Saturday, November 18, 2006

Representation for Sale (though not cheap)

Michael Goodwin of the New York Daily News quotes Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who is reflecting on the newly won Democratic majority in the Congress: "If we don't produce for people, we could blow it in 2008. The public is up for grabs. We still have a lot to do but if we succeed, the next election could provide a lock for a generation."

I have no problem with Senator Schumer believing that there is a lot to do; there is. It is a given that the nation's participating voters have had a gut full of far right ideology and perceived Republican absolutes and strong-arm tactics. Many have also expressed a concern that President Bush seems to believe that the War on Terror gives him more latitude than the Constitution or the people are willing to give. Right or wrong, this election did come with a mandate but not necessarily FOR Democrats. It was a message to members of Congress that their employment is tenuous.

The problem I have with Senator Schumer's statement is his perception of the "public" and "people". Are we really "up for grabs"? And as political "produce" goes, I am extremely disturbed at the implication that our support for either party is for sale to the highest bidder.

Time will tell, of course, but I am afraid that we have led our own representative Congress to believe that we want hand-outs when it is clear by the budget deficit and the national debt that we cannot afford much more. I expect there to be tax increases proposed to offset the budget deficit not necessarily because Democrats hold the majority but because for Congress it is much more politically expedient to raise taxes than to cut spending. For one thing, cutting spending means actually digging deep into a budget and facing facts and numbers. For another, emotions play much better to the constituents and "produce" far more politically favorable results.

There has been a lot of hand-holding and singing of "Kumbaya" among Democrats and Republicans, so we should not hold out much hope for anything of any real substance being addressed in this lame-duck session of Congress. However, once the Democrats take the bridge and exercise some of that new-found power, it is anyone's guess what this next session will "produce". I think, however, that it is going to be very expensive for the taxpayers.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I never quite understood the term, “to look a gift horse in the mouth”, until I looked it up on line. Having virtually no knowledge about livestock, I never knew that the age of a horse could be determined by looking into its mouth. How this particular saying came to its current use by such a comparison is anyone’s guess, but my understanding has always been that it is considered poor form to receive a gift and question its intent or usefulness or the gift-giver’s ulterior motive, if any. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I hate to be asked what I want on any particular gift-giving occasion. It’s not that I expect that anyone who knows me should be able to know what I want, and I certainly do not want anyone thinking that I EXPECT a gift at all. It is that I’ve always believed that any gift given, regardless of its perceived, inherent, or cash, value should be received by anyone “as is” with a mind toward another old saying, “it’s the thought that counts.”


In the continued journey through the Law, and specifically the so-called “Ten Commandments”, we have moved through the Lord’s introduction of Himself and the expectations He has of His people. And even though there are many who view the remainder of these “Ten” rather negatively, it is my intent to show the grace and the mercy which comes from these “thou shalt not’s” not because I think we need to search for an angle but because of the incredible gift which has come to us from Above through these words.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work; you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV

So can this be received as a gift when it seems to be presented as a commandment, an absolute? According to Scripture, the penalty for its violation is death. It is funny to me (and I am among the guilty though still trying to work it out) to listen to those who insist that these are not the ten “SUGGESTIONS” while they feast on Sunday at a restaurant where all the “servants”, male and female, are working diligently to try and keep up with the Sunday “church crowd”. As with the others, this particular commandment has the potential to go far beyond the mere words that are written on a page.

Jesus was challenged often on what the true meaning of Sabbath really was in the context of pharisaic teaching, and Paul comes very near to suggesting that these words are meaningless to us now since we are in Christ. “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Colossians 2:16, 17 NKJV

I respectfully take exception to what Paul suggests or at the very least, I take exception to our common interpretation that our New Covenant seems to disregard or conflict the Old. “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” Exodus 31:12-14 NKJV

Do we live in such a “new” economy that refraining from work of all kinds is just not realistic? And if this is true, has the Lord relented from His command that we rest? If so, who then is authorized to speak this new word? I work for a trucking company which operates 24/7. It might seem unrealistic that the company should just cease operations for a full day, yet the law restricts the number of hours drivers may operate in a defined period of time. This same law even mandates a day off when too many hours have been used though the law does not demand that all drivers shut down at the same time. There isn’t enough parking space in the entire nation to accommodate that kind of mandate!

Farmers and ranchers have the same type of challenge, especially at harvest time. What is realistic for them? I said earlier that I know very little about livestock, but I do know they need to be fed. Is Sunday a day in which livestock can go without being fed? These are not pets. For the most part, they have to be maintained so that come market time, a fair price can be had. For the farmer and harvest time, that fair market price fluctuates sometimes so wildly that if they are not in a position to sell, they could lose fuel money which is substantial. However, it is written in Exodus 34:21 that “six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.” There does not seem to be an exception; there is only reality.

There are more retail stores and restaurants open than closed on Sunday now. What would happen to our economy or to our lives if the MALL were closed on Sunday? What would people do with their time, for heaven’s sake? The retailers would take a big hit for sure, and those who need the extra hours might take it on the chin come payday for losing a days’ work. The state would even take a big hickey over lost revenue from sales taxes paid.

But what would we really be losing and not gaining if we were to have the courage and the faith to live according to the written Word? How much of an adjustment would become necessary so that there wouldn’t be a recession? I think it’s already happening at Christmas time where people may not be so inclined to spend so much money. Somewhere adjustments have to be made, but the bigger question is whether or not we have the faith to see it through.

I don’t think the economy will run us over if we fail to go an entire day without spending any money, and I don’t think our lives will be ruined if we spend an entire day with our families just relaxing. Of course this is all easy for me to say since I don’t have much money and I hate shopping anyway. If there is indeed such a thing as the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, I should like to believe that the PUNISHMENT phase of that particular state would be perpetual shopping!

However, it is not the shopping in and of itself that is the problem. The problem is with those who are compelled to work because of our demands. And work in and of itself is not necessarily the problem. It is, I think, rather a compulsion to do something that we may well need a REST from because what some might consider to be “work” is actually “leisure” for others such as working in the yard, which I happen to enjoy - sometimes. This, I think, is the key to what the Lord’s word in this is all about.

As with any of the Commandments, our first approach must be as it is when we approach this list in the first place. We must recognize the Divine Wisdom that is contained within each one. Examining each of these with such a perspective can help us to get beyond the “thou shalt not” that may come from an angry, vengeful, distant, and self-serving god (or the men who wrote it) and see that there is a God in Heaven whom Jesus called “Father”.

We must also realize that even in our individuality, there is still a commonality in which mankind – which would imply ALL – was created in the Image of our Creator. As such, the Divine Wisdom which calls out to us from these words is the Wisdom which knows of our limitations. This Creator, this Divine Designer, knew then just as He knows now that the human body and mind have limited capacity to function before we become so overwhelmed that we simply “crash”.

A wise Father knows best. We are to obey this commandment as a sign of a Covenant made by the Holy Father, a Covenant that – like all the others – distinguishes us from the rest of the world. It is a day of rest. It is a day, a HOLY day, of worship. It is a day of respite from the busyness of the world so that we can focus on our Holy Father and regenerate our own spiritual batteries. It is a day of Sabbath, of rest. It is a day of focus.

It is a day of renewal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Darren McFadden-isms

The Arkansas Razorback football program is on a roll. After a pretty rough start against Southern Cal, Arkansas has moved on to an impressive 9-1 record with reasonable expectations of two more SEC West conference wins. Maybe not national title stuff considering the major contenders out there, but it's good enough for us.

Riding on this season's high is talk of running back Darren McFadden's potential Heisman candidacy. Whether he makes the final rounds is not so important to us: he's still ours as are they all. But after Saturday's decisive win against Tennessee and McFadden's exceptional performance, I share with you some -isms (author unknown) for those die-hard Darren McFadden fans.

  • Darren McFadden's calendar goes straight from March 31 to April 2; no one fools Darren McFadden
  • Leading hand sanitizers claim they can kill 99.9 percent of germs. Darren McFadden can kill 100 percent of whatever he wants
  • Darren McFadden counted to infinity - twice
  • Darren McFadden's tears cure cancer. Too bad Darren McFadden has never cried
  • Darren McFadden was originally cast as the main character in the hit TV show "24" but was replaced by the producers when he managed to kill every terrorist and save the day in 12 minutes, 37 seconds
  • Darren McFadden can speak braille
  • Darren McFadden died 10 years ago, but the Grim Reaper can't get the courage to tell him
  • Superman owns a pair of Darren McFadden pajamas
  • Darren McFadden puts the "laughter" in "slaughter"
  • Darren McFadden does not sleep; he waits
  • Darren McFadden owns the greatest poker face of all time. It helped him win the 1983 World Series of Poker despite holding only a joker, a "Get of out jail free" Monopoly card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades, and a green #4 card from the game Uno
  • Darren McFadden can slam revolving doors
  • Darren McFadden sleeps with a night light not because Darren McFadden is afraid of the dark but because the dark is afraid of Darren McFadden
  • Once a cobra bit Darren McFadden. After 5 days of excruciating pain, the cobra died
  • Before the Boogeyman goes to bed, he checks his closet and under his bed for Darren McFadden
  • Giraffes were created when Darren McFadden uppercut a horse
  • When Darren McFadden exercises, the machine gets stronger
  • Ghosts are actually caused by Darren McFadden killing people faster than Death can process them
  • Darren McFadden is the only person on the planet who can kick you in the back of the face
  • Darren McFadden does not use pick up lines; he says "now"
  • Darren McFadden plays Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver ... and wins
  • Darren McFadden once punched a man in the soul
  • If you can see Darren McFadden, he can see you. If you cannot see Darren McFadden, you may be only seconds away from death
  • Darren McFadden did that to Michael Jackson's face
  • The chief export of Darren McFadden is pain
  • A handicap parking sign does not signify that this spot is for handicapped drivers. It is actually a warning that the spot belongs to Darren McFadden and that you will be handicapped if you park there
  • Darren McFadden was once the FBI's chief negotiator. His job involved calling up criminals and saying, "This is Darren McFadden"
  • The most honorable way to die is to take a bullet for Darren McFadden. This amuses Darren McFadden because he is bulletproof
  • On Neil Armstrong's second step on the moon, he found a note which read, "Darren McFadden was here"
  • A unicorn once kicked Darren McFadden. That is why unicorns no longer exist
  • Darren McFadden used to beat the snot out of his shadow because it was following too closely. It now stands a safe 30 feet behind him
  • Darren McFadden does not read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's in a Name?

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 NKJV

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare

What does the commandment mean when it refers to using the name of the Lord God in vain? To do anything in vain is to act toward no particular end like our continued prayer that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who have made the ultimate sacrifice will not have died “in vain”; that is, for nothing. We need to believe that their sacrifice has meant something; so, too, must it be when we choose to invoke the name of the Almighty. There should be a good reason for mentioning His name, and the reason cannot be for selfish gain.

There are certain traditions – some say superstitions – that forbid that His name be spoken or even written. Often there are references to “YHWH” which is not pronounceable even though we call it “Yahweh”, and there are some rabbis who will write out only “G-d”. The simplest reason for a refusal to mention His name is that He is utterly holy, and no human tongue is worthy to speak His name.

I must admit that I have difficulty with the simple English translation, or transliteration, “God”. In my mind, such a reference infers too much familiarity though I cannot find fault with others who do make such a reference. I see no disrespect intended and throughout the Bible, this is the common reference.

What is interesting about His “name”, however, is that I’m not so sure anyone really knows what His proper name is. He certainly has many titles, but does He have a “name” as you and I have names by which we are identified? And if we did know His name, would there be such thing as a prohibition against using His name aloud? According to some traditions, yes. So if we cannot speak or write His holy name or even pronounce it, how can we be accused of misusing His name or using it “in vain”?

Using such reasoning, how can the use of the word (or name) “God” as a prefix to a particular swear word be considered to be a misuse; that is, if His name is not “God”? This particular point is arguable on many levels so far beyond my scholarship that I won’t even try to go there. Suffice it to say, I think such a narrow interpretation does not serve us well and does little to help us to understand what is at risk because of the written statement that those who do misuse His holy name will be held accountable for such misuse. Like other points of the Law, we would do ourselves no favors by seeking the narrowest or simplest explanation and then choosing to move along as having settled the matter.

To be sure, this particular commandment coming so early in the “list” serves a purpose. We have already been introduced to the Lord as the One who delivered a nation from captivity and we have been put on notice that we are not to create carved or “graven” images in a feeble effort to make for ourselves a “god” that might be pleasing to our sight. So now we are being advised that because the Almighty is holy, His name must be invoked with nothing less than profound respect. The passage seems clear enough that He does indeed have a name. If we then know it, we must be careful about how we choose to use it.

One approach to addressing this particular commandment might be to consider the continual conflicts that arose between Jesus and the Pharisees. I think we can agree that the Pharisees were a pious bunch, very religious, very devout, but also very misguided in their interpretations – AND ENFORCEMENT – of the Law. Looking carefully at many of the discussions or arguments between Jesus and the Pharisees, it would be easy to conclude that perhaps it was that even with noble intentions, the pharisaic interpretation of the Law served more to suppress a people than to free them. And we should know that when the Law was presented to Moses and then to Israel, it was presented to a freed people. So it would stand to reason that this commandment has not lost such a particular flavor that has somehow between Sinai and now become a means by which to suppress or enslave anyone, especially in the name of the Holy God of Israel.

So as a freed people who have been redeemed by this very God, how can we make best use of this particular passage? And we must, as a redeemed people, understand that surely this commandment itself has not been written “in vain”. It means something to us; it must. Otherwise the Law itself has been reduced to nothing more than a “buffet” line of choices we can accept or reject depending on our level of understanding and/or willingness to obey. This commandment, as all others, requires our attention.

The most notable violation throughout the world today is the radical Islamist who carries out his acts of terror in the name of “Allah”. In Arabic, this means “God” which infers the one living and true God of all creation. These terrorists have every intention of making the world to live in genuine fear but to what end? They need to be feared, and this is very much a reason why they want all the media coverage they can possibly get. Do you remember the videos that were floating around on some Arabic websites in which captured westerners were beheaded? It was meant to invoke fear. Who wants to die at all, let alone die in such a horrific manner?

But to do such a thing in the name of our Lord, let alone any “god”, would naturally beg the question: what “god” would demand such a thing of his followers and for what purpose? Reaching back to the time in which the Law was given, the Israelites were about to move into a land that was inhabited by pagans, some of whose religious practices required human sacrifice. These were the “gods”, as I shared earlier, that are extremely self-serving. A human sacrifice accomplishes nothing more than to drive people away or worse, subject them to nothing more than suppressive, oppressive, abject, senseless, soul-wrenching fear.

The name we are to invoke is a name that does not seek fear but, rather, respect. The Lord God of all creation, the God and Father of Jesus the Christ, will accept no less. So the use of His name must move toward this particular end, to glorify that holy name and give Him the opportunity to work in the lives of others as we profess to have had Him work in our own.

Think about the political battles we have endured in this country, sometimes suffering the invocation of the Lord as a means by which to force others to live according to standards we have adopted for ourselves. The so-called “religious right” has been in the forefront of some major political battles in an effort to design a society or a culture that would be more pleasing to them, and I have to say that in some ways I am probably as guilty as I have shared in the past about my beliefs on homosexuality and abortion, just to name two particular social issues.

Is secular legislation the answer, though? Some insist that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. Ok, so what exactly does this mean? And where is it written in Holy Scripture that we are called to legislate and force adherence to our understanding of moral standards rather than live as an example and act according to these same moral standards? Is it good use of the Lord’s name and reputation to try and “beat” others into submission for the sake of the Gospel, the GOOD NEWS that we have been redeemed? The Crusades and the Inquisition are two moments in human history that would suggest that such efforts will always fail miserably unless one’s goal is to do harm. How ironic it is that we would choose to use the very freedom we have been granted and attempt to enslave others according to our own interpretation of what is good and right!

Something occurred to me during a recent policy process class session when we were discussing the civil rights era. I had never considered the underlying conflict that virtually embodied the struggle for civil rights but it seems to me that Dr. King, a Christian preacher who helped lead the struggle for equality according to principles taught by Christ Himself, was in conflict with others who believed that our Holy Father commanded that the races not mix. I also happen to believe that it is highly significant that because of Dr. King’s Christian leadership, the movement was successful even though I also believe that we still have a long way to go – just not by secular legislation. It might seem, then, that this struggle for HUMAN rights was a good use of the Lord’s name. Notice, however, that Dr. King rarely invokes the Lord by name but, rather, by principle … and by action.

It must also be considered by the faithful that a violation of any of these ordinances or commandments as presented to us in the Torah is a misuse of His name. We live and work and worship in public, and friends and acquaintances typically know that we are Christians. How much good use of His name is there when we are known as Christians only by the churches we attend rather than by the lives we choose to lead?

When we invoke His name, it speaks volumes about our understanding of His nature when the context of our use of His name is taken into consideration. Is our life one of selfishness or selflessness? Is our life one of vengeance or justice? When we work within our own society and within our own system of government, are we trying to force a certain standard only because this particular standard would be more pleasing to us, or are we genuinely concerned about the moral well-being of those who do not believe as we believe or act as we act or live as we live? Do we have an ulterior motive when we call upon, or invoke, His holy name?

We must always try to be openly aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives, and we must know that our personal opinions or desires are not always the Lord’s. Everything we do matters not only in the eyes of others who know us as the Lord’s own; it also matters to the Lord who wants the unbelievers as much as He wanted us. Our use of His holy name without careful consideration of His will and His desire – and not our own – will have everything to do with the success – or failure – of our endeavors.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

There Can Be Only One

Psalm 119:25-32 Act 17:16-34

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:2

Last week was the beginning of a series in which I intend to explore the Mosaic Law. And even though I began with our popular notion of “Ten Commandments” and will seek to explore each one in some depth, my prayer is that we can broaden the scope of our understanding so that we may begin to understand more of how the Lord has revealed Himself and why.

A pretext to all of this must be the life of Moses and how the Exodus came to be. It would not serve us well to jump into these so-called “Ten Commandments”, especially since these Ten are considered by some to be rather negative – “you shall NOT” – without a better understanding of how the Israelites got here. Besides, I think that the commandments, if examined more closely and prayerfully, will reveal more of what we can do rather than what we cannot do.

We know that Moses was born a Hebrew and we know that his mother placed him into a basket and floated him on the river since the pharaoh had decreed that Hebrew sons were to be destroyed by Egyptian midwives once born because the Hebrew nation was becoming great enough in number to be considered a national security threat.

Moses was rescued by the pharaoh’s daughter out of the river and raised as her son. He lived as an Egyptian until he was forced to flee for his life after striking and killing an Egyptian task master who was beating a Hebrew slave mercilessly. Moses wound up in Midian where he married, had a son, and began to live the life of a stock herder, tending to his father-in-law’s flock. Soon it was that the Lord called out to Moses and decreed that Moses would be the one who would lead this Exodus.

Why Moses? Even Moses himself questioned the Lord. Up to this time there had been no apparent knowledge that there was such a One as a Supreme God though we can reasonably assume that Moses had at least some knowledge of gods the Egyptians worshipped. So starting from nothing, the Lord makes Himself known to Moses in Exodus 4 by turning Moses’ shepherd staff into a serpent and making Moses’ hand leprous and then healing it. Moses then tried to protest that he was no eloquent speaker and would lack the ability to convince pharaoh to release the slaves, so the Lord told Moses that his brother Aaron would be his “spokesman” for this purpose. In the end, Moses was given his marching orders.

What I think Moses did not realize until much later was that his life from the very beginning was a divine plan already in motion. The Bible does not give us any idea how many Hebrew boys were killed by the midwives, but we do know that the midwives “feared God” and would not do it. Still, it is reasonable to assume that at least some children lost their lives right after birth in pharaoh’s vain attempt to control the slaves and their great numbers.

Notice the relationships that are being used. First of the all, the Lord has to establish Himself with Moses. Secondly, Moses already has a relationship back in Egypt not only with the Hebrews but also with the house of the pharaoh. It seems to me that if established relationships were not necessary, the Lord could have simply struck the Egyptian nation dead and the Hebrews could either take over the land themselves or just leave. What might have come from such a move? It would be impossible to say for sure, but we could be pretty sure that even with our fundamental knowledge of how relationships work in our own lives, this sweeping act may have accomplished very little in establishing the nation of Israel as the Lord’s own.

We must also be mindful of the fact that the time from Joseph until now is about 400 years. The Lord heard their cries as it is written, but there is no mention that the people cried out specifically to the Lord. But the Lord identifies them as “My people” so even though the people may have forgotten over the generations, the Lord has not. Now was the time to re-establish a relationship with Israel and reveal Himself once again.

Speculating about the 400 years of divine “silence” would be useless since there is nothing for us to fill the void with. For our purposes, however, we would need to consider that it is possible – in fact, very likely - that when life is running on an even keel as it may have been for Israel during much of this period and we are content with our lives, we tend to not have such a need for the Lord. We may offer Him a little prayer here and there and we will certainly offer Him our prayers while in church like we’re supposed to, but beyond that the silence might be as profound as this biblical period of apparent silence from the Lord.

It could also be just as easy to surmise that the Israelites in Egypt were exposed to Egyptian “gods” and were maybe even actively involved in the worship. If this were true, it would also provide a little relational background when Israel can see by their own lives and “sorrow” that these gods serve no useful purpose especially to those who need mercy the most. If these “gods” were real at all, they were only good for those whose lives were already in order. These were not merciful “gods”; they were self-serving “gods” if “gods” at all.

It is typical of human nature, however, that when things are not going so well and life tends to reach beyond our control, it is then when we need help. Suddenly we are able to remember childhood prayers and then just as suddenly, the Lord once again has a prominent place in our lives. That is, until things get back to normal.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. Exodus 20:4-5a

I suppose in many ways when we think of “foreign” gods, we might think in terms of statues. Many Protestants do not understand the use of statues in Catholic churches and have even maligned Catholicism in such a way as to infer “statue worship” in the Catholic Mass as “bowing down to them”, but this is far too narrow an interpretation – let alone application – of what this commandment speaks to us about today.

Irene Rubin is a political theorist who suggests that in the absence of any written policy, a conceived budget becomes the stated policy. That is to say, wherever the money is being directed and in what sums is a determining factor of what is considered important. In the United States, 60% of the federal budget is allocated to Social Security, Medicare, and federal and military retirement benefits. So even if there are written policies in place, it would be clear by the federal budget that old-age protection is what we seem to value most.

Consider our own spending priorities since money is a determining factor for most of us as to what we can or cannot do. Where does the lion’s share of our household budget go? What is most important to us? Or perhaps more telling, what are we most afraid of?

Or consider a life that is spiraling out of control as drugs, alcohol, and even sex as well as money are used as agents by which we seek to provide for ourselves some level of comfort that we can reasonably control. For most of the poor souls who suffer from such addictions, something is severely lacking in their lives and they will reach out for whatever is most convenient or handy in a vain effort to find some sort of fulfillment.

In the end we do know that no person and no single thing that is offered by this world can sustain us for long. As Jesus teaches us, thieves steal, moths eat, and rust destroys. And for those who have witnessed the death of a loved one, we even know that sooner or later all life in this world comes to an end.

Consider, however, that at a time when the American church shows to be in seemingly steady decline, United Methodist Reporter editor Robin Russell reports from Mozambique that even though the poorest of the poor in that nation have little to invest in the Church and the Church has seemingly invested little, Christianity in that tiny nation is thriving! Why is this?

Could it be possible that as they have so little, they are better able to appreciate the little things and be more susceptible to the Spirit working in their lives? Could it be that our American church is declining because we are distracted by the “gods” of this world that – at best – can only offer fleeting comfort? And that as soon as the “good” wears off from one, we move easily to the next worldly – and temporary! – “god” that will offer us whatever comfort we desire for the moment?

There is only One who is eternal, constant, and never-changing. The faith that Jesus teaches about that is built on a solid foundation is the faith that will sustain us in good times and bad. There is no mention whatsoever in the Bible in which we are promised riches, fame, fortune, and unending happiness and carnal satisfaction. In fact, we are virtually guaranteed a life of suffering IF we are faithful to the calling of the Lord.

The text clearly states that the Lord God is a JEALOUS God, but it is very important to understand that He didn’t just show up one day and make this proclamation. He has offered Himself to Israel through the hands of Moses to show them – AND EGYPT – who He is over a period of time and through a series of events. A relationship of trust was necessary to be established.

The carnal “gods” of this world which we encounter almost daily are never satisfied and will devour anything put forth, and nothing but emptiness, heart-ache, loneliness, brokenness, and pain will come forth from these “relationships”. These worldly, carnal “gods” are not “jealous”; they are SELFISH and self-serving. No good will come from such relationships primarily because there is nothing stable about them. These are not eternal, constant, and never-changing but are, rather, for-the-moment, intermittent, and EVER-changing from moment to moment and from generation to generation.

So even though the Lord God is a “jealous” God, there must be a sense of contentment and fulfillment that comes from serving YHWH because the satisfaction and fulfillment from such a relationship can never be taken from us by thieves, rust, or moths, and the service He expects from us is toward one another, the kind of service that gives life rather than destroys it.

“You will have no other Gods before me.” This is not a threat or an ultimatum. It is a promise and a blessing.