekend focused on the discipline of meditation. In the past, I’ve led similar retreats and explored the tradition of prayer and reflection upon God’s Word. But in preparation for the retreat, I soaked in Psalm 119 and felt impressed to follow the model of meditation presented in the Psalm: meditation upon the Law and particularly upon the 10 Commandments or Testimonies of God.

Now I realize the retreat was barely scratching the surface and I plan to spend more time reflecting upon the riches of the 10 Commandments. Here is the first in a series:

The Gift with Strings Attached
As we enjoy April Fool’s Day what better way to celebrate than with a few thoughts on God’s wisdom that is foolishness to man.

I’ve always thought that a real gift should have “no strings attached.” Otherwise, the gift seems to be more like a way to control another person. I give them a gift with hope of controlling them in some form. Thus the strings are like puppet strings used to make a person act in the way I move the strings.

And yet, God gives a gift with strings attached.

After years of crying out for deliverance from the cruel hand of Pharaoh, the Israelites finally see God’s answer in His strong hand of deliverance. He breaks the chains of bondage and promises a gift of a land, flowing with milk and honey: a new Eden where they can prosper and enjoy the goodness of the Lord.

This promised gift comes with strings attached. This gift comes with 10 Commandments that form the basis of a Law that will govern every detail of their world from social events to worship to family life. These laws are given with expectation that blessing will follow obedience and cursing will follow disobedience.

So promises of land comes with certain expectations. At first, this doesn’t seem like much of a gift. But it might also be seen as a gift the is so precious that it’s value can only be realized in and through these expectations.

Consider the gift of an engagement ring. A young man offers his girlfriend the gift of ring that symbolizes their relationship and commitment to one another. If she accepts the gift, she is also accepting the offer of marriage. In other words, the gift comes with certain expectations or “strings attached.”

When the girl accepts the gift, it is often though of as the most precious gift in her possession--even if it is merely a “cigar band.” The expectations of covenant relationship make the gift a priceless treasure.

On Mount Sinai, YHWH offers Israel a gift with strings attached. The Ten Commandments will forever stand as a sign of covenant love between him and his chosen people. By accepting the gift, they discover strings that reach back to the heart of a loving God. The bond or covenant between the people and God is so intimate that it is often likened to that of a marriage.

And thus in the giving of the Law, we discover the very picture of Christ and the Church, and His precious gift of love to redeem His bride.

Let us embrace the strings of His love and rejoice that He has bound us to Him by writing the Law of God upon our hearts of flesh—just as He promised.