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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Learning–The Law Teaches and Directs: a Reflection on John 2:13-22 and Exodus 20:1-17

On a recent FB post, Tic Long, a friend, who is a relative of Janet’s by marriage, wrote this on his retirement from the Journey Church in San Diego:

As I retire from here with no real idea of what God has next…I am excited about what God has up his sleeve. I have trusted [Him] in the past and will going forward knowing it will be awesome. One final thought about how awesome God is. For me it started as a lost knucklehead Freshmen in High School who smoked dope EVERYDAY with kids in my neighborhood before getting on the bus for school (hey it was 1966 in the Bay Area. I got 4 F’s, 2D’s and 36 cuts my first quarter of High School and was on no one’s list of most likely to succeed. That winter I got invited to a Youth Group Ski trip and bumped into Jesus (who I wasn’t looking for) and a community of teenage followers of Jesus in that youth group and my life was changed……forever. By the time I was 16 I knew I wanted to be a pastor, specifically a youth pastor and went to a Seattle Pacific to prepare to do just that. Well that never happened. God had a different idea and I ended up with Youth Specialties for 34 GLORIOUS years. I could not have asked for more. It was an amazing adventure and as my late friend Mike Yaconelli would say “What A Ride!!” Then out of the blue, totally unexpected at age 59….59!! God opens a new door and has another adventure for me…to become a pastor at Journey…So God answers the desires of a young teenage age heart after all those years and I become a pastor. Whodathunkit!God is just so cool. I know it was God who put that desire in my heart and in his time granted it. I think as a young man I was still too much of a knucklehead and needed lots of polishing before I was ready to be a pastor :-)So with much gratitude to God and Journey and…a sense of wonder & expectancy I take the next step of serving Jesus in whatever form that takes….tic[1]

The Ten Commandments depict God’s intent for humanity. Surprise! God finds us. “It’s important to remember that the Ten Commandments presuppose Israel’s history and its understanding of covenantal life before God, because, especially in Christian circles, the Ten Commandments have all too often been reduced to moral principles.”[2] Walter Breuggemann, in his commentary on Exodus 20 in The New Interpreter’s Bible, writes, “These commands might be taken not as a series of rules, but a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”[3] A significant aspect of our learning is to plumb the depths of God’s faithfulness and human obedience. Here’s the bottom line. “God’s faithfulness is not contingent upon the obedience of the people.”[4] God is not waiting to hammer us in our disobedience, but to help us experience a new way of life. When we disregard God’s teaching about living in community, we wander into an existence of bankrupt individualism, separated from God and one another.

The first four commandments focus on our relationship with God; the last six on our relationship with one another. The first commandment, verses 1-3, articulates how to have a right relationship with God. There are to be no other God’s before the One whose name is, “I am the Lord God Almighty.” The second commandment, verses 4-6, discusses how God is jealous and does not want the hearts of God’s people attached to anything or anyone besides God’s own self. The third commandment, verse 7, makes us cognizant that to “make wrongful use” of the name of the LORD means to misuse it. The fourth commandment, verses 8-11, commands us to “Remember the Sabbath Day.” The Sabbath rest was a memorial to what God had done at creation. It was a day made for humans to worship God, find strength for their weariness, and take delight in the Lord.

With the fifth commandment, verse 12, the commandments related to our relationships with one another begin. To honor your father and your mother is the foundation of social order and peace. Commandments six through ten, verses 13-17, are the “shall nots.” The “shall nots” of murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness against another and coveting are ordinances to safeguard marriage, property, and one’s neighbor.

Only in God, that is, through Jesus Christ, can we be the people God intends us to be. According to John Calvin, there are three uses for the Ten Commandments. George W. Stroup writes,

First, …they expose our sin, cutting through our self- deception, that we really are ‘good’ people…Second, the Commandments serve an important civic function in that they restrain sin, which is never simply individual but always corporate, social, and institutional. Finally, and Calvin said most importantly, the Commandments…guide us as we journey in our life before God and our life with our neighbors.[5]

Adherence to the Ten Commandments does not earn God’s favor or grace. Just as Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in and drove out the people selling cattle, sheep, and doves from the temple as well as announced his pending death and resurrection was an awakening for all those involved, the Ten Commandments awaken us to believe, that is, to place our faith in God. John Piper in his book Think, writes, “…loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”[6]

And so, I tell you this personal encounter with Evangelist and Pastor Billy Graham, a great person of Christian faith, who loved God and others. Billy Graham had just preached at Bel Air Presbyterian Church where I served as an Associate Pastor (1985-1991). There was a luncheon at an elder’s home following the last service. When I arrived, the only open seat was next to Dr. Graham. When I sat down, Dr. Graham complimented me on how I assisted in worship and then said, “I know you travel extensively on teaching and preaching missions. So, who travels with you?” I stated, no one. To which Graham replied, “How do you guard your mind from lust when you see that beautiful woman as you walk through the hotel lobby. And who stops your finger from pressing the pay per-view adult films option on the remote in your room?” Wow, not light-hearted lunch time conversation. Dr. Graham concluded, “I travel with four men. I don’t trust my heart and mind to myself. It’s dangerous.”

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Billy Graham, who died at the grand age of 99 on Wednesday, February 21 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, led thousands of people to Jesus and invited them to pray this prayer, as I do those of you who are uncertain in your heart about that relationship with Jesus this day. Let’s all close our eyes. In silence, I invite you to agree with this prayer as it is said or quietly repeat after me this prayer: “O God, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sin. I am willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Savior; I confess Him as my Lord. From now on I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His Church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Just like Tic Long, we stumble and mess up, and God surprises us. Remember what Tic said?

One final thought about how awesome God is. For me it started as a lost knucklehead Freshmen in High School…That winter I got invited to a Youth Group Ski trip and bumped into Jesus (who I wasn’t looking for) …and my life was changed……forever.[7]

Jesus finds us where and when we least expect him. Any of you who prayed the prayer used by Billy Graham, please come forward after the service and allow the elders present to love on you by welcoming you to God’s family and praying with you. It is our hope that you’ll find your place at Geneva to engage all that God is doing, so your experience with the Geneva Presbyterian Church family can become even more meaningful. Remember, we grow in our relationship with Jesus through worship, learning, connecting, serving, and giving.

[1]Taken from Tic Long’s FB page at Posted February 28, 2018.

[2]George W. Stroup in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 74, 76.

[3]Walter Brueggemann, The Book of “Exodus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 1:841.

[4]Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 75.

[5]George W. Stroup in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 76.

[6] John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 80.

[7]Taken from Tic Long’s FB page at Posted February 28, 2018.

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