Common-sense Ten Commandments

If we pray the Ten Commandments each night before going to bed, then we’d see their actual importance for our lives. When we recognize our failures in each of the commands of God to the Israelites, we see ourselves as sinners who are not only are in need of forgiveness, but also of guidance to be better people.

In this morning’s Your View section of the Editorial page, a writer from Paramus states that as we enter the New Year, we all pray and hope that the world will become a better place. I don’t think many people say to themselves, “You know, I want this new year to be miserable for everyone.” Most of us do hope that the coming year is better for us as individuals, but also for others.

We all want our hopes to overcome the sadness.

The letter writer gets it.

The Ten Commandments are an authoritative guide to our everyday behavior.

In my sermons recently, I’ve preached on the importance of living one’s faith, expressing the love of God in words and deeds. See, the center of the Christian heart is on the confession of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and what it means for us individually. When we confess God in words and deeds, we are saying something about what God has done for us – saving us from the eternity away from Him and creating in us a new person each day where we love God above all things and love one another without condition.

The Ten Commandments stress these points out clearly. In the first three commandments, we are shown the importance of putting God above everything, of respecting and loving HIm like He has loved us, of receiving Him and responding to His love as we worship Him. When God is at the center of our lives, we are different. We hold onto God’s grace and love and mercy and announce it to others. No matter our lots in life, we trust God through everything.

The remaining commandments show us the same point of the first three: We are to love and respect all people. Of course, the hard part is doing it because there are way too many people who get on our nerves. God wants us to be His agents of love and mercy and grace in this world. The specific commandments show us how we are kind and merciful and gracious and loving to others.

As the letter writer wrote, the world would be a better place if we all tried to follow the commandments.

Day One

When I came downstairs to start my January 1, 2018, Alexa proudly showed off this morning’s temperature: 7 degrees. This cold snap is getting extensive coverage by the local news organizations, notable due to the thousands upon thousands of people who spent their New Year’s Eve penned in outside in Times Square in single-digit temperatures with real feel values much colder than those 9’s on thermometers.

Local news organizations have discussed the issues that these freezing temperatures bring to homeless populations, those living in substandard housing, seniors who may not be able to pay the heating bill, and even to animals.

While we here in northern New Jersey are at 7, many other places around the US are even colder. As my mother would remind my brother and I when we’d complain about the cold, “What do you want? It’s winter.”

Today starts 2018. I have never met anyone who goes into a new year without some optimistic outlook. The blank canvas of the new year provides everyone, especially those of us in the church, with a high chance to make a difference in the lives of people. We can show the righteousness of God in our lives by letting our faith’s lead us, not the gremlins of negativity that can cloud our thoughts and actions.

While not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, I feel that all Christians should challenge themselves to be faithful, courageous, and more trusting in 2018. We should look forward and not back. The light of Jesus Christ must be at the heart of all our goals.

At St. Matthew’s, we’ve challenged ourselves to grow in faith and show our lives in Christ throughout 2018. We want to touch more people with the Gospel, improve our worship life, and provide more people with opportunities to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We plan to just “do the faith” in words and actions.

A cornerstone of “doing” my part is writing. We, pastors, ask the members of our congregations to use their talents from God to make the church a stronger place. For some reason, God has blessed me with a love of writing. It may not be Ernest Hemmingway or Danielle Steele writing, but God has given me a passion for expressing myself in words. I’m not promising a daily recitation of living the faith or a devotional to spark one’s journey in the Christian life. I’ll just write – mostly good posts about life, posting stories that shine a good light on people. Of course, the New Yorker in me will pop up now and then, where sarcasm will be the norm of that particular day. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, though I can’t promise anything.

May our Lord bless you as you enter this new year.

Remember – it’s all about faith in Jesus.

Luther and Freedom.

Joseph Loconte, an associate professor of history at King’s College in New York, wrote an interesting piece about Martin Luther in the Wall Street Journal today (subscription required). Loconte writes:

Luther always elevated the individual believer, armed with the Bible, above any earthly authority. This was the heart of his defiance at the Diet of Worms: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand.” Neither prince nor pope could invade the sanctuary of his conscience. This, he proclaimed, is the “inestimable power and liberty” belonging to every Christian.

It would be hard to imagine a more radical break with centuries of church teaching and tradition. Luther’s intense study of the Bible—part of his anguished quest to be reconciled to God—made these great innovations possible. Convinced that the teachings of Christ had become twisted into an “unbearable bondage of human works and laws,” he preached a gospel of freedom. Salvation, he taught, was a gift from God available to everyone through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death…

Luther offered more than a theory of individual empowerment. He delivered a spiritual bill of rights. Generations of reformers—from John Locke to Martin Luther King Jr.—would praise his achievement. Half a millennium later, his message of freedom has not lost its power.

As we enter the 500th Anniversary year of the Reformation, it is good to be reminded just how much Martin Luther helped changed the world by the simple pronouncement of freedom that one is saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ.