29 June 2017

Thoughts on the 3rd commandment

When I was growing up, I believed that the third commandment, "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) principally had something to do with swearing. You know, saying bad words. There were a couple of them that specifically included the words "God" or "Jesus" that I was pretty sure broke the commandment, but some others were murkier. I knew the F-word was bad and probably took God's name in vain but felt a little less clear about some of the others. What did I know? In hindsight, that was a pretty incomplete understanding of the third commandment.

Taking the Lord's name in vain refers to claiming God's name in support on a dishonest vow as well as not treating His name reverently or respectfully. According to the ESV Study Bible notes, "Yahweh is warning Israel against using His name as if it were disconnected from His person, presence, and power."

When I read the Bible, I try to approach each passage with an eye toward how it relates to relationships, both vertical and horizontal (e.g., a relational hermeneutic). When I think of the implications of taking God's name in vain relationally, I think about how we speak of God's name and its implications for relationships.

I have been wondering, what if one of the ways we take the Lord's name in vain has to do with how Christians speak about one another? Too often, our words about other believers fail to honor God. We speak poorly about others who bear the name of Christ when they disappoint us or even when they disagree with us. We tear down rather than build up. We reject biblical principles for relationship while still claiming Christ as Savior. I wonder, if Christ can save us from God's justice by his grace, can he not also save our relationships? If he is able to reconcile us to himself, can he not also reconcile us to one another?

As Christians, let us not take Christ's name in vain in our relationships. Let us believe that he has the power to heal broken relationships, and especially with those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus. Let us practice other-centeredness, always with an eye toward forgiveness, just as we have been forgiven.

Speak evil of no one
avoid quarreling 
be gentle
show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Titus 3:2

28 June 2017

Book Review: The Curious Christian

Some books I read exceed my expectations. I thought Barnabas Piper's The Curious Christian (2017) looked interesting, so I added it to my Amazon wish list. It must have struck my son as interesting as well because he bought it for me for Father's Day. I was in no hurry to read it, thinking I would get to it at some point, though eight days later, it's done.

As I said, it exceeded my expectations.

Piper writes about what I believe is an underappreciated virtue, perhaps especially among Christians. If we are honest with ourselves, we are often an uncurious bunch. Whether from fear or dogmatism or pride, we lack curiosity about God, ourselves, others, and creation. Without intending to do so, many of us live what Augustine called incurvatus in se, lives "curved in on ourselves." Curiosity opens our posture, tilting back our heads and looking up and out with wonder, unblocking our eyes and ears to drink deeply from God's good creation. Perhaps since last summer, when my eldest daughter and I took the course Writing from Your Roots--and maybe longer--I have been been on a personal pilgrimage to live with a deeper sense of wonder and awe, though it involves intention.

If you spend any time with my wife or me, you will likely hear one of use the term sacred curiosity, something I picked up from Larry Crabb. Sacred curiosity involves showing interest in another's story and asking questions with a desire simply to learn more about that person. As both Crabb and Piper suggest, curiosity is often lacking.

I appreciated many things about this book and it likely will enter the rotation of books I read again. One thing I was glad he wrote was that curiosity does not exclude conviction. On page 119, he wrote "I don't need to give up on my beliefs about Jesus in order to listen graciously. Rather, my beliefs about Jesus should be the very reason I listen graciously. I don't need to ignore Scripture to be curious about what other people believe. In fact, Scripture gives me security in my curiosity."

As a recently appointed pastor, one of my desires for those I serve is that they would learn to actually see God's beauty, in His Word and in His world. Christians often (rightly) focus on truth and morality, but beauty is too frequently neglected; however, a two-legged stool doesn't stand well. We need truth, goodness, and beauty and curiosity provides us with an important tool.

Above my desk, I have a fading yellow Post-It note that reads:


Those three words are a good beginning, and Piper's book may get us a little further down the way, but ultimately, no book or blog post will foster curiosity; we simply need to begin.

Nota Bene:

  • If you want to foster curiosity, read some poetry. Don't think of poetry with disdain. Poets are among our most curious citizens. Perhaps start with Mary Oliver. 
  • I would strongly recommend Christian McEwan's excellent book World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down for an additional relevant read.
  • Somewhat fortuitously, I suppose, a week ago, I wrote a poem entitled: All Life is a Poem, which I believe gets at some of what Piper writes about. I would love it if you'd read it and if it makes you curious, click on "poetry" on the right side of the blog page, and you will find several more. 

26 June 2017


The world is full 
of fork-tongued Christians 
speaking beauty and grace 
from one side 
bitterness and strife  
from the other.  

We want to be seen as righteous 
or authentic 
or holy 
or transparent 
...you pick the word. 

And so we don the mask  
that communicates the image 
we wish to portray 
and we accent our speech 
to give Academy Award-winning performances. 

But even in Oscar's gleam 
our triumphant performances  
are still just acting,  
and not our actual selves.  

Unscripted lives  
lived off-stage  
in creation's transcendent drama, filled with  
vibrant hues and murky shadow, 
darkness and light, 
pleasure and pain, 
comfort and suffering, 
reveal the actual colors of our hearts.  

We speak of love, but act with disdain; 
We speak of forgiveness, but reject reconciliation; 
We speak of limitless grace, but withhold it from the undeserving; 
We speak of community, but exclude those who have actually failed us. 

'Tis risky to confront the bard, but I'm afraid 
all the world's not a stage 
and we are not merely players,  
but men and women  
of actual flesh and blood 
...and brokenness 
living in a Kingdom 
marred by the fall 
but being restored by 
its Creator and King. 

What true Kingdom living requires 
is not thespians 
but actual citizens; 
not masked actors,  
but actual selves; 
not tongues that speak of love 
but actually loving people 
and especially those most disdainful; 
not tongues that speak of forgiveness 
but actually forgiving people 
as often as it takes 
and especially those who have hurt us most deeply; 
not tongues that speak of limitless grace 
but actually demonstrating grace 
not stingily, but effusively 
and especially to the most graceless; 
not tongues that speak of authentic community 
but actual community 
not excluding those sinners and Pharisees  
and especially those who most disappoint us. 

Actual life is not a screenplay 
resolving at two hours and ten, 
but enduring drama 
filled with comedy and tragedy, 
joy and hurt, 
confusion and disappointment. 

There will come a day  
when all tensions shall resolve 
and all trials are dismissed 
when we will actually live 
"happily ever after," 
but until that day 
let us seek to live  
not for the best actor award 
but with actual gospel genuineness 
spurring one another on  
to actual love 
and actual good deeds.