Saturday, June 27, 2009

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

Ever since I was young, the conventional application of the 3rd commandment has never set well with me. There is a tradition, handed down in our churches and ingrained in our societal standards, that this commandment forbids the expletive use of the word "god." I was never allowed to say, "oh my God!" much less issue a petition for damnation (I'll let you interpolate the phrasing).

Here was my struggle: tucked in between two introductory commandments and a fourth commandment, all of which dealt with core theological and pragmatic issues, I'm supposed to accept that God included a ban on Jews running around using the expression "Oh my Yahweh!" It just didn't fit. I'm no linguist, but I was pretty sure that expression wasn't around back then. Could it be that there's something much more significant God wants us to see in this commandment?

Let's begin with the Name. Of course, we all know that g-o-d is not the real name of God. What is God's name? I AM. Yet, there must be something more transcendent about this name than just the configuration of letters (after all, that's not even the original language). No, a name bears one's power. Their authority. The Romans had a saying, "There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved but the name of Caesar." It implied their emperor's power to save. Imagine the shock of Peter's hearers when he turned this truth toward another name. The name of Jesus.

The temple in 1 Kings 5:5 was built, not for God, but for God's Name. In Malachi 1:11, God says that it is His Name that will be great among the nations. Jesus commanded His followers to baptize people in the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We get the picture that one's name is his power, his authority... even his reputation. The 3rd commandment is the first trademark law. God is, in essence, protecting His brand.

How could one defame God's Name by their use of it? By "taking" it. The word for taking could be translated carry, lift up, or one might say to "wield" His name. God showed His might and power. Demanded exclusivity. Declared Himself too great for any depiction by an image. And then, what is Israel to do with such a mighty power? Can they "take" it whenever they wish? No. God's name--His power--must not be invoked in vain. It must not be invoked for empty, worthless reasons.

And now we again get to ask ourselves, how do we today take the Lord's name in vain? Is it in flippant use? Perhaps. But I think there are far deadlier breaches of this command each day in the Christian faith. Bearing the very name of the incarnate God, "Christians" are His priests, His ambassadors speaking His truth to the world. Do we bear that name in vain? Or worse, every time we bow our heads in prayer, do the words "in Christ's name we pray, amen" flow with reverence, or in vanity?

If we look beyond the societal norms that stem from this command, we allow the scripture to speak a convicting message. I am challenged to fully understand and hold with great reverence the privilege of pray and the call to be His priesthood.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prayer Requests, Anybody?

"Ok, before we close, does anybody have any prayer requests?" Everyone looks at one another blankly. Finally, the silence is broken, "My uncle's cousin's neighbor's dog was hit by a car two weeks ago... so, ummm... yeah, that kinda makes me sad."

As I have led various Bible studies and small groups over the years, it's been difficult for me to discern whether certain requests are genuine needs, simply an escape from unbearable silence, or offered as a cover up for what a person is really feeling deep down. Consequently, I've stopped asking for prayer requests in large classes of recent. What I've found shouldn't be a shock: nobody missed it.

This leads me to wonder, what concept of prayer and of prayer requests does the Church proliferate these days? Is it the humbling experience of going before our adoptive Father casting all our anxiety on Him and asking, gratefully yet expectantly, for the things we deeply need? Or, is it the grown-up evolution of a childish Sunday-school exercise? If that statement sounds a bit harsh, maybe it is. Maybe we should be rebuked for showing irreverence and contempt for the privilege of prayer which we have been given by our Lord and Father.

Equally as disconcerting is the reflection that this makes on our interpersonal bonds within the Church. How often do we resist sharing "real" prayer needs within a group because of the impact it may have on our facade of self-sufficiency. We are a people of independence, strength, and personal triumph. What need do we have to share our deepest weaknesses with those around us?

It is clear that there are appropriate times and places for sharing our deepest struggles. Certain levels of trust and confidence must be established. Nonetheless, whose responsibility is it to seek out such genuine relationships in the church? To find for oneself spiritual accountability? It is our own, and we should not only seek it, we should crave it.

My charge is twofold: if a situation does not allow for genuine prayer concerns to be shared--concerns that will edify you and result in praise and honor of God--then do not act out of compulsion to share something for prayer. Why not? Because my second charge is this: consider what you bring before the throne of God. He does not--like some friends might--need for you to bring Him problems in order that he can feel wanted, needed, and loved. We need not invent items about which to pray so that God will feel honored that we are praying to Him. He wants us to come before Him genuinely so that He can love us genuinely by meeting our genuine needs.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Secularization of Prayer

I was in a print shop the other day and while I waited for my order to be completed, I stood in the lobby amidst several examples of this shop's work. One particular vinyl banner caught my eye. Although I have no idea what Eliza's Wish Foundation is, what struck me was the obvious prayer connotations on this banner. She is looking up, hands together under her chin, just as every child learns to pray at a very young age. So what's missing in this picture? For starters, Christ. Beyond that, how about any mention of prayer or God at all.

We live in a world where prayer is viewed as tantamount to wishing upon a star, as the little girl in this photo is doing. Eliza's Wish Foundation may indeed be a wonderfully helpful organization, but what glory is there to God when the world wishes for hope yet has no Savior to hope in. What hope is left when the world wishes upon a star, but never prays in the name of the Son. Most importantly, why is there still a world of lost people still wishing on stars (i.e. praying to idols) while the church sits stoic in it's four walls on the corner.

As believers, do we see the parody? Does the sight of a seemingly innocent little girl praying to a star for the hope of needy people everywhere give us any conviction that God is being robbed of His due glory. If anywhere the power of prayer is unknown, the problem begins in the Church. Do we know the power of prayer? Do we employ the power of prayer? As I myself am admittedly weak in the discipline of prayer, my wife and I have started reading "With Christ in the School of Prayer" by Andrew Murray. My prayer for my wife and I is that we learn from Christ Himself how to pray, how to remain confident in the Father's goodness, and how to use prayer to glorify His name in our lives.

What struck me in this photo is not the connotation to prayer itself, that much is not surprising at all, but it's the belief that a little girl's wish on a star is more effectual for meeting the needs of the world than the prayer of God's children to their Father. My concern is not that Eliza's Wish Foundation is doing too little prayer, it's that the Church is. My charge is not to Eliza's Wish Foundation to pray more and convert to a Christian mission, it's for the Church to meet the needs of the world in such a powerful way that those in need would have one true hope in God.

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