Prayer Day 37

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God.

We praise you for loving our families and caring for our children.

Guard our hearts and minds.

Chasten us to be faithful to our spouses.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, keep us mindful of your will for our lives.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 37

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“And you shall not commit adultery.” (Exod 20:14) [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of adultery is almost always a lie. The lie is that our private lives are and should remain private. The truth, however, is that our actions always affect those around us.

Introduction

Ask King David. He thought that he could have a quiet affair with Bathsheba. When she got pregnant, he tried to hush it up first by calling her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from service in the army to the palace. The idea was that if Uriah slept with his wife, David’s sin would be covered up. Uriah spoiled this plan by remaining loyal to David and refusing to return home. Unable to cover up his sin, David sent word to Uriah’s commander to place him on the front line in battle and then abandon him to the Amorites. Uriah died in battle (2 Sam 11). Pretty soon everyone heard about David’s sin and attempted cover up. Psalm 30 records David’s distress over his sin. Psalm 51 records David’s confession to God. God forgave David but David’s sin led to the death of his child (2 Sam 12:13–14).

Definition

Adultery, divorce, and other forms of immorality are the consequence of yielding to forbidden desires and temptations that threaten to destroy healthy relationships [2] and tear apart our families. They also stand in contrast to God’s intent for human marriage, which is life-long marriage between one man and one woman.

Marriage is not just a romantic idea. If we view our relationships as simply serving our own needs, our children lose out. According to the U.S. Census (2011, 68), the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007. This one statistic implies that the prospects for children in America have plummeted in our generation. Think more poverty, more drug use, more suicide. Marriage is not just a romantic idea.

Biblical Context

Jesus deplored divorce, permitting it only in the case of sexual immorality, and relating it to adultery [3]. The covenant of marriage (Mal 2:14) involves for us two parts: both a covenantal sign (physical intimacy) and a covenantal oath (the marriage promise) [4]. Sexual immorality breaks the first part, but not necessarily the second.

Adultery and Murder

Jesus’ teaching about adultery parallels his teaching about murder. Lust leads to immorality so Jesus cautions us to avoid lust and thereby prevent adultery. He then interrupts this discussion of adultery to launch into a bit of hyperbole: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out . . . And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29–30)  After this aside, he returns to his discussion of adultery. The implication is that the body part in view is not an eye or a hand but something a bit more personal! Jesus clearly deplores divorce and immorality.

Footnotes

[1] Also: Deut 5:18; Matt 5:27; Matt 19:18; Rom 13:9.

[2] My first ministry experience as a young adult arose when my pastor and mentor encouraged me to start a summer youth program. The program was a success and I continued this ministry until I was married some years later. My mentor, however, was discovered by a church member to be having a homosexual affair. The affair cost him his pastorate and his marriage; it cost me an important mentor; and it cost the church a talented pastor.

[3] Matt 5:32; Matt 19:9.

[4] For Adam, we see Adam’s rib being taken out to create Eve (a kind of cutting ceremony) and an oath—“she is bone of my bones.“ (Hugenberger 1994, 342–43; Gen 2:21–23)

Referenes

Hugenberger, Gordon P. 1994. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 36

Available on Amazon.com

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Compassionate Father, beloved Son, ever-present Spirit,

Thank you for giving us healthy boundaries in your law.

Cleanse our hearts of jealousy, envy, and other evil passions that lead us to sin.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 36

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Do Not murder (Sixth Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“You shall not murder.” (Exod 20:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sixth Commandment—you shall not murder—seems cut and dry. In case you missed it, the Bible repeats it five times using the exact same words [1]. The punishment for murder—death—is given in the account of Noah (Gen 9:11).

When Jesus talks about murder, he compares it with being angry with and insulting your brother or sister. He then makes a curious comment: [if] “your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:24) This comment is curious for two reasons. First, at the time when he spoke only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place in the Temple and approach the altar. Second, this comment appears to make reconciliation with our brother or sister more important than reconciliation with God.

So what is that all about? Jesus is reminding his listeners not of the Temple, but of the first murder story in the Bible—the story of Cain and Abel. He uses it as an object lesson. Cain got angry with his brother, Abel, after Abel brought a better sacrifice to God. For this, Cain murdered Abel (Gen 4:1-8). The lesson is that we should reconcile with each other before anger gets out of control and before we do something that we may later regret (Matt 5:23–24).

Jesus is making two important points.

First, Jesus teaches us to prevent murder by removing the incentive to murder. This lesson can then be applied to all sorts of situations, not just murder.

Second, asking God for forgiveness (bringing a gift) does not erase the sin that we have committed against one another. If we murder someone, asking God’s forgiveness does not restore the life lost or heal the emotional devastation experienced by the victim’s family. Forgiveness cannot be just about words.

The point is that asking God for forgiveness, such as repeating a prayer of confession on Sunday morning, neither requires a change of attitude towards our sin (Jesus’ first point) nor compensating those hurt by what we have done (Jesus’ second point). True repentance (a real change in heart) answers the first point; making restitution (compensating our victims) answers the second point.

Does Jesus’ lesson mean that we should never be angry? No. Anger has an object. Some objects of our anger are selfish and evil; some are not.

Jesus clearly got angry about injustice, about those doing business in the temple (John 2: 14–17), and about the hard-hearted Pharisees that refused to allow good works, such as healing, on the Sabbath. By contrast, the Pharisees got so angry at Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath (because it made them look bad) that they responded by plotting his death (Matt 12:10–14).

Footnotes

[1]  Also: Deut 5:17; Matt 5:21; Matt 19:18; Rom 13:9.

Do Not murder (Sixth Commandment)

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 35

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father. King of kings. Lord of lords.

Thank you for your ongoing presence in our lives. Redeem our relationships; guarantee our fidelity; mentor our leadership.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our families, our churches, and our work places.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 35

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Honor Your Parents (Fifth Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 5:16) [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Who do you honor? Who do you honor most?

As postmodern Americans, we love the language of individual autonomy and freedom. Our laws limit the rights of almost all authority figures—parents, teachers, supervisors, police, politicians, even pastors.

Honoring one’s parents and the general use of father-son language of the Bible was common terminology in the Ancient Near East. For example, being created in the image of God implies a father-son (or father-daughter) relationship, which also appears when Adam fathers Seth in his image [2]. It also appears in the Lord’s Prayer, for example, in the phrase: “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) The idea in the covenant with Moses, therefore, is that God is our suzerain (literally: King of kings or Father king) [3] and we are his vassals (subordinate kings) [4]. Vassals honor suzerains as children should honor their parents.

Oh well and good, you say, but why must we honor our parents?

The apostle Paul described the fifth commandment as the only one that includes a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” [5] This promise implies that we do not always know what is best for us ourselves.

The apostle Paul redefined hierarchy. He wrote: children obey your parents; parents do not upset your children. Likewise, he redefined other relationships. Wives respect your husbands; husbands love your wives like yourself. Slaves respect your masters; masters treat your slaves as family (Eph 6:1–9). Paul later required elders in the church to manifest these new relationships (1 Tim 3:4). The principle here is: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men [or women].” (Col 3:23)

If Christ is Lord of our lives, then hierarchy takes on new meaning. Two-way secular relationships are transformed into three-way relationships under God: every relationship is you, me, and God. Marriage transforms from a contract (two-way) into a covenant (three-way). Relationships morph from social transactions into opportunities to display Christ’s love for one another.

Jesus says: “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5) Transformed relationships allow the kingdom of God to break into a fallen world here and now.

Footnotes

[1]  Also Exod 20:12; Matt 15:4; Mark 7:10.

[2] e.g. Genesis 1:27 and Gen 5:3. Kline (2006, 62) writes: “And knowledge of what one’s Father-God is, is knowledge of what, in creaturely semblance, one must be himself.”

[3] Today most governments are not governed by kings so we use less personal language. Today, we talk about superpowers and client states. However, the concept is the same.

[4] We know this, in part, because the Ten Commandments were written on two stone tablets (Exod 24:12; Deut 5:22). In Hittite treaties, two tablets were routinely recorded, one for the suzerain and one for the vassal. Sometime people speculate that the first four commandments dealing with our relationship with God were on the first tablet while the last six commandments dealing with our relationship with our neighbors were written on the second tablet, as in the Heidelberg Catechism (PCUSA 1999, 4.093). It is more likely, however, that the first and second tablets were identical. These treaties were written on durable materials, such as stone, to prevent fraud (Kline (1963, 19).

[5] Deut 5:16; Eph 6:2–3.

References

Kline, Meredith G. 1963. Treaty of the Great King: The Covenantal Structure of Deteronomy—Studies and Commentary. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Kline, Meredith G. 2006. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Convenental Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Honor Your Parents (Fifth Commandment)

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 34

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Compassionate Father, Lover of our souls, Holy Spirit.

Draw us to yourself: Open our hearts; Illumine our thoughts; Strengthen our hands in your service.

Grant us rest with you today and every day.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 34

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Keep The Sabbath Holy (Fourth Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall 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. (Deut 5:12-15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The divine origin of the Sabbath is well-attested in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is the only commandment that appears also in the creation account and it is also the longest commandment—an indicator of emphasis. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8; Luke 6:5) and performs several miracles specifically on the Sabbath. Why all this attention to the Sabbath?

A key to understanding Sabbath is found in Hebrews 4, which list four aspects of Sabbath rest: physical rest, weekly Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest—our return to the Garden of Eden.

Physical rest is underrated by many Christians. Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) How are we to love God and love our neighbors when we are physically exhausted all the time? Sabbath rest allows us to build the physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity to experience God and to have compassion for our neighbors.

We see a clue to this interpretation of Sabbath when we compare the Exodus and Deuteronomy renderings of the Fourth Commandment. Deuteronomy adds the sentence: “You shall 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.” (Deut 5:15) Free people rest; slaves work. Are we, Americans, truly free? Sabbath rest is a symbol of our Christian freedom.

The Promised Land, promised rest (Ps 95:11), heaven, and the new Eden (Rev 22:2) all display and reinforce Sabbath imagery. The image of our Divine Shepherd is one who gives heavenly rest: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Ps 23:2) Sadly, this poetic image of rest only seems to come up at funerals. Why not start now?

Keep The Sabbath Holy (Fourth Commandment)

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Honor The Name (Third Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“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.” (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Years ago when I studied in Germany, I had a friend from Belgium who was known only by his last name. When I asked around, not even the department secretary knew his first name. His first name was reserved for family and no one else.

God is also sensitive about his name and how it is used (Ezek 36:20-23).

In Old Testament Hebrew, numerous names for God are given. God’s covenantal name, YHWH, which God gave to Moses from the burning bush (Exod 3:14), is sacred for Jews. When Jews encounter YHWH in scripture, they normally substitute Adonai, which means Lord. Most translators honor this tradition. By contrast, the generic name for God in Hebrew is Elohim which is, for example, the word for God used in Genesis 1:1.

The treatment of God’s name is an extension of the holiness of God. Holy means both being set apart and the idea of sacredness. The Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, was constructed to observe three levels of increasing holiness: the courtyard for Jews, the Holy Place for priests, and the Holy of Holies for the high priest—but only on the Day of Atonement (Exod 30:10). The Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies.

Although the Jewish sacrifice system ended with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, God’s name is still holy. The Apostle Paul, for example, wrote:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:8-11)

Therefore, the commandment not to profane the name of God is one to be taken seriously. The author of Proverbs writes: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) We honor God by refraining from vulgar language and refusing to make empty promises leveraged on God’s name.

But honoring God’s name is more than merely not using bad language. Our conduct should bring honor to God—our actions must be consistent with the faith we profess (Jas 2:17).

One of the greatest rewards in heaven is simply to bear the name (Rev 22:4). Why not start now?

Honor The Name (Third Commandment)

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Prayer Day 32

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God, Great I AM (Exod 3:14).

You created us in your image; you have imbued us with your beauty.

Shelter our hearts and minds from idols that ensnare us stealing the dignity and protection of your divine image. Help us to keep your image sacred and holy.

Keep our faith strong in the power of your Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 32

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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