Tag Archives: morality

Humans Are Vengeful Gods

The venom of cultural restriction is startling to anyone who has seen the venom of diatribes against God’s recorded actions in the Old Testament. Atheists are outraged at the God who ordered the Israelites to separate themselves from ungodly people or ordered the execution of all unbelievers in besieged communities, right down to the babes in arms. They contend that such a God is evil and vicious and not to be tolerated. They say that he should apologize to the heathen he condemned. Yet these are the same people who contend that an unborn baby is a nonviable mass, or that a 100-year-old woman should not have surgery to make her life more comfortable. God Almighty, in their view, has no right to decide when someone’s life ends, but these very people believe that they have the right to end millions of lives every year.

In light of that attitude, it is hard to accept the behavior of secular celebrity voices such as Chris Matthews and Whoopi Goldberg who condemn anyone who disagrees with them to fates worse than death. How do people who instigate a campaign to destroy the Washington Redskins football team have the temerity to accuse God of wrongdoing? Humans who have arrogated to themselves the role that Christians leave to God’s judgment are callous in the extreme, far beyond what the God they reject has ever done to anyone.

As a follower of Christ, I will say quickly that God does not need me to defend him. I bring this subject up only to compare the actions of people who believe that they are their own gods. People who say God does not exist must somehow deal with all the problems of the universe, and the evidence demonstrates that they are arrogant far beyond anything they criticize in God Almighty. People who deny God declare that they know what other people should have and what other people should do. People who are removed from the class of aborted fetuses only by the event of having been born alive declare that nothing is too huge, too important, or too complicated for them to control.

Among other things, secular thinkers believe that they have the right and the obligation to interfere in the operations of businesses. They believe that they should tell businesses what products to sell, or what to wage to pay employees, or whom the businesses should hire, or what health insurance to offer employees. When the owners of businesses reject the pressure, the secular thinkers believe that they should destroy the businesses. Secularists have tried boycotts of retail businesses and Twitter wars against global enterprises. They have even tried to threaten the advertising sponsors of media personalities they disagree with.

Secular thinkers believe that nobody has a right to question the morality of what they do, because they determine the morality of their actions according to whether it makes them feel good. Apparently, it makes them feel good when they eliminate a baby or an old person or a business that is preventing one of them from feeling good.

Some Christians have lost their connection with Christ’s teachings and have engaged in reprisals that mirror the cultural strategies. When secularists launched an attack on Chick Fil-A over the issue of same-sex marriage, Christians launched an attack on Starbucks over the same issue. This is a huge error on the part of the Christians. It is at complete odds with Christ’s teaching. Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV). Christians cannot engage in destructive, petulant reprisal over differences of political opinion. Christians may not be their own gods and still claim to belong to Christ.

When Christians embark on destructive campaigns to destroy businesses because of the expressed political or even social views of the owners, the first thing wrong with the campaign is that Christ taught us to love, bless and pray for everyone. The second thing wrong is that many, many innocent people get hurt. The employees of companies have no control over the political views of their employers, yet if the destructive campaign succeeds, then Christians have destroyed the livelihoods of those employees. The third thing wrong is that it becomes impossible to distinguish Christians from secular thinkers. Jesus said, “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21 ESV). Jesus expects the actions of Christians to be a testimony to their faith. That is why refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding is the right thing for a Christian to do, while boycotting a business over a political argument is wrong. Refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding is a testimony to God’s plan for marriage and families. A campaign to destroy Starbucks over the opinion expressed by its owner is no testimony to God; it is a testimony to the power of a mob, the same message expressed by a secular mob action against Mozilla.

The words and deeds of secular thinkers express their rejection of God’s authority and his very existence. The words and deeds of Christians must express their testimony to God’s authority and their conviction of his existence. When Christians reject a cultural movement that conflicts with God’s authority, their expression of that rejection must not compromise their obedience to the law of love. A Christian can and must refuse to facilitate disobedience to God. A polite refusal to participate in wrongdoing need not include a curse on the people involved. In fact, if they are enemies, then the Christian response is to love them and pray for them to see the light.

The culture increasingly insists on words and deeds to state support for things that Christians must, on principle, refuse to do. Where that pressure will lead is still unclear. Christians in countries like Saudi Arabia and Laos wind up in jail when they reject the cultural norms. Christians in the US must be prepared for the culture to push the government to enforce its will. It is time for all Christians to pray for wisdom and courage, and to pray for the election of leaders who will pull governments at all levels back inside the Constitutional boundaries that protect First Amendment rights.

Secular thinkers believe that everything they do is guided and bounded by reason, an impersonal concept, but in fact, they themselves testify that they know what is right by observing what makes them happy. Clearly, it is self-gratification, not reason, that guides their actions. Christians must commit to Christ’s truth as their guide and watch carefully to assure that they do not delude themselves that they are serving Christ when they are actually serving self. It is self-serving in the extreme to attempt to stand in the place of God and shut down a business whose owner holds an undesirable political view. Secular thinkers are extremely vengeful when they try to stand in the place of God. Christians must be alert to avoid being lured into such behavior by their own willingness to serve self instead of Christ.


Irrelevant Church

In 1927, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned, “the sort of friendliness between Church and society that we have cultivated in the past, especially in Germany, is actually the cause of the Church’s increasing irrelevance.” He could say the same thing about churches in the twenty-first century. Only a couple of weeks ago the Presbyterian Church USA abandoned God’s teaching about marriage and family, acceding to political and social pressure by redefining marriage as a union of two persons, who may be of the same or different genders. This change cannot be explained by any new revelations from God. It can only be explained by a decision to put popularity ahead of faith.
Every day we see political leaders cave in to cultural pressure, and even though we deplore it, we expect it of them. However, when leaders of our churches do the same thing, it is much more than deplorable. It feels like treason.
Christian leaders have an important calling, and at the center is Jesus’ command to teach disciples “everything I have commanded you.” When Christian leaders abandon the Bible, the things Jesus taught, and begin to teach that the moral principles in it are outdated, or obsolete, their followers have good reason to be dismayed. Worse, as Bonhoeffer pointed out nearly a hundred years ago, the world at large thinks it sees in such behavior something it always suspected. It thinks that all those old rules were just power plays anyway, and the unprincipled abandonment of biblical teaching looks like an admission that the Bible is not very important after all. It looks as if the leaders are admitting that God really did not make those rules; people did, and they did it as a power trip, not a principle.
Not every Christian leader has abandoned ship. When Bonhoeffer saw what was happening between the Church and the Nazi government of Germany, he spoke out and acted on his understanding that such cooperation and collaboration was ungodly. He paid the ultimate price for his commitment to God and the Bible. There are Christian leaders in the USA who, like Bonhoeffer, refuse to belly up to the government trough, and they refuse to go along to get along. They stand out when they speak in opposition to calling a union of gay men a marriage. They are accused of complete lack of love when they call illegal aliens illegal. They are scorned for their unwillingness to take government restrictions along with government money in their charitable endeavors. They are belittled for a lack of intellect when they refuse to attend or promote interfaith conferences to discuss the “many ways” to God. They are mocked for asserting that God is the God of life, not death, as they counsel pregnant women to turn away from abortion.
The bottom line is that churches are becoming sideshows in the eyes of the population. This misconception is largely due to the ignorance of media types who breathlessly ask if a new pope will move away from the Catholic Church’s antiquated views on abortion. However, media types will not learn what Christ’s church really is from public speakers such as Joel Osteen, who declares that God wants everyone to be rich. They can only learn what the church is from preachers who say that Jesus is the only way or that the Bible is God’s ultimate truth.
The culture does not like anything old, and that is the problem with churches in general. They promote an old idea—Jesus is the only way to God. They promote an old book—the Bible, whose oldest texts root in a past whose distance from today is not known with any certainty. The culture believes that to teach that Jesus is the only way to God is selfish and discriminates unfairly against other religions. The culture further believes that the Bible is a dusty old book about ancient people. In the culture, it is important for all religions to be equal, just as all pay should be equal, all housing and health care should be equal, and marriage should be equal. The basis for all this equality is a line of thought that says humans have evolved into better beings than they were two or three or four thousand years ago. The culture declares that the evolution of humans today makes them wiser than the ancients, and this generation believes that it is actually capable of ending all the evil that defeated past generations. The fact that evil continues today is said to be evidence that God does not exist and churches are irrelevant.
Sadly, many churches feel threatened by the culture, so threatened that they have relinquished everything that used to make them relevant and valuable to the culture. They have sold the moral and ethical teachings about life and truth and God himself for approval in the press. They have rephrased their “theology” to accommodate the public perception that the God who was good enough for ancient people simply cannot handle today’s more nuanced understanding of truth.
What is the consequence of this change? Is the world a better place because churches have shut up and let the political agenda rule the day? There is no evidence to support that conclusion. Evil continues in all its many forms. Conflict of every sort burgeons in suicides, divorce, murder, political rancor, and international wars. The whole idea of family is being crushed under the heavy boot of activism, political and social. Churches that have abandoned the Bible and no longer consider Christ to be the way to God have nothing to say to people who confront evil in its many forms. These churches have become truly irrelevant. They have accommodated themselves completely out of the picture. These churches will become museums that house ancient rituals and art, or they will become nothing more than atheist gatherings where the word God is truly nothing more than whatever you conceive that to be. The myth of human progress, embodied in so-called “progressive” thought, whether political, social, or religious, has nothing with which to arm humankind against evil.
Martin Luther wrote, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” At the time, he wrote those words, he knew from faith and experience that Jesus is “the way,” not “a way.” He revered the Bible as God’s word to humankind, a guide for faith and life. Martin Luther knew the Church to be relevant and powerful in the fight against evil. It is worthwhile to contemplate what he had to say and to consider how these words still are relevant today:
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
Hymn text by Martin Luther, from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh110.sht

The Real Battle

The political, social, and moral climate is changing, and it is changing so dramatically and so rapidly that it is hard for people to adjust. That is, it is hard to adjust if a person believes that adjustment is necessary. Take the case of Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla.

In 2008, Brendan Eich gave money to a cause he believed in. He made a donation in favor of political activism that worked to preserve the time-honored definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The record of human beings on the earth demonstrates conclusively that, until recently, human beings considered the union of a man and a woman to be a marriage, and they considered marriage to be a high and honorable estate, essential to a healthy society and required for the propagation and nurture of the next generation. When Brendan Eich observed that this most fundamental of all human institutions was threatened, he gave money to people who were working to preserve and protect it. He was not alone in his views, and nobody at that time thought his views were odd, let alone destructive.

Today, in 2014, Eich is unemployed as a consequence of that donation. Yet it is not the donation itself that fated him to lose his job with Mozilla. It is his expression of his thoughts today, about that act years ago, that took him down. Brandon Eich refused to confess that he was wrong to have done such a thing and that he has seen the error of his ways. Brandon Eich refused to apologize. That is his crime.

None of the articles I have read says whether Brandon Eich is a Christian. It is not necessary to know this information about Eich in order to conclude that Christians are threatened by a culture in which a man could lose his livelihood because he refuses to apologize for doing something that was and is both legal and moral. Eich lost his job, because there are a small number of very vocal and aggressive people who believe that it is morally desirable for a person to apologize in public for doing something they dislike. Their position is that they will forgive him for his error if he confesses publicly to having erred in supporting this view. This is what tyrannical governments do to prisoners who are being re-educated.

During the years of the Cold War, news about political dissidents trickled out of the USSR and Communist China. It was not uncommon to hear confession stories about someone who had previously vanished. The criminal reappeared on radio or television and “confessed” to a “crime” and “apologized” for disagreeing with the government. During the Vietnam war, American prisoners were paraded in front of cameras to “confess” and “apologize” for the crime of fighting against Communism. Secular social and political activists apparently want to do the same thing in the USA. They have done it against Brandon Eich.

The evidence is printed for all to see in an article about Eich’s dismissal. The facts of Eich’s story are that Mozilla learned of Eich’s donation and called his attention to it. The story was made known to the media. Eich was interviewed by CNET, a leading voice in the technical world. The interviewer asked him a question: “If you had the opportunity to donate to a Proposition 8 cause today, would you do so?” It is this question that Matthew Riley MacPherson, a developer for Mozilla, considered to be an opportunity for Eich to apologize and show his contrition over the error of his ways. According to MacPherson, “Eich was given the clear chance to publicly apologize on behalf of himself and Mozilla — something called for by many, including myself. When asked if he could do it all over and do it differently: the correct answer was ‘yes’. But he didn’t say he would do it differently. It was at that exact point in time that he failed as CEO. … He failed to execute.” In other words, Eich had the same opportunity given to Galileo for saying that the earth revolved around the sun; Eich could recant. He didn’t.

Many people who are not Christians nevertheless believe that the tradition of marriage is normally and properly defined as the union of a man and a woman. MacPherson’s statement indicts every one of them for thinking wrong thoughts and demands that they be punished. This blog is focused on Christian concerns, but people who agree with Christians in this matter face the same problem. Effective with Brandon Eich’s dismissal as CEO of Mozilla, the culture has said that thinking the wrong thoughts is a crime. The culture, not the government, put Eich on trial, convicted him and sentenced him. Yet given the fact that the federal government has already asserted in numerous courtrooms that someone engaged in business has no right to act on religious convictions, it is not out of order to ask how that philosophy will take shape in both legislation and regulation.

The first paragraph of this post asked if it is necessary to adjust to the rapidly changing political, social, and moral climate. It might be wise to ask exactly what constitutes adjustment. Is it enough simply to live and let live? It seems not. When confronted, a citizen apparently will be expected to do much more than simply stay out of the way of the cultural agenda. It is obvious that there is significant momentum to expect citizens to applaud the cultural agenda, to feel ashamed of ever having resisted this cultural agenda, and to be contrite and pay a price for past moral convictions. Brandon Eich’s case teaches that adjustment is required.

This demand is not a lot different from the threat Christians faced in the Roman Empire. Emperors who were called “gods” expected worship. It was an act of citizenship to bow to a statue of the emperor and to invoke him in prayer. Christians who refused to do so were thrown to the lions. In the US today, political and social activism is creating a climate that threatens Christians for even thinking thoughts in opposition to the notions that currently float at the top of secular concern.

What if a person who is a Christian runs for US Senate? Candidates who were known to be Christians were publicly maligned during the last election for being Neanderthals who were not in tune with the times. It is not a great stretch to imagine that every candidate in the next election will be grilled regarding religion and views toward the LGBT agenda. Brandon Eich’s story is the blueprint for destroying the candidacy of individuals with strong moral convictions, unless they are willing to confess and apologize for past bad attitudes. Debra Saunders says it well: “Eich’s enemies argue that intolerance of intolerance is not intolerance. But of course it is. By toppling Mozilla’s CEO, activists sent the message that having opposed same-sex marriage — a mainstream position also held by Barack Obama just six years ago — can be a career killer. It’s not enough to beat the opposition at the ballot box or in court; you have to ruin opponents’ grass-roots supporters personally, make people afraid to oppose you.”

It is not too late for enlightenment to strike the culture and turn back the venomous and violent dark forces of fear and scorn that threaten a free society. If the federal government wants to do something that will help the situation, let the president speak out in opposition to the mad dog attack on Eich. Let the Senate majority leader demand that the culture show real tolerance for ideas and religious convictions. Let the president of GLAAD declare that it is inconsistent with the values of any good citizen to destroy someone’s career over a cultural argument that has nothing to do with professional competence.

In the meantime, what must Christians do? Christians must do what Christians must do in all places at all times: grow in faith and in Christ-like behavior. Christians must nourish faith by prayer and Bible study. Christians must be faithful in the smallest opportunities to shine the light of Christ into a dark world. It is important to speak out on big issues and take the kind of action that doomed Brandon Eich to the unemployment lines, but it is even more important to share Christ all the time. Early Christians were maligned politically, because the culture that laughed at emperors behind their backs nevertheless thought the public image of compliance was important. Yet early Christians were known personally for their kindness and integrity, as is witnessed in the story of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42).That kind of living testimony is how they earned the nickname “Christian.” It is important in today’s climate for Christians to be worthy of the nickname “Little Christs.” It is important in every era, because it is that testimony that Christ promised to reward. Additionally, that reputation will be as important to Christians running for political office as the money that funds their campaigns. The best way for Christians to survive the developing political, social, and moral cataclysm is to be faithful in the smallest things. Jesus said that his follower must “deny himself and take up his cross.” The real battle is not the battle with the LGBT agenda; the real battle is the battle with self. Brandon Eich won the battle with self and lost the battle with Mozilla. Every Christian must be ready for that sort of outcome if he fights the real battle.


A Smorgasbord of Beliefs

In George Washington’s, Farewell Address to the nation he said:

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on the minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Recent development in the culture of the US demonstrate that the concept of religion as a source of guidance for morality is regarded by many as an unfair, even unconstitutional notion. The increase in the number of adherents to secular thinking coupled with the increase in the number of religious persons who integrate secular ideas into their religious language are rapidly reducing the regard for religion as a force for good in the culture.

For generations, citizens have used the familiar term “religious liberty” to describe the God-given right of each individual to submit to the authority of God before all other authority. Very recently, some new terminology has emerged and there is pressure to replace the whole idea of God-given liberties with a “spectrum” of liberties that have nothing to do with God. These liberties are recent semantic constructs designed to further the secular agenda of diminishing and ultimately eliminating the influence of religion in the US.

The first term is “belief liberty.” This term may not have originated with Chai Feldblum, but she has projected it into the public forum of ideas. In 2006 she helped to found the Moral Values Project (http://www.law.georgetown.edu/moralvaluesproject/ ) on whose home page you will find these words: “No one person or group has a monopoly on moral values. It is our critical job as a self-governing society to articulate and carry out our best understanding of moral values. Views from organized religion may properly be the source of such values, but so can views stemming from secular beliefs or spiritual/energy beliefs. No one source has greater or lesser validity than another in developing public policy based on moral values.”  This statement is consistent her statement in an article entitled “Moral Conflict and Liberty: Gay Rights and Religion” published in the Brooklyn Law Review in 2006. In that article she said, “A belief derived from religious faith should be accorded no more weight – and no less weight – than a belief derived from a non-religious source.” These statements are consistent with the general secular principle that people figure out what is right and what is wrong based on personal evolution and the discovery of what makes them happy. Beliefs validated by a sense of what makes someone happy, in Feldblum’s view, are just as valid in the public forum as convictions based on biblical revelation. Unlike George Washington, who felt that faith in God, a faith in someone bigger than oneself, would produce convictions about morality that trump mere human self-gratification, Ms. Feldblum believes that religious convictions have for too long suffocated the morality built on personal experience and self-gratification.

Furthermore, Ms. Feldblum does not speak of “religious liberty” but rather of “belief liberty.” Since every source of belief is, in her view, of equivalent value, all beliefs are equivalent, whether or not they derive from faith in any god whatsoever. The term “belief liberty” as defined by Chai Feldblum is not a term the founders of our country or the framers of the Constitution would have used. They were defenders of religious liberty. They believed that people who trusted God and lived according to his revelation brought important guidance to the moral climate of the nation. They would never have condoned the idea that anything and everything proposed as a moral teaching is of equal value.

In Feldblum’s paper she also referred to another liberty. The Founders would have been mystified by the whole idea of “identity liberty.” Most people are. The way Feldblum uses the term, it means the identity of a person who chooses to engage in homosexual behavior. The nation has been treated recently to numerous colorful displays of issues surrounding the supposed confusion of “gender identity” for some individuals. The discovery that those individuals have a right to “identity liberty” adds to the general confusion.

Feldblum proposes that the culture treat all these sorts of “liberty” as items that fall on a spectrum. Some have more weight, some have less. In her view, where there is conflict at an intersection of “belief liberty” and “identity liberty,” “belief liberty” must give way. Because the conflict between the two is irreconcilable, in her view, religion must take second place. There must be no accommodation of what Feldblum calls “pockets of resistance” to the liberty of homosexuals to compel anyone and everyone to serve the homosexual view of life. If a homosexual couple chooses a photographer for their “wedding,” the photographer may not refuse to photograph the wedding because of religious conviction that homosexuality is a sin. It would be immoral in Feldblum’s view to respect the religious convictions of someone who puts God first in his life.

In the Roman Empire, the emperors were declared to be gods. It was an act of political correctness to burn some incense and bow to a statue of the emperor. The first Christians ran headlong into conflict with that idea by teaching, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). The whole book of Revelation is about what it means to stand firm in that conviction. In the opening chapters, Christ promises all sorts of rewards to people who refuse to worship a human being, and the rest of the book is about the ultimate, infinite battle between good and evil which found its focus in emperor worship. The battle rages today, and in the current age, it finds its focus in what the LGBT activists call “equality.” They have invented a lot of kinds of equality – gender equality, marriage equality, and so forth, finding legal standing for all this “equality” in terms like “belief liberty” and “identity liberty.”

This post provides information about the language issues associated with the battle for the human heart in today’s world. The battle has been raging since Satan lured Eve to worship herself as she contemplated the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The battle never changes. Only the cosmetics change. Underlying every new wrinkle in the conflict is Satan’s determination to lure people to worship themselves rather than God. In daily life, as voters in a democratic republic, we need to understand the contemporary language, but in the eternal scheme of things, we simply need to know that Satan has found a new way to disguise himself. Our issue is exactly the same as the issues experienced by Christians in the Roman Empire. Our choice is exactly what their choice was: Whom do we serve? Our strategy is exactly what theirs was: we arm ourselves with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.

And we pray. What is your prayer for the USA? What is your prayer for homosexuals who have been sold Satan’s bill of goods? What is your prayer for judges and lawyers and political leaders who must lead and do what is right for our country? Each of us can stand firm in our convictions, but if the Enemy is to be pushed back, people with knowledge, courage and convictions must stand firm on the front lines. What is your prayer for them?

Christianity is All About YES!

The culture of the USA in general believes that Christians love the word NO. People believe that being a Christian is about thinking you are perfect and everyone else is a bad person in God’s eyes.

This misconception about Christians and Christianity is one example of the disinformation that has come to be accepted as the truth about us. We do, of course, believe that some behaviors are good and some are not, and we are all guilty of behaving badly, even by our own standards, so none of us appears to be a good example of being Christian. As a result, the culture often concludes that we are complete frauds. The fact that some people pose as Christians and perpetrate real fraud on people does not help our image.

Complicating our issues with image and reputation are cultural changes that have nothing to do with us. The mix of ideas and religions in the culture of the USA has undergone massive change in the past fifty years. As a consequence, the number of people who accept Christian ideas as normal and desirable has declined dramatically. In 2012 many more people doubt the existence of any god whatsoever than would have claimed that viewpoint in 1962. In 2012 the proportion of people who claim to be Christian is much reduced since 1962, alongside an increased proportion of people who claim to be Muslim, Hindu or humanist. Many who claim to be Christians because of their upbringing no longer practice their faith in any public way and even claim to believe that it ought not to be expressed publicly because of the possibility of offending people who believe something different. This sort of generic dismissal is coupled with widespread disinformation about Christianity.

A Christian who speaks and acts on Christian faith principles is likely to encounter real opposition to Christianity because of a public notion that Christians are hate-filled bigots. They further believe that we think all non-Christians are wicked.

And they are right! What they do not understand is that we know Christians are wicked, also. As a bumper sticker once reminded me, “Christians aren’t perfect–just forgiven.”

We have a real challenge when we try to tell people the good news that as Paul wrote, “In Christ, all of God’s promises are YES!” We don’t live in mournful gloom and doom. Living redeemed, living in relationship with Christ, is a resounding YES to life and love and fulfillment.

One way to demonstrate that truth is to rescue the Ten Commandments from the King James translation of the Bible. The culture hears “Thou shalt not” as a big NO, and interprets it as a harsh judgment intended to suppress and devalue human beings. That misconception thrives on any focus on “Thou shalt not.” It is biblically true that our God expects us to put boundaries on our behavior, but the best way to establish a boundary that shuts out unwanted behavior is to understand the mandate for desirable behavior.

Take for example, the first commandment Jesus said it in a very positive way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:39) Jesus put the focus on God’s expectations, but even the word “expectations” must be understood in the context of the fact that it is Jesus speaking. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God in the flesh, come down to earth, accepting the limitations of a human body in order to suffer and die a humiliating death because of his love for humankind. He stands there in the flesh, the living evidence of the depth and strength of God’s love for us, and he asks us to love him back with the same fervent commitment. That makes the first commandment a loving invitation to a relationship in which we will absolutely receive more than we can possibly give. Will that relationship be exclusive? Yes, but who cares? How is it negative for a person to love and serve this God exclusively? Why would you want to make any room for some fake god, some second-best option?

Try another. Jesus spoke the commandment often stated as “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” in a positive way, too. He said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” (Matthew 5:37)  He gave this statement to refute a Pharisaic legal view that taught people it was bad to swear to a lie. Jesus said people ought not to swear at all, because swearing proved nothing. His point is that when we speak, we should speak truth. Our words must be truth. We expect God’s words to be truth, and we should expect nothing less of ourselves. When people live by the standard “Speak the truth,” then swearing or not swearing means nothing. After all, we all know that people can swear to lies. If they are going to lie, why would they fear to swear to a lie? You know without my saying it that our world would be a very different place if everybody spoke only truth.

People accuse Christians of being bigots and hate-mongers because they look at the behaviors we reject and think that we are defined by what we reject. If we live by Christ’s positive restatement of the commandments, we can refute that misconception without saying a word. I paraphrase the two great commandments Christ gave us this way: Love God more than anything else, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we live this way, people will see a lot more of Christ’s YES to life than they will ever see of the ancient “Thou shalt not” that sounds so negative to them.

Have you ever tried restating each of the Ten Commandments as positive directives?